Florida Gators basketball, which will begin the 2015-16 season unranked, will take the court for the first time under new head coach Mike White on Thursday night in an exhibition game against the Division II Palm Beach Atlantic Sailfish at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida.
The Gators have been looking forward to playing real basketball for quite some time, and following a “secret scrimmage” against Central Florida over the weekend, everyone is ready and raring to go for the contest. “It’s an exciting week to get started for the staff and I, but I’m sure a lot more exciting for our players, especially our seniors,” White said Wednesday. “It’s been a long preseason. We’ve put in a lot of time and work and energy. I know our guys have been chomping at the bit for probably more than 2-3 weeks now to play someone else.”
Here’s a look ahead at Thursday night’s exhibition game: what to know and how to watch Florida-Palm Beach Atlantic.
Location: Stephen C. O’Connell Center – Gainesville, Florida [Capacity: 11,548]
Time: 7:00 p.m. EST
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter
Tale of the tape
|Florida Gators||Palm Beach Atlantic Sailfish|
|Head Coach: Mike White||Head Coach: David Balza|
|Record: 0-0||Record: 0-0|
|Conference: Southeastern||Conference: Sunshine State|
G: Kasey Hill, junior
G: KeVaughn Allen, freshman
F: DeVon Walker, redshirt junior
F: Dorian Finney-Smith, redshirt senior
C: John Egbunu, redshirt sophomore
First-timers: As many as eight Gators will be seeing their first action in a Florida uniform, including junior transfer forwards Justin Leon (24) and Schuyler Rimmer (32); redshirt sophomore transfer center John Egbunu (15); redshirt freshman guard Brandone Francis-Ramirez (2); freshmen G KeVaughn Allen (4), F Kevarrius Hayes (13) and F Keith Stone (23); and redshirt freshman walk-on Jhonny Victor (20).
Additionally, Walker will play his first game in more than a year after suffering a torn ACL ahead of the 2014-15 season.
What to watch for: While White is pleased with the unselfishness exhibited by the Gators as well as their general execution and togetherness in practice, he has a list of things that Florida must work on in its exhibition contest on Thursday night.
“Offensively, I want to see us really continue to get on the offensive glass as we’ve done in practice; it’s been a big area of improvement for us. I’d like to see higher shooting percentages, probably starting at the foul line. And just open threes – taking and making open threes, get those percentages up. But most of all offensively, valuing the basketball, getting our turnovers down,” he said.
White also laid out a list of defensive improvements he’d like to see, including the Gators reducing their fouling, rebounding off the defensive glass better and becoming more physically tough both inside and outside the paint.
Last-minute evaluations: White offered some thoughts on a handful of Gators ahead of Thursday night’s exhibition game. Check out a much more detailed look at Florida basketball ahead of the 2015-16 in this story.
On who has made the biggest improvements as of late: “Alex Murphy, he’s the latest one to make a big jump. This time last week, it was Devin Robinson – he’s come a long way, especially on the offensive glass and with his motor, his energy level, and he’s shooting the ball at a much higher percentage in practice.
On the point guards: “I’m really pleased with the way those guys are defending the basketball, hawking the basketball, using their speed.”
On Rimmer, who was granted first-semester eligibility by the NCAA despite being a midseason transfer: “Schuyler is arguably one of our 2-3 most consistent guys; you know what you’re getting on a daily basis. He’s very consistent, very mature. He plays with a level of mental toughness. You know what you ‘re going to get from Schuyler. He’s got some leadership skills, he’s a hard worker. He’s going to be a factor for us this year.”
On Walker, who is returning from a torn ACL: “He was, in Saturday’s practice, he was one of our most consistent guys. He’s shooting the ball at a higher level, getting deflections, getting hands on basketballs defensively. DeVon’s always a guy that’s going to bring it, like Schuyler, with his intensity level – he’s got a good work ethic. He’s a leader by example. … DeVon’s another one who is fighting everyday for a starting position. Whether or not he starts on a given night, he’s going to be a factor for this team – offensively and defensively.”