The more you know about yourself, the farther you can go. After an 89-42 exhibition game win over Palm Beach Atlantic, the Florida Gators basketball team knows at least a bit more about themselves. Not all of it good, but enough to start.
Coach Mike White broke down several of these things in an outlook on the Gators regular season opener versus the Naval Academy on this upcoming Friday night.
The first, and perhaps most important thing the Gators have to do is learn to live without redshirt senior Alex Murphy.
Despite transferring in from Duke during the 2013-2014 season, Murphy’s age had developed him into a strong leader—the most vocal on the court according to White. Murphy went down during the exhibition with a partial tear of the plantar fascia in his right foot. He is expected to miss four to six weeks.
His absence has already made a difference in practice.
“It’s really unfortunate for Alex,” says White.
“He hadn’t had many reps. He’s coming into the year as a fifth-year senior without a lot of experience. Here comes another hit for him, and he’s really been in a good groove shooting the basketball. He’s as much of a leader as we have on this team. Brings it vocally to practice every day more than anyone. We’ve actually noticed already without him on the floor in practice a lower decibel level, guys not quite communicating at the level they were when Alex was out there. Very unfortunate for our team but mostly for Alex.”
There’s also the small issue of filling his void during games and White says that he’ll tinker with that issue all week leading up to tip off versus Navy.
“We may, not may, we’re going to try to move Devin [Robinson] around a little bit. Justin Leon may get more opportunity, Keith Stone, Kevarrius Hayes, we may give him some reps at the four. Who knows? We’re going to play with it all week.”
Another “issue” per se for the Florida Gators basketball team is free throws.
They shot 10-27 (37%) against PBA and the only reason Mike White isn’t freaking out over it is because he’s chosen instead to be patient—and pray. Because according to him, right now, there’s really only one way to get those numbers up.
“Oh my goodness. Pray more I guess. You know before we even play our first game I don’t want to make it a huge deal, I don’t want it to become just so mental for our guys. We shoot a lot of free throws in practice, we shoot them sometimes before practice, and sometimes we shoot them after practice. A lot of times we shoot ‘em during practice, when we’re huffing and puffing and we have a full lather. So we try to get as many game reps as possible. You just hope that the percentages you shoot in practice would carry over to the games, so I’m not ready to just jump to a conclusion to early that it’s a major issue for us yet; I’m hopeful that we can correct it for Friday night.”
Plenty of guys will get a chance to correct it on Friday night, thanks to a constant rotation while White figures out his best plan of attack for the rest of the season.
He played all 16 guys during Thursday’s exhibition, and while White quickly states that won’t be the norm, he admits there will be some tinkering due to parity in depth.
“I would say, I would be surprised if we don’t play 10 to 12 Friday night. If we have 10 playing really well then maybe we just play 10. But I have not seen that type of consistency on a consistent basis yet with this team.”
His message is simple to his players concerning this as well—you want to play? Prove it.
“Defense, rebounding and effort are gonna, they’re gonna determine your minutes in first and foremost,” explains White.
“Now if you’re playing with average effort but you’ve hit three 3’s in a row, I’m probably a little less likely to take you out of the game then if you’re playing with average effort and you’re 0 for 3. But all of those factors go into you’re rotation and playing time and opportunities and also what you’ve done in the past games. Some guys have a little bit more leeway. Dorian Finney-Smith probably has more leeway than our freshman in my mind because he’s been there and done that in high level games and he’s been apart of a lot of wins and he’s helped win a lot of games of course. So all those are factors and it’s a process not only for our team to improve throughout the year but it’s also a process in terms of the rotation and the minutes that guys log.”
What rotation he goes with will have to wait to be seen on Friday night. Free throws will likely make a difference in that as well as filling in the mixing Alex Murphy. Until then, Mike White will continue to build his Florida Gators basketball team.
The Gators take on Navy in Annapolis, MD to tip off their regular season on Friday November 13 at 9:30 pm on CBS Sports Network.