After 19 seasons as the face of the University of Florida men’s basketball program, head coach Billy Donovan decided to take his expertise to the pros as he earned a five-year, $30 million to be the new man in charge for the Oklahoma City Thunder in April.
The Gators endured their first losing season since Donovan’s second year in Gainesville (1997). It marked the first time since he arrived on the scene there in 1996 that Florida failed to make any postseason tournament.
Florida is far removed from their back-to-back National championships (2005, 2006), but up until recently it continued to be one of the most steady groups in the SEC. The Gators captured the conference title three times from 2010-14 as they made three straight Elite Eight appearances before going all the way to the Final Four in 2014 with a 36-3 overall record – Donovan’s best mark of his tenure.
The rebuilding Gators chose to go younger once Donovan left this off-season. They signed 38-year-old Florida native Michael White. White served as the head coach at Louisiana Tech from 2011-14 where he compiled a 101-40 record in Western Athletic Conference (WAC) play. He was previously a longtime assistant at Ole Miss and Jacksonville State.
When Donovan took over the program, he was only 31, so maybe the Gators are looking for a Donovan 2.0 so to speak as they look to bounce back and add more talent over time.
The team’s leading scorer, guard Dorian Finney-Smith is back for his senior season. Finney-Smith averaged a team-best 13.9 points along with 6.2 rebounds and 27.9 points per game as a junior.
Also, returning is senior power forward Alex Murphy, junior point guard Kasey Hill and sophomore power forward Devin Robinson. The trio all averaged 5.0 PPG or better individually with Hill leading the team with 30.3 minutes, 4.5 assists and 7.2 points per game last year.
The Gators finished eighth in the SEC with an 8-10 record in conference play. Finney-Smith and Hill are the top two guys back from that disappointing squad that is likely to struggle once again.
One player that coach White can certainly build around is freshman KeVaughn Allen. One of three 2015 recruits, Allen is the top dog from the class, ranking as a four-star recruit by ESPN. The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 25.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 3.1 steals per game as a senior at North Little Rock in Arkansas.
Allen was named the Gatorade Arkansas Boys Basketball Player of the Year as a junior and in his final season he dropped 28 points in the 7A State championship game to lift his team to a third straight title.
Along with Allen, the Gators added two local power forwards in Kevarrius Hayes (Live Oak, Fla.) and Keith Stone (Deerfield Beach, Fla.) Hayes is a lengthy 6-9 big man who averaged just under 20 points and more than 10 rebounds per game as a senior while Stone is a bulky 6-8 power forward at 233 lbs with the ability to make plays inside.
White will have to build this program back and it could be with Allen at the helm. Hayes and Stone are both nice pieces to have in place as well. For now, senior Dorian Finney-Smith and junior Kasey Hill will be the face of Gator basketball, but that should change rather soon.
Either way Florida has its work cut out for them in a loaded SEC. However, a year or two of solid recruiting by White and his staff and the Gators could be returning to relevance sooner rather than later.