UF basketball coach Todd Golden on roster, recovery for Colin Castleton and Jason Jitoboh

Graham Hall
Gator Sports
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With summer workouts around the corner, Florida men’s basketball coach Todd Golden detailed the program’s roster and the health of several returning players. 

Rather than a team-wide overhaul, Golden described the Gators’ rebuild as one centered around adding to the pieces already in Gainesville in Colin Castleton, Kowacie Reeves, Niels Lane, Myreon Jones and Jason Jitoboh. 

Convincing Castleton to return to Gainesville for his third and final season with the program was understandably a top priority for Golden and his coaching staff. 

Castleton, while he likely would have gone undrafted in the upcoming NBA Draft, had an opportunity to make money at the professional level, but an extended recovery— and work left to do at UF — gave the Gators a chance to retain the former Michigan transfer despite a fresh-faced coaching staff at Florida. 

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Coaches knew keeping Colin Castleton was key for UF

Golden compared Castleton’s situation to that of San Francisco guard Jamaree Bouyea, who returned for his fifth season with the program and significantly increased his profile and draft stock. 

“When we got here — specifically me and my staff — it was really important to me to make a run at Colin to see if we could get him to use his fifth year. We had a lot of success last year at San Francisco with Jamaree Bouyea, a different position but the same idea of keeping a really talented, mature player that had experienced a lot of success in the program to build around and obviously it helped for us.”

First, Golden would have to gauge Castleton’s interest in returning. He didn't want to badger him if he wasn't interested. 

But Castleton was open-minded when it came to Golden’s pitch — he didn’t arrive with preconceived notions of how a program under Golden would operate, and Castleton’s willingness to give his third head coach in five years eventually helped lead him back to the Gators. 

“I thought that Colin could be that piece for us if he was willing to buy into what we are doing and had a great attitude about coming back, which he did,” Golden said, “and that really got us off to a really good start.”

Seeing as he was Florida’s leading scorer and rebounder from last season, Castleton will prioritize his recovery from offseason shoulder surgery rather than partake in UF’s summer workouts with his teammates. 

“He had surgery, it was a while ago now. I talked to Duke (Werner) yesterday about it and, knock on wood, things are going well in terms of his recovery,” Golden said. “We’re going to take our time. We don’t need to rush him back for summer workouts. I want him to be super healthy going into the fall, and if we can do that, which we are tracking towards, we’ll be in really good shape.”

What about Gators' backcourt? 

With Castleton back in the fold, Golden and his coaching staff turned their focus to the backcourt.

Jones, having played through a broken finger for a significant portion of the 2021-22 campaign, seemed keen on returning for a second season with the Gators, as did the defensive-minded Lane, who saw his workload increase late in the year. 

Getting Reeves to come back to Gainesville wasn’t as simple. 

Must see:Watch Kowacie Reeves' big shots as the Florida Gators get to overtime in the SEC Tournament

The Gators were looking at multiple guards in the transfer portal, and Reeves could have perceived the additions negatively — UF added experienced players at Reeves’ position, potentially hindering his chances of starting at the two-guard spot next season. Then, as Reeves was weighing his future, news broke of Castleton receiving a significant name, image and likeness deal, though figures weren't released.

Factor in his former coach, Mike White, could in theory offer more playing time — in Reeves' home state of Georgia — and it wasn’t difficult to see the appeal of the NCAA’s transfer portal for Reeves.

Despite reports indicating he intended to officially explore his options elsewhere, Reeves never filed paperwork to enter the transfer portal. Instead, the former top-50 prospect opted to return to Gainesville for his second season with the program. Golden — while it’s too early to name starters or define roles — clearly sees Reeves as a centerpiece for the Gators in his inaugural season at Florida. 

“We’ve talked a lot about the five other guys besides Colin that were on the team last year that we were able to retain — Kowacie (Reeves), Niels (Lane), Myreon (Jones), Jason (Jitoboh) and CJ (Felder),” Golden said. “I think all those guys have potential to be impactful players for us this year and then on top of that, adding the guys we did, we feel really good about our roster and the depth we have now.

Jason Jitoboh still not cleared to play

Felder was slowed by an undisclosed hip injury late in the season, causing him to miss the end of Florida’s season. With Anthony Duruji, UF’s starting forward opposite Castleton, dealing with an ankle injury, too, the Gators were forced to utilize an undersized lineup — at a critical juncture, no less.

Felder’s hip has mended, though Jitoboh is still awaiting to be fully cleared. The rising senior from Nigeria suffered a gruesome eye injury back on Jan. 26 which ultimately required surgery, causing him to miss the rest of the season. 

Doctors eventually expect Jitoboh to make a full recovery, but it has yet to happen. For the time being, Jitoboh has prioritized the weight room and his diet to ensure he’s ready to contribute when the time comes. 

“He’s getting close. He’s battling the eye deal still a little bit. He’s done a really good job the past couple of weeks with his body, just getting back into shape that way. I’m really encouraged by him in terms of going back last year and seeing how productive he was and how high of a level the team was playing when he was on the floor,” Golden said. “If we can keep him healthy, I think he has a chance to be a really impactful player for us this year.”

Considering the injuries in the frontcourt, Golden anticipates the Gators’ final addition — they have one scholarship remaining with a week until summer workouts — being a skilled big man who can contribute down low. 

“We’re still a little thin inside. I would say we have really good players in the front court but we’re susceptible to an injury or two of being really a big issue for us going into next year with the roster being the way it is,” Golden said. “So, we’ll try to add one more big to give us some depth in the front court.”

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