Gator fans have been through this before. You know the type who comes to you after a bad football loss and asks when basketball season starts?
This is a more common question asked in Lexington most years, but with some of the lean times during the eras of Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain, it’s come up in the Gator Nation as well.
This year, despite three football losses, you don’t hear it much. And after the SEC released the vote on the projected order of finish for this season and the Gators were picked seventh. That is partly because the league is ridiculously good and partly because nobody is sure what to expect from Florida.
Which is why there is not a lot of noise about the start of the season even as football fans get closer to the edge of the ledge.
They don’t completely trust Mike White even though he gets them to the tournament every year. They know that Florida had two players drafted and others who left. They know that it is very unlikely we’ll see Keyontae Johnson play this year.
So, basketball? Meh.
But this could be a really interesting team because Colin Castleton, the 6-foot-10-inch center, came back and was a first-team selection of the preseason All-SEC team. And if Anthony Duruji can take another step in his improvement, he could be a major factor. Then there is 6-foot-6-inch true freshman Kowacie Reeves.
But this team will likely only go as far as its transfers can take them. There are four new ones and White went searching hard for guys who could defend and guys who could score.
“We called it portal diving,” White said.
Of course, this is not uncommon. At last count, there were 85 transfer players added to SEC rosters this year. The basketball slogan should be “Go Old or Go Home.”
“I feel old,” said Brandon McKissic, a 6-foot-3-inch guard from Missouri-Kansas City who is in his fifth and final year of college.
Everybody’s got transfers. It’s what you do with them that matters.
And what they want to do with their final chances in college.
“Being in Gainesville these six months has just been amazing,” said Fleming. “I’ve learned so much, grown so much. I’m becoming the player I’m supposed to be. I’m growing into the player I’m supposed to be.”
Well, that’s good to hear.
Because for a lot of these guys, this is Last Chance U. But that’s not why they were brought in. They were brought in to fill gaps on the team and instill a different level of maturity unlike a year ago when Florida was one of the youngest teams in the country.
“My biggest thing is being a leader, you know, being a voice of this team,” said McKissic, who was also the Defensive Player of the Year in his conference. “Being one of the older guys that, as well seasoned and had a lot of games played regardless of level, it’s just, I gotta be that guy you know that can be a voice that can not only through adversity, you know, work through, work on the issues.”
Of course, nobody ever knows for sure how a team will blend together, especially when it has so many new faces that are also old faces. Basketball cultures are always fragile things.
And with this new Mike White team, he seems to have filled in the pieces well with the deep dives into the portal.
Not only does he feel like he has improved defensively, but it’s not like the four transfers never put the ball in the basket. They combined to score 3,882 points at their previous schools, the second-highest total of any transfer class.
“We’re still working on finding the identity and culture of his team,” White said. “We’re doing different things offensively, different from anything I have ever coached at Florida.
“This is the most skilled team I’ve had and it’s definitely the best passing team we’ve had at Florida. It’s the oldest team I’ve had. The basketball IQ, the older you get the better passer you become. And the four transfers, they all have some muscle on them. They can deliver a pounding; they can take a pounding.”
Now, you may be getting a little fired up and over your LSU hangover. But know that this league may be the best it has been in a long time when you go one-through-14. And you never know how players who were stars elsewhere will handle reduced minutes at UF.
We’re not that far away from finding out.
“When the big lights come on, all the fans, and there’s all the cameras and stuff, that can really change the team,” Jones said. “So I think the biggest part of that is just, you know, staying connected, keeping the egos at the door once the lights come on, too.”
Amen to that.
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