The Gators men’s basketball team began last season ranked No. 8 in the preseason AP Top 25. It had a solid run, finishing 21-13, but after a second-round exit in the NCAA Tournament at the hands of Texas Tech, Florida may not grace the top 25 in this year’s preseason poll.
Still, coach Mike White returns all but two players who recorded at least a minute last year. Year 4 of the White experiment begins in November, so let’s look at some takeaways from the team’s media day on Tuesday.
Jalen Hudson is the face of the program
When asked about leadership on the team, White didn’t hesitate to mention Jalen Hudson. The Virginia Tech transfer sat out his first season with the Gators two years ago, but last season emerged as the Gators’ most consistent scorer. He led the team in that category, averaging 15.5 points per game.
Hudson declared for the 2018 NBA Draft in March but withdrew his name from consideration to retain his final year of college eligibility. He said unfinished business brought him back to Gainesville.
“I want to solidify my spot in the draft more, and really to want to have another year with this team and growing and being able to play again with these guys,” Hudson said.
White said the redshirt senior has taken a step up in being a vocal leader since returning to the team.
“I think he’s feeling good about himself and his physical and mental output stemming back from some of the feedback that he got from the NBA last spring,” White said.
Florida will look no further than the 22-year-old Hudson to fill the hole left by the departures of Chris Chiozza and Egor Koulechov.
Keith Stone is still an enigma
The 6-foot-8 junior’s offensive prowess puts him in line to retain the stretch-four spot this season, but consistency has been a problem for him. Despite playing starting minutes most of the year, his production didn’t match his potential. He posted three 20-point games last season but only averaged 8.8 points per game for the year. In the rebounding department, he was even less of a factor, bringing in only 4.3 a game.
While White praised Stone’s offensive ability, he said he still has a ways to go in his development.
“I want Keith to worry about Keith,” White said. “I want Keith to continue to evolve his versatility.”
That simplified approach seems to have rubbed off on Stone.
“The goal is to come out and compete and play defense,” he said.
Can Stone take the next step and become a reliable forward for Florida, or will his defensive and rebounding weaknesses continue to plague him?
White will hope for the former.
Andrew Nembhard is going to play
White said there’s no timeline right now for when the Gators will release their starting five. But one thing is certain: Whether he’s a starter or not, Nembhard will see the court. A lot.
The true freshman guard from Aurora, Ontario, Canada, was rated a five-star prospect on the 247Sports composite. As the No. 23 ranked player in the country, he’s the highest rated recruit White has signed at Florida.
Renowned for his passing acumen, Nembhard was a hot topic at Media Day. White said his goal is to get Nembhard comfortable running the offense.
“We won’t be relying on him to be a huge vocal leader,” White said. “But we will be relying on him to direct some traffic and lead in that regard.”
Replacing Chris Chiozza, the all-time school leader in assists, is not an easy task for the young player. Nembhard said the biggest challenge will be assuming the role of court general.
Nembhard, along with sophomore Mike Okauru, will compete for the starting point guard spot. No matter his role, White believes that Nembhard can be an X factor.
“He’ll be one of the best passers that we play all year,” White said. “He’ll have a chance to be in the conversation to be one of the best passers in college basketball.”
Follow Tyler Nettuno on Twitter @TylerNettuno or contact him at [email protected].