After adding a top-10 recruiting class, one of the most coveted graduate transfers on the market and a pair of sit-out transfers in the offseason, the Florida men’s basketball team will give the world its first look at the revamped roster when it hosts Lynn University in an exhibition at 7 p.m. today at the O’Connell Center.
Coach Mike White had a chance to take a preliminary look at his team when the Gators secured an 18-point win over USF in a closed-door scrimmage Oct. 18, and the fifth-year UF coach came away feeling a sense of urgency from his youth-laden lineup.
There may be some bumps in the road before the Gators find their footing.
“I think they were really eager to (compete against another team) and it’s probably why we haven’t been quite as sharp since,” White said of the team’s preseason stretch. “This time of year is probably the hardest time of the year to keep our guys’ attention, as it gets near to tipping it off under the lights, in a real game and in front of everybody. When you’re going against someone else, it means more.”
Clutching a No. 6 preseason ranking in the Associated Press poll, the Gators expect to be tested for 40 minutes in each game through the early going — a daunting prospect for a program expected to play all five true freshmen.
With an adjustment period all but guaranteed, White knows the Gators must rely on the maturity and leadership of graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear, who opted to join the Gators prior to pursuing a professional playing career.
“We have some immaturity we’re working through right now. Some inexperience. Some of it is natural. They’re freshmen. KJ (Blackshear) has to lead more for us. He’s got to. He’s been terrific in producing in practice, now he has to lead for us. We have to find some leadership,” White said. “Andrew (Nembhard) has been out with some tendinitis, and when he’s not out there we’re not as mature or mentally tough. We have to find some leadership from some other guys.”
Yet there’s no dearth of talent looking to ascend into that said leadership role.
Sophomores Noah Locke and Keyontae Johnson, who along with Nembhard emerged as leaders last season despite their freshman status, are expecting to once again command a significant role, despite UF signing highly touted players at their positions. For Johnson, that will mean a continued development at the power forward position — a move which gives the Gators the ability to play a variety of small-ball rotations.
He understands that role requires consistent communication with his UF teammates, which Johnson admitted wasn’t the case last season as a wide-eyed freshman. His progression, and that of his teammates, continues tonight against the Fighting Knights.
“Last year I was more quiet. This year I’m just trying to lead more and be more vocal for my teammates,” he said. “I feel like (this team) still has room to grow. We’re getting there slowly, but we still have a lot to improve on.”
FLORIDA PROJECTED STARTERS
Keyontae Johnson F 6-5 231 So. 8.1 ppg 6.4 rpg
Kerry Blackshear Jr.* F 6-10 241 Gr. 14.9 ppg 7.5 rpg
Andrew Nembhard G 6-5 193 So. 8.0 ppg 5.4 apg
Noah Locke G 6-3 207 So. 9.4 ppg 2.3 3fg
Scottie Lewis G 6-5 185 Fr. – – – –
*Stats at Virginia Tech
LYNN PROJECTED STARTERS
Christian Peevy F 6-7 185 RJr. – – – –
Ibrahima Sankare F 6-8 205 Jr. – – – –
Kenneth Nwachukwu C 6-9 220 Sr. 1.6 ppg 0.7 rpg
Jordan Allen G 6-4 195 Jr. – – – –
Darius Moore G 5-11 175 Sr. 13.3 ppg 3.1 apg