UF basketball: Phlandrous Fleming, a native of Athens, Georgia, already showing improvement following 'business decision'
At the conclusion of the 2020-21 season, Florida men’s basketball coach Mike White had several tall tasks in front of him. White not only had to rebuild half of the team’s roster, but he had to do it largely on his own following the departures of assistant coaches Jordan Mincy and Darris Nichols.
To top it off, programs were still unable to host prospects for official visits. The only face-to-face meetings would be conducted via Zoom and the campus couldn't be used as a recruiting tool.
So, when decision time approached for Phlandrous Fleming Jr., the team’s fourth and final addition by way of the NCAA transfer portal, the only resource White had at his disposal was a straight-forward approach.
The only problem? Fleming grew up in Athens, Georgia, the hometown of UF’s SEC Eastern division rival, the Georgia Bulldogs.
“I 100-percent did not think I would end up at the University of Florida,” he admits.
White’s transparent message quickly changed his mind, however.
“Coach White was very upfront and honest about our coaches. In this business, assistant coaches have to move on. They want to eventually go into head coaching. So he was very up front and told me he was working on bringing other coaches in. And he was upfront about a few of the players who were on this team that left,” Fleming said. “Scottie (Lewis) went to the league, Tre (Mann) went to the league and (Noah) Locke ended up transferring.
"So he was very up front about who was leaving and what they were missing, and how they wanted to replace those scorers and minutes. He was very up front about that. That’s what I really had to look into because I only had one year. That’s what I really thought about during the process and we had an understanding in the end about that.”
It wasn’t hard for Fleming to put any of his prior fandom aside once he realized the magnitude of the opportunity being offered to him, one he didn’t have as a high school prospect.
Fleming didn’t have significant interest from Division I programs coming out of Cedar Shoals, but he quickly became a coveted addition after entering his name into the transfer portal following a senior season that saw him average 20.1 points, 7.4 assist and 1.8 steals per contest with Charleston Southern. He finished the 2020-21 season ranked among the Big South conference’s top-10 in scoring, rebounds, field goal percentage, blocks, steals, assists, minutes and assist-to-turnover ratio.
To continue his upward trend, he had to head south, ignoring the surprise in the interim from family and friends loyal to the Bulldogs.
“This is like a job to me now. This is what I want to do for a living. My favorite team growing up was the Chicago Bulls and if I don’t get drafted to the Chicago Bulls I can’t just be upset about that,” Fleming said. “This is what I want to do for a living. Everyone asks me, ‘Why? Why? Why? Why? Why Florida?’ This is where I’m supposed to be.”
Though he’s yet to make his program debut, Fleming continues to be reassured he made the right choice.
The 6-foot-5 graduate student is expected to play a significant role on both ends of the court on the wing for the Gators this season, though it’s unlikely he’ll fill the stat sheet in a similar fashion.
But individual accolades or statistics aren’t why he picked UF as his second collegiate destination – improving was the primary motivation, and Fleming feels as if he’s already made strides since arriving at Florida.
“Being in Gainesville these six months has just been amazing,” Fleming said. “I’ve learned so much, grown so much. I’m becoming the player I’m supposed to be. I’m growing into the player I’m supposed to be.”
And it’s Fleming’s aforementioned business-like approach — the same one that ensured Georgia ties wouldn’t dissuade him from turning down a desirable offer — that’s been the driving force behind his recent progression.
“It’s tough, but it’s a challenge I’m up for. Being that I have this one more year of eligibility, I’m looking at it as my rookie year, as if I’m on an NBA team or an overseas team. This is my rookie year. I’m here to do a job and be as professional as possible,” Fleming said. “I only have one year, and I’m gaining friends along the way and lifelong bonds along the way, but I need to do what I need to do to get to where I want to be.”