Florida’s Mike White eager to return to Ole Miss
Florida’s head coach Mike White has been away from the University of Mississippi for six years, but he looks back fondly on his memories as a player and coach for the Rebels. Some part of his heart still lies in Oxford.
And on Saturday night, White’s memories will come full circle when the Gators take on his alma mater in a Southeastern Conference slugfest. This time around, White will be on the opposing bench, coaching against one of his closest friends, Andy Kennedy, on the hardwood floor inside The Pavilion.
White is anxious to step inside the $96.5 million arena, and he isn’t shocked by the progression Ole Miss has made since his departure to pursue head coaching opportunities at Louisiana Tech and Florida.
“We thought it would be just a matter of time. I think the success Andy had in his first few years kind of rejuvenated the administration and the fan base,” said White, who led the Bulldogs to three straight Conference USA championships.
Of the Rebels’ new arena, The Pavilion, Coach White commented:
Former Ole Miss player and coach, and current Florida head coach, Mike White
While White isn’t shocked by what Kennedy has been able to do for the Rebels, Kennedy, himself, isn’t surprised, either, by the steps White has taken since he left Ole Miss. White led Louisiana Tech to a 101-40 record and advanced to the National Invitation Tournament in his final three seasons, which included quarterfinals appearances in 2014 and 2015, defeating SEC teams Georgia and Texas A&M.
White, the 2014-15 Conference USA Coach of the Year, pushed the Bulldogs to have a fast-paced offense and in four seasons, the team averaged 74.2 points, 7.4 3-pointers, 14 assists, 8.4 steals, 4.9 blocked shots and 16.1 turnovers forced (seventh in the nation during that span).
“I remember the process by which we were all pushing to help him get the Louisiana Tech job,” Kennedy said. “And I remember talking to the powers-that-be there and singing his praises. I was not surprised to find my words being so helpful because I knew he would go and do great things as he did at LA Tech.”
Kennedy is not surprised his friend is doing so well and is eager for White to see The Pavilion:
Ole Miss Head Coach Andy Kennedy
White’s coaching career
After spending his first two seasons with the Rebels under Rod Barnes, White remained an assistant coach once Kennedy took over the helm of the men’s program in 2006.
And from there, magic happened for Ole Miss inside the Tad Pad as White helped Kennedy lead the Rebels to four 20-win seasons and an NIT berth four times, including two runs to the NIT Final Four and SEC Western Division titles in 2007 and 2010. Since White once played at the point guard position, he decided to work closely with each guard that came to Ole Miss.
His knowledge and methodical approach rubbed off on Memphis, Tennessee native and former Craigmont High standout, Terrico White, who earned SEC Freshman of the Year and Freshman All-America in 2009.
“When I got this job in 2006, he was on Rod Barnes’ staff and very seldom when you take over a new position, you retain guys on a previous staff and I did so with Mike, because I had a relationship with him prior to him coming to Ole Miss,” Kennedy said.
“I knew the value he would bring our staff, especially his understanding of Ole Miss since I was trying to figure things out in a new situation.”
Four-year starter for the Rebels
White definitely had a clear understanding of what it meant to represent the Rebels in a positive light, as he once dribbled a basketball up and down the floor against opposing defenses two nights a week.
White was a four-year starter for Ole Miss from 1995-99 and led the Rebels to consecutive SEC West titles in 1997 and 1998, three straight NCAA Tournament berths from 1997-99 and the program’s first ever NCAA Tournament win, defeating Villanova in the first round in 1999.
White was also a two-time SEC Academic Honor Roll selection and a member of the 1999 SEC Good Works Team. After his collegiate career, White was invited to the Utah Jazz’s summer training camp, but spent the 1999-2000 season playing professionally for the IBL’s New Mexico Slam and in England before returning to Ole Miss in the spring of 2000 to complete his B.A. in Business.
In the same year and for the next three seasons, White would be an assistant coach/associate head coach at Jacksonville State, guiding the Gamecocks to their only 20-win season in their Division 1 history and recording the program’s first-ever win in an Atlantic Sun conference tournament game.
Before Kennedy took over the Rebels, he and White crossed paths while Kennedy was at UAB and White was at Jacksonville State.
“I remember while I was an assistant at UAB and Mike was a player at Ole Miss and we were playing in a tournament, but we didn’t play against them,” Kennedy said. “I remember scouting games that Mike was a part of. So I have known Mike as a player and I have gotten to know him really well when he was an assistant, under Mike LaPlante, at Jacksonville State.”
Quotable: Memories of the Tad Pad
On Monday’s SEC Teleconference, both Kennedy and White were asked whether or not animals roamed around Tad Smith Coliseum. Kennedy jokingly mentioned before he had seen raccoons.
“I haven’t seen any animals yet in The Pavilion,” Kennedy said. “A lot of paint cans, a lot of workers, a lot of busy bodies.”
White’s response: “I don’t have any animal stories,” White said with laughter. “But I had practices being cancelled because of rain, we had a little water on the floor. Those managers couldn’t move fast enough to get up the wet spots. Light issues, heat issues as well, but I have a lot of great memories.”
Both programs looking for bounce back win
Both Florida (10-6, 2-2) and Ole Miss (12-4, 2-2) are heading into Saturday’s game (7 p.m. CT, ESPN2) coming off losses on the road. The Gators lost to the 15th-ranked Texas A&M Aggies 71-68 Tuesday night. Florida didn’t let Texas A&M pull away until the final seconds when the Aggies’ Anthony Collins made four free throws to seal the win.
Dorian Finney-Smith led the Gators with 17 points and Justin Leon added 16.
The Rebels lost at LSU 90-81 on Wednesday night after leading for most of the second half before being outscored 34-19 during the final 9:19. Ole Miss senior guard Stefan Moody had a career-high 33 points.
Free throw shooting woes for White’s Gators
Florida enters its game against the Rebels ranked dead last in the SEC in free throw shooting, converting on just 225 of 371 attempts (60.6 percent). Against Texas A&M, the Gators were 4 for 12 from the charity stripe.
“I’m at a loss in terms of free throws and our approach on how we move forward and shoot better,” White said following Tuesday night’s game. “Maybe we just stop shooting them in practice.”
(Feature image courtesy of SaintPetersBlog.com)