DALLAS — Florida freshman forwards Chase Johnson and Isaiah Stokes took in the atmosphere of the NCAA Tournament over the weekend.
The intensity of the games. The clutter of cramped locker rooms inside NBA arenas and walking around spirit squads before pregame warmups.
“It’s definitely a surreal moment being here at the NCAA Tournament,” Stokes said. “Only time I’ve been here is watching my brother (Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes) play, but being here in the locker room with these guys definitely fulfills a moment, definitely a check mark off my life.”
Stokes and Johnson both ended up redshirting this year while dealing with different physical issues. Both forwards could play important roles for the Gators in 2018-19 if they can return to full health.
The wide bodied, 6-foot-8 Stokes spent all season rehabbing from surgery to repair a torn ACL that took place in February of 2017.
“I’m practicing,” Stokes said. “I’m doing one-on-one type drills, moving much better as people can tell in warmups. I’m doing everything but non-contact. I’m staying away from contact drills right now just to make sure that I’m fully 100-percent ready.”
With the inability to do consistent cardio workouts while rehabbing the knee, Stokes also struggled to maintain his playing weight. Stokes said he’s concentrating more on his diet and making better food choices.
“For a month I went into a no starch diet I’ve been going probably a month strong just staying away from rice, beans, bread, pasta, just trying to stay away from all of the things that can gain weight,” Stokes said.
As for the diet has impacted him on the court, Stokes replied: “Definitely feel more better, definitely feel lighter. Definitely, first step getting quicker, I’m just feeling much better overall, everything as far as happiness off the court, everything.”
The 6-foot-9, 205-pound Johnson appeared in four games for UF as a freshman, averaging 4.3 points and 2.0 rebounds, before sustaining his second concussion in the span of six weeks in early December. Because Johnson appeared in less than 30 percent of competition and appeared in his last game before a mid-December cutoff point, he’s eligible for a medical redshirt this season.
“My body is right,” Johnson said. “I’m still having some issues with my head so I’m trying to get better with that. But other than that. I’m doing pretty good.”
Like Stokes, Johnson has been taking part in non-contact drills. Johnson said he’s still having issues with occasional headaches and sleeping.
“It’s been pretty tough,” Johnson said. “I’m just kind of taking it in. There’s nothing I can do about it, so I just trust God has a plan for me.”
Florida coach Mike White said he felt it was important to expose the duo to the tournament, even though neither one was playing.
“They are program guys and I wanted them to experience it,” White said. “And I want them to be hungry in the offseason throughout every workout and strength training session and player development to be hungry to be here but be on the court, to be a part of it. So I’m glad they are here and both of them have a ways to go, but both of them have a chance to be pretty good players.”