Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports

Program building season for Mike White and Gators

It was never going to be easy for Mike White to come to Florida following in the footsteps of the man that defines the definition of success for the program. Billy Donovan left a huge footprint in Gainesville with unprecedented success over basically two decades. Early returns have White aimed in the right direction.

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In his previous coaching stop at Louisiana Tech, Mike White wasn’t an unknown in the coaching world as he was recognized as one of the up and coming coaches in college basketball. The former Ole Miss star point guard was having pretty nice success at Tech albeit not able to quite get over the hump of making into the NCAA Tournament.

From there, White had to follow a guy that coached in three national championship games and won two of them, a year removed from four straight Elite Eight appearances and another Final Four, and the list goes on.

Even though the season before he arrived Billy Donovan’s Gators didn’t make the postseason, the idea of following Donovan should have been a daunting one.

Well, White’s first team in 2015-2016 did make it to postseason, albeit in the NIT Tournament. It was an accomplishment and they weren’t far from making The Big Dance. This year, they punched their ticket and are now poised to play in The Sweet 16 versus Wisconsin Friday night. White hasn’t really even had time to consider the quick success he has had.

“I guess it’s just so early and I’d like to think we have more basketball ahead of us,” he said when asked about getting to this point. “A month from now when you have time to take a deep breath, after recruiting of course, because we’ll go right from this to recruiting, you might start considering some of the big picture stuff a little bit more. Right now, I’m just focused on Wisconsin and being as competitive as we can be.

“I’m really happy for our guys, really happy for our seniors. Really happy for Devin (Robinson), the progress that he’s made. In terms of proving myself and our staff proving ourselves, we don’t even get into that, we’re fine. We’re happy to be here.”

For White, taking the job was a no-brainer.

“Conversations with Jeremy Foley in the interview process were about as much as I’ve talked about following Coach Donovan,” he said. “I mean, someone had to follow him. Again, he made it a better job, it’s the University of Florida, I’m not competing with Coach Donovan, I’m just trying to do the best job I can do and my staff is doing the same and we try to keep it that simple.”

Recruiting has been another barometer of which he is and will be measured at Florida. While it should be noted that the Gators under Donovan won back-to-back national titles with just one McDonald’s All-American on the floor (Corey Brewer), the success of the program for the two decades certainly had something to do with the level of prospects that Donovan brought to the squad.

It hasn’t been easy on the recruiting scene for White who has been busy making a name for himself and the program under his watch, but he can sense it is getting to a different level because of the success they have had both this season and at the end of last.

“I think anytime you have success, it's going to continue to help with recruiting,” he said. “We've been well-received since we've gotten here just because we are Florida, but the reception has been a little bit warmer. The way we finished last year, the way that we've played this year. Our guys have put us in the top 25 all year and certainly recruits don't mind seeing that.

“I think that for the most part the reception continues to get warmer and warmer. Phone calls are returned a little quicker, as are texts. So I think our recruiting base knows that Florida is very healthy. We have a lot to sell here.

“Again, I've got a great staff, great people. Our support staff is through the roof. All the resources and facilities necessary are here to continue building this program and rebuilding it, if you will. We'll see. We'll see where it leads.”

Something else that won’t hurt the recruiting is the success of the SEC. The Gators are one of three teams still left playing in the Sweet 16. The league has been hindered in recent years in the sport, but the conference has made a huge effort to try and improve scheduling which in turn gets teams noticed.

All of that paid off this season.

“I think the SEC's in a good spot,” he said. “We have three in the Sweet 16. Just walking down here just thinking, I believe it's four different teams in two years (Texas A&M last year). I just think the SEC's got a bunch of momentum.

“We're 99.5 percent on Wisconsin, but when you're staring at the computer screen for a couple straight hours, sometimes I'll jump up and I've got to get an ADD break and go grab my tea. And you have those little 20-second impromptu hallway staff meetings, and we talked about, 'Wow, how good will the SEC be next year? It's incredible. All these teams.' There might be 3-4 teams that plateau, that are similar to this year, maybe even take a slight step backward, but there's going to be a handful that take a big step forward. The SEC's got a lot of momentum in my opinion."

He sees the quality of competition in the conference really helping teams as they play in the tournament in the future.

“I think coming out of our league in the future when we're even more talented and deeper and more successful we could gain confidence, but right now, again, it's Wisconsin,” he said.

And that’s why he keeps winning. 

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