UF’s Stokes, Johnson take in NCAA Tournament atmosphere

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Florida freshman Deaundrae Ballard (24), Isaiah Stokes (2), Chase Johnson (1) and Mike Okauru (0) pose for a photo during media day for the men's basketball program at the basketball practice facility on the University of Florida campus in Gainesville Tuesday Oct. 3, 2017. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

DALLAS — Florida freshman forwards Chase Johnson and Isaiah Stokes took in the atmosphere of the NCAA Tournament over the weekend.

The intensity of the games. The clutter of cramped locker rooms inside NBA arenas and walking around spirit squads before pregame warmups.

“It’s definitely a surreal moment being here at the NCAA Tournament,” Stokes said. “Only time I’ve been here is watching my brother (Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes) play, but being here in the locker room with these guys definitely fulfills a moment, definitely a check mark off my life.”

Stokes and Johnson both ended up redshirting this year while dealing with different physical issues. Both forwards could play important roles for the Gators in 2018-19 if they can return to full health.

The wide bodied, 6-foot-8 Stokes spent all season rehabbing from surgery to repair a torn ACL that took place in February of 2017.

“I’m practicing,” Stokes said. “I’m doing one-on-one type drills, moving much better as people can tell in warmups. I’m doing everything but non-contact. I’m staying away from contact drills right now just to make sure that I’m fully 100-percent ready.”

With the inability to do consistent cardio workouts while rehabbing the knee, Stokes also struggled to maintain his playing weight. Stokes said he’s concentrating more on his diet and making better food choices.

“For a month I went into a no starch diet I’ve been going probably a month strong just staying away from rice, beans, bread, pasta, just trying to stay away from all of the things that can gain weight,” Stokes said.

As for the diet has impacted him on the court, Stokes replied: “Definitely feel more better, definitely feel lighter. Definitely, first step getting quicker, I’m just feeling much better overall, everything as far as happiness off the court, everything.”

The 6-foot-9, 205-pound Johnson appeared in four games for UF as a freshman, averaging 4.3 points and 2.0 rebounds, before sustaining his second concussion in the span of six weeks in early December. Because Johnson appeared in less than 30 percent of competition and appeared in his last game before a mid-December cutoff point, he’s eligible for a medical redshirt this season.

“My body is right,” Johnson said. “I’m still having some issues with my head so I’m trying to get better with that. But other than that. I’m doing pretty good.”

Like Stokes, Johnson has been taking part in non-contact drills. Johnson said he’s still having issues with occasional headaches and sleeping.

“It’s been pretty tough,” Johnson said. “I’m just kind of taking it in. There’s nothing I can do about it, so I just trust God has a plan for me.”

Florida coach Mike White said he felt it was important to expose the duo to the tournament, even though neither one was playing.

“They are program guys and I wanted them to experience it,” White said. “And I want them to be hungry in the offseason throughout every workout and strength training session and player development to be hungry to be here but be on the court, to be a part of it. So I’m glad they are here and both of them have a ways to go, but both of them have a chance to be pretty good players.”

6 COMMENTS

  1. For those that want to look at the glass half full, just remember the amazing jump that Noah made between his freshman and sophomore year. If these 2 big men can make half that much of an improvement, the front line will be a lot stronger next year.

  2. Good to know Johnson qualifies for a medical redshirt. I don’t know how much of a factor he would’ve been this season, but he certainly could’ve provided a few minutes and a few more fouls to give at the four and five. Hope he can add some weight and muscle, so he doesn’t get pushed around in conference play.

  3. Noah was a legit 7 footer. Stokes is listed 6 foot 8 and Johnson 6 foot 9 which means they’re both probably a shade under the listed height. I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade but Coach White must attract a true big man to patrol inside. Legit 6 foot 10 or better with a wide body.

    Go Gators!

    • In the 2006-07 media guide Noah was listed at 6-11 and 230 lbs. He definitely had the height if not the wide body. I get your point, but these days it’s more about length, i.e. height and wingspan, rather than just height. I agree that a tough post defender and rim protector is a must. Hayes is listed at 6-9 and 225 lbs., and is a proven shot blocker. He could be a better defender and rebounder with improved strength, but at this point he may have peaked. Last year’s team did fine with Hayes starting the last month, because they had Robinson at 6-8, Leon at 6-7, to play in the front court with him, rather than the 6-5 Koulechov and 6-6 Hudson of this year’s team. If Johnson and Bassett can handle the four, so Stone can move back to the three, and a healthy Gak and Stokes can provide back-up for Hayes, I think they’ll be ok.

      • Hayes the starting center?!! Whoops, you’re probably right, White’s the coach. ANYBODY would be preferable to Hayes starting other than those two ball boys that occasionally got in for thirty seconds.

        Looked over rosters in the SEC. Florida’s probably looking at about a .500 record next season in SEC play and finishing seventh or eighth.

        Mittens White’s seat will be very hot after next season. I was still holding out that the pr**k would go to Ole Miss until yesterday.

  4. Pete. Take a look at the photo of Stokes, which was taken when BB practice had just began for the season. No one is the SEC or anywhere else is going to push that guy around in the middle if he is healthy next year. A bigger concern is the head issues for Johnson, which could become very problematic for him and the team in the future if he does not quickly recover through rest, etc. (which has not happened to this point).