Florida takes pressure off Finney-Smith to be more vocal
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Dorian Finney-Smith tried to be Florida's vocal leader.
A fifth-year senior, a returning starter and a guy with Final Four experience, it made perfect sense for new coach Mike White to ask Finney-Smith to do a little more in his last year.
But it took Finney-Smith well out of his comfort zone, which became painfully obvious to White a few weeks ago.
So White ended the experiment by telling Finney-Smith to focus on himself.
''It's probably our fault, my fault as much as anyone, to fall into the trap where you put too much pressure on freshmen or you're putting too much pressure on one of your players to do something that they're not real comfortable with,'' White said Monday. ''Dorian's been a great leader for us, but for me to put on Dorian that his No. 1 focus should be leadership, I'm not sure that was in our best interest as a team or his best interest because we've got to have Dorian play really well.''
Finney-Smith has responded by playing his best basketball of the season.
The 6-foot-8 forward is averaging 15.0 points and 8.8 rebounds over the last four games, with three double-doubles. He's shot better from 3-point range and from the free-throw line.
''Kind of like took a weight off my back,'' Finney-Smith said.
The Gators (11-6, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) hope the move continues to pay dividends as they play five of their next six games at home. The stretch begins Tuesday night against struggling Mississippi State (7-9, 0-4), followed by games against Auburn, at Vanderbilt and back home to face No. 6 West Virginia and Arkansas.
White, whose team ranks near the bottom of the SEC in shooting and scoring, has said repeatedly his guys have to play with a level of defensive effort and energy to be competitive.
And with so many newcomers – freshman guard KeVaughn Allen and junior college transfer Justin Leon have been bright spots – White leaned on Finney-Smith to help get his message across on and off the court.
White was probably asking too much from Finney-Smith.
''I'm a laid-back dude,'' Finney-Smith said. ''I ain't really too talkative. But when coach told me that, I had to go back and look at myself in the mirror and accept it.''
Finney-Smith tried to play the role, but it never felt right. And White noticed. So he called Finney-Smith to his office and told him to just be himself.
Since then, Finney-Smith's practices have been better. So have his games.
''Even when he's not making shots, he's really stepped up to the challenge from our staff,'' White said. ''For us to be more consistent, you've got to be our most consistent guy. Everything you do or say, our guys follow you. … He's really played well.''
And now that Finney-Smith has stopped trying to be a leader, White said, he's actually started leading more.
''It's funny. As we've talked to Dorian less about leading, he has started to play better and now he's playing really well and you see him on the court in Oxford, chirping a lot to our other guys, leading,'' White said. ''It's just funny how those things work. It's a little bit easier to lead when things are going really well for you and you're playing well.''