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Thursday, December 09, 2021
<p>UF men's basketball coach Mike White reacts after a play during the first half of Florida's 89-42 win against Palm Beach Atlantic in an exhibition game Nov. 5, 2015, in the O'Connell Center.</p>

UF men's basketball coach Mike White reacts after a play during the first half of Florida's 89-42 win against Palm Beach Atlantic in an exhibition game Nov. 5, 2015, in the O'Connell Center.

Mike White and his coaching staff are ready to pick up the pieces of the Gators’ disappointing 2014-15 campaign and return the program to prominence. This year’s young and fairly new team has shown preseason potential, but will hit the ground running tonight on the road as the regular season begins.

Florida opens its season tonight against the Navy Midshipmen at 9:30 in Annapolis, Maryland.

It will be just the third time ever the two teams have faced each other, and the first time in more than 50 years.

The Gators have won 24 straight season openers heading into tonight’s game, but White is not expecting an easy matchup against Navy by any means.

"It’s a difficult start," White said. "People look at Navy and say ‘they’re in the Patriot, you’re in the SEC, that’s a gimme.’ Heck no, that’s not a gimme. This is a very difficult game."

White referenced Florida’s youth and inexperience as a challenge facing the Gators in the opener. Only three players — Dorian Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill and DeVon Walker — have two seasons of playing experience at Florida, while everyone else has less or none.

And with redshirt senior forward Alex Murphy out four-to-six weeks with a partially torn plantar fascia in his right foot, White said the younger players will have to step up to fill that role.

"We’ll have one senior out there and just a couple juniors with any experience," White said. "Navy will be as disciplined, as tough, as accountable as any team we play all year. They’re soldiers. Our weaknesses are their biggest strengths."

Redshirt junior DeVon Walker is embracing the challenge of opening the season on the road with such a young team. He said he’s very excited for the players and coaches to be starting a new season together.

"We’re a young team. I think this will be a great challenge," Walker said. "It’s a great environment up there. They’re a very solid team, a very good team, so it’ll be a great test for us definitely kicking off our season."

In last Thursday’s exhibition game against Palm Beach Atlantic, all 16 players on Florida’s roster saw playing time.

White doesn’t anticipate using quite that many tonight, or throughout the season, but he did say because so many of the young players are still unproven, he wants to give them opportunities to show what they can do.

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"I would be surprised if we don’t play 10 to 12 Friday night," White said.

"If we have 10 playing really well, then maybe we just play 10. But I hadn’t seen that type of consistency on a consistent basis yet with this team."

With question marks still surrounding many of the young and new faces on the Gators’ roster, the issues of turnovers and free throw percentages looming, and with the injury bug already biting, it’s hard to anticipate how well Florida will play in tonight’s season opener.

White, however, does have confidence in certain aspects of his team that he believes give him a good chance to earn his first win as the head coach of the Gators.

"I feel comfortable saying that we’ll be more talented, we’ll be a little bit more athletic, we’ll be a little bigger," White said.

"If we can match some of the intangibles that are their biggest strengths, it’ll obviously not only help us on Friday night but it’ll help us this season. It’s a fitting opener for us and this current team."

 Follow Alex Maminakis on Twitter @alexmaminakis

UF men's basketball coach Mike White reacts after a play during the first half of Florida's 89-42 win against Palm Beach Atlantic in an exhibition game Nov. 5, 2015, in the O'Connell Center.

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