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Monday, June 24, 2024

Column: With Mike White’s mentality, No. 8 Gators are bound to be better in 2017-18

<p>In just his second season, UF men's basketball coach Mike White elevated a team that made the NIT tournament a year prior into one of the country’s top contenders.</p>

In just his second season, UF men's basketball coach Mike White elevated a team that made the NIT tournament a year prior into one of the country’s top contenders.

The other day, someone I know and respect made a solid argument that the No. 8 Gators’ men’s basketball team wouldn’t live up to expectations in 2017-18. This particular critic of Florida basketball said the Gators have lost too many quality players and haven’t added enough replacements to reach the Elite Eight for the second year in a row.

But when listing the team’s shortcomings, that columnist forgot to factor in Florida’s supreme advantage: coach Mike White, the 40-year-old phenom who understands that what goes on between your ears is just as important as what goes on between the baselines.

White came to Florida as a head coach from Louisiana Tech, and in just his second season, he elevated a team that shouldn’t have qualified for March Madness into one of the country’s top contenders. He didn’t have any jaw-dropping athletes — no UF players were picked in the NBA draft this summer. He didn’t have a star-studded recruiting class — UF didn’t land any top-100 prospects or sign a player who lives more than four hours from campus. Most importantly, he didn’t have a sense of entitlement that so cancerously plagues the football program at UF. That attitude that “Of course we’re going to win. We’re Florida. Our athletes are the best.”

No, White will be the first one to tell you that his team isn’t very good. It’s the same sentiment he radiated last year before Florida pieced together a top-five defense.

This season, the Gators, ranked No. 8 in a preseason AP Poll, have their first exhibition game Thursday in Jacksonville. And in the lead-up to the contest, White was just as pessimistic as he was last year.

“I don’t think we’re a top-10 team right now,” White said. “I don’t think we’re a top-25, even top-50 team right now.”

Then came the comparisons between the Gators last season and the team now.

“If you compare our team right now to our team last February, it’s not even close,” White said. “That team would’ve beaten this team by 30.”

Do you hear the sound of that sweet, sweet cynicism? It sends a message to players: You haven’t earned anything yet.

As a result, instead of White’s players buying into their own hype, they shun praise and accept they have a long way to go.

Point guard Chris Chiozza, who sank the buzzer-beating three-pointer to lift Florida over Wisconsin in the 2017 Sweet 16, knows that better than most.

“My freshman year, we were (voted) No. 7, and we didn’t have a winning record,” Chiozza, a senior, said. “If you come out with that mindset that (we’re good) just because we’re No. 7, it’s going to be a long season .… that seven’s going to turn into a 15, that 15 is going to 25 and then it’s going to be nothing.”

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White’s contagious, healthy pessimism sets Florida free from the perils of complacency.

Because if you set unattainable expectations (like a recently ousted Gators football coach), you can expect to fall short.

You can follow Matt Brannon on Twitter @MattB_727, and contact him at mbrannon@alligator.org.

In just his second season, UF men's basketball coach Mike White elevated a team that made the NIT tournament a year prior into one of the country’s top contenders.

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