FLEMING ISLAND, Fla. – Last season, Mike White admitted that he sometimes had a tough time reaching his team. His team finished 20-16 and lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. This year, he has a young group of talented players who he has to mold into a team.
Expectations are high for the Gators, despite the relatively low number of returning players (six), largely because of two recruits and one player who decided not to test the NBA draft waters.
The recruits are a pair of McDonald's All-Americans, Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann. It's the first time since 2013 that Florida has a recruit make the All-America team (Kasey Hill and Chris Walker were both McDonald's All-Americans in six years ago).
Lewis, a 6-foot-5-inch small forward, was ranked as the No. 7 recruit in the country by 247 sports, and No. 10 by ESPN.
"We’re excited about him," White said, before speaking to a gathering of Gator boosters in Clay County Tuesday. "From a recruiting standpoint, he’s definitely one of the most competitive, mature guys in this class. He affects the game in a lot of ways outside of scoring, which is pretty unique for high school kids. He’s already shown that ability, not only the physical ability but the desire to defend and rebound and compete at a high level, whether at a high school or AAU game, whether he got eight points or 28 points, he’s a competitive guy.”
Mann, a 6-foot-3-inch point guard was ranked No. 12 by 247 and No. 33 by ESPN after a standout career at the Villages Charter School. The Gators also signed 6-foot-9-inch center Omar Payne from Montverde Academy, ranked in the top 50 as well.
The other reason for optimism for the Gators is the return of guard Andrew Nembhard, who flirted with the NBA before returning to Florida. Nembhard started every game for the Gators as a freshman and now figures to be the leader of a young Florida team.
“Really positive in the fact that we have to coach him again. He’s got a chance to lead his teammates. He really grew into solid leader late in his freshman year," White said. "That’s the challenge moving forward with him. He’s expressed pretty intently that he wants this to be his team, from a leadership aspect. Defensively, on the glass, he’s a really solid player, he’s a great passer. As he learns in that category and begins to carry some teammates, has a chance to have a really good sophomore year."
White admitted that he'll have to build this group of players into a team, but praised their makeup off the court.
"I like what we have coming back. We don’t have a ton coming back, we only have six returners," White said. "We started three freshmen that had really good freshman campaigns, and I really like our incoming class, it’s very highly ranked. We’ll have to learn a week into practice, a month into practice, the substance of this class and the chemistry and work ethic. I think we’ll be a pretty talented group, not overly experienced. High character off the court, hopefully, high character on the court.”