Florida coach Mike White said Thursday the current timetable for senior center John Egbunu and freshman center Isaiah Stokes to return is late January.
That rules out the 6-foot-11, 265-pound Egbunu for a big SEC contest on Jan. 2 at No. 9 Texas A&M, which boasts one of the top frontlines in the country. It also puts Egbunu’s return in doubt for a Jan. 20 meeting in Rupp Arena against No. 8 Kentucky.
Both Egbunu and Stokes are rehabbing from surgery to repair torn ACLs. White said Florida trainer Dave “Duke” Werner wants to make sure Egbunu is 100 percent before he returns.
“Duke just continues to tell me late January,” White said. “Stokes is playing a little noon ball with our staff. Pounded that thing into him yesterday to make sure we got a ‘W’ against the managers. It’s nice to have that, usually in noon ball we can’t pound it to the interior. John Egbunu had a good workout today with (assistant) coach (Darris) Nichols, he’s doing some individual stuff. No contact stuff with those guys.”
Without Egbunu and Stokes, the Gators have been exposed inside both offensively and defensively. Junior center Kevarrius Hayes has gotten off to a disappointing start on both ends of the floor, while redshirt sophomore forward Keith Stone hasn’t been as productive inside. Sophomore 6-11 center Gorjok Gak has been limited in playing time due to knee issues that have hindered him throughout the season.
“He has a knee issue that will be addressed at the end of the season,” White said. “He had a great summer. We hope he can give us some good games. In his defense a lot of times he’s out there playing and he’s played three times that week or two times that week and it’s a Saturday game. It’s hard to get him a lot of reps right now.”
The Gators enter this Saturday’s game against Clemson in the Orange Bowl Classic a banged-up group. Gak hasn’t practiced all week due to his knee issues, while freshman forward Chase Johnson remains out with an illness. Johnson has done some individual work this week.
“Just not feeling well,” White said. “If it’s not a headache, it’s a stomach issue. If it’s not that, it’s something else. Hopefully we can get him back.”
White said the Gators are going to need to continue to be creative defending the interior until Egbunu and Stokes return. Florida double-teamed more in the post against Cincinnati, which was more effective. Still, the Gators have been outscored by an average margin of 14 points in the paint (41.2-27.2) over their last five games.
“You wish we had all four bigs in practice today and we were at full strength, but we’ve got to make do,” White said. “We just came off a game where we defended on the interior differently. We had to do it with five guys, less margin for error of course, but it can be done.”
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