It’s no secret UF men's basketball coach Mike White doesn’t have confidence in some of his players just yet.
It was obvious against New Hampshire on Nov. 19 when he put in three freshmen for just a handful of minutes each. After the game, White explained why he limited their playing time, citing his players’ need to earn it.
Six games into the season, Florida's offense is already garnering national attention.
“I’m going to put the guys out there that I trust the most, both offensively and defensively, in a tight game to help us win,” White said.
I understand wanting to run with the athletes who have already established themselves as reliable options. As a coach, it’s the smart and safe thing to do.
However, that mentality hurts the team in the long run.
The Gators can skate by early working with six players who see most of the action, but as the season drags on, a lack of depth will come back to haunt them. We saw it against Duke on Monday, when Florida got too tired at the end of the game and couldn’t hold on to take the win, losing by three.
That lack of depth will carry over to next season, when those reliable components will be gone. At the end of the 2017-18 campaign, Chris Chiozza, John Egbunu and Egor Koulechov will have no more eligibility left. And who knows if KeVaughn Allen or Jalen Hudson will try their luck in the NBA Draft.
That’s five players who could potentially be departing next season, meaning Florida’s five scholarship freshmen — Mike Okauru, Chase Johnson, Dontay Bassett, Deaundrae Ballard and Isaiah Stokes — will need to take on a larger role next season.
Wouldn’t it make sense to get them some experience this season?
I don’t expect White to start them or make them the first to come off the bench, but he’s had multiple opportunities to give his freshmen some much-needed experience in close games, to throw them into the fire and see if they succeed.
For example, take a look at the Phil Knight Invitational, which took place last week. Against Stanford, the Gators had a more balanced distribution of playing time, with Okauru and Ballard compiling 20 minutes and 19 minutes, respectively. The lineup at the end of the game even featured Okauru, Ballard, Johnson and Florida’s two walk-ons, showing that White has no problem playing his underclassmen when the Gators have the game in hand.
Then take a look at the Gonzaga game the following night, when Okauru saw 10 minutes of playing time and Ballard just seven. They were the only two freshmen to get on the court. And against Duke two nights later, they played even less.
Those were valuable games that should’ve been used to develop the first-year players.
If their reduced minutes are due to a lack of trust, then White needs to give them a chance to earn that trust on the court.
Jake Dreilinger is the Alligator’s online sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].