Gators get their guy, tab Michael White to replace Billy Donovan
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The name Kenneth "Speedy" Smith may not mean much to University of Florida basketball fans, but allow me to throw some numbers at Gator Nation.
They may be of particular interest to the likes of Kasey Hill and Chris Chiozza.
Smith was a point guard at Boca Ciega High in St. Petersburg, Fla. He went virtually unrecruited by state schools and wound up signing four years ago with a rookie head coach by the name of Michael White at Louisiana Tech.
Over the last four seasons, Smith set the LA Tech record for career assists and led the nation in that statistic in 2014-15, totaling 267. That’s 7.4 per game. Also during those four seasons — while White’s teams were scoring 74.2 points a night, bombing boatloads of 3s and playing a pressing/trapping 94-foot game — the Bulldogs won 101 games.
For context: Smith’s 858 career assists were — get this — 311 more than Erving Walker dished on his way to setting the Florida career record. And, oh by the way, Smith not only garnered Conference USA Player of the Year and All-America honors, but he is projected as a second-round pick in the NBA draft next month.
So memo to Hill, Chiozza, Dorian Finney-Smith and all current UF players (plus prospective future Gators): The race-car ways of Florida basketball will continue under White, who Thursday agreed to a six-year contract averaging $2 million per season to become the 18th coach in Florida basketball history and the one to succeed future Hall of Famer Billy Donovan.
It was 1996, nearly two decades ago, that Donovan brought a pressing/3-point jacking firebrand style of basketball to UF that was wildly entertaining and ultimately took the Gators to unfathomable heights. It only made sense those traits would be prerequisites in the search for Donovan’s successor.
UF athletic director Jeremy Foley and his search committee found them in Ruston, La.
White, 38, went to LA Tech in 2011 following eight seasons as an assistant coach at his alma mater of Ole Miss, where he once was a starting point guard on a couple NCAA Tournament teams. After an 18-16 transition year, White’s teams the next three seasons featured some of the most wide-open offenses in the nation. In 2014-15, the Bulldogs had six players with at least 80 3-point attempts — four with more than 100 — and for the third straight season finished in the top 15 nationally in turnovers forced.
The Bulldogs are coming off a 27-9 season when they captured the C-USA regular season title. In 2013-14, they went 29-8 and shared the regular-season championship their first year in the league. In ’12-13, as a member of the Western Athletic Conference, LA Tech was 27-7 and won that regular-season crown, too.
In reaching a trio of NITs, the Bulldogs upended Florida State, Georgia and Texas A&M, all on the road. During the regular season, they won at Oklahoma and lost by two at Syracuse.
And White has done it with a core of Florida guys, including five on his latest team. White is known for his relationships and connections in the state — both on the prep and AAU circuit — so he will hit the ground running on that front.
No, the Bulldogs have not appeared in the NCAA Tournament in any of his seasons, having been eliminated in the conference tournament while playing in leagues with single-bid reputations. It might be worth noting, though, that Donovan’s two teams at Marshall never reached the NCAAs either, thanks to defeats in the Southern Conference Tournament.
Things turned out OK on that front, didn’t they?
White played four seasons at Ole Miss (1995-99), nearly all of which as the starting point guard. His coaching career began with Jacksonville State in 2000, before heading to his alma mater as an assistant to Rod Barnes, the coach who recruited him to Oxford in the ’90s. White remained there for seven seasons, retained along the way when Barnes was replaced by Andy Kennedy in ’04, before venturing to LA Tech — once home to the likes of NBA stars Karl Malone, P.J. Brown and Paul Milsap. All told, he 101-40 (for a winning percentage of .716) over the four years and was branded as a fast-tracker; one of the hottest young coaches in the country.
His father, Kevin, has been athletic director at Arizona State, Notre Dame and currently holds that post at Duke, so it’s safe to assume his son has been groomed on the NCAA do’s and don’ts over the years.
Now he’ll succeed a guy who checked all those boxes 19 years ago, inheriting a team coming off a 16-17 season but armed with a roster that could be far more talented next season than last.
So the Michael White era begins. At Florida, one of the nation’s brightest up-and-comers will have a chance to coach and recruit high-major Division-I players in one of the premier conferences in the country.