Michael White is a Floridian by birth.
He has no early memories of the Sunshine State though, leaving Dunedin a mere two weeks after being born.
The son of a collegiate athletics director, White had a nomadic childhood, moving from Florida to Michigan to Maine to Louisiana and finally Mississippi. White moved so much he would fib to classmates that he was “an army brat” rather than explaining his father’s profession.
Still, something always pulled White closer to his native state.
He married a star volleyball player who, amazingly, also hailed from Dunedin. He has recruited Florida extensively as a coach and has vacationed in Indian River the past dozen years.
Now, 38 years later, White is officially coming home, introduced as the Gators’ new basketball coach Monday.
“I have dreamed about being at a place like this for a long, long time,” he said.
“This is a really special opportunity.”
White is considered a rising star in coaching circles, rebuilding a downtrodden Louisiana Tech program over the past four years.
He was in no hurry to leave Ruston, though, turning down openings at Tennessee and Missouri last offseason while waiting for “something really special.”
Mostly, he dreamed of an improbable homecoming. Then Billy Donovan bolted UF for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.
“If you could have told him any school in the country, pick one, where do you want to go, it was this one,” said Kevin White, Michael’s father and the athletics director at Duke.
“He thought Billy was going to be here forever, so he wouldn’t allow himself to think it. It’s amazing to come full circle.”
‘COMING UP ACES’
Billy Donovan put Florida basketball on the map, “delivering in spades,” according to UF athletics director Jeremy Foley.
Foley believes he has found another trump card with the Gators’ next coach.
White was hired exactly a week after Donovan resigned, agreeing to a six-year contract worth roughly $2 million annually on May 7.
Foley detailed the school’s expedited search, saying, “Mike’s name just kept coming up aces every time.”
“It’s amazing to me what he’s accomplished. We love the fact that he coached in the [Southeastern Conference], played in this league, love the fact that he recruited the state of Florida. … You just start checking some things and you find out about his character and integrity, that’s kind of why you don’t have to go interview a bunch of people. Just felt he was a fit right off the bat.”
And a classic Foley hire.
White was 101-40 in four seasons with the Bulldogs, winning three consecutive Conference USA regular-season titles but never qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. He played at Ole Miss and was an assistant at his alma mater from 2004 to ’11. He even dabbled on Wall Street before gravitating back to coaching.
In short, White is a lot like the man Foley hired nearly 20 years ago.
“Anyone comparing [me] to Billy Donovan in any way is an absolute compliment,” White said.
PLAN IN MOTION
Foley was sold immediately on White as the candidate, but he was unsure if White would be intimidated by being the guy after the guy.
Was he unnerved by Donovan’s shadow? Did he have trepidation following a coach who had won two national titles and earned 14 NCAA Tournament bids?
“I didn’t have any whatsoever,” White said confidently.
“That was one of the first questions that Jeremy asked me. My answer to him is I would absolutely embrace the opportunity to follow a legend and to learn from a lot of the people that helped him from along the way. … It’s an absolute honor of mine to replace Billy Donovan, one of the best coaches in the history of this game. I have tremendous respect and admiration for the legacy that he leaves, and it’s my charge to continue the momentum that he’s maintained for an amazing 19 years.”
White has already presented Foley with a 100-day plan. He has met or spoken with UF’s players and reached out to all four signees.
He inherits a flawed group with a lot of moving parts, but White is energized at the tough task at hand.
An aggressive, up-tempo brand of basketball is coming back to Gainesville, and White’s vision for the Gators’ future is simple.
“We’re going to play hard,” he said.
“We’re going to play fast. We’ve got to figure out what’s in this roster’s best interest. Off the floor, we’ve got to do the things we’re supposed to do. We’re going to act like men and represent this athletic department, as well.”