Florida is in search of a physical presence inside after giving up 16 points in the paint in its eventual 70-63 win over New Hampshire on Sunday night.
The answer could come when 6-foot-11, 265-pound senior center John Egbunu returns from rehabbing a torn ACL. But that’s still more than a month away.
Florida coach Mike White said Egbunu remains on track for a January return.
“John certainly is a physically, really tough guy,” White said Tuesday. “I’m hearing the same thing, just January. Somebody asked me yesterday or the day before and I said that reminds me to go ask (trainer) Duke (Werner) to see if there is an update. I hadn’t done that just because we’re so locked in. I know John can’t play against Stanford so it’s far from my mind. I don’t know whether that means January 1st, 3rd, 18th, who knows? But hopefully sooner than later.”
Egbunu and freshman center Isaiah Stokes are both sidelined with ACL injuries. The 6-8, 270-pound Stokes also is on track to return in January, though could elect to redshirt this season and start play in 2018-19.
Without Egbunu, Florida still managed to out-rebound each of its first three opponents. Junior center Kevarrius Hayes has been a solid rim protector inside with nine blocked shots, while sophomore center Gorjok Gak (6 ppg, 4 rpg, 1 bpg) has shown promise.
But Florida will face more of a challenge inside when it faces Stanford on Thanksgiving night in the first round of the PK80 Tournament in Portland, Ore. Stanford boasts a frontline that includes 6-9, 245-pound Michael Humphrey, 6-9, 210-pound Oscar Da Silva and 6-8, 245-pound Reid Travis.
“For us to be a really good team, to max out as a team, we have to get tougher,” White said. “So we’re searching for different ways, individual meetings, team meetings, certain drills you do, trying to make everything competitive. We try to promote physicality in practice, but we don’t want to beat each other up too much, especially this time of the year, and with all these games right around the corner. We feel like, over time, the more we address it, the more our guys embrace that they have to get tougher. We have faith that development will take place.”
Egbunu led Florida in rebounding at 6.6 per game when he went down with a torn ACL last Feb. 14 against Auburn. He’s also an excellent post defender. Florida senior point guard Chris Chiozza said Egbunu will have a “huge” impact when he returns to the Gators.
“He’s one of the best defenders in the nation and rebounders,” Chiozza said. “He does a good job of, you know, keeping other bigs off the glass, altering shots at the glass if he doesn’t block them and just his presence is just something that we’re missing right now. But, our bigs they’re doing a good job holding it down, down there.”
Chiozza, who lives with Egbunu, said his roomie is doing everything he can in rehab to try to get back as quickly as possible.
“He can’t wait to get back out there and everybody can’t wait for him to get back out there,” Chiozza said. “He’s always in there, trying to get back as fast as he can. He’s in there with Duke (Werner) and all the other athletic trainers just doing rehab and trying to get everything back like it was.”