Freshman G Ballard making early impression


Through the first week of practices, Florida basketball coach Mike White has been pleased with what he’s seen offensively.

The ball is moving from player to player. Shots are falling.

“We’ve got a pretty good overall passing team,” White said. “To this point a pretty selfless team for the most part. Got a bunch of different weapons in what could be our starters and also off the bench.”

One player who has stood out of late has been freshman 6-5 swingman DeAundrae Ballard, who is finding his way after some initial struggles.

“He’s been really good the last three or four practices,” White said. “We talk about how crazy his work ethic is. He’s in the gym every morning by himself and he’s in the gym by far more than anybody on our team. It’s carried over to practice as well. He’s got a lot to learn of course, and he’s got to figure out our system offensively and defensively, but I’ really pleased with his intensity level and his competitive spirit.”

White said he expects all three of his healthy freshman — Ballard, 6-9 forward Chase Johnson and 6-3 point guard Mike Okauru — to contribute this season. Freshman 6-8 forward/center Isaiah Stokes is out until January while recovering from a torn ACL and could be red-shirted this season.

“You see more scoring from Ballard than the other two,” White said. “You see more defense from Chase. You see that speed and quickness from Mike Okauru than you do the other two. They all bring their positives. The negatives? All three of them have defensive breakdowns and conceptual breakdowns, offensively and defensively.”

Florida sophomore center Gorjok Gak remains out of practice with a knee injury as a precaution. With Gak joining Stokes and Florida senior center John Egbunu (torn ACL) on the sidelines, Florida is thin in frontcourt depth in practice. Returning junior starter center Kevarrius Hayes is facing redshirt freshman forward Dontay Bassett underneath the basket.

“We’re really banged up there,” White said.

The 6-foot-9, 225-pound Hayes said practice has been more demanding with the other bigs out.

“For me and Dontay [Bassett], we probably don’t get as much rest, because we’re like the only two bigs right now,” Hayes said. “So it’s just like a lot of running. We’re definitely having to be the first ones in shape out here.”