Florida’s point of concern against Kentucky

Once a Florida commit, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander flipped to Kentucky and is playing at a high level at point guard for Wildcats

Kentucky guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander drives against South Carolina guard Wesley Myers during Tuesday's game in Columbia, S.C. Gilgeous-Alexander, a former UF verbal commit, once again has the Gators' attention. [Sean Rayford/Associated Press]

When Florida faces Kentucky on Saturday at Rupp Arena, the Gators coaching staff will see a familiar face at point guard for the Wildcats.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was a wide-eyed, 16-year-old, three-star recruit when he committed to Florida in November of 2015. The UF coaching staff projected the little known, 6-foot-6 Canadian with a 7-foot wingspan as a player capable of getting to the rim on offense and disrupting passing lanes on defense.

But by a month before National Signing Day in November of 2016, Gilgeous-Alexander blossomed into a four-star, top-50 national prospect. Kentucky called. Gilgeous-Alexander listened, then flipped his commitment from the Gators to the Wildcats.

“I developed as a player a lot faster than I thought,” Alexander said. “I re-evaluated and my goals changed and I had to make a decision.”

Gilgeous-Alexander has lived up to expectations at Kentucky, averaging 12 points, 4.2 assists and 1.9 assists per game as UK’s freshman starting point guard. A player the Gators once thought they had locked up for the future will now be a focal point to stop Saturday.

Florida coach Mike White said off the top of his head that Gilgeous-Alexander was the first player he could recall flipping on him in his years as an assistant coach at Ole Miss and as a head coach at Louisiana Tech and UF. Players flipping commitments in college basketball is rare, but not unprecedented. Former UF coach Billy Donovan got five-star point guard recruit Austin Rivers to commit following his freshman year of high school, but Rivers flipped to Duke during his junior year before National Signing Day.

“It was communicated with me and to us and if guys have second thoughts, at the end of the day, we all want guys to go where they want to be,” White said. “Wish nothing but the best for him. He’s a terrific player.”

A Hamilton Ontario native, Gilgeous-Alexander said he initially felt a strong bond with White and UF’s coaching staff and felt comfortable as a Gator pledge. But the summer before his senior year, Gilgeous-Alexander opened eyes by making the Canadian 18-under national team and averaging 7.8 points, 5.4 assists and 3.0 steals at the FIBA Americas Championships. Kentucky coach John Calipari visited Alexander during the fall of his senior year at Hamilton Heights Prep School in Chattanooga, Tenn.

“As soon as he came into the gym and talked to me, he was different from all the other coaches,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “He was very straight-forward with me, and he didn’t really tell me what I wanted to hear. He told me the truth, and how brutal this process is going to be. At the same time, (he told me) how much better I’d get. And I just wanted to be a part of it.”

Gilgeous-Alexander said it was hard for him to make the phone call telling White he was de-committing.

“It wasn’t the easiest thing, but nothing great comes easy,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “So I had to do it.”

Last Monday, Gilgeous-Alexander was named SEC freshman of the week after averaging 19.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists in Kentucky wins over Texas A&M and Vanderbilt. But Gilgeous-Alexander is coming off a game in which he had as many turnovers (six) as points (six) in Kentucky’s 76-68 loss Tuesday at South Carolina.

White said he doesn’t view UF’s prior familiarity with Gilgeous-Alexander as a factor in preparing for him Saturday.

“I saw Shai play two high school games, three or four AAU games, a couple of high school practices, that’s it,” White said. “In today’s day and age, with technology and with the SEC Network, we see all these guards play 100 times. We get more from their reps in college than we do when they’re younger.”

Up next

Who: Florida (13-5, 5-1 SEC) vs. No. 18 Kentucky (14-4, 4-2)

When: 8:15 p.m. Saturday

Where: Rupp Arena, Lexington, Kentucky


Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850



    • Sat, Jan 20 @ (18) Kentucky 8:15 PM ET ESPN
      Wed, Jan 24 vs South Carolina 7:00 PM ET SEC NETWORK
      Sat, Jan 27 vs Baylor 12:00 PM ET ESPN
      Tue, Jan 30 @ Georgia 7:00 PM ET SEC NETWORK
      Sat, Feb 3 vs Alabama 4:00 PM ET
      Wed, Feb 7 vs LSU 6:30 PM ET SEC NETWORK
      Sat, Feb 10 @ South Carolina 12:00 PM ET CBS
      Wed, Feb 14 vs Georgia 9:00 PM ET SEC NETWORK
      Sat, Feb 17 @ Vanderbilt 4:00 PM ET
      Wed, Feb 21 @ (21) Tennessee 9:00 PM ET ESPN2
      Sat, Feb 24 vs (17) Auburn 8:30 PM ET SEC NETWORK
      Tue, Feb 27 @ Alabama 7:00 PM ET
      Sat, Mar 3 vs (18) Kentucky 12:00 PM ET CBS

  1. Hope we get a different officiating crew from last year at Rupp. We lost because of them, not that it mattered in the big scheme because both teams went deep in the tournament. Still, it’s nice if the contest is fair.

    PF: UF 22, UK 13
    FT: UF 4-6, UK 22-27
    PF: UF Hayes 4, Allen 4, Hill 4, Chiozza 4, Leon 3, Robinson 3
    . UK Briscoe 4, Hawkins 3

    Also, would love to see Mr. Salesman get a T for whining to the refs from 10 ft inside the court during play.

  2. Ha, Calipari told you what you wanted to hear? That if you come to Kentucky, you’ll get all the benefits you want and they won’t even make you go to class? That you won’t be coached by an actual basketball coach, just a recruiter who hasn’t made any player better in his entire career? Is that what Cal told you? Enjoy your career in the NBA D-league.

  3. Florida’s #1 area of concern against UK will be what it ALWAYS has been whenever we visit Rupp Arena… the officials. I cannot count the time they have outright, blatantly screwed us in that arena while turning a blind eye to whatever UK does. And I don’t mean the “number” of fouls per team, I mean the atrocious fouls called at the perfect moments in the game to stifle, confuse, and frustrate us.

    The home-cooking officials in ‘Ole Miss game last weekend was, imo, a precursor to what we’ll see tomorrow in Rupp.

    Imo, it’ll take a miracle for us to overcome the officials with all the personnel we’re down by right now.

    • SEC Road Refs have been like this for years. And we must be fair and acknowledge that we indeed get our share of calls when we are playing at home too. It doesn’t make it right, but we’ve won as many close games due to officials helping us out at home as we’ve lost close games due to officials on the road. We are just far more likely to remember the losses

        • road refs favor the home team? shocking! at rupp? shocking! can’t believe it. certainly it never happened at other road sites like missipipi, or anywhere else, and certainly florida never gets the advantage at home. just shocking. never heard this concept before. ever. not once.

  4. I went to UF in 1970=1974 and I went to most of the bb games in the old gym. I have followed UF basketball and SEC bb all these years. Basketball is hard to ref. All teams get bad calls. What gets me is when the officials get caught up in the emotion of the game. When the ref gives a sign for charging that is emotionally charged especially in comparison to his previous such calls. This is not good refereeing. Also, there used to be a bald headed ref that really had it in for the Gators and he was terrible but apparently well placed in the SEC. He retired several years ago but his son is now a ref (I believe). Anyone remember his name?

  5. Howard… I know a number of people who’ve officiated basketball games on the high school and div. II college levels, and I have never heard one of them tell me “it’s hard” to officiate a basketball game. of course, it’s a fast game and a call gets missed or a bad call is made, but what all of them have told me if that they understand what a reach-in foul is, a travel, a block, and a charge. They’re all retired from the officiating ranks now but tell me whenever I’ve watched a game with them how no ref worth his salt can call a charge a bock and vice-versa. They believe college basketball is notorious for home-cokking, especially for the premiere schools in their own arenas.