Last month, Florida redshirt sophomore forward Keith Stone was in a rut.
Bouncing in and out of the starting lineup due to inconsistent production and effort, Stone described his feelings being in a dark place.
“I had no confidence,” Stone said. “I was worried about what everybody was saying. The fans, the media. Just worried about that.”
Stone took some steps to rectify the situation. First, the 6-foot-8, 240 pound Deerfield Beach native got off Twitter to block out negative things being written about him. Second, Stone met with Florida coach Mike White to air his feelings.
Gradually, the process worked. Stone began practicing better in the middle of last month. Then came a breakout 18-point game in UF’s 83-66 win on Jan. 2 at Texas A&M. Overall, Stone has reached double figures in scoring in three straight games, averaging 13.7 points and 6.3 rebounds during that span.
Basketball, Stone said, is fun again.
“It’s pretty great knowing that I can help the team contribute in many ways,” Stone said. “Getting rebounds or playing solid defense on the best post player, anything that’ll help the team win.”
Last season, Florida standout senior point guard Chris Chiozza credited a January meeting with White as a reason for turning his season around. White said he tries to meet with all of his players on a regular basis.
“Keith will tell you, if you asked him, that there was one specific conversation, but I recall a bunch that were pretty similar, so I don’t know which one really hit home,” White said. “It’s funny with these young people when you’re pushing buttons, more times than not you’re pushing the wrong ones. Occasionally, you hit one that triggers.”
Better production from both Stone and junior center Kevarrius Hayes inside has helped spark UF’s current six game win streak. Stone fought hard inside with 10 points and 8 rebounds against Mississippi State, but also had four of UF’s 15 turnovers.
“Last night, he could have had a great game, but there were five or six things that we’ll watch on film and hopefully continue to learn,” White said. “He’s going through a developmental process.”
Stone said he knows he needs to continue to cut down on mistakes. But he’s in a better state of mind compared to a month ago in his ability to fix them.
“When I was wide open, I didn’t shoot, I just decided to drive,” Stone said. “Or I just gotta make it simple and just shoot the ball.”
— White was asked if the emergence of transfers Jalen Hudson and Egor Koulechov has impacted junior guard KeVaughn Allen’s production. Hudson is leading UF in scoring at 16.6 points per game, while Koulechov is second at 15.5 points per game. Allen is at 10.6 points per game and has scored in double figures in 7 of 16 games this season. “He’s very conscientious,” White said. “KeVaughn is a kid, he’s really unselfish. I’ve seen it since the first day I coached him. He’s a good teammate and when he misses a shot he feels bad for his team that he missed a shot as much as any really talented player that I’ve coached. It’s hard to get him out of that, to get him to be a conscious-free, aggressive, attacking guy. We’ve seen it in spurts at times. But yeah, so I think being that type of guy that he is when now that he’s playing more weapons the perimeter I think it becomes not only for him, but for the other guys as well, it comes a thought that, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t have taken that one or I’m 0-for-2 and this guy can really score and this score it, maybe I shouldn’t take this next one.’ I think sometimes you can overthink it, rather than make it simple and when you’re open shoot it. That’s how we’ve all got to be.”
— White, on sophomore center Gorjok Gak’s development this season: “He’s not healthy. And in his defense, he’d be playing more minutes, he would. And we’d be getting more production out of him as well. He doesn’t practice. He didn’t practice last week. He’s not going to practice today. He’s not going to practice tomorrow, and then we’re going to throw him out there and expect him to produce for us. He’s giving us as many minutes as he can with this bum knee, and we’ve got to get him healthy in the offseason. But I think that the ceiling for Gorjok is a lot higher than what we’re seeing right now. He’s just dealing with this injury.”
Keith Stone is one of my favorite players. He can play inside, defend, hit the jumper and shoot from the perimeter with a silky smooth release. He’s only getting better with every outing. Can’t imagine what a force he will be in future seasons as he puts on expected muscle and weight.
Gak’s issues illustrate one of the problems with off-season international play. The extra playing time and experience can be too much of a good thing. We really needed him healthy until Egbunu an Stokes returned.