There’s no if’s, and’s or but’s about it.
Florida Gators basketball head coach Mike White expects forward Dorian Finney-Smith to be his best player on the floor; night in and night out…and at practice too…and in the locker room for that matter. The Gators success—or lack of—will depend on it. In fact, it’s safe to say that this season, Florida goes as Doe-Doe goes, and to make a bad joke, need him to not be extinct.
The 6’8”, 220 lb. redshirt senior is a guy that Mike White says the team will “absolutely” be built around.
“We expect a lot of him,” explains White.
“In his defense, this team needs him to be an all-league [player].”
Voters agree, as DFS was named preseason All-SEC about 24 hours before the Gators tip off their season against Navy on Friday.
He has all of the tools to do it.
He’s a forward that can fill the guard role. He’s comfortable in the paint and on the wings. He can fill any role that needs filled on any given night and his teammates are well aware of his importance to them at this point.
“Man, he’s unbelievable,” expressed guard Devon Walker.
“He can do any and everything, he’s great at everything, good at everything. I don’t really see a ceiling as far as him; it’s kind of dangerous to say.”
And according to DeVo, there’s even more to Finney-Smith that we haven’t seen yet.
“I think a lot of people underestimate his (basketball) IQ, his knowledge of the game. He knows how to play extremely well. He can dribble, shoot, rebound, but his thought process, he knows where guys are going to be, and he understands rotations and all of that. I think it’s underestimated.”
That’s not to say Doe-Doe has been overlooked, the opposite in fact.
He enters his redshirt senior season as the Florida Gators leading returning scorer (averaging 13.1 during his redshirt junior season)—rebounder (6.2 per game)—and 3-point shooter (shot 43% last season).
Those numbers are good, but Mike White wants balance.
“I think the biggest challenge to him, from the previous staff, and it’s carried over from us, is just consistency. We can’t have Dorian get us 25 on Friday night and only 2 rebounds, he’s got to get us 18 and he’s got to get us 9 rebounds, and he’s got to be the best defender on the floor. And then if he does that on Tuesday night, he can’t get us 8 and 6. He’s got to do the same thing… we all know what’s he’s capable of, and he’s a really good guy and he really wants to win. I feel like his consistency has improved, somewhat.”
To put up these expected numbers, Doe has to fulfill the old adage “you play how you practice”.
How he practices directly relates to how he’ll play and for the Gators to be successful they need him to play well on both ends of the court.
Right now, White says there’s days in practice that Finney-Smith is “the best offensive player and he’ll coast on the other end. Vice versa.”
This won’t last for long if White has anything to say about it and everything he’s saying is being directed straight to Dorian.
There are plenty of instances when a coach will mention things to the media so that the player finds out what’s expected of him with the added pressure of having the fan base now know about it as well.
There are instances when a coach expects something from a player and will push them until the athlete figures it out on their own.
But White has gone a step beyond and told everyone who will listen, including DFS that he is their number one guy, and he’s expected to play like it.
“For us, he needs to be our best player,” says White.
“That’s been communicated to him since the first time I met him… we need both [play and leadership] from him.”
While it may seem the two would go hand-in-hand—of course your best player would be the leader of the team—there’s a difference, says White; when the balance is fully achieved, that’s when you’ve got a star.
“You can be the best player and you can fill up the stat sheet,” explains White, “and not necessarily affect other people’s emotions and other people’s positivity and toughness, some of your teammates. Leaders lead, before the game starts and after the game ends. [Dorian] is always doing the right things. He’s leading by example and he says the right things. Where Dorian has gotten a little bit better is calling guys out, freshmen who aren’t going quite as hard or if he’s on a team in practice who is losing a drill or two he’s learning to be a little bit more positive.”
Walker agrees stating, “I think it’s not even from a physical aspect. I think Doe definitely has embraced it more mentally. I think you can see that carry over from last season to this season. He’s matured more as a man, as a leader. He’s definitely talking more and he gets himself going, as well as other guys. He does that extremely well. And I can see he’s definitely grown in that area.”
The chance to achieve that stardom through all of this is what drew Finney-Smith back to Florida; the prospect of another year under future Hall of Fame coach Billy Donovan and another year of tape to show NBA scouts as the oldest and most experienced guy on the court for the Florida Gators.
With Donovan’s departure to the NBA, there was question as to whether DFS would follow.
Instead he had a heart to heart with his coach, who told him to trust Florida and who ever would be coming in.
He did and Mike White was brought in with a 101-40-career record. It didn’t take long for the two to realize they would have to depend on one another to find success in White’s first year and Dorian’s last as a Gator.
When White was hired, he immediately zeroed in on Finney-Smith, saying even then that he was going to unabashedly put more responsibility on the redshirt senior. Finney-Smith has taken it in stride, according to White, and now they’re set up to do what both came to do.
“He allows us to really push him,” White says of Finney-Smith.
“Very, very coachable. He lets you ride him and some of the better teams, their best player gets yelled at. And Dorian allows himself to be yelled it, he takes it the right way, because what’s important to Dorian again is winning.”
As the Florida Gators set out in a new season hoping to win once again, they’ll look to Dorian Finney-Smith with no argument that on a team of young talent, he is their best player, and they’ll follow as he goes.
The Gators begin their season versus the Midshipmen on Friday November 13 at 9:30 pm on CBS Sports Network.