Kan Li / Scout

John Egbunu gives Florida Gators a post presence

The Gators struggled to find a big man that could score or block shots last season. There was one on the roster, but he was forced to sit out after he transferred from South Florida.

John Egbunu can be the complete center Florida was without last season. The new coaching staff had high expectations for him based on individual workouts in the offseason. The players already knew what he could do from practices last year, but they’ve seen him take another step forward this fall. 

His performance has been so impressive that it earned a new nickname from Florida coach Mike White. During the first two weeks of practice, he has been known as ‘Johnny Clinic’ for his dominant defensive performances. As White and his staff continue to work on players being more vocal, Egbunu hasn’t needed to talk more or louder.

His player and voice speak for themselves so far in practice.

“John has been tremendous,” White said. “He’s had a really good start to practice, not only with his back to the basket, but setting screens and running the floor. Through our defensive drills, he’s really put on a clinic the last couple days. We appreciate the way he has embraced his role in that regard, especially with his level of communication, his decibel level. You'll hear in the O'Dome not too far down the road how well he communicates at times. It's really important for us.”

To better fit into White’s system, Egbunu focused on losing weight. White wants his team to run the floor, which isn’t always the best fit for a shot-blocking center that opposing offenses fear in the paint. Egbunu already knew he had to lose weight when he showed up to Florida at 270 pounds, but the White hired forced him to spend more time on it.

He opened fall practice weighing 249 pounds this year and ready to run.

“I think it’s going to impact me a lot to play fast,” Egbunu said. “The new coaching staff wants an up-tempo style of play, so me losing weight is a plus because it helps me get up and down the floor a lot quicker. It’s a good thing, I feel like. It’s part of the reasons I decided to drop weight, so I have the abilities to do that.”

Egbunu started 31 games at USF as a freshman during the 2013-14 season, setting the school record for rebounds during a freshman season with 198. He earned a spot on the American Athletic Conference All-Rookie Team while averaging 7.4 points and 6.2 rebounds with two double-doubles on the season.

He decided to leave the Bulls after his freshman season and ultimately decided to transfer to Florida. That began a long season where NCAA transfer rules forced Egbunu to sit out last season. He practiced with the team but had to sit on the bench during games with no hope of seeing the floor.

“It was tough, but at the same time it was a learning process for me,” Egbunu said. “I spent a lot of time working on my game and getting better, developing a lot of my weaknesses. It was time well spent.”

Florida players have noticed Egbunu’s presence at the rim for the last year. Point guard Kasey Hill, who has built a reputation of getting past defenders and to the rim with his quickness, has to change things up when Egbunu is the only defender between him and the rim.

His wingspan and size makes it difficult, especially when it’s a smaller player trying to take the ball to the rim.

“It’s very hard,” Hill said. “I’ve got to mix it up on him, different types of lay ups and different passes, maybe get into his body and try to draw a foul on him. It’s real hard to score on John Egbunu.”

Last season, the Gators had Jon Horford and Chris Walker at center. Horford wasn’t physical enough to make opponents afraid to take the ball to the rim. Walker didn’t have the girth of Egbunu, but he had a wingspan that could block shots at times. It just wasn’t as consistent as it needed to be.

Egbunu can be that player for Florida, and his teammates are convinced after watching him dominate practice.

“Man, he’s a major defensive force,” wing DeVon Walker said. “He is great at contesting every layup, every shot and he’s very solid in pick and roll coverage. He’s going to be great this upcoming season.”

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