In his first season, Mike White wanted to be competitive, and he wanted to have a chance.
He preached that message all season when discussing Florida’s upcoming opponents.
And in his first year at the helm of the Florida basketball program, the 39-year-old coach did just that. He put his team in position to have a chance — a good chance — at a Southeastern Conference Tournament run, an NCAA Tournament appearance and even an NIT run.
Unfortunately, the Gators came up short in each of those pursuits.
Still, there is renewed hope for Florida basketball.
It's no secret that the program is in a rebuilding phase. The shoes Billy Donovan left behind are massive, but Mike White, in just one year, has proven that he is more than capable of filling them.
Florida finished the season with a 21-15 record and a 9-9 mark in SEC play. That’s an improvement from last year’s 16-17 record and 8-10 performance in conference play, which led to Florida being left out of the NIT.
Remember, even Donovan’s first year as head coach in 1996 was a 13-17 campaign when Florida went 5-11 in the SEC.
This year, White worked with what he had and what he inherited. He knew this wasn’t a team that was going to light up defenses with impressive shooting performances.
The Gators shot 42.6 percent from the field this season, 245th in the country in that category, and 31.9 percent from beyond the arc, 290th in the country. But give White and the Gators credit — they kept games competitive. They gave themselves a chance.
Remember UF's 58-52 road loss to then-No. 1 Michigan State? Or the 71-68 road loss to then-No. 15 Texas A&M? How about its home win against then-No. 9 West Virginia?
The Gators just missed the cut for an NCAA tourney berth and ended the regular season on a 1-4 skid, but Florida showed flashes this year, and that is encouraging for the future. I know, Florida fans don’t want to hear about the future. They want to win now.
But winning is a process, and White, with just one season under his belt, seems to be ahead of schedule.
Freshmen KeVaughn Allen and Kevarrius Hayes and redshirt sophomore John Egbunu make up the young core that will develop over the next couple of years under White.
Allen’s 418 points as a freshman trailed just Nick Calathes (552), Bradley Beal (546) and Kenny Boynton (476) for the most in a freshman season over the last 20 years. His 32 points on Dec. 29 against FSU were the fifth-most in a game by a UF freshman in school history.
Egbunu was third on the team in scoring this year behind departing redshirt senior Dorian Finney-Smith and, encouragingly, Allen. Egbunu shot 59.1 percent from the field and established himself as a force to be reckoned with in years to come. The center is still very raw, but has limitless potential.
And Hayes showed what he is capable of when he filled in for the injured Egbunu in the NIT, shooting 13-of-14 from the field and 6-of-6 from the free-throw line in three games.
An NIT run that saw Florida finally start to develop a consistent offensive groove sends the Gators into the offseason somewhat satisfied, but still not content.
They have something to prove.