Photo courtesy of Florida Athletics
As of Wednesday afternoon, Florida star point guard Tre Mann still had not seen a single play from Virginia Tech basketball this season.
“I haven’t seen the scout yet,” admitted Mann, who averages 16 points per game and leads the Gators in scoring. “I’m not really too familiar with them yet.”
Just to get any more clarity, we then followed up with Mann about any familiarity with Virginia Tech’s program, or if former Hokie and Gator forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. shared anything about the rising program in Blacksburg.
“I mean, talking about them the last couple of days, I heard they’re a pretty good defensive team,” Mann said. “I know one player from high school; we played in a couple camps together, but that’s pretty much it.”
Gator fans shouldn’t be alarmed, according to sixth-year head coach Mike White; he says scouting the Hokies two days in advance is more about sticking to their typical routine for scouting opponents.
“One Of The Better Players We’ve Played This Season”
Even without seeing much of Virginia Tech, White had high praise for a particular Hokie forward.
Keve Aluma is someone the Florida head coach described as “high level”.
“He’s one of the better players we’ve played against all season….I’m not sure we’ve played a big like him,” White said. “I know you asked about defense but I can’t help myself offensively; he’s an absolute problem….really good player.”
White also had high praise for senior point guard Wabissa Bede.
“I have a high level of respect for what seems to be an on-the-court leader, a guy with a chip, a guy who understands who he is…,” White said. “(He) makes everyone around him better.”
Bede’s game relies on how well he defends, as he’s established himself as one of the best defending guards in the ACC. White recognizes that.
“He can really pressure the ball, can dictate where you’re going with the ball at times…,” White said. “He seems to have a really high basketball IQ.”
A Small World
Just like how it always seems to be in college basketball, there’s always weird connections that arise when opponents are matched up in the NCAA Tournament. White and Virginia Tech head coach Mike Young are no exception.
White first talked to Young back when White was the head coach at Louisiana Tech. He was calling to ask the then-Wofford head coach to speak with assistant coach Darris Nichols about a job opening down in Ruston.
“We had a nice conversation,” White said. “He loves Darris.”
Nichols ended up leaving for Louisiana Tech, before following White to Gainesville to help coach the Gators. Lo and behold, here we are.
Nichols and Young have said to have remained in close contact with each other. Both are basketball legends at nearby Radford High School in Radford, Va.
“We were able to somehow talk him into leaving Mike (Young), who’s, in my opinion, an absolutely terrific coach,” White added. “He’s a guy I have a lot of respect for. Kind of a newfound respect because I never really studied his program, as I should have quite honestly… They do a tremendous job; he’s really good at what he does.”
White and Florida certainly aren’t taking the Hokies lightly. In fact, many see them as the underdog in this 7-10 match-up.
“We’ve got to be really, really locked in,” White added. “We’ve got to play extremely hard. We have to do it by committee.
“They’re a very good cutting team, although (Aluma) is the focal point, he’s not the only guy.”
White said that he fears if the Gators play too hard, they may have five guys foul out as they’ve struggled with fouls all year long.
“We’ve got to play hard, but we can’t play emotionally; we got to play with discipline and keep these guys off the foul line,” the Florida head coach said. “We’ve just gotta play really hard.”