Let’s say I told you to roam the O’Connell Center and ask people to describe Cam Newbauer.
Sounds easy enough, right?
Here’s the catch, though: You can only leave when someone says something bad about him.
Chances are you’ll be stranded there until the next deadly virus makes its way around the globe.
When I found out that I’d be covering the Florida women’s basketball team last fall, the first thing I did was ask my coworkers about their experiences with Newbauer. They only had good things to say about the 41-year-old head coach. In those conversations, I caught a glimpse of the type of person he was — passionate, ambitious and caring.
Newbauer’s success on the court with the Belmont women’s basketball team was impressive in and of itself. But it was his personality that separated him from other coaching candidates whom athletic director Scott Stricklin had his eyes on.
On March 27, 2017, Newbauer was named coach of the Gators after spending four seasons with the Bruins.
Newbauer’s first year at the helm looked disappointing on paper, with Florida regressing to an 11-19 record after finishing 15-16 the year before.
However, injuries and a difficult schedule plagued the team, not bad coaching.
UF ended with just eight players suiting up for the last 13 games, which included the first round of the SEC Tournament, where it was eliminated by Ole Miss. To make matters even more unfavorable, Florida closed out the regular season against eight ranked opponents in a span of nine games.
Newbauer’s inaugural season wasn’t defined by his squad’s record, though.
He made a concerted effort to change the culture of the program, establishing a foundation similar to the one during his time at Belmont.
First, Newbauer gave his players the green light from any spot on the floor.
He urged them to “chuck it from the cheap seats,” a phrase that the Fort Wayne, Indiana, native took from “Hoosiers,” a basketball movie from the 1980s.
Newbauer’s offensive system helped the Gators knock down 249 three-pointers throughout the 2017-18 campaign, the most in program history. And Florida followed that up with 235 more treys the next year. To put it in perspective, UF had finished with more than 200 threes in back-to-back seasons only once before.
Newbauer’s second year with the Gators didn’t go as planned.
His team sputtered to an 8-23 record with just one senior on the team, but that allowed Florida’s newcomers to familiarize themselves with Newbauer’s style of play. Eight players made their debut in the orange and blue, and they accounted for over 70 percent of Florida’s minutes and 60 percent of its scoring.
UF underwhelmed on the court in the 2018-19 campaign. But off the court, the Gators excelled in the classroom and built a sense of community with their fans.
Academic performance and community service have been important values for teams under Newbauer. And he packed those in his bag when he moved to Gainesville.
On top of finishing the fall semester with a cumulative GPA of 3.17, the Gators visited local schools, retirement homes and food banks on a consistent basis.
Newbauer and his team finally took a step forward this past season with a 15-15 record and a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament. Two of those victories came against top-25 teams, marking the first time since the 2015-16 season that the Gators upset multiple ranked foes.
It has taken time for Newbauer to find his footing at Florida, but it was a similar situation at Belmont. The Bruins went a combined 18-35 in his first two seasons before exploding for a 51-15 record in his last two.
If Newbauer stayed at Belmont, then his energetic nature and unmatched character would have never rejuvenated the UF women’s basketball team. In turn, the Bruins would most likely have continued their run of NCAA Tournament berths.
The 2016 Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year has the tools to take the Gators to the next level, and if the way he carries himself is any sign, then Florida’s future is in good hands.
Follow Bryan on Twitter @bryan_2712 and contact him at [email protected].