Gators will vie with Kentucky for SEC supremacy
Florida coach Mike White’s program finally is his own. The last ties to the Billy Donovan era ended with the departure of KeVaughn Allen, Kevarrius Hayes and Keith Stone — all recruited by Donovan and retained by White following his May 2015 hiring. White’s first team with all “his guys” has the potential to be his best with the Gators and maybe among the best in the nation.
Florida should vie for SEC supremacy with Kentucky. But the Gators already notched a win against the Wildcats this offseason by landing prized graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. of Virginia Tech.
Blackshear will join three returning starters expected to take big strides as sophomores as well as a top-10 recruiting class. Six years removed from the school’s fourth Final Four under Donovan, White should have a team capable of another deep run in March.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Mike White
2018-19 RECORD (SEC): 20-16 (9-9)
2018-19 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Michigan 64-49 in the first round
G KeVaughn Allen (11.8 ppg, 2.1 apg)
C Kevarrius Hayes (8.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg)
G Jalen Hudson (9.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg)
F Keith Stone (6.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg)
The Gators’ inside game has struggled the past three seasons due to injuries, recruiting misses and a lack of development. Hayes’ hustle and leadership won over teammates and coaches, but he lacked size and scoring ability. Even so, Florida’s top returning post player, Dontay Bassett, averaged just 2.7 points and 2.3 rebounds.
Meanwhile, the 6'10", 250-pound Blackshear is the Gators’ most complete big man since the days of Al Horford and Joakim Noah. Blackshear averaged 14.9 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists during his final season at Virginia Tech. But the Orlando native still was not invited to the NBA Scouting Combine, leading him to seek a new home at the college level.
Blackshear will anchor a young, athletic frontcourt featuring explosive sophomore Keyontae Johnson, McDonald’s All-American Scottie Lewis and fellow freshman Omar Payne. No Gator played better down the stretch last season than the powerful 6'5", 225-pound Johnson, who had double-doubles in three of Florida’s last five games. The 6'5" Lewis has an all-around game, but he won over White with his high motor, especially on the defensive end. The 6'10", 222-pound Payne needs to develop his strength and skill set, but he is effective in transition and makes his presence known with a 7'5" wingspan. Bassett is serviceable and experienced, but purely a reserve.
Blackshear was not the Gators’ only key get this offseason. Point guard Andrew Nembhard tested the NBA Draft waters but decided to return for a second season. Nembhard’s vision, basketball IQ and passing ability are special. A member of the SEC’s All-Freshman Team, the native of Canada still has room to grow as a scorer, though he did hit the game-winning shot to upset LSU in the SEC Tournament.
Shooting guard Noah Locke looked like the best among the freshman trio early on, even supplanting fifth-year senior Jalen Hudson in the starting lineup. Locke struggled with injuries during SEC play but still set a Florida freshman record with 81 3-pointers.
Like Lewis, incoming freshman combo guard Tre Mann earned McDonald’s All-American honors. The 6'4" Mann, a Gainesville native, can fill up the box score. He averaged 23.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.1 steals as a high school senior. Ques Glover makes up for a lack of size (5'11", 175) with tenacity and long-range shooting ability. He is an upgrade over Nembhard’s backups from last season.
White has overhauled his roster — just four players who saw the court last season remain — and appears to have few holes. The team is clearly built to win now and could see several guys turn pro in April. Even so, White’s recruiting success bodes well for the future. Bassett and oft-injured Gorjok Gak are the only players remaining from Florida’s 2016 and ’17 classes. Ten others are in their first or second seasons. But for now, UF needs to make the most of 2019-20. Anything shy of the Sweet 16 would be a major disappointment.
Postseason Prediction: Elite Eight
SEC Prediction: 2nd