GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida basketball coach Mike White doesn’t have a set lineup in mind for the season yet. For that matter, he’s not even certain who the Gators are going to start in their preseason exhibition game.
Florida, which was picked second in the SEC’s preseason media poll, will run through a tune-up game Wednesday night against Division II Eckerd College at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.
White revealed that senior point guard Kasey Hill will not play because of a hamstring issue, but that aside, the coaching staff hasn’t gained much clarity in general yet as to how the Gators’ starting five will look this season.
“We’re probably halfway through it. What is that, two and a half guys? We’ll evaluate practice again today. I know it sounds cliche, but that’s what we’re going to do. We might have decisions tonight, we might even get through shoot-around tomorrow (before deciding),” White said, referring to the lineup he’ll trot out for the exhibition contest. “It’s just one game. I’m open to a different starting lineup each game. I know our guys aren’t as open to that. It’s just, we base everything off of production.
“Realistically I bet we have probably nine guys that are fighting for five spots. There’s a positive to that as well.”
Sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen and 6-foot-11 redshirt-junior center John Egbunu are likely the two set pieces.
White said Allen has been the team’s best 3-point shooter through the preseason while Egbunu is Florida’s most imposing inside presence.
With Hill out, junior Chris Chiozza is the clear choice at point guard. Hill (17 starts) and Chiozza (22) were both in and out of the starting lineup last season.
Junior forwards Devin Robinson and Justin Leon, graduate transfer guard Canyon Barry, redshirt-freshman forward Keith Stone and 6-foot-9 sophomore center Kevarrius Hayes are the other guys competing for their role in the rotation and looking to make a positive impression Wednesday night.
“(Wednesday) is going to be a great test for us. We’re getting a chance to see where we’re at as a team and see where our chemistry’s at and see how things look,” Egbunu said.
White said he’s open to playing Hayes and Egbunu together for a big lineup at times. In general, he feels the Gators can throw out some versatile looks.
Perhaps White and his staff will come away with a few more conclusions after Wednesday night, though it doesn’t sound like he is in any rush to make any final decisions.
“These exhibition games are more about tuning your own team up and continuing to improve, at the same evaluating where you’re at as a team, as a program, evaluating guys individually,” White said. “That’s where I’m most anxious is just seeing where we’re at, how far we have to go, what we’ve gotten better at this fall, things like that.”
To that point, he said even more than the box score or individual stat lines, he is most interested in seeing the chemistry with which his team plays.
“More than anything the bigger picture is with this team we’ve talked about how important, with the number of upperclassmen considered, it is to play selflessly and for our guys to sacrifice,” White said. “And how we respond to who starts, who doesn’t start, who plays how many minutes, who scores, who doesn’t, all those things. Evaluating our culture by the end of tomorrow night’s game when that final buzzer sounds, where we’re at, how healthy our locker room is, that’s as important as anything with this current group in my opinion.”
Florida went 21-15 in White’s first season with the program. The No. 2 slotting in the SEC preseason poll was a testament to the depth of experience the Gators have returning.
Aside from departed leading scorer Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida brings back the rest of its key cogs, including seven different players who made at least six starts last season as White routinely shook up the lineup.
He reiterated the message Tuesday that he again wants all those pieces working collectively toward the common goal and not dwelling on individual roles and stats and what not.
“(That’s the expectation) for all of the guys on our team, but especially our upperclassmen where those preconceived agendas, if you will, can creep in late in your career,” White said. “‘How many can I get tonight? Tomorrow night we’re playing Eckerd College, I wonder if I can go get 12 points.’ It can’t be about that. It’s got to be about, ‘How can we get better tomorrow night?'”
With renovations of Florida’s O’Connell Center still ongoing, the Gators will open the season playing “home” games around the state. Their official season opener will come Nov. 11 against Florida Gulf Coast at this same venue in Jacksonville. That is another benefit to the exhibition game Wednesday night, White said.
“We’re fortunate to have this opportunity because it would have been a little bit uncomfortable from a coaching standpoint opening the season in a place you’ve never played in. So this gives us at least a little bit of familiarity,” he said.