Mike White addressed the media via Zoom on Wednesday and while he covered a number of wide-ranging topics there were a few trends that wove through multiple elements of the conversation.
Speed and athleticism.
Tempo has a major topic of conversation during White’s tenure at Florida, especially in the last two seasons where the Gators’ pace has neared the bottom tier of the country. Considering his reputation as a run-and-gun offensive mind from his time at Louisiana Tech, this wasn’t exactly what people were expecting.
However, that may not be the case anymore.
White addressed the tempo question head on with an honest take of where he wants to see the team at speed-wise next season.
“Playing fast is really in my DNA. It’s what I want to do. It’s what our guys want to do. I know it’s what our fans want to see as well. At the end of the day, you’ve gotta do the best with what you’ve got. We’ve been able to attract some really good players here that have all been a little bit different. Going into this season I feel like, for the first time in a while, we’ll have a high level of speed, quickness, and athleticism from our whole roster, and I think we’ll be very deep. We look forward to playing fast, pressing, and just playing to our strengths.”
Florida pressed on 2.3% of defensive possessions last season, so there is definitely a chance for the Gators to drastically change their style. That wasn’t the only time playing the press defensively came up as he addressed it in his next statement.
“I think this team at least has a chance to be really deep and interchangeable. I’m convicted to press more. We’re going to do that, especially early on and evaluate from there. But from the first workout we’re going to start, as a team at least, we’re going to go in with the mindset that this is going to be a pressing team and therefore you’re going to be cross-matched more often than you normally would be.”
To full court press defensively you need a roster with foot speed, length, and athleticism–something White doesn’t think the Gators will be short on.
“It will be as athletic a team as I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach, as I’ve ever had a team as we’ve had here at Florida in a while.”
Part of the reason the roster is going to be so athletic is the incoming talent that brings run-and-jump ability the team is going to need to play the style White wants. His praise of the newcomer’s physical ability started with junior college transfer Osayi Osifo.
“Very, very athletic. Active. Hard playing guy. All five of these kids are tremendous people, a breath of fresh air to be around.”
Next, he addressed guard Niels Lane.
“Niels Lane is an elite-level athlete. Very versatile, can kind of play some 2-3-1. Will be as talented a defender as anyone on our roster. Gives us another really high level athlete with Anthony Duruji, Keyontae Johnson and Scottie Lewis.”
As you may have noticed, White referenced Anthony Duruji as being a high level athlete, something that got him major praise while at Louisiana Tech before he came to Florida. White had some complimentary things to say about his game.
“Anthony Duruji will be as athletic as anybody in our league. High level defender, rebounder, driver. He’s got some similarities to Keyontae Johnson in some ways and to Scottie Lewis in some ways, but he’s got some difference as well.”
When it comes to dictating pace of play, oftentimes it’s your point guard who is most responsible. With Andrew Nembhard transferring to Gonzaga it looks like Cleveland State transfer Tyree Appleby is the leader in the clubhouse to take over the starting job at point guard. When it came to talking about him, White couldn’t help but mention his quickness.
“Tyree will have a chance at the point guard position to be highly competitive there. Very good speed, play-making abilities, true point, very good passer but can also make shots.”
As you can see, throughout the conversation speed and athleticism were brought up repeatedly and it’s definitely going to be a priority for this team. In past seasons the Gators haven’t been particularly athletic but that is set to change. Andrew Nembhard, Kerry Blackshear Jr., Dontay Bassett, and Gorjok Gak, all who are sub-average athletes in the SEC are gone and the Gators have brought in almost exclusively athletic players to replace them.
Florida’s athleticism deficit in recent years has been made most apparent when playing Florida State, a team that is perennially one of the most athletic teams in the country. Considering they are on Florida’s schedule every year, trying to match that level of athleticism is the clear way to go for the Gators.
If you’re one of the many fans who were calling for the Gators to play faster, the 2020-21 squad could definitely be the team for you.