One head coach, three assistant coaches and 13 basketball players walk into a locker room. They’re fresh off of a trip to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight, but they just lost four very productive seniors, three of their top-four leading scorers from a year ago and their would-be starting center for several months due to an ACL injury.
No, this isn’t the setup for some weird, depressing riddle. It’s the Florida Gators men’s basketball situation this season.
Despite Florida’s roster turnover and injury to center John Egbunu, the Gators are primed for what could be one of the most exciting basketball seasons in Gainesville in a while.
Florida’s offense should be better than last year. Coach Mike White thinks so, too:
Yes, Florida lost Canyon Barry, the 2016-17 SEC Sixth Man of the Year, who was using up his final season of NCAA eligibility as a graduate transfer last year. The Gators also lost Devin Robinson, one of three UF players who averaged double-digit scoring.
But White thinks he has weapons to replace both. And I agree.
The Gators brought in another grad transfer this season — guard Egor Koulechov — who has a smooth three-point stroke and scored 18.2 points per game for Rice last season. White is also excited about junior guard Jalen Hudson, a transfer from Virginia Tech who was forced to sit out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, but could turn into one of the team’s most talented offensive players.
Throw in another year of development from KeVaughn Allen — UF’s leading scorer from last year — and rising senior point guard Chris Chiozza, and it’s easy to see why White is optimistic.
“I could be eating my words in December, but I’m being honest with you,” White said on Tuesday. “I think we could be better offensively.”
Keith Stone will have his breakout year:
Stone is entering his third year at Florida and his second year on the active roster.
This should be his season.
The redshirt sophomore is a talented, versatile forward who can rebound, shoot the ball and defend — a near-seamless fit for a Florida defense that likes to apply pressure and an offense that could take more shots from three-point range this season.
White made it clear that Stone will likely be given more minutes than last season, when he averaged 12.1 minutes per game, fourth fewest on the team. He also lauded Stone’s maturity and his improvement on offense, and said he could replicate the improvement that Robinson showed between his junior and senior seasons, when the former UF forward went from a role player to a starter and one of the team's leading scorers.
“Keith could potentially be one of the guys, if not the guy that enhances his role the most,” White said. “He’s very talented.”
Don’t expect improvement on Elite Eight appearance:
While Florida’s offense could be better, and a bunch of young, talented players — and one recent transfer — have the potential to replace the production lost by four seniors, expectations for this season must be tempered.
Florida, with an offensively talented lineup, could have its most exciting season of basketball under White, but could still fall well short of an Elite Eight appearance.
Elite Eights are hard to come by. Billy Donovan, a UF basketball coaching legend, made it to seven of them in 19 years.
I still believe White has a ways to go — and a couple recruiting cycles — before his teams are at a consistent championship level. But I do think he can get there.
My best prediction?
Trust in White and enjoy the ride, Gators fans. This year could be fun.
Ian Cohen is a sports writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @icohenb.