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Friday, December 04, 2020

The last time Florida's Anthony Duruji played a meaningful basketball game was March 14, 2019.

The former Louisiana Tech forward found himself visiting Gainesville just a month later. He committed to the program soon after, and since then he's been focused on growing as a player in practice with the Gators while sitting out the 2019-20 campaign due to NCAA transfer rules.

"Last year helped me a lot. It helped me get acclimated to the way Coach (White) wants to play,” Duruji said during Wednesday's media availability. “I was really just being a sponge, and I was able to learn so I could carry that over to this offseason."

Similar to last season's team, the 2020-21 rendition of UF men's basketball features a high amount of turnover with plenty of fresh faces on the roster.

Of the 15 players that'll suit up for the Gators this season, only seven have seen in-game action at Florida.

While the projected starting five figures to be set with Tre Mann, Scottie Lewis, Noah Locke, Keyontae Johnson and Omar Payne, Duruji ­– along with several others ­– will be called on to contribute quality minutes with the faster style of play expected this season.

"This year, there's a lot more intensity," Duruji said. "The style of play is very different. We want to press, we want to make people turn over the ball, so we've been doing a lot more in the weight room. A lot more explosive work and longer practices right now. We're just grinding it out."

UF head coach Mike White mentioned last week that this team has a lot more speed and athleticism compared to past squads he's coached at Florida. Because of this, running up and down the floor and playing an aggressive style of ball both offensively and defensively are things he said you'll see this year's team do.

For Duruji, a six-foot-seven, 220-pound high-flyer with a 46.5-inch vertical, that playing style certainly favors him.

"I'm a very high-motor type of guy," he said. "God-given athleticism, and I have a lot of talent. But I'm just trying to develop my game and skillset."

Based on size and playing style, Duruji could be the next Dorian Finney-Smith type of player at UF. Finney-Smith — who played off the bench his first season after transferring in from Virginia Tech in 2012 — was a high-energy defender and rebounder that could shoot from the perimeter and take the ball to the rim during his time with the Gators.

"(Playing) in transition, that's my bread and butter," Duruji said. "Run the lanes, get easy dunks and spot up and shoot threes when I'm open. That's my role on the team. To defend, to bring energy and just shoot when I'm open."

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Another role Duruji will bring to the floor for the Gators is leadership. He accumulated a ton of college basketball experience from his time at Louisiana Tech. He played in 65 games (52 starts) with the Bulldogs in his two years there and will be expected to lean on some of that wisdom this season to help lead the younger guys on a team with no seniors.

"This year, Coach challenged me to be more bold and let my voice be heard. I'm a guy that has a lot of good things to say, but I'm a little more reserved,” he said. “(The coaching staff) has really helped me grow as a leader and has given me the confidence to step into that role."

Contact Evan Lepak at elepak@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @evanmplepak.

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