Mike White settles in as Georgia’s basketball coach

First-year Georgia men’s basketball coach Mike White poses at his desk in his new office at UGA’s Coliseum Training Facility. He hasn’t had much time to decorate since leaving the Florida Gators to become the Bulldogs’ coach on March 13.

Credit: Chip Towers/AJC

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First-year Georgia men’s basketball coach Mike White poses at his desk in his new office at UGA’s Coliseum Training Facility. He hasn’t had much time to decorate since leaving the Florida Gators to become the Bulldogs’ coach on March 13.

Credit: Chip Towers/AJC

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series examining the current state of athletic programs at the University of Georgia. Today’s installment focuses on men’s basketball.

ATHENS — Mike White’s family is celebrating – and not just the Fourth of July.

They have a working washer and dryer. Cue the confetti!

That might not seem like a big deal, but when you’ve been living the vagabond life that Georgia’s new basketball coach has the past three months, such luxuries are worth at least a round of high-fives.

“Roster, staffing, scheduling, moving, family, Wi-Fi, cable, gym bags, it’s been a blur,” White said last week during an interview at his new UGA office. “This has probably been my worst stretch of body odor, wearing recycled T-shirts and socks, since college. One of the best days of the last few weeks was the day we got the washer and dryer hooked up.”

The pinnacle, though, was getting his entire family under one roof. That’s been only two weeks now.

White and his wife, Kira, have five children between the ages of 7 and 15. While White was hired March 13 and immediately went to work on building a basketball future for the Bulldogs, Rylee, Maggie, Collin, Keegan and Dillon had to remain in Gainesville, Fla., to finish school.

They have a new house now and have settled on schools in the Athens area. That White prefers to keep the details private is a glimpse into his personality and the family’s recent experiences.

Those who know the Whites well say characterizing them as unhappy at the University of Florida would not be a stretch. The past couple of years there were not ideal. Ultimately, that’s why White has gone from a successful seven-year stretch as the coach of the Gators’ proud basketball program to taking over at a rival school seeking to rebuild.

White’s tenure at Florida would have represented the best span in the history of Georgia basketball. Yet for the past couple of years, White felt the scorn of the Gators’ entitled fan base. If not for the pause of the pandemic in 2020, Florida would have been to its fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament in 2021, getting at least two rounds deep every time and reaching the Elite Eight in 2017.

But that paled in comparison with White’s predecessor, Billy Donovan. He stacked up Elite Eights like poker chips and went back-to-back with national titles. Last season, the Gators came up short on the postseason for the first time under White’s leadership. But well before then came newspaper columns and video podcasts headlined, “Should Florida Part Ways with Mike White?” There was a scene on Billy Donovan Court in January where a fan strategically placed himself in a camera’s view holding a poster that read “Fire Mike White.”

This ire was directed at a coach winning nearly two-thirds of his games. Coaches are accustomed to such unreasonable fanaticism and process it accordingly. But the unpleasantness became so commonplace that some in White’s tight-knit family chose not to be exposed to it at home games.

To be clear, Florida’s administration turned a deaf ear to such silliness. In fact, only a year before White’s departure, the Gators extended his contract. But when the Bulldogs first approached White’s camp about their soon-to-be head coaching vacancy late last winter, White’s response was to lean in to listen rather than dismiss it.

He liked what he heard. He also knew what he knew.

“I love the potential here; I always have,” White said of Georgia. “I love this opportunity. Kira and the kids were really excited about it, too. It’s a great place to live, to raise a family. It’s an awesome college town, and it’s a special opportunity.

“Somebody was going to have the opportunity to rebuild a really promising program, and we’re really fortunate to be here.”

White limited to one sentence his explanation of the situation he left behind in Gainesville. “We had a good run, and we’ll always appreciate the time and opportunity we had there,” he said.

Eyes firmly forward. That’s the White way.

It’s predictable of a man raised on college athletics. White is the son of Kevin White, who recently retired from an athletic director’s career that ended at Duke but included long stints at Notre Dame, Arizona State and Tulane, among others.

White’s brother, Danny, left Central Florida last year to take over as AD at Tennessee. His other brother, Brian, is vice president and director of athletics at Florida Atlantic. Sister Mariah Chappell is an associate AD at SMU. Only eldest sister Maureen broke the gravitational pull of college athletics. She teaches English in Arizona.

But Mike White is the only one in the family who makes his living in the actual competitive arena. A four-year starter as a guard at Ole Miss, White has been coaching the game ever since.

He’s more than decent at it. White brings a career winning mark of .655 to UGA. He won three consecutive conference titles and 72% of his games at Louisiana Tech. With the Gators, he was 142-88 (.617) and 72-52 (.581) in SEC play. Notably, White’s head-to-head record against the Bulldogs was 7-1, winning the past six.

That ledger underscores the fact that White not only knows something about UGA’s personnel but also about the SEC at large.

“We’re not coming into this thing completely blind. We’d like to think that those are inherent advantages, right?” White said. “There’s less of a learning curve with several members of the current roster. There’s still a lot about them that I don’t know, like, how can I help them? We’d like to get there, of course. But there’s some familiarity in terms of strengths and weaknesses.”

As for White’s recruiting prowess at Georgia, there’s not a lot to know yet. He arrived roughly three weeks before the spring signing period. White’s work in the transfer portal, however, has been impressive.

The Bulldogs brought in six players, all but one of whom were double-figure scorers at their previous addresses. All but one is enrolled and practicing. Some have created some early buzz, including North Texas guard Mardrez McBride and Syracuse big man Frank Anselem.

The four Georgia players returning are the ones White needed to keep. He pulled leading scorer Kario Oquendo and Jaxon Etter out of the portal and convinced Jabri Abdur-Rahim and Braelen Bridges that it would be worth their while to stay put another year. As a result, the Bulldogs have the largest percentage of returning scoring in the SEC this year (72.8).

The Bulldogs signed a four-star power forward out of Denton, Texas, in KyeRon Lindsay, and added two highly recommended walk-ons, one of whom has a younger brother with a splendid recruiting profile. Georgia carries two open scholarships into the great unknown that will be next season.

It’s while discussing the makeup of his new team that White’s passion and vision for Georgia’s future are evident.

“Ten years ago, there would have been a lot more hesitation to jump to a rebuild situation without the one-time exception rule and the prevalence of the portal,” White said. “I like our roster (snaps fingers) like that! Do we have to get better? Absolutely. Is it a championship-level roster? We’ve got a way to go before we can determine that. Each one of those guys has to get better; I’ve got to get better. But our roster is different than it was, and we were able to do it pretty quickly.”

The primary impetus for Florida’s slip, such as it was, was Keyontae Johnson. The projected SEC Player of the Year for 2020-21 collapsed on Florida State’s court in the fourth game of the season and never played again for the Gators. Florida doctors would never clear him after the undisclosed illness sidelined him. Johnson entered the portal after this past season.

No, White said Johnson is not coming to Georgia. But he speaks confidently about being able to win with the Bulldogs they have.

“I feel like we’re pretty athletic,” White said. “We’ve got some versatility, some experience, brought in a pretty good amount of winning experience from the portal along with some talented young freshmen. Obviously, we’ve got a ways to go installing the offense and defense. But I really like the guys from a personality and work-ethic standpoint.”

Longtime college basketball enthusiasts might scoff. They’ve heard such hopeful optimism before regarding Georgia and its tremendous “potential.”

Count White as the latest believer.

“It’s simply getting the job done,” he said of Georgia basketball. “It’s also revering the place enough to stay and wanting to maintain it. It’s been done here at a pretty high level. Tubby (Smith) got it done. Others got it done. …

“The term ‘gold mine’ is used a lot. ‘That thing’s going to get going someday. Somebody’s really going to get it going, and it’s going to be special, it’s going to be monumental.’ I just think everything’s here at this place to get it going.”

Georgia state-of-the-program series

- Baseball: ‘We all have high expectations’

- Women’s basketball: ‘Coach ABE’ era begins

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