Saturday, September 22, 2018
Sports

Florida coach Mike White tempers Elite Eight expectations a bit

GAINESVILLE — It took a top-five defense and a game-winning buzzer beater for Florida to make the Elite Eight last season. And despite a little luck, success is now the expectation for coach Mike White as he enters his third season at UF. But White, who replaced Billy Donovan in 2015, is determined not to let outside pressure affect how he runs his program.

"It's good for our fans, it's good for recruiting," White said Tuesday. "I just don't think it's got a big bearing on how we play."

White isn't the kind of coach to tell fans to expect a national championship. Throughout last season, his goal never changed from taking Florida to the NCAA Tournament.

But on Tuesday, his first time talking to reporters before the team begins practice, White was careful to avoid setting the bar too high.

"I think we have a chance to be as good as last year," White said. "Whether that equates into the same amount of wins or getting back to the tournament, (and) going back to the Elite Eight, I don't know about many of those things. But I do know we have a lot to work with."

Florida returns four starters from 2016-17: Chris Chiozza, who hit a winning 3-pointer to lift Florida over Wisconsin and out of the Sweet 16; KeVaughn Allen, who averaged 14 points per game to lead the team in scoring; Kevarrius Hayes, who started as an undersized center after John Egbunu tore his ACL. Egbunu also returns for his senior season, but is still nursing the knee injury from February and isn't expected to play until January.

Equally important are the players Florida isn't returning. The team will be without two of its top three scorers in Devin Robinson, who signed with the Washington Wizards, and Canyon Barry, who is playing professional basketball in Finland.

But regardless of a few absences, White remains cautiously optimistic about his team's chances.

"I think we could be better potentially, and I could be eating my words in December, but I'm being honest with you," White said. "I think we could be better offensively … I'm not sure we can be quite as good defensively."

Florida won't be able to count on the perimeter defense it got from point guard Kasey Hill, who finished his senior season in the spring. Hill and Robinson were responsible for more than 38 percent of UF's steals last season. And of the team's top rebounders, Robinson is gone and Egbunu won't play until the second half of the season. So it wasn't a surprise when White said he's unsure if the team has the makeup to remain a top-five defensive team.

But on the other side of the court, White is high on an offense that has added four four-star recruits; a transfer who shoots more than 40 percent from 3-point range in Egor Koulechov; and gets to debut Jalen Hudson, who sat out last season because of transfer rules after establishing himself as a scoring weapon at Virginia Tech.

"Offensively, (Hudson's) really good. He's very talented," White said.

For now, White's happy with the leadership he's seen from veterans and work ethics he's seen from freshmen. But he still has a month before Florida's first exhibition against Tampa on Nov. 5.

"Of course, I'm sitting here like most coaches in the country, really pleased with our team," White said. "Like most guys, we haven't lost yet."

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