Finney-Smith returns to play key role for Florida, White
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Dorian Finney-Smith was furious, frustrated and feeling uneasy about his future.
He was admittedly ”very emotional” when Florida coach Billy Donovan announced he was leaving for the NBA in May.
Finney-Smith had spoken to Donovan a few days before his decision and got no indications Donovan was planning to leave Gainesville after 19 seasons. So when the news broke, Finney-Smith was caught off guard.
”I was surprised,” he said. ”I wanted to talk to someone. I called my teammates, made sure they were good and saw how they were feeling.”
Three players and one recruit followed Donovan out the door, and Finney-Smith strongly considered doing the same. But Donovan called Finney-Smith the day after he joined the Oklahoma City Thunder – ”we talked it out” – and assured the team’s leading scorer and rebounder that the Gators would find a suitable replacement.
Now, after getting a feel for new coach Mike White and his up-tempo scheme, Finney-Smith is certain he made the right choice.
”He’s going to help me with my dreams,” he said.
In the meantime, Finney-Smith will be the centerpiece of White’s dribble-drive offense and could be the key to getting the Gators back in the NCAA Tournament. Florida opens the season Nov. 13 against Navy.
The Gators finished 16-17 in March and missed the postseason for the first time since 1997. Things went from bad to worse when Donovan bolted. Guard Michael Frazier II, guard Eli Carter, forward Chris Walker and recruit Noah Dickerson also moved on.
White’s first major accomplishment was keeping Finney-Smith in the fold.
”Dorian’s been our best player,” White said. ”We’re going to continue to challenge him to be more and more vocal and to lead.”
A 6-foot-8 swingman with ball-handling skills and 3-point range, Finney-Smith averaged 13.4 points and 6.1 rebounds last season – his second at Florida since transferring from Virginia Tech. He was named the Southeastern Conference sixth man of the year in 2014, and the Gators believe his most successful season will be this one.
If that happens and the Gators bounce back from their worse season in nearly two decades, Finney-Smith won’t have any concerns about his future.
”That’s one of my dreams, to play in the NBA,” he said. ”The best decision for me was to come back. … I just wanted to finish what I started. Last year, I didn’t want to go out like that. Hopefully I can change that.”
Here are some things to know about the Gators heading into the season:
NEW FACES: The Gators will have seven new faces on the floor. They have three freshmen, three transfers and guard Brandone Francis-Ramirez, who sat out last year because he was academically ineligible. Guard KeVaughn Allen, forward Kevarrius Hayes and forward Keith Stone comprise the freshman class, and center John Egbunu (South Florida), forward Schuyler Rimmer (Stanford) and forward Justin Leon (Shawnee Community College) transferred to Florida.
WALKER RETURNS: Guard DeVon Walker returns after sitting out last season because of a knee injury. Walker doesn’t have great numbers – he’s averaging 1.8 points in 60 games – but he was buried on the depth chart as a freshman and sophomore. His defensive prowess and 3-point shooting give him a chance to be a contributor.
CHALLENGING HILL: Point guard Kasey Hill has the speed to be a difference-maker in the open court, but he has to shoot better from the free-throw and 3-point lines to become more effective. ”The big challenge to him is, `Hey, let’s keep working on our skill level,”’ White said. ”We’re going to do the best we can in those areas, but you have to lead and play with unbelievable energy defensively.”
FACILITY FACE-LIFT: The O’Connell Center will get a significant renovation after the season. Florida has a $64.5 million face-lift scheduled to begin in March. The project, which includes luxury boxes, chair-back seating and upgraded amenities, is scheduled to be done in December 2016.