UF’s Johnson, Stokes in action after year rehabbing

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Florida forward Chase Johnson. [Brad McClenny/ The Gainesville Sun]

Florida’s 95-70 basketball exhibition win Tuesday over Florida Southern didn’t just feature the unveiling of UF’s 2018 class — it also served as an overdue debut in a sense for half of the 2017 class.

Chase Johnson and Isaiah Stokes hit the O’Connell Center court to give those in attendance the first glimpse of the now-healthy redshirt freshmen.

Johnson was expected to play a minor role last season for the Gators, but a series of concussions led the 6-foot-9 forward to spend his inaugural season in Gainesville recovering and developing rather than contributing. Internal expectations are high for the athletic-for-his-size Johnson — although the contest indicated he still had some rust to shake off.

Neither of Johnson’s field-goal attempts fell against the Moccasins, and he would register just a rebound to go along with a personal foul and turnover in what was his collegiate debut.

Stokes, on the other hand, showed glimpses of a well-rounded skill set in the post in his nine minutes of action. After missing all of last season due to knee surgery, the 6-foot-8, 275-pound Stokes returned with a nice touch in the paint, finishing with six points on 50 percent shooting while tallying a rebound and assist. Stokes’ first shot attempt was successful — while displaying a nice touch around the basket — and it gave the Gators a 22-point lead with 6:30 remaining in the first half.

The Florida bench, perhaps in a moment of catharsis, subsequently jumped to its feet in celebration of Stokes’ belated impact.

“Man, I’m really happy for him, he’s one of my best friends,” guard Mike Okauru, who along with DeAundre Ballard rounded out UF’s 2017 class, said of Stokes. “Just, man, a whole year off without playing basketball. It was great to see him out there.”

And the head coach with a front-row seat for the recuperations of both Johnson and Stokes understood what the return to competitive action meant.

“It’s nice, first off, just for both of those guys, who have been through a ton and paid their dues, and had to watch their teammates play and couldn’t help them,” UF coach Mike White said. “They’ve worked hard to put themselves in a position to do this.”

Although it was a monumental occasion for Johnson and Stokes, White remained fair in his assessment of their play; medical redshirts didn’t exempt the duo from having their performances put in perspective.

“Chase didn’t have his best night, but he’s had some very good practices,” White said, “and then Isaiah showed signs of who he is, playing to his strengths. Very high skill level, but got to continue getting in great shape, getting used to the pace of the game at this level.”


Tuesday

Who: Florida at Florida State

When: 9 p.m.

TV: ESPN2

Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM

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