The preseason scrimmages between West Virginia and Kent State were intense and physical.
And each year the Mountaineers lost.
Making matters worse, former West Virginia head coach John Beilein always told point guard Darris Nichols and his teammates they needed to interact with the Kent State players when the teams gathered for lunch afterward. No bad attitudes or hostility because you lost.
“They just beat us. I’m not sitting with those guys,’’ Nichols would say.
Once he cooled off, Nichols inevitably would grab some lunch and talk to the Golden Flashes. He connected well with the guy he was matched up against in those scrimmages, Kent State point guard Jordan Mincy.
They had a lot of similarities besides serving as the floor general for their teams.
“I became really close with Jordan over the last six or seven years because of being a competitor against him,’’ Nichols said. “We followed each other’s progress and we talked a lot.”
They had plenty to discuss last season when they joined head coach Michael White’s staff at Louisiana Tech as a pair of up-and-coming assistants.
As White was officially introduced as Florida’s new head coach on Monday, Nichols and Mincy were seated in the crowd and ready to get to work after the press conference. White has brought both assistants with him from Louisiana Tech as well as Kyle Church as director of basketball operations.
The third member of White’s coaching staff last season, associate head coach Dusty May, remains a candidate to join White’s inaugural UF staff. May is interviewing to replace White at Louisiana Tech.
“I’ve got a terrific staff, so that’s one of the reasons I’m standing in front of you,’’ White said Monday.
The 38-year-old White is the senior member among the newcomers. Nichols and Mincy are both 28, and Church, a former walk-on at Charlotte, is 26. Church’s father, Robbie Church, is the longtime men’s soccer coach at Duke, where White’s father, Kevin, is the athletic director.
Nichols and Mincy had similar college careers, both four-year lettermen who played as true freshmen. Nichols played in 141 games from 2004-08 at West Virginia, and Mincy appeared in 135 games from 2005-09 at Kent State.
As a freshman, Nichols was roommates with Luke Bonner, younger brother of former Gators standout Matt Bonner.
“He used to come up and visit sometimes when we were at school,’’ Nichols said. “After getting this job, I reached out to Matt and he was really supportive.”
Nichols developed a relationship with White after the two went to dinner with a mutual friend a few years ago at the National Junior College Tournament. They stayed in touch through contacts in coaching circles.
Prior to Nichols’ senior season at West Virginia, Bob Huggins took over the Mountaineers when Beilein left for Michigan. Meanwhile, one of Huggins’ assistants at Cincinnati was Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy. White played at Ole Miss and later served on Kennedy’s staff there.
So when White looked to fill two openings on his Louisiana Tech staff a year ago, he hired Nichols for one of the positions. Mincy filled the other spot.
A Memphis native, Mincy led Ridgeway (Tenn.) High to a state championship before signing with Kent State. He developed ties to White when the former Ole Miss guard recruited the Memphis area as a Rebels assistant. In addition, Mincy’s sister used to date former Ole Miss basketball player Jermey Parnell, now an offensive lineman with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“I’ve known him for a long time,” Mincy said. “I have gotten advice from him throughout the years and just built a close relationship.”
Mincy was an assistant at Kent State in December 2010 when the Golden Flashes lost 65-52 at the O’Connell Center. The decision to follow White to UF and call the O’Dome home was easy.
“It definitely was [a no-brainer],’’ Mincy said. “The opportunity to work with a guy of the magnitude of Mike White and just to be under his guidance is an opportunity I couldn’t turn down.”
Mincy said the Gators are getting a coach they will like playing for.
“It’s a lot of energy. That guy right there does a great job of developing relationships with players,’’ he said. “I think that’s one of the biggest keys as far as how hard our guys play. We play extremely fast, we play hard, and we have a lot of energy. That’s the style of play you can expect.”
Nichols is from Radford, Va., and is familiar with two of Florida’s key returners, forwards Dorian Finney-Smith and Devin Robinson, both from Virginia.
“I know their games very well,’’ he said.
The new staff has already began to watch film of its new team and looks forward to getting on the court during offseason instruction. Nichols looked around the room Monday during White’s press conference still wide-eyed that he is now a Florida assistant coach.
He can’t wait to make an impact.
“The main thing for them is trusting us right now,’’ he said of the players. “The fastest way to do that is just be in the trenches with them. We play fast. There’s a lot of freedom. I think the guys will really enjoy how we play. If I was athletic, I would want to play in this system. It’s definitely a lot of fun.”