UF men’s basketball coach Mike White was thought to be a questionable hire by many when former athletic director Jeremy Foley handed him the job in May 2015.
I was also skeptical.
How was a guy with no NCAA Tournament appearances, hailing from Conference USA’s Louisiana Tech, going to carry on the legacy Billy Donovan shaped during his two decades at Florida?
Well, fast forward a little over four years and that skepticism I had has long disappeared.
Three NCAA Tournament appearances, five NCAA Tournament wins and an Elite 8 appearance back in 2017 has convinced me he possesses the tools needed to keep the Gator men’s basketball program at a top-tier level moving forward.
Not everything has been perfect for White. He’s still a young coach and has made mistakes that have caused some of Gator Nation to continually scowl at his coaching ability.
Like his first season that only resulted in an NIT appearance or this past year when the team didn’t quite live up to the expectations set before the season, sneaking into the NCAA Tournament then bowing out to Michigan in the second round.
But what he did in his second season as head coach was something not many expected. Highlighted by a lack of a major inside presence after John Egbunu’s season-ending knee injury, White adjusted and used the team’s tenacity on defense and perimeter success on offense to guide the Gators to just one win shy of a Final Four nod.
While there have been question marks at times on offense during White’s tenure, his defense has never been an issue.
His focus has always been on the defensive side of the ball, and his teams have showcased such through their performance on that side of the court.
Despite the criticism White has received for his offensive style, he’s a magician when it comes to baseline out-of-bounds plays. I’ve always been impressed with his ability to create easy scoring opportunities for his players when the team desperately needed a basket.
Heading into his fifth year at UF, the expectations for White’s team in 2019-20 are significant, and with good reason.
A top 10 recruiting class, a returning trio of elite sophomores that are expected to make an even bigger jump this season and the top graduate transfer on the market have caught the attention of college basketball’s national media. Many consider Florida a top 10 team and a Final Four contender.
I can’t say I disagree.
With graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr., Florida has an athlete down low with the offensive skills that Gainesville hasn’t seen since Donovan was still on the sidelines of the O’Connell Center.
To me, he’s the piece that’s been absent during White’s time with the Gators, and in my opinion, White has been handcuffed offensively at times because of that.
With a roster now completely shaped by his own doing, this is the year that White has to help his talented group of players live up to its potential and make a deep run into the NCAA Tournament.
Follow Evan Lepak on Twitter @EvanMPLepak and contact him at [email protected].