The Florida Gators are just over a month away from the start of the season, and only a couple days out from the official start of practices.
Florida will get back into basketball hot and heavy on Thursday, but before that even starts, this team already has a sense of confidence for a strong 2017-18 season. The Gators gathered for media day on Tuesday, and the sense from nearly everyone was that this team has potential to be special.
It could be just as special as last season’s Elite Eight team, but it will be very different. While Mike White’s philosophy is always aimed towards good defense first, this team could, and should, be better offensively than it was a year ago.
“I could be eating my words in December, but I’m being honest with you, I think we could be better offensively,” White said. “I think we have more weapons offensively. I think we’ll shoot it better offensively.”
There will be several new faces on the court this season, as Florida reloaded with offensive weapons. One of the most anticipated is graduate transfer forward Egor Koulechov.
Since he came to Florida from Rice, his long-range game has gotten a lot of hype, and he has even earned the nickname “3gor”. White said on Tuesday that he is even better than he could have imagined, and his teammates concur.
Chris Chiozza believes Koulechov is the best shooter he has ever played with.
“I think in practice yesterday, we had a two-hour practice, he might have missed two shots,” Chiozza said.
The Gators don’t just have a ton of new weapons taking the court this season, they also return players like Chiozza, KeVaughn Allen and Keith Stone from an offense that ranked in the top five in nearly every offensive category in the SEC a year ago.
“We’ve got a lot of offensive tools this year,” Stone said. “A lot of interchangeable guys, a lot of dudes that can hit shots, which is great for us, because we had a little bit of offense last year, but this year we’ll be great on offense.”
While offense is expected to take a step forward this season, it may have to make up for a defense that could take a step back. Florida had one of the top defenses in the country last season, but many of the top defenders from that team have now moved on.
Defense is a staple of any White coached team. It could just take some time for this one with so many new players still getting accommodated and learning expectations at Florida.
“We have a lot of young people, young players coming in,” Chiozza said. “They might not fully understand the importance of defense. I know I didn’t when I got to college, so we just have to be on them every day that defense is what actually wins the game. You have to score, obviously, but if the other team doesn’t score you don’t have to score but two points.”
Mentally and physically, White does not yet know if this team is ready to play at such a high level defensively. Time will tell.
“I’m not sure we can be quite as good defensively,” White said. “If this team is as good defensively as last year’s team, we’ll be really good. We’re going to strive for that every day.”
Whether the Gators get it all figured out defensively or not, this team is built to put a lot of points up this year, and that is what they are leaning on heading into the season.