Andrew Nembhard and Noah Locke are haunted still. Only sophomores, they’ve taken on the memory of a seasoned veteran, bearing scars that beget lessons.
On a team of 14 with only four upperclassmen, these two returning starters have willingly said to their teammates, look at me, I’ll guide you through this season. They’ve done so motivated by a desire to rid the demons they perceive hindered their freshmen campaign.
For Nembhard, the All-SEC freshman guard who spent the summer playing with his home country Team Canada, it’s all 16 of the losses compared to the 20 wins that have stuck with him, ending in the second round of the NCAA Tournament with a 49-64 loss to Michigan.
"Just I think, we lost a bunch of games last year that I feel like we shouldn’t have lost and the season didn’t go as I would like it to go and I think I could’ve stepped up in a bigger role last year and I think I want to change that this year. And since we have such a great team, I think it’s a great opportunity for me to kind of develop in that area.”
“It took him time to develop as a leader,” says head coach Mike White.
“He [was] a true freshman starting point guard in the SEC, so he led a lot more as a freshman than most freshmen do, and I think he's got that in him. We've challenged him since he's been here, but he's a really, really smart kid, and he gets it. He knows the game, and I think that he sees an opportunity there for himself and for his teammates to gain from that, from his leadership.”
Right after the season ended, Nembhard decided to take the next step and went to the coaches directly to let them know his plan.
H'e's got leadership capability and qualities. He's gifted in that regard,” continues White.
"He became a lot more demonstrative late season. He became more vocal, became a little bit harder on his teammates late season, and really was a big reason, along with Kevarrius Hayes that we got into that tournament and won a game. And he wants to take it to the next level, and that's not—I didn't have to beg that out of him. He approached myself and our staff with that right when the season was over with.”
Noah Locke, the Maryland native guard, has found fuel in the 55-61 March 2 loss at home to Georgia.
“We weren’t supposed to lose that game,” he clearly states.
"I mean that game, we were just supposed to win. We beat them back at their place. And I just felt like we weren’t locked in…We couldn’t find ourselves. It was a terrible loss for us and I mean that hit me, I was like, I felt like I didn’t do enough to help and me being hurt too, it was just definitely a lot going on in my head. I’ll learn from it, for sure.”
Now Locke and Nembhard know what it’ll take to avoid those losses an White will be looking to them for guidance on this team that boasts six freshmen.
“We'll use those guys a lot,” admits White.
“I don't know what our leadership is going to be, but I think we have more potential leaders on this team than any team that I've coached. I think we have four, five, six, maybe seven guys that have a chance to lead in some capacity, Noah being one of those guys. We were talking [Tuesday], and he said, ‘Coach, some of these freshmen don't know what they're getting into, do they?’ I said, ‘Friday is going to be rough for them.’ Friday is our first big one. I said, ‘it's going to be shocking for some of these guys Noah,’ and he said, ‘I know, it's been funny in the locker room, a few of them have been talking about the fact that this isn't as bad as you guys said it was going to be,’ and Noah and I's stance, of course, is that these guys have been going through our half practices, most of it not even contact.”
Locke, for his part, isn’t holding any punches on what the team needs to do to improve, even a month and a half away from their first tip-off; November 5 against North Florida.
“I think it’s a lot that we gotta, it’s a lot that we gotta learn, it’s a lot that we gotta do to become a better team. It’s a lot of things that Coach White is trying to help us with. It’s a lot of things, we just gotta listen more. Some guys on the team right now aren’t really locking in and listening good enough. But once we all get that together, we’ll be fine.”
All getting together will come, thanks in large part to two veteran sophomores who refuse to accept anything less. They’ve got some demons to exorcise and some different memories to make. It’ll be the entire preseason No. 4 Florida Gators team who benefits.