Mike White knows it will be a bit strange going back to the Southeastern Conference school where he coached the last seven seasons.
The Georgia coach is doing his best to stay locked in as the Bulldogs prepare to face Florida on Saturday.
”It’s a unique game,” White said Friday in Athens. ”I’m excited about getting down there and seeing some loved ones, some family, some friends. It’ll be weird. It’ll be like the twilight zone really at times, I’m sure.”
Last March, with discontent growing in the Florida fan base, White left the Gators for their biggest SEC rival.
White had some early success stepping into the enormous footprints left by Billy Donovan, including a run to the regional final in 2017, but Florida’s performance tailed off toward the end of his tenure.
Finally, after the Gators missed out on the NCAA Tournament in 2022, White bolted for the Bulldogs, who languished at the bottom of the league during Tom Crean’s dismal tenure.
Of course, moving to Georgia meant having to face Florida on an annual basis.
White said he’ll ”be locked in” as soon as the game begins.
Until then, it surely will be different than most games.
”I’m sure before and after shootaround, there will be some distractions that we’ll just have to overcome,” he said. ”When it’s tipped, it’s down to business in terms of us trying to be the best that we can be.”
Georgia (11-3, 1-0) is coming off one of its biggest wins in years, knocking off No. 22 Auburn 76-64 in its conference opener.
The Bulldogs already have matched their SEC victory total from Crean’s final season, when Georgia went 6-26 with a 1-17 mark in the league to seal the coaching change.
”We’re trying to build something here,” said White, who took over a program that’s made only two NCAA Tournament appearances in the last 14 seasons. ”We had a really big win the other day. It’s over. We’ve got 17 more. What are we going to do?”
White’s current players aren’t too concerned about where he was before.
They’re focused on what’s to come.
”It’s gonna be a big game,” Georgia center Frank Anselem said. ”We’ve just go to stay level-headed and accept the challenge, just use this as a stepping stone and momentum for the rest of the season.”
Florida (7-7, 0-2) is off to a sluggish start under its new coach, Todd Golden. The Gators are looking to snap a three-game losing streak and not get caught up in any chatter about White’s return.
”You don’t want to make too much of a big deal out of it where that’s what we’re thinking about,” Golden said. ”Obviously, there might a little extra motivation for some of our guys, but it definitely won’t be a point of emphasis from my perspective.”
White didn’t want to reflect on his up-and-down tenure at Florida, not when he’s about to face the Gators.
”I’m just locked in on this Florida team and our current team,” he said. ”I can tell you this: I really appreciated my time there, our opportunities there. My family and I loved it there. It’s an amazing place. Gainesville is an amazing place.
”Not many people are as blessed as I’ve been to coach at two amazing places like this.”
AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Gainesville, Florida contributed to this report.
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