It’s a long process.
That’s what No. 6 Florida Gators basketball head coach Mike White had to remind himself and staff after the Gators 89-71 win in Tuesday’s exhibition against Lynn.
“Some positive, some negative. It’s so early. You got to check yourself as a staff this early on, especially with how many young guys we’re playing, and just remind yourself that it’s a long process. Some of the controllable’s you wish you could have controlled better.”
The game meant nothing to the overall record and was more a chance for White to see what he has under the lights with a team comprised of six freshman and a grad transfer. Despite it’s youth—or maybe because of it—the incoming class joining a trio of experienced sophomores (Andrew Nembhard, Keyontae Johnson, Noah Locke) has this team already tapped as a possible Final Four contender.
But, as White said, it’s a long process from this moment to there and before the season officially tips off next Tuesday, there are some blatant areas of concern.
“I don’t think we rebound the ball that well, either offensively or defensively. That’s definitely a concern of this staff leading into Game 1.”
Florida did out-rebound Lynn, 42-36, with 29 defensive rebounds. But the Fighting Knights are also a Division-II opponent, which is White was perturbed not only by letting their point guard Jordan Allen score 35 points but also by the lack of rebounding at the rim.
It’s not a lack of experience—White was clear on that fact—but he had a slew of other adjectives to describe what it takes…and what the Gators need to find more of as the season approaches.
“I think effort, yea, honestly you hate to say it but rebounding is a lot of effort, yea it is. Tenacity, toughness, desire, you know passion, all those things. Physicality, motor. Some of it’s cardio. Some of it’s as guys get in more and more game shape, hopefully we can become a better rebounding team. But it was early for Lynn as well; they seemed to beat us to too many basketball’s.
‘Some of it was one on one, some of it was where we had an opportunity—where two to three guys out there did their job and their blocking out and their accountability’s where it’s supposed to be, then we got a couple guys just watching and it’s a bad bounce but maybe if you weren’t watching, you go get that rebound.”
Part of the issue, White willingly admits, is due to a Catch-22 with how the Gators play offensively. They’re a shooting team which means they often have at a minimum of three guards on the floor. This leaves less size inside and puts the onus on those guys on the perimeter to take on a greater role defensively.
“Our guards have to rebound at a much higher level against Division 1 opponents, especially against our schedule, especially the way that we play off the four guards out there. Keyontae Johnson a lot of times and KJ Blackshear or whatever big is in when we’re playing four guards, they’re gonna be in dog fights and a lot of times we’ve got three guards out there complimenting Keyontae and a big, and what are those three guards gonna do to help neutralize our lack of size?
“It can be advantageous for us offensively and from a skill level standpoint but from a fight standpoint in the paint, we’ve gotta bring more fight or we’re gonna get beat up on the glass at times.”
On Tuesday night, the bigs combined for 27 rebounds with the guards chipping in 13. Of those guards, freshman Scottie Lewis led with five.
Lewis, in another sign of his advanced maturity, was much more focused on what he considered an inadequate defensive performance from himself.
“He scored 35 points in 32 minutes,” Lewis said of Allen. “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.”
It’s that same attitude that White wants to see in every area of the Gators game but immediately in the rebounding effort. On the floor, he has graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. (16 points, 10 rebounds) to help impart that message.
“I think it’s just always making it a fight. We’re going to be undersized against a lot of teams, so we’ve got to always be ready to be accountable, box out our man, but also help out our teammates when we have the opportunity. And then we always have to have five guys fight for a rebound on the defensive end. And then, on the offensive end, me, Keyontae and other guys who are go-gets have got to always be accountable and always put pressure on the rim and attack the rim for offensive rebounds.”
White praised the Gators effort in the offseason so there’s evidence it’s there. Now it’s about putting it together in a game at the rim. It’s a long process. It starts now and according to Mike White, it never ends.
“I’m not sure you’re every where you want to be. There’s always that level of concern about certain areas and urgency. I like the way we’re shooting the basketball and sharing it. Those factors, I guess, we’re in a pretty good place in those areas, and probably a couple others. But, no, not where we need to be in terms of rebounding the basketball, overall accountability defensively. The buy-in is pretty good, not great, defensively."
Adds Blackshear, “We’ve just got to always maintain the same energy we have at the start of the game. The excitement that we have at the start of a game, we’ve got to keep it throughout a game, when we’re up 30, when we’re up 20, or whatever that may be. And I think as we continue to do that and we continue to maintain our maturity, we’ll be a good team.”