Three months ago, even three weeks ago, the Florida Gators were far from the team that’s now won five straight games.
Three weeks ago, the Gators were 13-11 and two games below .500 in SEC play.
Florida looked to be playing its way right into the NIT. It had several chances to get that big resume building win at that point, but just couldn’t capitalize.
Fans were frustrated. Mike White was frustrated. The players were frustrated. And maybe that’s exactly what this team full of self-proclaimed nice guys needed.
It’s been a team effort for Florida to bounce back and put itself in the favorable position it is now, but White thinks one guy made the biggest difference.
“If I had to put it on one thing in particular, I would probably put it on Kevarrius Hayes being even more vocal,” he said. “He’s putting his stamp furthermore on this team and grabbing guys when he needs to grab guys and demanding a certain level in the film room and in practice.”
But Hayes isn’t the only one with a voice on this team anymore. Freshman Andrew Nembhard is finding himself as a player, and as a leader.
“He’s gotten to where he’s right there with Spidey, with Hayes, in setting the tone as much as anybody,” White said. “He’s grown in his leadership.”
Nembhard has made an almost miraculous jump offensively over this stretch. Earlier in the season, watching him try to finish a layup could be described as nothing short of cringe-worthy.
He just didn’t have any kind of confidence to score it, and it showed.
Lately, it’s shocking when he doesn’t get a shot to fall. He’s made 24 of his last 32.
Nembhard just seems to make plays when the Gators need it the most. He’s not forcing it or trying to be someone he’s not. He’s playing within himself and it’s paying off.
Maybe that’s wearing off on others around him, because Florida is no longer solely relying on the sharp shooting of Noah Locke and KeVaughn Allen.
Hayes is making plays inside, Isaiah Stokes has transformed his body and started to become a factor, Jalen Hudson is breaking out of his rut. The list goes on, but the point is the Gators are finally finding success scoring the basketball.
That ability has been there all along, but the improvements are due to a change in mindset more than anything.
“I thought early on we had some selfishness issues, had some agenda stuff going on offensively and weren’t nearly good enough to overcome those things,” White said. “Is it perfect now? No. I thought we took a couple my turn shots in Nashville, but it’s gotten a lot better.”
Now that Florida has more and more players making strides, the next step is to get it all to come together at once. If that happens, a team that was written off by most not long ago could be a legitimate threat moving forward.
“It’s refreshing,” White said. “But at the same time, it’s head scratching, because you wonder why we couldn’t figure this out against this team or against that team or why the other night we had some really good performances by two or three guys, maybe four guys, and then we had a couple guys that we couldn’t get into a rhythm … Why can’t we get eight of us playing at a high level offensively at the same time? That’s what we’re shooting for.”