Mike White tucked his chin towards his chest, shying away from the praise in what for him was more an introspective moment.
“It’s crazy, I don’t even know what to say,” he admitted.
While White searched for words, the numbers spoke for themselves.
100 wins, a century mark, achieved in 158 games, the second fastest to reach the milestone with the Florida Gators basketball team. It came against his alma mater, Ole Miss, and at home in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on a muggy mid-January Tuesday night.
After the Gators opened SEC play with back-to-back wins versus Alabama and South Carolina, the win total for White sat at 99 and the countdown was clicking. Florida lost their following game against Missouri, 75-91, in a reminder that college basketball offers no guarantees except that there are no guarantees.
It’s been a season of no guarantees, of expectations hindered by stymied talent at times, leading to unfiltered criticism. The Gators were ranked No. 6 in the preseason and a perennial contender in Final Four projections. That possibility is still very much in play, but the confidence waned with losses to Florida State, UConn, Butler, Utah State and Mizzou. Two of those losses came to teams currently in the Top 10 (No. 9 FSU & No. 5 Butler). Two of Florida’s league wins—Alabama and South Carolina—have recently defeated Top 10 teams (No. 4 Auburn and No. 10 Kentucky respectively).
Despite the full-speed blender that is currently tearing through the college basketball schedule though, White and the Gators only had to wait one more game to reach the coveted win total. In that short time, White was able to put some reasoning to a goal he wasn’t able to grasp previously.
“I never would’ve imagined. Pretty cool though, pretty cool. I’ve had some, I’ve had obviously really, really good players and I’m blessed to be at a terrific job and hopefully we can win some more, keep getting better.”
This is often where a coach or player would say they have no regrets because everything happens for a reason…but White knows that’s rarely the case. He has regrets and knows they could’ve made a difference in his win total and the program.
“We’ve had good players. I go back, I’ll go back to my first year. What a regret, what a regret. I didn’t do a very good job with that crew cause we were, we were really talented and old and experienced and I couldn’t, I didn’t do a very good job with that crew, I should keep it like that.”
White’s first squad went 21-15 with an appearance in the NIT with a roster that featured Kasey Hill, Chris Chiozza, Dorian Finney-Smith, Devin Robinson and Alex Murphy to name a few. Still he had a jump start on Billy Donovan who went 13-17 his first season. Donovan eventually reached the 100 win total in 154 games, only a smidge—four games—faster than White. It’s what Donovan did following that initial season, and subsequently what White did following his initial season, that set up the current coach to continue a standard.
And accepting the mismanagement of the first season now is what is helping move the Gators forward with the youngest team in the league.
“That next year, [2016-2017] the Elite Eight year, we were very, very good and the buy-in with that crew and the selflessness, you think about it, we had guys—we had Chris Chiozza coming off the bench, you know, who ended up being first team All-league guy and the guy who had a strong argument to be starting. And Canyon Barry as a guy that would’ve been starting for most of the teams in our league. So yea, great staff, great administration, wonderful place to live and work and more than anything, we’ve had good players.”
Those players now, like sophomore forward Keyontae Johnson, didn’t even know of the accomplishment until it was announced after the game because White doesn’t bring up things like that with them, but sophomore guard Noah Locke, knows what it took behind the scenes to reach this moment.
"He’s worked really hard. He always tells us the right things. He tries his hardest to make sure that we have every piece of everything to win games.”
Sophomore guard Andrew Nembhard credits White with creating a culture that can reach 100 wins in 158 games. White couldn’t disagree more.
“I didn’t create any culture here…we tried to recreate just a semblance of Billy’s culture which was off the charts of course and before that Lon [Kruger] went to a Final Four too so he had pretty good culture I imagine.”
White will now get a chance for win 101, 102 and 103, each of which could be the most important of this regular season. No. 4 Auburn will come to the O-Dome on Saturday, the Gators will take to the road to face LSU—who is currently undefeated in SEC play—on Tuesday and then back to Gainesville for a date with No. 2 Baylor.