The SEC Summer Teleconference took place on Thursday giving coaches and media a chance to connect and ask questions following the NBA Draft and individual workouts with players. Mike White was the second coach to step up to the mic and had some great verbal tidbits to keep us all excited for the upcoming season. Here are some of the highlights from his question period.
Everyone wanted to hear about Jalen Hudson and the process of him declaring, working out, and ultimately withdrawing from the NBA Draft. When asked about Hudson’s ultimate return to the Gators, White offered: “It was big for our program but more for Jalen to get the feedback that he got. He’s ready to roll. He feels like he’s in a good place having learned a lot through the process. Hopefully he can finish here as strong as he wants to.” And regarding the feedback he received from NBA teams said: “It’s a lot of the same things he got from his current staff but I think it really hits home when it comes from the highest level, from the NBA. He’s got to become a better defender and a better rebounder. He’s got to play with some more edge. He’s got to be able to dig a little bit deeper and play with a little bit more intensity. And even offensively not be so sporadic, be a little more consistent but that’s his strength right now from the feedback that he’s been given. I think a lot of people are high on his ability to go and get baskets.”
How he uses the information he received to get better will definitely be a storyline to watch as he will be relied on as a major piece of the Gators’ core next season. We know he can really fill it up offensively but rounding out his game will not only help Florida but also help him achieve his professional goals.
Another hot topic was the health of the frontcourt that spent most of last season depleted from a laundry list of ailments. He did, fortunately, confirm that the team is currently looking pretty good from a health standpoint.
“I’m holding my breath any time there’s a loose ball and we’ve got guys hitting the floor or there’s a mosh pit under the rim for a tough rebound. I’m just hoping we can remain healthy until November and we’re trying to be creative in terms of longevity of practice and amount of physicality. But we also know that we did very, very little contact in last year’s preseason and feel like it backfired on us from a defense and rebounding standpoint.”
Commenting on a lack of physicality in last year’s preseason workouts was certainly interesting as the team did not excel from a toughness standpoint, particularly on the inside due to the lack of bodies. Watching for improved work in that area and a better effort on the glass during the early portion of the season will be a definite focus. White also commented specifically on each individual formerly injured frontcourt body.
“Stokes has been cleared to play in the half court and has done a lot of competing and skill work throughout the spring and summer. He’s got to get much better conditioned before we allow him to play for extended periods in the full court.”
“Chase Johnson has been terrific physically. He’s still a redshirt freshman who has a lot to learn but there are no questions with him right now.”
“Gorjok Gak is working his butt off. He had successful surgery. Very optimistic, the medical people are, about his return, potentially even a little bit quicker than we thought while he was playing last season as a shell of himself. We’re hoping by early September he’ll be at 100% and have a much better chance at healthy competition which will lead to more productive practices and obviously more depth.”
A few really encouraging notes in there. Firstly, it’s great to hear that Chase Johnson is 100% and doesn’t look to have any nagging side effects of his concussion from last year. Head injuries can be terrifying and the fact that there are no questions about where he is at physically is fantastic.
The report on Gorjok Gak was also a happy one as his surgery recovery was initially stated as one that could have him out until November or December, therefore having him miss games. If he really is back to 100% in early September it would be great for the team and great for him personally to be able to compete at his highest level, something he hasn’t had the chance to do so far in his career.
Conditioning is going to be the question for Stokes for some time and we may not know until the fall where he really stands here. Not only would losing weight help him get up and down the floor, something the Gators want to do, but it would help him be nimble enough to defensively to not get exploited if he ever needs to guard on the perimeter. I have high expectations of Stokes from an offensive standpoint due to his ability to finish inside and knock down threes but if he is a liability on defense or is unable to compete at a high level for long stretches White won’t be able to keep him on the floor.
Lastly, White was asked about the possibility of Andrew Nembhard stepping in right away to fill the shoes of the fan favorite Chris Chiozza.
“I think that KeVaughn Allen, Michael Okauru, and Jalen Hudson will have something to say about Andrew stepping in right away, of course, and filling those shoes but I think we’ll have, hopefully, a lot of healthy competition.”
Competition may have been the word of the day for Coach White as he used it when discussing both the frontcourt and the primary ball handler positions. With last year’s injury problems preventing much competition within the team for big-minute roles you can certainly see why the coaching staff is excited at the possibility of teammates pushing each other to be the best they can be in an attempt to earn more minutes. To elaborate more specifically on Nembhard’s game White said: “Andrew will be very capable…Andrew needs to get some experience in a hurry but he’s very talented, has a lot of size, and elite passing ability and we’re lucky to have him.”
Nembhard’s experience representing Canada at summer events should help with the experience factor a bit but it’s still very different than playing the high-octane caliber of teams the Gators will be taking on from day one of the season where they battle Florida State.
That was all from Coach White but hearing from him and the other SEC coaches was a great reminder that though the summer may be long there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that is college basketball!