GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A good chunk of Florida coach Mike White’s second season will be spent on the road.
Airports, buses, hotels, room service, fast food, makeshift meeting rooms, White is ready for the worst. He’s embracing it, though, as a way for the Gators to forge bonds off the basketball court that could pay dividends on it.
With a $64.5 million renovation to the O’Connell Center nearing completion, Florida will play its first 11 games away from Gainesville. It’s a challenging schedule that includes neutral-site matchups against Seton Hall, Duke, Florida State and maybe Gonzaga.
But it could benefit the Gators in the long run.
“We can sit here and complain about having to play on the road,” White said. “I’m pretty happy we get to play on the road in the fall because that means we’re about to move into a beautiful facility. Also, it gives you advantages, opportunities to grow, to become more cohesive as we’re traveling and coming together. Road wins are hard to come by. Hopefully, these experiences will pay off in conference play and help you become a little better road team.”
Florida’s travels begin Nov. 11 against Florida Gulf Coast in Jacksonville. The Gators will play two more games in Jacksonville, three in Orlando and in Lakeland, Tampa, Tallahassee and Sunrise.
They leave the Sunshine State once during the first six weeks of the season, facing Duke in New York City in early December.
“This road season is going to be a blessing for us before we’re going to get used to not always having that home court,” said graduate transfer Canyon Barry, a 6-foot-6 guard from College of Charleston and the youngest son of Basketball Hall of Famer Rick Barry. “It will be good for (Florida) fans all across the state to get to see some games, but at the same time, it helps us because they’re neutral site, helps the RPI and also just getting used to playing in adverse situations on the road.
“And then spending more time on a bus, getting to know guys better, getting to know their quirks. I think it will help our team chemistry.”
Three things to know
BACK FOR MORE: Florida finished 21-15 in White’s first season, losing four of its final five regular-season games and failing to make the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year. Although the Gators lost leading scorer Dorian Finney-Smith to graduation, they return more than 70 percent of the team’s points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks from last season.
Guards Kasey Hill and KeVaughn Allen are back as well as stretch forward Devin Robinson and center John Egbunu. Chris Chiozza, Kevarrius Hayes, Justin Leon and Keith Stone should provide depth, and Barry could be the key to helping Florida take the next step.
BARRY’S IMPACT: Before needing season-ending shoulder surgery, Barry averaged 19.7 points in 13 games for the Cougars last season. He’s versatile, can shoot and put the ball on the floor and make things happen.
“Canyon came here to have a chance to play in an NCAA Tournament, to play with high-level players,” White said. “Canyon wants to win, and I expect him to maintain that mentality more than anything else, whether that means he scores 21 a night or scores 4.
“He’s very capable of scoring the ball, but I think he’s underrated in other areas.”
POINT OF EMPHASIS: If the Gators are going to take the next step, they have to get better from the free-throw line. They ranked last in the Southeastern Conference and 323rd (out of 346 teams) in the NCAA from the charity stripe last season. They shot 64.7 percent from there as a team, losing close games and failing to put opponents away in the final minutes.
“I don’t think we’re going to jump to first,” White said. “But I think we can make a pretty good jump in both areas. I’d be surprised if we weren’t a little closer toward the middle of the pack.”
Florida preview capsule
Last season: 21-15, lost in quarterfinals of the NIT
Coach: Mike White.
Who’s gone: F Dorian Finney-Smith, G DeVon Walker, G Brandon Francis-Ramirez.
Who’s back: SG KeVaughn Allen, who started 32 games as a freshman and averaged 11.6 points despite shooting 31.5 percent from 3-point range; C John Egbunu, a former South Florida transfer who was dominant at times in his first season in the SEC; PG Kasey Hill, who averaged a career-best 9.1 points a game as a junior and had the most 3-pointers, rebounds, steals and blocks of his career; F Devin Robinson, a 6-foot-8 junior who has failed to meet expectations in two seasons.
Who’s new: G Canyon Barry, a graduate transfer from the College of Charleston and the youngest son of NBA Hall of Famer Rick Barry. Before needing season-ending shoulder surgery last season, Barry averaged 19.7 points in 13 games for the Cougars; F Keith Stone, who added size and strength while redshirting last season and could be a factor off the bench and in the paint.
The Skinny: The Gators have more depth and experience in White’s second season, probably enough to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014. One must: They have to shoot better from behind the arc and from the free-throw line.
© 2017 Associated Press