Former Gators QB signee Jaden Rashada lands at Arizona State

Gators men's basketball team ready to open SEC play against Alabama after COVID pause

Graham Hall
UF basketball writer

To use Florida coach Mike White’s terminology, what happened to the UF men’s basketball program — a pause in basketball activities and an ensuing postponement of the Dec. 29 contest against Mississippi — was “inevitable” when given the current college basketball landscape.

More than 120 Division I programs have paused this season, a number that will undoubtedly continue to rise. 

As a result, the message within the Florida basketball complex is very much the same as it was in early February of the 2020-21 season, when the Gators were forced to nix a trio of contests. How the team responds to the current misfortune, however, is of far greater concern to White and the Gators as the team looks to open Southeastern Conference play at 7 p.m. in the Exactech Arena against No. 20-ranked Alabama. 

”There’s been a lot of misses, a lot of days off. It’s been crazy. This guy’s in, this guy’s out, this guy is out because of this, this guy is out because of a different reason. I think we might have him back today, well we don’t. It’s been really hard to keep up with,” White said. “We’re just trying to do the best we can, just like a lot of programs.”

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Florida hasn't played since December 22

The Gators were unable to compete against Ole Miss due to being below the required scholarship limit, and, while the majority of the roster has returned to practice following that contest’s postponement, White remains uncertain whether or not the team will be at full strength when Florida takes the floor against the Crimson Tide (10-3, 1-0 SEC). 

“Still didn’t have everyone back (Tuesday), unfortunately. Thought we might be able to get to full strength,” he said. “We came back Saturday for the first time with the majority of our team, where we could actually get up and down the court a bit. But, because guys have been off for so long, you’re very cognizant of a number of things, right, from a physical, mental — all kinds of stuff.”

Aside from facing a ranked opponent, the Gators must contend with the effects of the latest bout with COVID-19, which can cause fatigue, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath even after recovering from the virus. 

Set to face an Alabama team with a penchant for playing hard-nosed defense — and with a backcourt that can get hot in a moment’s notice — Florida's players have their work cut out for them. 

Colin Castleton speaks on COVID break

“I think, defensively, they’re probably one of the fastest teams in the country and probably one of the fastest teams we’ll play. They get up and down really quick. They’ve got three, four, like, really good guards who leak out and just push in transition,” forward Colin Castleton said. “Their coach just gives them a lot of freedom to handle the ball and do what they want with it, so we’ve got to be aware of that and just be connected on the defensive end, because they’re like laser bolts.”

But Castleton, Florida’s leader in the low post, isn’t shying away from the circumstances at hand as the Gators prepare to compete for the first time in two weeks — he knows conditioning figures to be an issue in the immediate future, and possibly beyond. 

The collective’s mentality, again, isn’t to sit and sulk — the Gators are keen on making the best of the current situation.

“I think definitely coming off the COVID break, it’ll be something we have a struggle with, but, like I said before, you’ve just got to move on. It’s mental, I think, just being able to push through that,” Castleton said. “That’s why you’ve got 15 guys on the team. Everybody helps each other. If a guy needs a (break), then you just go in, let them get their rest and water and get back in the game and just continue to fight because, at the end of the day, Alabama doesn’t care about us being tired, and our coaches don’t. Nobody cares about that. So, we can’t really worry about that. We’ve just got to play as hard as we can, and, if you need a break, then you get a break.”

Florida’s projected starters

Anthony Duruji;  F;  6-7;  220;  R-Sr.;  9.1 ppg;  4.2 rpg

Colin Castleton;  F;  6-11;  231;  Sr.;  14.8 ppg;  9.3 rpg

Brandon McKissic;  G;  6-3;  185;  Gr.;  7.3 ppg;  3.2 rpg

Phlandrous Fleming Jr.;  G;  6-5;  205;  Gr.;  11.8 ppg;  3.6 rpg

Tyree Appleby;  G;  6-1;  163;  Sr.;  10.0 ppg;  2.1 rpg

Alabama’s projected starters

Juwan Gary;  F;  6-6;  218;  So.;  8.8 ppg;  4.9  rpg

Charles Bediako;  C;  7-0;  225;  Fr.;  6.8 ppg;  4.4  rpg

Jaden Shackelford;  G;  6-3;  200;  Jr.;  16.5 ppg;  6.4  rpg

Jahvon Quinerly;  G;  6-1;  175;  Jr.;  14.9 ppg;  3.2 rpg

Keon Ellis;  G;  6-6;  175;  Sr.;  12.2 ppg;  6.7 rpg

Notes: The Gators welcome Alabama to Gainesville for the first time since UF’s 21-point comeback double-overtime victory to open the 2019-20 SEC schedule…Amidst a roster chock full of upperclassmen, Florida’s freshmen, sophomores and juniors combined for a season-high 37 points in the Gators’ last outing vs. Stony Brook. Previously, that group’s highest output had been 18 points vs. Troy University…Colin Castleton’s 84 blocked shots through 36 games at Florida are tied with John Egbunu for UF’s program record for career blocks by an incoming transfer.

Who: No. 20 Alabama (10-3) at Florida (9-3) 

When: 7 p.m. today


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