Gators
FILE - In this March 4, 2020, file photo, Florida coach Mike White gestures during an NCAA college basketball game against Georgia in Athens, Ga. Unlike a year ago, Florida begins the season unranked and won’t have nearly as much hype. (Joshua L. Jones/Athens Banner-Herald via AP, File)

Mike White Talks First Gator Hoops Practice, Keyontae Johnson

Florida basketball tipped off its first practice on Tuesday. Afterward, seventh-year head coach Mike White met with the media. White reflected on the first day of practice before previewing the Gators’ offensive and defensive identities. He also spoke to Keyontae Johnson’s role and the progress of returning players like Colin Castleton and Jason Jitoboh.

“The level of competitive spirit was pretty high. Not a lot of drama down there. Pretty good level of chemistry for a Day 1. Serious approach, pretty good focus”

The Gators, who begin play in November, bring to the court a fairly different team than last year.

Two players left for the NBA in Tre Mann and Scottie Lewis. Moreover, the Gators gained five transfers while four left via the portal. The 2021-22 roster is the oldest one White has ever had over his tenure, while last year, Florida possessed the youngest roster in the NCAA.

Offense

White likes the Gator shot selection and thinks there’s one area where the team has a chance to be the most special he’s ever had at UF.

He also likes the unselfishness he sees so far. He added the Gators have done a great job attacking the glass for offensive rebounds.

If you’ve got an older team, you’ve got guys that have a better idea how to simply play the game; a good feel for who’s open and what shot should be taken.

Maturity also translates into better passing.

Defense

White sees the Gator defense as quick, with three to four really good defenders one-on-one. Of course, he doesn’t know yet if that will transfer into a really good defensive team.

Keyontae Johnson Update

Almost 10 months after his collapse in December, White says Keyontae Johson is still not cleared to play.

Johnson will continue his role as “Coach Key” for the team.

White says Johnson is happy and healthy. Through his resilience and attitude, the senior is a Gator Great in White’s mind.

Regarding Last Year

White says he ignores the criticism for the team’s performance in the NCAA Tournament. Even if someone came up to him in the grocery store, White might not even want to hear the sentiment because they don’t understand what the team endured. Not only did they lose the best player in the SEC on the court, but they dealt with it psychologically, too.

White says Johnson’s horrific injury was a source of trauma for the whole team. The year was demanding and taxing, even without COVID-19.

Everyone can evaluate this program how they want to evaluate it. The team didn’t want to lose in Round Two versus Oral Roberts.

“That said, we overcame a lot,” White said.

Players New and Old

Transfers

White said the transfers will instantly impact the program.

  • Forward CJ Felder (Boston College)
  • Guard Phlandrous Fleming Jr. (Charleston Southern)
  • Forward Tuongthach Gatkek (Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College)
  • Guard Myreon Jones (Penn State)
  • Guard Brandon McKissic (Missouri-Kansas City)

Over the summer, the squad had three 80-minute practices a week. White spent more time than ever before with 5-on-5 competition to acclimate transfers. He thinks they have caught the transfers up to a certain extent, but they’ve still got a ways to go. Still, the incoming freshmen have more to learn than the transfers.

Colin Castleton Returns with NBA Feedback

Senior Colin Castleton’s challenge is to not be complacent after a good season last year. White says Castleton is learning how to lead a little bit more as well.

Castleton received positive NBA feedback and knows what he wants to work on. He’s working on defensive schemes and expanding his game offensively. Castleton will showcase his ability away from the rim like of driving, passing and shooting; he hit an 18-footer in practice Tuesday.

Jason Jitoboh Continues to Condition

“He’s still working to condition himself, the biggest factor for him by far and away,” White said of the 305-pound center. White complimented Jitoboh for his uncoachable characteristics, such as the way he absorbs coaching like a sponge.

The junior is improving on the perimeter and continues to work on going from end to-end. He had a good fall.

Niels Lane Worked Hard over Summer

After a low-impact freshman year, White expected a conversation with Niels Lane about transferring. However, Lane stayed in Gainesville over summer. White and the staff consistently hear the guard dribbling on the court or playing with a student manager. Presumably, the hard work has paid off: White named Lane as one of the most improved players on the team.

White described Lane as a talented rebounder, defender and playmaker. Lane continues to work on his stroke.

Of course, he has competition from talented freshman Kowacie Reeves, in addition to Elijah Kennedy.

Team Chemistry

The team gets along very well and is very open with each other. The players do well at holding each other accountable, and conversely, accepting when players call one another out.

Though they haven’t done a lot of team bonding so far, and White enjoys the culture between the lines.

Game Day is 41 Days Away

Florida tips off its season at the Stephen C. O’ Connell Center against Elon on Nov. 9.

About Julianna Reichenbach

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