Business As Usual, Both Sides Say, for White Reunion

GAINESVILLE, Florida. — Whatever he says or thinks or says he thinks, this will be different. The feeling will pass and eventually give away in an actual game, but it will definitely be different. Even awkward, maybe.

Mike White loved Ole Miss, but he always seemed comfortable returning to Oxford to play for the Rebels, the team for whom he was a starting point guard for four seasons during the 1990s. White is humble and unobtrusive, so he did not like these games because the way they tell the stories about these games often wanted to make the story about him.


Coach Florida Todd Golden

So bring his Georgia Bulldogs (11-3, 1-0), even this rejuvenated, elevated version, to Exactech Arena / O’Connell for Saturday’s matinee against Todd Golden and the Florida Gators (7-7, 0-2) are likely to test White’s comfort level. It shouldn’t be. White left UF last March as the third winningest coach in program history, guiding the Gators to a 142-88 record (.617 winning percentage) and six wins in four NCAA Tournament appearances, the second-most by a coach UF only in Billy Donovan.

But for whatever reason, White went looking for something better last spring and found it in one of Florida’s biggest rivals.

“Business. This,” White told reporters in Athens, Ga., Wednesday night after the Bulldogs upset 22nd-ranked Auburn when asked about his thoughts on returning to the O’Dome. “It’s a place that [wife Kira] and myself and ours [five] children, love We had a great time there. I will always appreciate. I want to see some family and friends; many people in these stands that I want to see, that I care about. People throughout the community…”

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Then came the obvious coach-speak.

“That said, when the shoot-around is happening, I’m going to close in. I have a model and when this thing is flipped, we’re going to go down there to see if we can get a little better and see if we can put put ourselves in a position to maybe steal one down the road. That’s the name of the game in this league.”

[Read senior writer Chris Harry’s “Pregame Stuff” setup here]

It should come as no surprise that Golden and the Gators, including eight of White’s former players (six scholarship guys, two walk-ons), will try to take the same approach.

“He coaches them well and does what they need to do — but it’s going to be any other game,” said the UF fifth-year senior. Colin Castleton, who played two seasons for White, including a second-team All-Southeastern campaign last year. “We have to win, that’s the bottom line, it doesn’t matter who’s coming in here, who’s coaching, who’s playing. We’ve got to win games.”

UF forward Colin Castleton (left) was plucked from the transfer portal (by way of Michigan) by then-UF coach Mike White summer 2020 covid-crazy.

Yes, they do. UF is currently on a three-game losing skid, and each defeat comes down to the execution late in the game the opponents did better. The Gators were in a three-point game with just over two minutes to go against Oklahoma in the Jumpman Invitational before Christmas and lost by nine. They were in a tie game with just over a minute left in Auburn and lost by three. They were tied with less than a minute left Wednesday night at home against Texas A&M and trailed by three.

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In those games, it didn’t matter that Porter Moser, Bruce Pearl or Buzz Williams were their respective coaches on the opposing bench. And it won’t matter that White stands on the visiting side on Saturday, either.

By the time the outcome of the game is decided, any discomfort will be over and any Florida fan yearning to pound their white meat (in whatever verbal form that may take) will be over.

“We have to worry about ourselves and make sure we’re doing what we can to win the game,” Golden said Friday. “Obviously, there could be a little extra motivation for some of our guys, but it will definitely not be a point of emphasis from my perspective. For us, I want to make sure that we are focusing on ourselves and what we are doing . to put our best foot forward.”

The Gators did that on a couple of fronts against A&M, especially when it came to shooting the basketball. UF hit nearly 47 percent from the floor, including 7-for-19 shots from the 3-point line after going through a two-game clang fest when just five of 41 long balls went down.

Unfortunately, on the same night they made up for some poor shooting, the Gators turned the ball over a season-worst 20 times (leading to 21 A&M points) and surrendered 13 offensive rebounds. Those second-chance opportunities allowed the Aggies to make 61 field-goal attempts (to 44 UF) and win a one-possession game despite shooting just 37.7 percent for the game, 12.5 percent from distance (2-for-16) and 64.3 out in. the line is free.

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“Against a team like A&M, you can’t do that and give yourself a chance to win the game,” Golden said.


Mike White as a Gator

For once, the Florida staff would like to see its players put together a solid game, across the board against a strong opponent — UF has lost five straight conference teams against powerhouses — instead of playing whack-a-mole with. random areas that go from good to bad on a given night.

There is a faction of the Gators (the ones in uniform), of course, who would love to do that against the guy on the other side Saturday.

“Even the guys who don’t play a lot, they’re still excited. They know what kind of defense he plays and they just want to beat him,” the junior guard. Trey Bonham, who transferred to UF last season from Virginia Military Institute. “[But] Coach Golden is definitely going to be on [the emotions element] happiness … I feel like he’s going to nip that in the ass and make sure we stay on our game.”

After all, as White said, it’s just business, right?

Yeah, right.


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