Updated: Oct 31, 2019
With just under 15 minutes left in the 2nd half and the No. 6 Florida Gators up 62-40 over Lynn in their season opening exhibition, head coach Mike White subbed in freshmen Omar Payne and Ques Glover. They joined on the floor, freshmen Tre Mann and Scottie Lewis along with senior transfer Kerry Blackshear.
It was a group made up entirely of Gators new guys, giving White and fans a better glimpse at just what the new blood for this highly touted Gators roster will offer during a season already ripe with expectations.
The lineup wasn’t so much a design by head coach Mike White to see what it looked like on the floor, but a by-product of who he wanted resting on the bench at that point versus who he wanted to get more minutes for experience.
“It was more so trying to hold our guys accountable defensively and on the glass as much as possible, especially in the first 30 minutes or so. And then it was, we were at a point I thought Andrew [Nembhard] and KJ [Kerry Blackshear Jr.] had probably played enough minutes so playing a bunch of new guys late was definitely by design. Not necessarily to see those guys together but this early in the year when certain guys, especially older guys have played enough minutes.”
Freshman guard Tre Mann (4-8, 13 pts., 1 rebound, 1 assist) says this team has done enough in practice that even a newcomer lineup feels like old hat.
“I didn’t even know we had that lineup to be honest. All of our freshman, I feel like we played like we been here before. We didn’t look as bad as like freshmen supposed to look I guess and we just gel because of practice. We switch up the lineups everyday in practice so we look at different lineups, we play with different people every day–well each other but we different rotations every day so it wasn’t really nothing new.”
An exhibition game against a Division II opponent went exactly as one would think, allowing that extra time for younger guys. The Gators handled the Lynn Fighting Knights with relative ease, defeating them 89-71. But this night was never about the win or loss that wouldn’t even count towards the record. It was about finding out what this team’s DNA would look like as they began the long stretch towards March.
The DNA is still being figured out but we at least know the team’s roster. It boast six freshmen and Blackshear, who transferred in from Virginia Tech. Blackshear has the experience in tournament’s and leading a team that is showing up right away. At one point in the second half, during a two minute span Lynn went on an 8-2 run. Blackshear had seen enough and called a timeout, allowing the Gators time to regroup.
It’s the younger guys that White is still tinkering with. All have exhibited remarkable maturity off the court and never seemed to blink on the court, at least on Tuesday night. White knows the competition is about to take a step up though and is braced for any waves on which he young crew might take him.
“Freshmen are freshmen,” he laughed.
“There were a couple that were a little rusty tonight…they may be great next week and struggle two weeks later. When they start playing like sophomores all of a sudden you’ve got really good freshmen.”
That is largely what happened last season when three freshmen—Andrew Nembhard, Noah Locke and Keyontae Johnson—were inserted into the starting lineup and asked to grow up quickly. Now they’re the young veterans who combined for 38 points on Tuesday night (Nembard, 17, 6-11; Locke, 9, 3-8; Johnson, 12, 4-8) and are tasked with bringing along this new crew at the same pace. The trio was joined by Blackshear and Mann in the starting lineup against Lynn.
Scottie Lewis came off the bench 3:20 into the first half and went 1-3 for field goals and 2-2 from the line. But Lynn’s Jordan Allen scored 35 points in 34 minutes, something Lewis’ was acutely aware of right after the game. With a wisdom that belied his age, Lewis’ took responsibility for the performance.
“He scored 35 points in  minutes. I take full responsibility for that as someone who feels they are the best defender on the team. I have to do better and step up for my teammates. I let my teammates down and I’ll say that repeatedly. I have to take more pride and more ownership.”
Lewis may hold on to that defensive performance but he and others in his class have acclimated well, if not to the college game yet at least to the college team. At one point when fellow freshmen Omar Payne went down after a collision, it was clear he wasn’t hurt. Still, Lewis sprinted across the floor to help him up. Mann says that’s a rule in practice as well and one that this team and their quickly developing chemistry, have already figured out.
The veteran feels that chemistry as well and after seeing it play out on the court Tuesday night, Kerry Blackshear and the Florida Gators are ready to show on a grander stage what they’re made of…even if it’s six freshmen and a transfer.
“It was exciting being out there with my teammates, all-new environment. The Rowdies were great,” Blackshear said. “The start of college basketball is here. I’m excited about that.”