The Florida Gators went 1-2 in the Battle 4 Atlantis. That’s not the outcome they wanted from the tournament, but far more concerning is the fact that a senior had to be benched for a freshman and the underwhelming competitive effort throughout the three-day span.
That starts with a lack of veteran leadership. Florida has plenty of experienced players on its roster, but it seems only one is stepping up to fill that hole, and that is not enough.
Jalen Hudson came back to Florida to try to improve his odds of making it to the NBA. That has backfired on him early on as he has looked nowhere near the player he was a year ago and performed nothing like someone fighting for their dreams.
After he didn’t score a single point and looked uninspired on the court against Oklahoma, White took him out of the starting lineup for the following two contests. He scored just two points in a combined 21 minutes between the Stanford and Butler games.
“He’s in a tough place,” said head coach Mike White. “This wasn’t what Jalen was expecting. It wasn’t what his teammates or I were expecting either. He’s got to find a way to get himself going, and we’ve got to keep challenging him and communicating with him. It’s clear, it’s been laid out to him, the expectation, whether he was a senior or a freshman … I can’t put my finger on one thing in terms of why he has struggled with a high level of intensity. And not just in games, but it’s been in practice. He knows that. We show him clips every day. I could play him 30 minutes, maybe he gets in a great offensive rhythm. That said, you have to be able to earn 30 minutes.”
If Hudson can’t dig deep enough to find some energy, there is a freshman who will gladly take his place.
Noah Locke played well in the tournament, and while he is sure to take his freshman lumps, he and Andrew Nembhard both put forth the effort White is looking for in his guys.
“Our two most accountable defenders are our two freshmen guards,” White said. “It shouldn’t be like that, but they are. You guys can watch the film. They do what they’re supposed to do … That’s why they’re playing a lot of minutes. Minutes will be rewarded upon you doing your job for Florida to win, not for you to win. Not for you to score, not to see how many shots you can get up, but for us to be the best team we can be. I’ll play walk ons. I don’t care.”
White continued to express his frustrations in this team’s rebounding. That is something Oklahoma really exposed last week.
And while rebounding as a whole hasn’t been great, this wasn’t expected to be a dominant team on the glass. It is the offensive rebounding that has been the biggest disappointment.
“We have one guy on our team that goes every time, because he’s supposed to go, he’s been asked to go, it’s his job—Kevarrius Hayes,” he said. “And he’s hard to block out because he goes 10 out of 10 times. So, he might get one or two of those. And we’ve got other guys that are supposed to go every time, and they go when they feel like it. They go when it’s easy. They go when the air conditioning is blowing across the gym the right way. We’ve got to play harder, and that’s another factor in these older guys’ minutes we talked about on the front end of this. You can’t do your job when it’s easy to do, only when you feel good.”
Just that bit of insight encapsulates where Florida is right now. Aside from a select few, this is a team of players who only give it everything they’ve got when it’s convenient for them.
That goes back to character, back to culture, back to recruiting, and White holds himself accountable for all of it.
“We should be better than we are, but I’m frustrated with myself, too,” he said. “I’m never going to be one of these guys that I’m going to blame my players. I’m in charge of this thing, and we’ve got to be more disciplined, we’ve got to play harder, we’ve got to be tougher.”