Written by: Jenna Ladd
The Mike White era for the Florida Gators will debut on Thursday night at 7 p.m. in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center at home. This will be the first time in 19 years that Florida will be playing under someone other than Billy Donovan. It’s also the first chance at redemption for the Gators since ending their 2014-15 season at 16-17 – and they couldn’t be more ready.
“It’s been a long preseason,” White said. “We’ve put in a lot of work, time and energy. Our guys have been chomping at the bit now for two or three weeks to play someone else.”
Florida players to watch:
It doesn’t take an expert to know that Dorian Finney-Smith led the team last season in both scoring and rebounding. This will be his final collegiate basketball season as a fifth-year senior. In 2015 he was named to the coache’s second-team All-SEC team and was the 2014 SEC Sixth Man of the Year. This season he has become a leader as one of the two returning starters and is anticipated to be one of the team’s key players.
Another player to look out for is transfer newcomer John Egbunu from the University of South Florida in Tampa. The 6-11 Egbunu brings some much-needed height and court vision to Florida’s roster. He will likely be joining Doe-Doe in the starting lineup, so Gator fans will get to know the man known as “Big John” right off the bat.
Sophomore forward Devin Robinson, who averaged 6.4 points and 2.8 rebounds per game last season,is also expected to be in the starting lineup. D-Rob brings a lot of energy on the court and has been making an impression on White in the past few weeks in practice. “He’s come a long way, especially on the offensive glass,” White said of Robinson. “He’s shooting the ball at a much higher percentage.”
Junior point guard Kasey Hill, known by Coach White as one of the ‘little guys’ (the other being Chris Chiozza) is projected to be a part of the starting five for Florida as well. Last season Hill averaged 7.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.
The last player to keep an eye on is true freshman KeVaughn Allen. With Allen, there is more than what meets the eye with his 6-foot-2 frame. Being described as high-energy and a playmaker may provide him with a place on Florida’s starting five in his first season.
Palm Beach Atlantic Preview:
While Palm Beach Atlantic might not be one of the household names in basketball, their team is coming in with good amount of size. The Sailfish come into Gainesville with six players that are 6-6 and above. Last season they went 10-16 and 2-9 in away games.
Two of their returning players are senior forward Michael Simpson (6-6) and redshirt sophomore Cory Kenning (6-9). Simpson averaged 7.6 points and 2.5 rebounds per game and Kenning averaged 6 points and 4 rebounds per game last season.
This game will be a trial run for Florida to see how they are going to play under the new system that Mike White has put into place. However, this basketball team is more likely to grow during the season than in the offseason. According to the Gators’ head coach, “There will be things we can draw from Thursday night, perhaps the biggest being we have room for improvement in different areas but potential – this team has that scary word.”
Florida is not where they should be and they have a ways to go, per White. However, he firmly believes that they have the potential to get to where they need to be in order to be competitive in their league.
While this game might now show all of Florida’s cards, they might continue to surprise us with some tricks up their sleeve during the season as they progress. With any big changes – such as a completely new staff and so many new players – it takes time for the team to grow into itself. The bones are there for Gator basketball to be fantastic and on Thursday night we’ll get to see all of the potential for greatness that White has been talking about since he arrived.