Kan Li / Scout

Florida Gators open with exhibition on Thursday

The Mike White era is still over a week away from officially beginning, but Florida will have a trial run on Thursday.

The Gators will host Palm Beach Atlantic in an exhibition game at 7 p.m. on Thursday, unofficially beginning the 2015-16 season. After almost a month of preseason practices, White will coach his first game as the head coach at Friday -- even if it won’t show up in the official statistics at the end of the year.

There’s anticipation from the coaches and the players, but White knows what this time of year is like from his playing career. The players always have a little extra excitement as the first game gets closer, and that’s no exception this season.

“The staff and I are a lot more excited for our players, especially our seniors,” White said. “It’s been a long preseason. We’ve put in a lot of work, time and energy. Our guys have been chomping at the bit now for two or three weeks to play someone else.” 

There’s no set starting lineup for Florida, and White cautioned that even the lineup they eventually decide to start on Thursday night could change plenty of time during the regular season.

The key strength White sees on his roster is its versatility. From the first time the Florida coach met with the team, he made it clear that they will run the floor and use depth to their advantage. As the practices crept it, that became even more clear to White. Starting will always be more important to players than it is to coaches, and Florida’s first-year coach hopes his players don’t get too caught up in it.

“I don’t care who starts. And I hope, at least to a certain extent, that they don’t care,” White said. “It’s about Florida basketball, it’s about winning and improving, that there’s going to be a small part of each one of those guys that takes pride in earning one of those starting spots. Just because they earn it one night doesn’t mean they will necessarily be starters the next night.”

Even though its against an opponent Florida won’t be during the regular season, White sees plenty for the Gators to learn from during Thursday’s exhibition. The coaching staff has continued to emphasize offensive rebounding. Some players, like Devin Robinson, needed to be more active getting to the glass and trying to maintain possession. It has paid off for Florida in practice, but doing it in a game situation would make the coaches happy going into the regular season.

Shooting percentages from the free throw line and three-point line have been lower than White would like. Increasing those in front of a crowd for the first time on Thursday would show progress.

More than anything, Thursday allows the players to get into a game situation and the coaches can see how much they truly learned during the preseason.

“There will be things we can draw from Thursday night, perhaps the biggest being we have room for improvement in different areas but (there’s) potential. This team has that scary word,” White said. “We’re definitely not there, and we’re far from it, but we have the potential to get there and be competitive in this league.”

RIMMER ELIGIBLE

The Gators got good news late last week as big man Schuyler Rimmer will be immediately eligible this season. After transferring from Stanford after the fall semester last year, Rimmer was originally expected to sit out until Florida’s fall semester came to an end in early December.

Instead, the NCAA allowed Rimmer to be immediately eligible this season. 

“It was big,” White said. “Schuyler is arguably one of our 2-3 most consistent guys. You know what you’re getting on a daily basis. He’s very consistent. He’s very mature. He plays with a level of mental toughness. Again, you know what you’re going to get from Schuyler. He’s got some leadership skills, he’s a hard worker. He’s going to be a factor on this team.”


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