For some people, a single event can change their outlook on life. For Keith Stone, a conversation with his head coach changed his outlook on basketball.
The redshirt sophomore forward came into the season with such high hopes. He was being hyped by both his coaches and the media as a player poised to breakout.
Things didn’t happen that way in reality. More than a month into the season, he was averaging 5.0 points per game, had only scored in double figures once and was underachieving on the boards.
Of course, social media doesn’t hold back about underachieving 18-22 year olds, so he soon started hearing and seeing the reaction to his play.
His parents, his brother and even his former high school coach were sending him screenshots of tweets. He couldn’t find a way out of all of the negative energy surrounding him, and it sent him into a dark place.
“I had no confidence,” Stone said. “I was worried about what everybody was saying. The fans, the media. Just worried about that.”
That all changed one day when he walked into Mike White’s office for a meeting. It was nothing out of the ordinary, as White said he meets with his players individually on a regular basis, but something he said stuck with Stone and has changed him ever since.
He simply told him to focus more on the little things instead of how many points he can score and to just have fun without worrying what everyone else thinks.
“It’s funny with these young people when you’re pushing buttons, more times than not you’re pushing the wrong ones,” White said. “Occasionally, you hit one that triggers something with him. And I don’t even know if it was me or a relative or an assistant coach, but for about a month now he’s just been consistently very good in practice, and we’re seeing it more and more in games.”
It took him a little while to translate his improvements in practice over to the games, but over the last three outings he has been a completely different player.
It started when he posted a career-high 18 points at Texas A&M. He proved it wasn’t a fluke with a 13-point performance the following game at Missouri, then made a few mistakes that kept him from having a great game against Mississippi State, but still came through with 10 points.
“It was just stuff I did in practice, the little things I did in practice,” Stone said. “Even though I wasn’t shooting it the way I wanted to in previous games, I just went out there with confidence and just shot the ball.”
Not only has he made a jump offensively for the Gators, he’s become a vocal leader and been one of the team’s best defenders and rebounders as of late.
He admitted it was a little hard to get out of his comfort zone and start leading, but said he would do whatever it takes to help his team.
Florida desperately needed someone to step up and start communicating, and he and Kevarrius Hayes were the ones to bite the bullet around the same time. It’s made a huge difference ever since.
“When you feel better about yourself, when you’re playing better, it’s a little bit easier to be vocal and to lead,” White said. “Keith’s fallen into that, and I’m as proud of that as I am of his production and his work ethic in practice. He’s a really good teammate.”
With his early season struggles behind him, Stone has slowly become the player most expected him to be from the start. It may not have been the greatest timing, but it was well worth the wait.