Gators' roster has LSU transfer Alex Fudge enthusiastic following return to home state
Expectations are high when it comes to the Florida men’s basketball program's new additions, from head coach Todd Golden and his coaching staff to the six newcomers on the roster, which comprises two freshmen and four transfers.
Of the latter group, there’s arguably no one with a brighter outlook than sophomore wing Alex Fudge.
A Jacksonville native and the lone incoming UF transfer with experience playing for a fellow Southeastern Conference power, Fudge is expected to command a significant role during the 2022-23 season with the Gators, the team he grew up rooting for, after transferring from LSU following his freshman season. He may have been one of the last to transfer in, but his mind had been made up for him much earlier as coach Will Wade continued to face controversy prior to his departure from the Tigers.
“At my previous school, there was a lot going on. Here it’s more neutral and quiet,” Fudge said. “I can focus more, so I can say I’m improving.”
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Fudge acknowledged the allegations of impropriety surrounding Wade eventually affected the team’s continued progress, though the Tigers did attempt to approach the noise as if it were just another hill to climb.
“Me being who I am, it didn’t really affect me, but it did affect us at one point,” he said. “But, I mean, as basketball players, there’s going to be a lot of factors that come into your life that you have to look over and move forward, and keep pushing.”
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His mindset during the time was aided by watching fellow teammates on the rise, including frontcourt teammate Tari Eason, who was drafted 17th overall by the Houston Rockets in the 2022 NBA Draft.
“I really watched some of my teammates, like Tari, Shareef (O’Neal) and (Darius) Days and them, and just watched how they just maneuvered and worked through it,” Fudge said. “I just really picked up from, and some of it was me just, just ‘you can’t be in this stuff, so you’ve got to move forward.' ”
Early into the season, Fudge was able to contribute and make an impact as a true freshman, and he routinely averaged double-digit minutes per game for the Tigers. But by the end of January, Fudge’s role had become more unpredictable, and his usage was inconsistent. By the end of the season, he found himself a non-factor in the rotation, combining for just 17 minutes over the Tigers’ final five games.
“I will say mid-season, where I really wasn’t touching the court that much — like I said, I understood,” Fudge said. “I just had to snap out of it and keep moving.”
One of the early bright spots was a 19-minute outing at the Exactech Arena, where many of Fudge’s closest supporters had made the trip from nearby Jacksonville to see his return to Florida.
“I’m not even gonna lie, it was wild. It was probably the most I had played at that time,” Fudge recalled. “You know, the environment, and I had my family behind me, and that was one thing I loved to see, because when I was at LSU, not everyone could come see me. Just knowing that I had my mom, my dad, my cousins, friends and family — just one whole section sitting there rooting me on, it felt great. And that’s really why I wanted to come back, to play in front of everybody.”
Having already experienced a glimpse of playing in Gainesville, the pressure of playing in close proximity to family and friends, and at the program he supported from a young age, was now an alluring aspect to Fudge during the transfer process rather than a deterrent, and he was determined to inspire future players when it came to staying home and choosing the Gators.
“I had other teams that were reaching out to me,” Fudge said, “but I just felt that coming back home, like, showing kids from Florida you can come to a Florida school and still get out, that’s why I wanted to come to Florida and play for coach Golden.”
Joining the Gators meant not only would Fudge remain in the SEC — he could reunite with a former teammate in Denzel Aberdeen, and aid in the recruitment of another former teammate in Riley Kugel.
Fudge reunites with Denzel Aberdeen and Riley Kugel
“Denzel and Riley, they actually came from the same program as me, so I know them very well,” Fudge said. “They’re working. I know Riley’s not here right now, but he’s working, and Denzel, I make sure he’s in the gym with me late at night. Everybody’s focused."
During the transfer process, Fudge happened to run into Kugel at an award ceremony, and he didn’t hesitate to make a quick recruiting pitch.
“I was at a banquet, and Tom Crean was speaking there, and Riley came, he’s sitting next to me and I just said, ‘Give me a Gator chomp,’ ” Fudge said, “and the next day, he committed.”
As for the rest of Florida’s roster, Fudge may have been unfamiliar at first, but he’s developed a positive opinion of the roster during the first month of summer workouts in Gainesville.
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“I feel like, everybody that’s on the team right now, we’re ready,” Fudge said. “We’ve got Colin Castleton coming back for his fifth year. Tremendous, he’s going to be tremendous this year. We’ve got Niels Lane, great defender, he can make it happen on offense. Kowacie Reeves coming back, great, right, there’s so much potential on this team. Once we get in the gym and just get it going and get it snapping, like, I don’t see nobody against us.”
Any further additions — the Gators can add another scholarship player, and Kugel has yet to arrive on campus — will only supplement the roster, and continue to confirm Fudge’s decision to transfer back to his home state.
“I feel like we’ve got everything. If Coach Golden decides to add one more, that’s just one more person who can help us,” he said, “but I feel like we’ve got everything.”