Bill Koss knows Florida basketball… as a player (1963-1965), an assistant coach (1966-1972) and a broadcaster/analyst for nearly four decades.
The affable Big Bill has seen it all – and likes what he sees heading into Florida’s 2017-2018 campaign.
“The Gators are athletic and have a lot of upside,” he says before adding a small caveat. “But they are relatively young, with 6 players who have never played a minute together in a Gator uniform before this year”.
That group consists of four freshmen — DeAundre Ballard, Michael Okauru, Chase Johnson and Isiah Stokes— along with transfers Jalen Hudson and Egor Koulechov.
All, except perhaps a rehabbing Stokes, should see impactful playing time this season on a team coming off an Elite Eight run, and ranked eighth in preseason polls. It is also a squad that perhaps boasts more offensive fire-power than any other in the country – and in a system to which Koss draws favorable comparisons.
“In my mind, this style of play is very much like the NBA teams, Golden State and Boston,” he says.
It is a style Mike White brought from his high-scoring tenure at Louisiana Tech, and one that can confound both opponents and fans alike.
The latter did a double-take during a recent exhibition broadcast when Koss commented on how seamlessly the Gators were switching roles, including Keith Stone at the point.
A 6’8 forward playing the point?
Well, sort of. We’ll let Koss explain!
“Florida runs offensive sets that are predicated on reading the defense. It is a motion concept where the players react,” he says.
Specifically, the Gators run what has been coined the dribble-drive motion offense. And though Kentucky’s John Calipari is credited for its newly found fame, its roots are far less recent. Heck, Billy Donovan was the point-man for many of Pitino’s motion concepts at Providence.
The objective of the dribble drive offense sounds simple and bears its name — exploiting driving lanes to the basket, either for a layup or a perimeter kick-out. Those lanes, kick-outs and scoring opportunities are created by proper floor spacing and continuous movement — hence, “motion”.
Sounds easy, right? It’s not — especially for those six players adjusting to the system.
“They are learning to adapt on the fly without the bench giving them something to run,” Koss explains. “It demands a lot of real basketball IQ, but so far in practice they seem to be getting very comfortable with their innate versatility as teammates”.
Versatile personnel is key to Florida’s offense, as it requires multiple players who can drive the ball, shoot from the perimeter, space the floor and find open teammates. It is versatility that yields those interchangeable parts and positions.
“In reality, there isn’t any numbering system as such with a player like Chiozza relegated to being a 1 or Hayes confined to always being a 5,” Koss elaborates. “It depends solely on how the areas of the court — which are traditionally numbered 1 through 5 — are filled with any player who happens to end up there in a half court possession”.
How they “end up there” is a product of that constant motion, and continuous hunting for driving lanes, open space and perimeter shots.
And Florida has plenty of players who can do all of the above, including the fore mentioned power forward who was manning the point guard spot.
“It means a player like Stone might actually be handling the ball in the backcourt because of the makeup of the 5 players on the floor at that time,” Koss says. “This was the case on a few possessions when Ballard, Bassett, Hudson, Koulechov and Stone were all on the court at the same time”.
This season the Gators may offer more combinations of “players on the court” than any recent year; and that depth of versatility will be its identity according to Koss.
“In fact, this is the essence of Florida’s offense this season—where all 5 guys on the floor could be in any one of the 5 areas,” he says.
And that essence will make the Gators very tough to defend, as Jacksonville discovered when trying to overcome a 6’8 “guard” and the resulting mismatches in other areas.
“What made it effective was Jacksonville playing man-to-man, and the players guarding Stone and Koulechov were no match for the two of them who were ‘up top’,” he explains. “And so Stone, who has pretty good ball handling skills, with the floor spread — simply put it down and drove the basket for an easy layup”.
It was a pick-your-poison scenario for JU, as help defense would have left other players open. And in this case, two of those were very capable scorers.
“There was no help defense by JU since their small and quicker guys were on Ballard and Hudson, who had done a great job of spacing and occupying their defenders,” Koss says.
Spacing, movement and decision-making are keys to a system that affords its players plenty of freedom. But it is freedom within structure, Koss explains.
“It is like playing pick-up basketball except you have fundamental rules that guide your response as the possession unfolds,” he says.
Koss uses these words throughout his discussion of Florida’s offense, highlighting the importance of the players’ gaining confidence and comfort within the system – with the goal being to simply “play” rather than to “think through” each possession.
It is a trait Florida acquired a season ago, and one noted by South Carolina coach Frank Martin.
“Mike has them playing through his eyes now,” Martin said at the time. “Last year was obviously, he was trying to get guys to see what he sees. That is definitely happening right now. Mike’s got those guys playing through his eyes right now, and as an opponent it’s fun to watch. It’s not fun to play against, but it’s fun to watch.”
It may take a little while for the six new guys to do the same, but when it does — it will again be fun to watch.
Maybe even Golden State kinda fun!