The Gators received some tough news last weekend when point guard Andrew Nembhard, who had declared for the NBA draft while retaining his college eligibility, announced that he would be withdrawing from the draft but would be entering the transfer portal, as well.
This is a big loss for Florida, undoubtedly. Though he never quite lived up to his five-star billing during his time in Gainesville, Nembhard’s talent was undeniable. He steadily improved during his two years in the orange and blue, becoming one of the best facilitating point guards in the SEC.
But Nembhard also never really fit with the scheme White tried to run. A big, floor general-type point guard, his style clashed with those of the previous point guards that ran White’s system successfully like Chris Chiozza and Kasey Hill.
Undoubtedly, losing a player like Nembhard hurts. But the Gators were prepared for this outcome. And in spite of it, the team should be much improved next year.
Now, I realize I may be beginning to sound like a broken record. The “next year is the year” mentality has led to disappointment the last two seasons, but this time around, the team is much deeper than perhaps it has ever been under White.
Let’s start by looking at the backcourt group without Nembhard. Replacing him in the starting point guard spot is likely Tyree Appleby, a transfer from Cleveland State who was looking for a bigger stage after averaging 17 points as a sophomore. There are no guarantees, and the leap from the Horizon League to the SEC is certainly a sizable one, but Appleby is as experienced a transfer as you’ll come by.
In addition to returning starter Noah Locke, who has quietly become one of the best shooters in program history, the backcourt also returns Scottie Lewis, a five-star recruit who became a starter down the stretch last season and showed many positive signs, despite not being the dominant presence many expected. Lewis came back for Year 2, a move that was rather unexpected heading into the season, and he seems primed for a breakout season. He could become one of the better players in the SEC, if not the country, in 2020-21.
Former five-star Tre Mann entered the draft, but he is likely to return, giving the Gators more talent in the guard spots than they’ve had in years. Throw in big true freshman Niels Lane in addition to Ques Glover, who saw significant time last year, and UF has one of the most imposing backcourt groups in the SEC.
Looking at the frontcourt, Keyontae Johnson is back after his First Team All-SEC sophomore season, and behind him is Louisiana Tech transfer Anthony Duruji. Duruji averaged more than 12 points and seven rebounds his final season with the Bulldogs and is one of the most highly anticipated transfers in the country heading into next season. An athletic scoring wing, Florida hasn’t had a player like him in its starting lineup (let alone coming off the bench) in some time. True freshman Samson Ruzhentsev, a four-star, also has some of those tendencies, and that pair leaves Florida as deep as can be at the forward spot.
The only position in question for UF is at center. Kerry Blackshear Jr. has graduated, and replacing him will fall on the shoulders of sophomores Omar Payne and Jason Jitoboh. Both showed promise as freshmen, though Payne was more productive and polished. He will likely take over the starting job, while Jitoboh will see an expanded role off the bench.
There are still plenty of question marks: Are Payne and Jitoboh ready to shoulder more playing time? Will Appleby’s adjustment from the mid-majors be seamless? Will Lewis and Mann take the next step?
All of these will be limiting factors for Florida’s season. But this team is very talented, very experienced and very deep. If all the pieces are going to come together for White, it’s going to happen this season.
And if it doesn’t, there will need to be some uncomfortable conversations about the future of the program.
Check out more Gator coverage at Gators Wire, a part of USA Today Sports and Gannett, which owns Gatorsports.com. College Wires is a digital sports initiative that is part of the USA TODAY Sports Network that brings fans closer to their favorite college sports teams. The websites are full of aggregated content and original stories that has become a daily destination for hard core supporters of these successful college sports programs.