AP Photo/Wade Payne, File)
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP ) -- Florida coach Mike White waited 18 years to get back to the NCAA Tournament, and he's sticking around for at least a couple more days.
White failed to make the NCAA field as an assistant coach at Jacksonville State (2000-04), Mississippi (2004-11) and Louisiana Tech (2011-15). He came close several times with LaTech, including winning three straight Conference USA regular-season titles before losing in the league tournament and being denied an automatic berth in the 68-team field.
He finally broke through in his second season with the Gators, who beat 13th-seeded East Tennessee State 80-65 in the opening round of the tournament Thursday.
White made the NCAA field three times as a player at Ole Miss and was on the bench when Bryce Drew hit a running, 23-footer to lift Valparaiso to a 70-69 victory over the fourth-seeded Rebels in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 1998. White made it back as a senior the next season, but came up short every year since as a coach.
"Yeah, really cool," White said. "Before I see my brother, I hear my mom and my wife on the other side screaming crazy stuff. I get to see my kids, who I haven't seen all week. So it's really neat. It's cool to have my brother here in Orlando. My parents and grandchildren will all be hanging out, but it's on to Virginia."
No. 4 seed Florida (25-8) had been locked into the tournament for weeks, but that didn't diminish how special Thursday was for White and his family -- especially since it ended with a victory.
The Gators advanced to play fifth-seeded Virginia in the East Region on Saturday.
"It's great for Florida. It's great for Florida basketball. I mean, Florida was going to get back, regardless of who's sitting right here. It's really neat personally. My staff's all fired up. Hey, we got to the tournament. We won a game. We're ready to move on to the next one. I'm way more pleased for our guys, especially our seniors, last go-round."
Follow Mark Long on Twitter @APMarkLong