Time makes the heart grow fonder and in the case of Florida Gators basketball head coach Mike White, it has certainly made his mindset more comfortable. While the first year Gators head coach has come to know his young team, they’ve also gotten to know each other, making for a much more fluid group of athletes as the season progresses.
“A lot more comfortable than I was a couple of months ago,” says White.
“And I think our players are more comfortable and our entire staff. As a program, we have a better handle on who we are, on what our strengths are, what our focus should be night in and night out.”
Transitioning to a new coach following a staple in the program, in addition to a younger team, it stood to reason that it was going to take a while to get some kinks worked out. But fans and White alike thought most of that would happen in the offseason; so imagine the surprise to all when this team showed their age as they got into a stretch of games that would weaken even the strongest of teams.
Now on a three game winning streak (and five of the last seven), the Gators have put together an identity that plays on their strengths.
“When you’re hammering defense and rebounding down guys throats every day, and they are not necessarily finding that success,” explains White, “over the last five, six weeks, outside of a couple of games, we’ve been really consistent defensively. And now we’re seeing guys step up and shoot the ball with a little more confidence for whatever reasons.”
More importantly than playing to their strengths though is finding a sense of comfortability that will bank on being constantly uncomfortable.
After the close win over Mississippi State, forward Dorian Finney-Smith said this Florida Gators basketball team needed to learn how to win. By pulling out a win over the Bulldogs though and then dismantling Auburn, the Gators showed they’re learning how to only focus on themselves and play with a fire under them.
“How we handle success has been something that we talk about as much as anything,” admits White.
“How we handle what people in the community are telling us, how we handle what our mom on the phone is telling us, our AAU coach, what they read on the Internet, all those type of things. This is a team that we’re immature in a lot of ways. In our guys’ defense, we’re playing one senior. So the three or four really good performances that we’ve had this year and even a couple of losses, like the Michigan State game, I’m not sure we handled those things the best way that we could have handled those successes. But it’s a process, and I think we handle success better now than we did a couple of months ago. It’s something that we’ll continue to focus on.”
Part of becoming more comfortable with this team is knowing the team and part of knowing this team is settling on a makeup. That’s what has happened after weeks of a rotation lineup that swung the door more than an Old West saloon. Not the case anymore as Florida has seen essentially an eight-man rotation for the SEC league play thus far (forward Dorian Finney-Smith, forward Justin Leon, center John Egbunu, guard Chris Chiozza, guard KeVaughn Allen, forward Devin Robinson, guard Kasey Hill and forward Kevarrius Hayes).
“We’ve kind of settled in on who we’re playing, who we’re dependent upon and roles have been defined over time. Our guys have done a good job of accepting their roles. It’s kind of combination of a lot of things.”
Now with a set squad that understands their roles and a coach that breaths a little easier when his team steps on the floor, the Florida Gators basketball team heads to the interesting atmosphere of Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tennessee to face the Vanderbilt Commodores. You can see the game when it tips at 9pm on ESPNU and as always follow along on GatorCountry for full updates and coverage.