Billy Donovan is gone to the NBA, and with him the face of Florida basketball. Many wonder whether the Gators’ winning tradition will follow.
New coach Mike White steps into Donovan’s shadow after four seasons at Louisiana Tech. White also walks into a rare rebuilding situation in Gainesville. A year after reaching their fourth Final Four under Donovan, the Gators finished 16–17 — the program’s first losing season since 1998.
“There’s probably a lot of doubters out there like, ‘Oh, Florida is not the same. They are not going to be the same program. They are not going to compete like they used to because they don’t have Coach D,’” sophomore forward Devin Robinson says. “We don’t listen to that. We’re playing with a chip on our shoulder. We have a lot to prove.”
White, 38, has more to prove than anyone. His teams were 101–40 at Louisiana Tech, playing an exciting, up-tempo style on both ends. He also never coached his team to the NCAA Tournament, something Donovan did 14 times during 19 seasons in Gainesville.
All SEC predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, available online and on newsstands everywhere.
Podcast: Who should be No. 1 in College Basketball in 2015-16?
Senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith led the Gators in scoring (13.1 ppg), rebounding (6.2 rpg) and 3-point shooting (.426) last season. But he needs help.
The Gators hope center John Egbunu, a transfer from South Florida, will provide the physical inside presence Florida lacked last season. Listed at 6'11", 266 pounds, Egbunu averaged 7.4 points and 6.2 rebounds as a freshman at USF in 2013-14. He also shot just 54.5 percent from the foul line and looks to become a more efficient low-post scorer.
Robinson is dynamic off the wing, but he is rail thin and prone to poor shot selection. He had more airballs (nine) than field goals (eight) nine games into his freshman season. Small forward Alex Murphy, a Duke transfer who sat out the first semester, was increasingly effective in the open court, but his 3-point shooting (6-of-33) was abysmal.
Florida Gators Facts & Figures
Last season: 16-17 (8-10 SEC)
Last NCAA Tournament: 2014
SEC projection: 5
Postseason projection: NCAA First Round
White was a point guard, two of his assistant coaches (Jordan Mincy and Darris Nichols) were point guards, and his best player at Louisiana Tech (Speedy White) was a point guard. Good thing, because shaky point guard play was a big reason for the 2014-15 Gators’ struggles. White, a four-year starter at Ole Miss, will push junior Kasey Hill and sophomore Chris Chiozza to improve.
“I’m a little harder on point guards than the other four spots on the floor, little bit more demanding,” White says.
Hill’s ability to respond could be the key to the season. A 2013 McDonald’s All-American, Hill has mixed flashes of brilliance with poor decision-making and shooting. He enjoyed a three-game stretch early last season with 25 assists and four turnovers. He then had four turnovers or more in six SEC games. During a stunning loss at Missouri, Hill hit 2-of-7 from the field and 1-of-8 from the foul line. For the season, he shot 52.6 from the line and 27.6 percent (8 of 29) from 3-point range.
Chiozza similarly struggled with his shot, finishing at 32.3 percent from 3-point range and 47.7 percent from the foul line. But as a first-year player, he showed the court sense Hill too often lacks.
Redshirt freshman Brandone Francis and first-year player KeVaughn Allen should provide scoring punch. Junior DeVon Walker, who returns from an ACL tear, also can shoot but is more valuable as a perimeter defender.
Key Losses: G Eli Carter, G Michael Frazier II, C Jon Horford, F Jacob Kurtz
Top Players: G Kasey Hill, G Chris Chiozza, F Devin Robinson, F Dorian Finney-Smith, C John Egbunu
John Egbunu should step into a starting role, while KeVaughn Allen should be an immediate factor, too. He averaged 25.2 points to lead North Little Rock (Ark.) High School to its third straight state title. Kevarrius Hayes is a long, athletic shot blocker and rebounder, while Keith Stone is a combo-forward who can score anywhere inside the arc. Schuyler Rimmer provides another big body.
White turned down previous job offers at Missouri and Tennessee but believed Florida was too good an opportunity to pass up. He was born near Tampa and has strong recruiting ties in the Sunshine State.
White embraces the challenge of following a legend and has quickly won over his players with his high-energy personality and aggressive playing style. Louisiana Tech averaged 21 3-point attempts last season and forced 8.4 steals per game.
Yet outside of Finney-Smith, the Gators have a roster of unproven players. The schedule features trips to Michigan State and Miami, visits from Florida State and West Virginia, and two games with Kentucky. White could be hard-pressed to get the Gators to the NCAA Tournament in Year 1.