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Name of the Game: Adapt and Overcome

Behind the scenes, Pinkins works to develop the Gators’ big men. Last season, starting center Kerry Blackshear earned All-SEC recognition, and Omar Payne had 18 points in UF’s blowout win vs. No. 4 Auburn.

Gators Basketball Coach Shares Lessons He Learned Amid the Pandemic

Al Pinkins was working the phones, which is all a basketball coach could do in late April. He was in the back of the house that had become the only place he could spend any time.

Then he heard it.

The horns and the yelling and screaming.

So he took his 6-foot-6 frame and bolted to the front of the house to find out why he was being disturbed. This, after all, had become the office of the Florida men’s basketball associate head coach.

Pinkins joined the Gators in 2018, helping the team to a 2019 NCAA Tournament bid and what would have been another NCAA Tournament appearance before the pandemic ended their 2019-20 season abruptly.

As he walked outside, he saw chaos. But it was organized chaos.

“We’re having a drive-by birthday party for (14-year old) Patton,” said his wife Kara. “I forgot to tell you.”

Pinkins just smiled and appreciated the moment. This was life during the pandemic.

“I think for all coaches, we got to know our families,” Pinkins said. “I realized how my wife is more amazing than I thought. I got to see everything up close. There are a lot of things we take for granted.

“Usually, I’m out recruiting or spending late nights in the office. Instead, I became the teacher for my 9-year old, (Penn). I have a new appreciation for teachers, too.”

That’s the thing about Pinkins, who came to Florida in May of 2018. He has a lot of kids to worry about.

There are his three children, then there are the players on the current team who were thrilled to get back in the gym in mid-August, and then there are potential recruits.

Because the NCAA declared a dead period until at least Jan. 1, coaches can only watch those potential recruits on video or a live feed of a game.

“I think we are all kind of Zoomed out,” he said. “The problem is that it’s not the same sitting at the computer and sitting in the gym. You don’t see body language or how a kid responds to coaching.

Gators basketball assistant coach Al Pinkins (back row) spent the quarantine juggling his recruiting and coaching duties from home with his wife, Kara (left), and children (from left) Penn, Pryce and Patton.

“I think kids are being hurt by this. But you have to be creative.”

Of course, practices are full tilt now after time was spent easing the players back in, with coaches wearing gloves and masks and schedules being figured out. (In Florida’s case, the schedule started with two games Nov. 25 and 27 in a bubble setting in Connecticut).

The mental health of all athletes has been a concern through this whole thing.

“We’re adults. We’re coaches. We could continue to grind,” Pinkins said. “The players are different. That’s why we tried to (keep it) simple when we got back.”

But, of course, there are those other players – his three sons who got used to having dad at home playing catch with baseballs or tossing footballs. And occasionally trying him in basketball.

That usually didn’t end well.

The dude is 6-6.

“My kids are video kids,” he said. “They know they can’t beat me in basketball so they talked me into playing Fortnite or another game because they know they are going to win.

“It was fun watching them play. It’s kind of hit or miss now, but getting to know my family better was a lot of fun. The 9-year old has grown up in six different houses, and to be honest, I haven’t spent a lot of time with the family the way this job works. I’m glad to be back to work, but it was a lot of fun to figure out how the house works.”