For the first time in nearly twenty years, fans of the Florida Gators will find their eyes on two teams during the season.
Sure over years past Gator fans would flip on ESPN or to a game and check in on Joakim Noah or Al Horford or Chandler Parsons, just wanting an update on their boys.
But now with former head coach Billy Donovan firmly entrenched in the NBA with the Oklahoma City Thunder, there will be two teams that Gator fans are getting set to keep up with.
Since the NBA season has already begun, the Thunder is the first to get attention, and even Florida Gators players are tuning in to see how their former coach is doing.
Senior guard Alex Murphy was one of them as OKC tipped off against perennial powerhouse San Antonio on Wednesday October 28.
“First things first, it was funny seeing him with a jacket on the whole game, because that usually never happened here,” Murphy cleared up quickly.
But overall, Murphy and others were impressed as Donovan and his team won their debut 112-106 against Gregg Popovich and former Gator Matt Bonner.
“He did a really good job,” continued Murphy. “Obviously his team, it’s a big first win against the Spurs who are going to be really good this year. The West, it’s just crazy, there are so many good teams so it’ll be fun to watch him compete throughout the year against a lot of those guys.”
NBA MVP Kevin Durant, largely considered the cog to Donovan’s future success in the NBA, told ESPN after the win, “I know it’s one of many games, but to get him his first W, especially at home on a big stage against a big-time team, felt good. He was calm all night, and that kind of rubbed off on us.”
The Thunder traveled to Orlando for their second game and went to double overtime before beating the Magic 139-136, giving Donovan a 2-0 start.
While that season rolls on, another one is getting set to start in Gainesville, and fans and media alike are still having a hard time shedding the shadow of Billy.
Murphy says he’s not tired of talking about moving on from Donovan, but acknowledges that has been the main topic of conversation, especially at the recent SEC Basketball Media Days.
“That was probably the number one question that me and [Dorian Finney-Smith] and probably Coach White had while we were up there, was ‘What were the differences you had between before or how it was before and how it is now.’ But like I’ve said before, obviously Coach D and Coach White have their own personality, their own style and their own way of doing things but we’ve tried to maintain a lot of what was already around here and try to have that Florida culture stick with us. We take a lot of what we learned from Coach D and his staff and when we were here with him and push that forward and try to incorporate that with Coach White and his staff.”
And while Coach D is setting up his system in the NBA, White in finding his system evolve for Florida Gators players in Gainesville.
After holding their first full scrimmage, White saw progress on offense from a team that has been solely learning defense so far.
“Really competitive,” said White.
“I was pleased from that standpoint. We’re definitely in a much better flow offensively on Saturday. It’s starting to come together, I think, slowly but surely. We didn’t shoot it very well from behind the arc [but] shot it well from the interior.”
Before fully taking on offense though, White wants his team to grasp their defensive schemes, which is still ongoing.
“We introduced…a couple new defensive looks. I’m pleased with how our guys have learned the differences and are executing our defensive assignments. It’s still very, very early, but we’re getting there.”
Despite it still being early, White has a deadline he’d like to meet and it lines up with the Florida Gators exhibition debut on November 5.
“We have one more week to really figure out the difference between this defense and this defense and this offensive call and this offensive call,” explains White.
“Two or three different zone offensive continuances four or five different baseline out of bounds offensive looks, just continuing to shore up our execution both offensively and defensively.”
The schemes will come though, all a part of the process and Mike White is confidant he has the players to pull it off.
“I’m pleased with our leadership, our work ethic, our intensity level, how we’ve approached practices every day, these guys will get after it in another hour, we’ve expected that, we’ve gotten it, just continuing to understand what we’re doing and continuing to allow this process to take care of itself.”
Florida Gators basketball fans can see this process take to the court on November 5 against Palm Beach Atlantic in the first exhibition game of Mike White’s Gators career.
And you can catch Billy Donovan in action four times before that exhibition game as the Gators legend continues his tour through the NBA, facing off against guys he coached before and winning with his own process.
It’s a dueling schedule watch, but two teams that Florida Gators fans can’t wait to see succeed.