As Florida Gators basketball head coach Mike White began to close out his first Gators media day, the question finally arose that had been somewhat inevitable.
Following Billy Donovan; how do you fill the shoes that someone tailor made for themself?
The question itself had almost been avoided, as the reporter first pointed out—“20 minutes and only one mention of Billy Donovan. That’s not bad.”—That one mention had even come from Mike White himself. But once the name was floated out there, it had to be addressed.
“Coach Donovan has been incredible,” gushed White about the living legend he’s been tasked with replacing.
“He’s taken time on several occasions to reach out or return a call or text from me. I know one thing; he wants Florida to be really successful. He’s proud of what he’s built. [He] Obviously built something special here. Probably most importantly he wants these kids that he’s recruited here to have success. So he cares. He’s been very, very helpful, and I’m very appreciative for it.”
The metaphor we used here when Donovan first left to take the head-coaching job with the Oklahoma City Thunder was that of an old car. Donovan received his head-coaching gig with the Florida Gators and was handed a soap bucket and a washrag then told to make the Pinto in the garage look like a Ferrari. He did just that, and left the keys in the ignition for the next guy to come in.
Granted over the past year, that Ferrari has gotten a few dings and scratches, but it’s still more than most could hope for.
What Mike White has made clear though is his plan to not only clean it up, but to make it his own. He may change out the engine, put some new wheels on it and, if he’s feeling wild and crazy, he’ll update the interior fabric.
Same car, different look.
The first thing he plans on doing is adding speed.
“I’d like to play fast. I think that we can play fast offensively, to what extent defensively, we’ll find out. But I’m pretty optimistic that we’re going to be pretty effective. We’re very much evaluating at this point.”
He feels the team is equipped to do so with the two Mustangs he’s housing on the roster.
“Chris Chiozza and Kasey Hill are two of the fastest guys out there in college basketball,” boasted White.
“Kasey Hill may be the fastest. So they’re going to have space. Guys are going to give them space to stay in front of the basketball, especially in transition. They’re going to get open looks. Some of it is technique.”
While this new speedster plan isn’t fully in place yet — White says there are still a lot of question marks offensively as the emphasis so far has been on defense and skill development — there’s little doubt that White will push forward to implement this style.
White is comparatively young, and quiet in a way that some would immediately assume translates to meekness. But while his tone of voice stays on the lower decibel levels in front of camera’s and mic’s, his message stays strong. There may be question marks on the offense now, but it’s more a matter of timing than anything as Coach White seems confident in the game plan he knows he can successfully implement into any willing team.
He has a willing team, and you have to look no further than junior point guard Kasey Hill, his speeding bullet, to see that.
During this past offseason, White has asked Hill to change something that has most likely long been as natural to him as walking — his shot.
“We’ve tweaked with strokes, if you will,” explains White.
“We’ve messed with Kasey’s stroke a little bit. He’s been helpful. He’s been open to that. He’s shooting the ball a little bit differently. You’ve got to give him credit. He’s a junior in college and he’s changed the way he’s shot the basketball for the last 15 years. We feel that’s helped him a little bit. Obviously, muscle memory with shooting is the biggest factor.”
As Kasey Hill takes time to learn this new shot, Mike White is taking time to learn his new car. As anyone who has ever driven in a new car for the first time can tell you, there’s different sounds, different nuances that make each car unique. Does it stick turning right? How sensitive are the brakes? Can it go from 0 to 60 in 5.2? These are the things Coach White is still learning about his new baby, and he’s listening for clues from the machine itself.
“There is a lot of trial and error,” says White.
“We have thoughts about each guy about the way we think we may be able to play, and some of the strengths that we think we have and some of the things we think we may not be very good at this, and in a month from now some of those things may be reversed. So there is going to be some trial and error. There is going to be some give and take with us learning from our guys and our guys learning from us. Ownership is something we preach every day. And if Dorian Finney-Smith and DeVon Walker and Kasey Hill come to me and say, ‘Coach, what do you think about this?’ Hey, we’re all for it, we’re all for it.”
With each passing day, Coach Mike White is learning a bit more about his team. At the same time, his team is learning a bit more about him. Gone is Billy Donovan and the legacy that followed him from the basketball court to the grocery store and everywhere in between. There’s a new guy in town. His voice is still getting louder, and the quietness of it seems to only be amplified by an offseason begging for noise. If all goes as planned however, he’ll soon have a revving machine rearing to go on November 13 and it will drown out all the white noise surrounding the Florida Gators basketball program; and have a new driver at the wheel.