When redshirt senior John Egbunu tore his ACL in Florida’s 114-95 win at Auburn last season, Florida men’s basketball coach Mike White turned to Kevarrius Hayes to keep the front court afloat.
In his new-found starting role, Hayes excelled, averaging 25.9 minutes and 6.2 rebounds over UF’s last 10 games. Before Egbunu’s injury, Hayes averaged 3.8 rebounds a game.
Going into this season, Hayes is still in that same position: manning Florida’s front court.
With Egbunu and freshman Isaiah Stokes recovering from ACL tears and sophomore Gorjok Gak dealing with a lingering knee injury, Hayes will be called upon yet again to protect the rim.
“We’re really banged up there with three bigs out in Stokes, Gak and Egbunu,” White said. “We’re really thin up front.”
Hayes won’t be alone, however. White said sophomore Keith Stone and freshman Chase Johnson have been playing well and will be looked upon to help fill front-court roles alongside redshirt freshman Dontay Bassett.
White acknowledged that while there are players ready to step up, some of them haven’t seen in-game action since coming to UF. Other than Hayes, the Gators front court is lacking experience.
“The five in terms of experience, after Kevarrius, who’s doing what he does … you’re relying on Dontay Bassett, who hadn’t played a minute yet of college basketball,” White said.
While this inexperience could be a problem early on, it allows Bassett to develop in time for conference play.
That’s part of the reason why White is OK with Gak taking an extended period of time to recover from his knee injury. The Gators know they will need him more toward the end of the season, and it’s better to keep him rested and fully healed than risk another injury.
“It’s more of a bigger scope type deal just knowing how long the season is,” White said. “I think that if we were playing in the SEC Tournament next week, he’d be playing.”
But for Hayes, he’s up to the challenge of a smaller, younger unit.
He’s ready to step into that larger role and continue building upon the progress he started last season.
When asked about how other players’ injuries have impacted him in practice, Hayes said it was a lot more conditioning with less time for breaks.
“It’s a little more demanding probably for me and Dontay, we don’t get much rest,” Hayes said. “It’s a lot of running, we’re definitely going to be the first one’s in shape out here.”
You can follow Jake Dreilinger on Twitter @DreilingerJake, and contact him at [email protected].