University of Florida

When the Gators men’s team needed someone to step up, he did. Now UF needs him tonight

Florida’s Noah Locke shoots against Florida State on Nov. 6, 2018, in Tallahassee.
Florida’s Noah Locke shoots against Florida State on Nov. 6, 2018, in Tallahassee. AP

The Florida Gators needed someone.

They needed someone to help pump the air back into their deflated men’s basketball team following a 60-65 loss to Oklahoma, someone whose competitiveness would rub off on his teammates and give them a jolt of energy.

Enter true freshman Noah Locke.

The 6-3, 205-pound guard grabbed attention after making his first career start over the struggling Jalen Hudson against Stanford in the Battle 4 Atlantis.

He played 21 minutes and recorded 11 points, five assists and three rebounds to help his team to a 72-49 demolition of the Cardinal.

Locke returned to the starting lineup in the following contest, finishing with just five points on 2-for-6 shooting in a loss to the Butler Bulldogs.

Still, Locke could see a bigger role moving forward, starting with the team’s upcoming home game against North Florida on Tuesday. And his efforts in the Bahamas surely didn’t go unnoticed by coach Mike White.

“Noah is a guy who has been defending at a high level,” White said, “plays with a lot of intensity and his teams win a lot in practice. He’s a really competitive guy, and I wanted my five most competitive guys on the court.”

White has pinned Locke as one of those young guys who has shown leadership in his short time with the Gators and someone who, along with freshman Andrew Nembhard, has been one of the team’s most accountable defenders.

“I definitely got so much more comfortable than when I first got here,” Locke said. “But, that’s just how I’ve always been, I’ve always been a leader on the floor.”

And those are some of the qualities that White noticed upon recruiting Locke.

“We knew he was really competitive. We did,” White said. “And that’s something we need to do a better job of targeting in recruiting, starting with me ... I’m a little bit pleased with his foot speed and his length, which allows him as well to be a good defender. And who knows, as you’re playing the SEC schedule night in and night out, he might have his tough times defensively, but from a competitive standpoint and a trying to do what we ask him standpoint, he’s doing it at a pretty high level right now.”

Locke, a native of Randallstown, Maryland, comes from a basketball family.

Both of his parents played at Coppin State in Baltimore — his father, Kyle, was a shooter as well — and both of his siblings currently play.

“Coming from a family that all played basketball, we all know so much about basketball,” Locke said. “I know you got to be competitive to win - that’s just what drives me every day, just to be competitive.”

That competitiveness is just one of many aspects that White noted has been missing in his team’s 3-3 start to the season.

His demeanor when speaking to reporters did just as much to display his frustration as his words did, as he stressed the need for the Gators to play tougher and with more discipline.

And it starts, White said, with the older guys. He wants his veteran players in Hudson and senior guard KeVaughn Allen to play with the same fire that he’s seen from Locke and some of his other young players.

“I’m pleased with those [younger] guys,” White said. “But our older guys need to be a little more competitive at this point.”

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