Media Day. First official practice. College basketball is back! After finishing last season 21-13, the Gator’s lose two important pieces in Egor Koulechov and Gator legend Chris Chiozza. Unlike the many disappointments from last season, Gator fans have a lot to be excited about this year and head coach Mike White gave a preview of the season on Tuesday afternoon.
With losing two important and valuable leading seniors, White will look for new players to step up and take the leadership role. “In the limited amount of time we have been on the court, I think Kevarrius (Hayes) and Jalen (Hudson) have probably stepped up the most in a leadership capacity. For Kevarrius, I think it started a little bit more so last year and it has carried over, and Jalen has made a big jump in that regard.” With three seniors and a fourth-year junior to likely start, Coach White should have no problem when it comes to the locker room and on-court leadership.
“I don’t care who starts, I just want to win” – University of Florida Men’s Basketball head coach Mike White
When asked about potential starters, White simply put: “I don’t care who starts, I just want to win.” he followed that statement up by saying that starters will likely not be announced until the day before a game. When and if healthy, the Gator’s are deep, they have the talent to play 13 deep into the roster on any given day, which will pay dividends throughout the season, as the will stay conditioned, fresh, and energized.
Additional Takeaways from Media Day:
A Healthy Isaiah Stokes?
Isaiah Stokes has not played in an organized basketball game since the middle of his senior year of high school, 21 months ago, due to ACL injuries. The younger brother of former All-SEC and current NBA player Jarnell Stokes, Isaiah has gained a lot of weight in his time off, but since being cleared for condition and to play in half-court practice drills, the redshirt freshman has lost some significant weight. “He’s in way better shape than he was two months ago, and I don’t know what the number is as of today, but he has lost a lot of weight,” said White.
Jalen Hudson, Senior Leader
Jalen Hudson has been a vocal leader on the court during the limited practice time throughout the summer and fall, Hudson taking on that leadership role is huge considering he is the leading scorer from a year ago and will likely be in the running for SEC Player of the Year. “I think he’s feeling pretty good about himself, and his physical and mental output, stemming back from some of the feedback he got from the NBA last spring,” said Coach White during the press conference on Tuesday.
Can the Frontcourt Remain Healthy?
After playing just 4 games as a freshman, Chase Johnson was forced to sit out the remainder of the year with multiple concussions. The wait is over, as the redshirt freshman is practicing and will be ready to go against Florida State on November 6. Gorjok Gak, the 6’11 junior center from Sydney, Australia, underwent knee surgery earlier this year in April, and the pain is still nagging him in late September. The word is he should be cleared and will be ready to go by the FSU game. I already mentioned the progress made by Isaiah Stokes, but if these 3 can remain healthy along with Hayes, 6’8 junior forward Keith Stone, sophomore Dontay Bassett, and versatile true freshman Keyontae Johnson, the Florida frontcourt finally has the post depth that it ever so needed a year ago.
The star freshman that everyone is excited about is Andrew Nembhard, who will likely be the starter from day one, due to his elite passing skills. “Who knows how many assist that means, how many highlights he produces, how many minutes he’ll play, i’m not sure, but that is his gift,” said Mike White of his freshman point guard, who he says has a chance to be one of the best passers in all of college basketball.
Noah Locke, a 6’3 shooting guard out of Maryland is considered, one of, if not, the best scorer and 3-point shooter on the team. It is without a doubt that Locke will provide an instant scoring option off the bench consistently throughout the season. Keyontae Johnson is the third and final true freshman on the squad. He was an elite vertical of over 40” inches and long arms that allow his 6’5 frame to play and guard the 1 through the 4. Mike White says that all three freshmen will get minutes.