A good chunk of Florida coach Mike White’s second season will be spent on the road.
Airports, busses, 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 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.
Other things to know about Florida heading into the season:
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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.
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 SEC 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.”
Tough road ahead?
Renovations at the O’Connell Center have forced the Florida Gators to play their first 11 games of the season outside of Gainesville:
Date, Opponent, Location
Nov. 11, Fla. Gulf Coast, J’ville
Nov. 13, Mercer, Jacksonville
Nov. 17, St. Bonaventure, Lakeland
Nov. 21, Belmont, Tampa
Nov. 24, Seton Hall, Orlando
Nov. 25, TBA, Orlando
Nov. 17, TBA, Orlando
Dec. 1, North Florida, Jacksonville
Dec. 6, Duke, New York
Dec. 11, Florida State, Tallahassee
Dec. 17, Charlotte, Sunrise