During Year 2 in Gainesville, Florida coach Mike White showed it was possible to successfully follow a legend. White now looks to prove that the Gators’ surprising Elite Eight run was just the beginning of the resurgence of a program Billy Donovan built. “It’s not the ultimate goal,” White said in May.
The next step will not be easy. But the Gators vastly improved on both ends of the floor last season and should boast their best collection of talent under White. This includes a top-25 recruiting class and former Virginia Tech guard Jalen Hudson and Rice graduate transfer Egor Koulechov.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Mike White
2016-17 RECORD (SEC): 27–9 (14–4)
2016-17 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to South Carolina 77–70 in the Elite Eight
G Canyon Barry (11.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg)
G Kasey Hill (9.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 4.5 apg)
F Justin Leon (7.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg)
F Devin Robinson (11.1, 6.1 rpg)
White joked that his biggest recruiting catch was getting back center John Egbunu. The 6'11", 265-pound Egbunu offers a physical presence no Gator can match, but his production dipped a season ago. He tore his ACL in February and will not return until SEC play (at the earliest). At the time of the injury, Egbunu was coming off his first double-double of 2016-17; he had six a year earlier.
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Florida’s biggest offseason acquisition was Koulechov. The 6'5", 205-pound native of Russia averaged 18.2 points and 8.9 rebounds at Rice. Koulechov also shot a sizzling 47.4 percent from 3-point range.
Backup center Kevarrius Hayes made nice strides as a sophomore. He improved his offensive proficiency, shooting 60.6 percent, and led Florida with 60 blocks.
Sophomore Keith Stone has the inside track at power forward but will have to become more dependable. He was held scoreless during nine of the team’s final 18 games.
Athletic, 6'11" Gorjok Gak showed some flashes as a freshman during limited action.
Three of UF’s four signees are frontcourt players who could contribute. Chase Johnson is the highest rated; DeAundrae Ballard the most polished; and 6'8", 270-pound Isaiah Stokes, brother of former Tennessee star Jarnell, the most intriguing (though he will sidelined with a knee injury until January).
No player’s development has White’s attention more than senior point guard Chris Chiozza, who will step in full time for Kasey Hill. Following a January sit-down with White, Chiozza averaged 8.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 9.3 assists the next three games and became one of Florida’s better players down the stretch. “We don’t want Chris to fall into a trap,” White says. “He can’t forget how hard he worked and the mentality he had that put him in that position.”
Junior shooting guard KeVaughn Allen averaged a team-leading 14.0 points, but he will have more scoring help in the backcourt. The 6'6" Hudson might be Florida’s most talented offensive player, but he is a potential liability as a rebounder and defender. “He’s got a lot to prove,” White says.
White’s fast-paced, frenetic style produced a 22-point win against Kentucky and returned the Gators to the NCAA Tournament after a two-year absence. Along the way, Florida rose from 129th to 68th in scoring offense and 85th to 47th scoring defense.
Florida should be more explosive with the additions of Koulechov and Hudson, along with the continued growth of Allen. For the Gators to contend for the SEC title and make another NCAA Tournament run, Chiozza must thrive as a first-time starter, and Egbunu must return from injury and play at a higher level.
Whatever lies ahead, UF is all in on White. In June, the school awarded the 40-year-old a raise of more than $600,000 — to $2.7 million annually — and a one-year contract extension through 2023.