Is Egbunu the answer next season?


During Monday’s media session, Florida junior guard Eli Carter was asked how USF transfer center John Egbunu was looking in practice.

“He’s a monster,” Carter said. “I wish he could play, honestly. He’ll be a great addition to us next year.”

Listed at 6-foot-11, 226-pounds, Egbunu is sitting out this season per NCAA transfer rules. But Florida coach Billy Donovan tempered expectations as to whether Egbunu could provide the physical presence and post scoring that the Gators have lacked this season.

“When you are in the situation we’re in right now, it looks like Dwight Howard, LeBron and Kobe,” Donovan said. “Guys are never as good as people make them out to be when they are sitting out. And I think the expectation part gets way, way too high. Certainly I think we all saw that with Chris Walker sitting out in terms of the expectation. Jon Egbunu is going to be a guy that’s going to be able to help our team, I think … But I’m not prepared to put that kind of pressure and expectation on someone when they really haven’t done anything since they’ve been here.”

On the plus side, Egbunu appears to have strong work habits. Donovan mentioned that after last Thursday night’s loss to Ole Miss, he noticed the 6-foot-11 big man in the practice facility by himself working out at 11 p.m.

“There has to be an internal drive that they want to be good because their talent level got them here, but that doesn’t mean that they’re going to be good players,” Donovan said. “And what are you going to do to separate yourself? A lot of that has to do with a  work ethic, and that’s one of the things I’ve really been on Chris Walker about a lot is his work ethic. He can’t be the last guy to come here and the first guy to leave. You’re going to have to make a physical, mental and emotional investment if you want to be really, really good.”

Egbunu averaged 7.4 points and 6.2 rebounds in his freshman season at USF in 2013-14, earning all-freshman honors in the American Athletic Conference. Unfortunately, Egbunu may follow a string of recent Florida big men who struggle at the free-throw line. Egbunu shot just 54.5 percent from the line (60-110) as a freshman at USF. Asked about Egbunu’s ability as a post scorer, Carter said: “He’s working on it. He’s good, but he’s working on it. That wasn’t really his game, but he’s gotten a lot better.”

Other notes:

— I also asked Donovan about the progress of freshman guard Brandone Francis in practice and walk-on center Schuyler Rimmer, a mid-season transfer from Stanford. “I believe Brandone Francis has a long to way to go,” Donovan said. “I think hopefully he can help our team in some way.” As for Rimmer: “I like Schuyler a lot. He’s a big physical guy. I think the biggest thing for him right now is you know, between the way Stanford’s academic calendar is set up, he had a long period off from playing basketball over the Christmas Holidays and then coming back to school here, what we’ve been really trying to do is help him to get in a little bit better shape and that’s not saying he wasn’t in shape when he was at Stanford. I just think he just had so much time off from playing that he probably got himself out of shape. But he works hard and he’s a great kid and I’m happy he’s here. Hopefully he’s another kid that can help our team.”

— Donovan came into the season thinking UF has a chance to be a dynamic passing and shooting team. But it hasn’t worked out that way. Florida ranks 11th in the SEC in scoring offense (65.4 ppg) and 11th in 3-point shooting percentage (32.8 percent). The Gators have scored 62 points or less in six straight games and haven’t scored more than 70 points since a 72-71 loss on Jan. 24 at Ole Miss.  Donovan mentioned the high-ankle sprain to leading scorer Michael Frazier II as part of the reason for Florida’s more recent scoring woes, but thought in October that junior guard Eli Carter and junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith were going to be more consistent from the perimeter. He also thought point guard Kasey Hill would be able to score more in transition and not have the problems he’s had finishing around the basket. “I knew going in from the beginning that we weren’t going to have this physical presence like Patric (Young) that we could just dump the ball inside to,” Donovan said. “That was going to be a little bit of a challenge. But I thought we could manufacture some points around the baseline on some dump-down passes and some penetration. And I knew (freshman) Devin (Robinson) came in as a pretty heralded shooter and 3-point shooter. But in defense of him and (freshman point guard Chris) Chiozza, like most freshmen, most of the time those guys shooting percentage … I mean, Brad Beal in practice was one of the better shooters I’ve ever coached and been around, and certainly he had his struggles as a freshman. Those guys are going to have it. But I was a little optimistic from what I was seeing in practice. But if you’re going by games, we’ve been an up and down team shooting the ball.”