In the eyes of most Florida fans, the jury was still out on Mike White after a 21-15 debut season last year when the Gators went 21-15 and made it to the third round of the NIT. Most folks conceded White was a likeable guy and probably a decent coach, but he was no Billy Donovan.
Well, the folks who complained and raised eyebrows are right about one thing. Mike White is certainly no Billy Donovan, but he doesn’t want to be. While he understands that whatever he does as Florida’s basketball coach will be done on a foundation that was built by Donovan, he has to do things his way. When the Gators went 21-15 last season there was unavoidable friction. White wasn’t a Billy D clone who grew up in a system that was forged by trial and error over a 19-year span to compete for and win national championships. That’s not to say that White can’t take Florida to national championships in the future, but if and when that happens it will be done his way.
Judging by what we’re seeing this season, White’s way seems to be a perfect fit for Florida after all. He spent last year trying to figure out how to mould the players he inherited into a team that plays the game the way he wants it played. Holdovers from last season admit there was some resistance but all that has disappeared as the players have figured out that White indeed has a plan and a purpose and it will work just fine at UF.
The Gators are 24-6 after Wednesday night’s 78-66 win over Arkansas and they’re guaranteed the second seed in the SEC Tournament. A win at Vanderbilt Saturday and one in the SEC Tournament next week in Nashville almost ensures the Gators will be a #3 seed when the NCAA selects a week from Sunday. It’s almost certain UF won’t drop lower than a #4. As a top 4 it means UF will probably play its first two NCAA games in Orlando where the home court could help propel UF into the Sweet 16.
How UF has gotten to this point is everything about a team buying into what White teaches.
“We trust each other completely,” Kevaughn Allen said after the Arkansas win, a thought echoed by Canyon Barry, who said, “We trust each other. We’re a family.”
Go up and down the roster and talk to this team and they’ll all say something similar. That wouldn’t have happened last year and that’s not anyone’s fault. Things like that happen in transition years. The transition is done and now White has a team that even without John Egbunu the rest of the season is capable of winning the SEC Tournament and/or making a deep run in the NCAA.
“Florida’s for real,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “This is a really good team Mike’s got.”
The reason the Gators are for real has everything to do with White staying the course and being who he is. White’s outward demeanor is calm and reserved. Inwardly, he’s a raging storm of intensity, driven to win while doing it the right way. He’s an excellent bench coach who is only going to get better.
There is one thing White does indeed share with Donovan. Billy D was a treasure, a one of a kind coach who was the perfect fit for the University of Florida. Mike White may not have earned “treasure” status just yet, but that’s only a matter of time. Like Donovan, he’s the perfect fit here.
BARRY SEC’S BEST SIXTH MAN
When the Gators needed him most, Canyon Barry came through Wednesday night. He filled the box score, leading the Gators with 14 points while hitting three critical 3-pointers, grabbing 4 rebounds, handing out 3 assists and blocking a shot that triggered Florida’s closing run that choked off an Arkansas rally.
What has made Barry’s year at Florida special is that he has made the effort to fit in. He was a hotshot scorer at Charleston and the son of Hall of Famer Rick Barry, but here at Florida, his main goal has been to do whatever it takes to help the Gators win even if that means giving up some of the glory he might have had by transferring somewhere else for his graduate year.
“He’s exemplified sacrifice,” Florida coach Mike White said. “He’s the poster child. He’s the sixth man in the league. He should be or I’ll throw a fit. The guy’s been incredible. He’s a starter who’s coming off the bench and you don’t hear a peep from him. He just wants to win. He could have chosen some other schools where maybe the coach promises him he can start and maybe he plays 38 minutes a game and gets 25 a game but he decides to come to be a part of something special.”
The Gators are special this season and Canyon Barry has a lot to do with that.
Wednesday night results: Georgia 79, Auburn 78; LSU 92, Tennessee 82; Alabama 70, Ole Miss 55
1. Kentucky 25-5, 15-2 SEC
2. FLORIDA 24-6, 14-3 SEC
3. South Carolina 22-8, 12-5 SEC
4. Arkansas 22-8, 11-6 SEC
5. Alabama 17-12, 10-7 SEC
6. (tie) Georgia 18-12, 9-8 SEC
6. (tie) Ole Miss 18-12, 9-8 SEC
6. (tie) Vanderbilt 16-14, 9-8 SEC
9. Texas A&M 16-13, 8-9 SEC
10. Tennessee 15-15, 7-10 SEC
11. Auburn 17-13, 6-11 SEC
12. Mississippi State 14-15, 5-12 SEC
13. (tie) LSU 10-19, 2-15 SEC
13. (tie) Missouri 7-22, 2-15 SEC
Joe Lunardi NCAA projections for SEC teams
In: Kentucky (projected #2 in the Midwest); FLORIDA (projected #3 in the East); South Carolina (projected #7 in the South); Arkansas (#9 in the East); Vanderbilt (#12 in the Midwest; play-in game)
Bubble: Georgia (currently first four out)
Next four out: Tennessee
GATORS ADVANCE IN SEC WOMEN’S TOURNAMENT
Amanda Butler’s 11th-seeded Gators extended their season by one more day at least with a 71-61 win over Arkansas in the first round of the SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament in Greenville, South Carolina Wednesday. With the win, the Gators (15-15) will square off with #6 seed Texas A&M (19-10) tonight at 8:25.
Ronni Williams led the Gators with 23 points and 12 rebounds for her 9th double-double of the season.
Of Florida 30 games this season, 21 have been played away from the O-Dome.
#1 UF SOFTBALL PLAYS 2 IN CALIFORNIA TODAY
The #1-ranked Gators (15-1) are in California today to begin play in the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton. The Gators will play five games this weekend, with Iowa (2-7) and Long Beach State (5-6-1) on the slate for today. Friday, the Gators face #18 California (12-1) and #8 UCLA (13-3). They wrap up play in the tournament on Saturday with Northwestern (3-10).
Quarterback Brandon McIlwain, who played in eight football games with three starts for South Carolina as a true freshman last fall, will transfer out at the end of the semester. McIlwain was also a member of the South Carolina baseball team but he is leaving the baseball team as well.
For the moment, at least, Jimmy Garoppolo is still Tom Brady’s caddy. ESPN reports that Bill Belichick intends to keep the backup QB rather than trade him. This probably means one of two things: (1) Belichick thinks Garoppolo is a likely successor to 40-year-old Tom Brady or (2) nobody has made Belichick an offer he can’t refuse. If someone comes along and offers Belichick the right number of draft choices and/or a quality veteran, don’t be surprised if Garoppolo is shipped off.
It will be interesting to see how the Golden State Warriors compensate for the loss of Kevin Durant, who is out for at least the next four weeks with a sprained MCL. Durant averages 25.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game from his small forward position. Durant’s probable replacement is 6-6 Andre Iguodala, who averages 6.3 points and 3.4 rebounds off the bench. What this really means is Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson will split up the 16.7 shots Durant gets per game. Who picks up the rebounding slack is anyone’s guess.
Joel Embiid, who missed his first two NBA seasons recovering from foot surgeries, has a torn meniscus that will end his season after an MRI revealed the tear is worse than expected. Embiid was averaging 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.
John Franklin III is taking reps at quarterback this spring at Auburn, but if you’re one who has been known to wager, put your money on Franklin moving into the slot where he could potentially be a game breaker if he can catch the ball.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Put yourself in Scott Stricklin’s shoes for a moment. Mike White is 24-6 this season and the Gators are ranked #12 nationally. Should Stricklin wrap up White with a long term deal that will keep him in Gainesville for years to come or is it too early to be thinking that far ahead?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Here’s another recent concert for you. Last week the Tedeschi Trucks Band player the Warner Theater in Washington, DC.