Facebook/Florida Gators Men's Basketball Mike White

Current Florida head coach Mike White had an up-close view for the Gators' back-to-back national championship seasons. He was an assistant coach for SEC rival Ole Miss. The Rebels were 0-3 against the Gators in 2006 and 2007.

Specifically, White remembers the loss on Jan. 31, 2006, when Florida came into Oxford and won, 69-58, to go to 19-2.

"Naturally, we sat there in the locker room after the game and said, 'My goodness, they're really starting to put it together, despite what their record is, despite what seed they're going to get, they can make a run," White remembers, talking with his fellow coaches. "And I'm not going to lie and say that I picked them to win it, but I think we picked them to make a pretty significant run and, boy, it was an unbelievable two-year run for the Gators."

Mike White

And that is roughly where the connection between the old Florida and new Florida ends. Last season, White, an outsider with little connection to Florida other than it being his birth state, took over the program Billy Donovan oversaw for two decades. Donovan, one of the most recognized faces in college basketball, left for the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA. White came from mid-major Louisiana Tech, his lone head coaching job.

These are not your Lee Humphrey-Taurean Green Gators.

On Thursday at Madison Square Garden, one day ahead of their Sweet Sixteen date with Wisconsin, three Florida stars were asked if they watched those championship teams. They hesitated.

Senior Kasey Hill: "I don't remember watching it exactly when it happened, but I've seen the old videos and stuff." 

Senior Justin Leon: "Like he just said, I don't really remember watching it at the exact time, but now I've seen videos about what's happened, when they were winning."

Sophomore Kevarrius Hayes: "Same here. I was too young to really understand what was going on watching it exactly. But I have seen old videos, trying to replicate what they did there to achieve greatness is kind of what we have to do here."


Hill is one of the holdovers from the Donovan Era, playing two seasons for the former coach. Along with his two championships, Donovan made another NCAA title game, four Final Fours, seven Elite Eights and eight Sweet Sixteens in 19 seasons. He coached plenty of future NBA stars, including Mike Miller, David Lee and Bradley Beal. But the repeat championship trio of Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer -- all of whom went in the top nine of the 2007 NBA Draft -- left the biggest legacy.

With Florida returning to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2014 – and they are the second-highest seed left in the East -- the old guard isn't showing love.

"I mean no, not really, I don't really know none of them guys like that, so ... " Leon says, when asked if he's been contacted by any championship Gators this week.

"I'm sure they still follow and have their prayers with us," Hayes says.

Hill at least has the Donovan connection, so he did get a message from one former Gator champion. It did not come from a two-time national champion. It came from a freshman bench player on the second title team -- one of two players from the 2006-07 team who also won an NBA title.

"Marreese Speights, I talk to him a little bit and he just said to stay in the moment and enjoy this time," Hill says.

Donovan had a national presence. He played in the Final Four and briefly in the NBA for Rick Pitino. White is low-profile, fiery on the court, but laid back off it.

"Someone had to follow him," White told reporters Tuesday in Gainseville. "Again, he made it a better job. It's the University of Florida. I'm not competing with Coach Donovan. I'm just trying to do the best job I can do, and my staff is doing the same, and we try to keep it that simple."

By Thursday in New York City, he was tired of comparisons to Donovan.

"I'll leave that for you guys and our fans I've never worried about it much," White says. "There's pressure on every coach in the country at every level -- and some coaches deal with it differently -- some coaches probably put more pressure on themselves than other coaches.

"Today's day and age, with the rabid fan bases, of course, and with the social media and the way that you guys do a great job of covering the sport, but no one's going to put more pressure on me and my team than I am."

On the opposite side Friday night, Greg Gard will coach Wisconsin from a similar but different position. Gard took over for a legend in Madison, Bo Ryan, in the middle of the 2015-16 season. But Gard was a Ryan assistant in three different programs going back to 1993. He was an extension of the old regime with some small coding rewrites.

"Mike, from what I've noticed from afar, is that he stayed pretty true to himself and not worried about whose shoes he had to fill," Gard says. "It was just trying to do the best thing for his team and his players and his university and doing things that he's comfortable with and we have tried to do the same thing."

Through two rounds, it's working for both.

-- Follow Jeff Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband. Like Jeff Eisenband on Facebook.

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