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College basketball begins Friday; Gators introduce new Coach Mike White

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The college basketball season tips off on Friday with several games around the country. Few should see competitive games, but fans of Florida schools are anxious to get their first look at their squads.

Florida receives extra attention because new coach Mike White steps in to replace the most successful coach the Gators have ever had. Billy Donovan, who won 653 games and two national championships during his 19 seasons, is now coaching the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.

White’s very young Gator team open on the road against Navy. Only three players, led by Dorian Finney-Smith have two seasons of playing experience. Finney-Smith, voted to the pre-season All-SEC first team by the coaches, is the only returning starter who averaged in double figures with 13.1 points per game.

White will try to bring the success he enjoyed in his previous coaching stint at Louisiana Tech. The Dunedin, Fla. native was 101-40 over four seasons and was Conference USA’s Coach of the Year last season.

Navy is coming off a 13-19 season and looks to move up in the Patriot League standings. They came within five points of eventual Final Four team Michigan State in their opener, but their two biggest wins came at the expense of Army.

This game is the second half of the “Veterans Classic.” Top-ranked North Carolina faces Temple in the first game that begins at 7:00 p.m.

Tip-off for Florida and Navy is 9:30 p.m. with both games being telecast by the CBS Sports Network (not the regular CBS).

While White is in his first season, South Florida’s Orlando Antigua begins his second year leading the Bulls. Despite a 9-23 mark last year, his team is more experienced and, hopefully, healthier.

Antigua looks for the chance to use the coaching savvy he learned working alongside Kentucky’s John Calipari for six seasons. He will welcome back two-double figure scorers from last year’s squad, Forward Chris Perry (10.8) and Guard Nehemias Morillo (10.1).

The Bulls welcome the Troy Trojans of the Sun Belt Conference to the Sun Dome on Friday. Troy was 10-19 last season under third-year coach Phil Cunningham.

Tip-off is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. and can be seen only on ESPN3.

The Miami Hurricanes begin the season at home against the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley. Coach Jim Larranaga begins his fifth season at the helm and boasts a 91-49 record during that time.

Larranaga and the Hurricanes seek a return to the NCAA tournament. They were 25-13 a year ago and the runners-up in the NIT post season tournament.

Top returnees are guards Sheldon McClellan and Angel Rodriguez, a backcourt gaining a lot of attention.

Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. and the game can be see on ESPN3.

The Florida Atlantic Owls have a tall order on Friday. They travel to East Lansing, Mich. to face perennial national power Michigan State.

The Owls finished 9-20 under first-year coach Michael Curry in 2014-15. He welcomes back his three leading scorers from last season, Guards Marquan Botley, Jackson Trapp and Solomon Poole. All three scored in double figures last season.

Michigan State will see a familiar face on the FAU bench. One of Curry’s assistants is former Spartan standout Eric Snow, a former All-Big 10 player.

The game at 7 p.m. and can be seen only on ESPN3.

Trinity Baptist comes to Miami to open the season for Florida International. The Panthers are looking to improve on last season’s 16-17 record under third-year Coach Anthony Evans.

Game time is 7 p.m.

Other Florida schools open on the weekend. The Central Florida Knights open on Saturday at Davidson with a 7 p.m. tip-off. The Jacksonville Dolphins head to Appalachian State for their opener beginning at 2 p.m. The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles begin their season on the road facing the Ohio Bobcats at 2 p.m.

On Sunday, Florida State welcomes Nicholls State to Tallahassee at 2 p.m. Coach Leonard Hamilton, FSU’s all-time winningest coach, begins his 14th season. The game can be seen on ESPN3.

The Stetson Hatters travel to Richmond to open the season against the Spiders. Game time is 5:00 p.m.

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Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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