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Franz Beard's Thoughts of the Day; March 28

A few thoughts to jump start your Tuesday morning...

Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin isn’t going to let some blueblood program steal his basketball coach. Stricklin confirmed to Kevin Brockway of the Gainesville Sun that Mike White will be getting a contract extension and a raise in the not so distant future.

“We’ve just got to sign some paperwork, but we let him know several weeks ago that he’s our guy and we want to be committed to him long term,” Stricklin said.

White has just finished the second year of a 6-year deal that pays $2 million a year, which ranks seventh in the SEC. John Calipari of Kentucky makes a reported $8 million a year while Alabama’s Avery Johnson is the second highest paid basketball coach at $2.8 million. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Stricklin raise White to $3 million – or more – a year.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR UF BASKETBALL?

The Roster as of 3/28/17

Redshirt Senior (1): John Egbunu (6-11, 260)
Seniors (2): Chris Chiozza (6-0, 160), Devin Robinson (6-8, 200)
Redshirt Junior (1): Jalen Hudson (6-6, 190)
Juniors (1): KeVaughn Allen (6-2, 183), Kevarrius Hayes (6-9, 220)
Redshirt Sophomore (1): Keith Stone (6-8, 240)

Sophomores (2): Gorjok Gak (6-11, 231), Eric Hester (6-3, 170)

Redshirt Freshman (1): Dontay Bassett (6-9, 222)
Incoming Freshmen (4): Isaiah Stokes (6-9, 275), DeAundre Ballard (6-6, 195), Chase Johnson (6-9, 215), Michael Okauru (6-4, 180)

ONE OVER THE LIMIT

When Michael Okauru signs his scholarship papers in April (he committed past the early signing deadline so he can’t sign until the official signing date is open), the Gators will be at 14 scholarships, one over the limit. That means someone has to either declare for the NBA, transfer out or give up a scholarship. Of the three options, figure either the NBA or transfer is more likely.

Had he played an entire season healthy, John Egbunu might have departed for the NBA but he’s damaged goods now with an ACL tear. An optimistic goal would be to have him ready for the SEC portion of next season’s schedule, but he will be back.

Forget what  Devin Robinson did against South Carolina. The NBA will draft a bunch of underclassmen who didn’t put up the greatest stats or show up big at crunch time in tournaments. Once you get past a few picks in the lottery, the draft is more about potential than it is for immediate contributions and the scouts see Robinson as a kid with enormous upside. Is he NBA ready? No, but he’s played himself into the first round which is guaranteed money for three years. If he gets with the right organization that will pay him an NBA salary and let him get game experience in the Developmental League, he could be a real star in the future.

Could Robinson help his draft stock by coming back for his senior season at UF? Possibly. But if you go back and check recent drafts you will find that very few seniors get drafted so even if he comes back and has a big senior season it won’t make him any more draftable than he is now. If he has an injury or goes into a senior slump as did Brett Nelson, he could go from prospect to suspect. My guess is that he goes.

KeVaughn Allen would be undrafted if he were to declare. He’s 6-2 and while he can jump out of the gym, he lacks the ball handling skills he will need at the next level where he would have to log minutes as a backup point guard. Scouts are also perplexed that he doesn’t instinctively drive to the basket and get to the foul line more often, especially on nights when his jumper won’t go. 

There could always be a transfer for one reason or another. At this point, Mike White has a bunch of happy campers. In Orlando, I was asked about Eric Hester, whose playing time has been limited all year. I’m told by some people very close to the program that Hester understands he’s got to get physically stronger and knows that if he does his part in the weight room that he won’t lack for minutes next season. He’s got a beautiful release and soft touch on his shot and his range is outstanding.

BREAKING IT DOWN BY POSITION

Point Guard

With Kasey Hill gone, this will be Chris Chiozza’s ball club next year. Quite frankly, the Gators played better when Chi Chi was running the point in the second half of the season than they ever were with Kasey. Chi Chi rarely turned the ball over while Hill seemed to save his worst games for when the Gators needed him to protect the ball the most. For the most part, Chiozza is too quick to be pressed and in press defense, he’s a pest who disrupts. Add in the fact he is a far more reliable jump shooter and he’s excellent at the foul line late in the games.

Who backs him up? Hester spent practices as the third point guard and his ball handling has improved greatly. He will be the first option when Chiozza has to sit. Okauru is a big pure point who excels at getting to the rim but has to develop consistency on his jumper. He’s got long arms and superior quickness. He will be a great addition on the press.

Don’t be surprised if Allen spends the summer working on his ball skills so that he can pick up minutes on the point when Chiozza is getting a rest.

Shooting Guard/Small Forward

In many ways this position is interchangeable when White plays with two wings, but sometimes he goes with three guards, a small forward and a big guy so it helps to be versatile enough to defend multiple positions.

Allen plays the wing but will defend a small forward when the Gators go with a quick lineup. Although he’s better known as a streaky shooter who can light up the best defenders in the country when he’s on, he’s a very dependable defender who can handle players 4-5 inches taller. He has the potential to blossom into one of the top scorers in the SEC next season. As he showed against Wisconsin, once he hits a couple of shots he starts feeling like he can’t miss. He has a tendency to doubt himself when he misses a couple of shots and needs plenty of encouragement from teammates. Allen needs to realize that when he misses a couple of shots in a row from the outside, the best thing he can do is take it to the rack, get fouled and shoot some free throws. What got him untracked against Wisconsin was getting to the foul line for 8 shots in the first half.

Hester will be Allen’s primary backup. It was no fluke that he hit all five of his 3-pointers against LSU. If he’s physically stronger (170 pounds now and needs to play in the 185-195 range next year), he will be able to go to the rack and absorb contact. Added strength will also make him a dependable defender and if you’ve learned anything about White in the last two years it is he will sacrifice offense for defense every time.

If Robinson does return, he will play the small forward which, in White’s offense is more or less a hybrid position. Sometimes the small forward is a wing who roams the perimeter while at others he will play the high post or run the baseline. Robinson is ideal for this because he’s got the shooting range and has turned into a solid inside player. He’s nearly 6-9 and while people focus in on his offensive skills, he developed as a tremendous rebounder and off the ball shot blocker this past season. My guess is he’s gone to the pros but if he comes back and improves as much as he did from his sophomore to junior year, he could be an SEC Player of the Year candidate.

This is where things get interesting because the Gators have some options to back up Robinson. First and foremost is Jalen Hudson, the Virginia Tech transfer who has serious offensive skills. He’s more scorer than shooter but he’s streaky enough from the perimeter to knock down several shots in a row and he’s always got a take it to the rack mentality. Supposedly, Hudson is a more than adequate defender in the press but below average in half court sets. That will have to change next year.

Another option is incoming freshman DeAundre Ballard, who has spurted to 6-6 and may have another inch or two of growth in him before he’s through. He’s a pure wing right now and an outstanding scorer but he could grow into the hybrid guy that Robinson is. He’s a ferocious dunker and press defender and best of all, has a serious understanding of the game. If he picks up the defense early he will see major minutes from the get go.

POWER FORWARD

White will have some serious options here because he can go with a big guy to team with Egbunu or he can go with a stretch four.

Because he’s recruited well, White could go with a lineup of Kevarrius Hayes at the power forward with Egbunu at center, but remember that Egbunu is coming back from an ACL tear so don’t expect him back before January. That means Hayes will primarily play center when the season starts although he could move to the high post when White inserts Gorjok Gak or freshman Isaiah Stokes in at center.

The player I expect to make dramatic improvement is Keith Stone, whose 3-point range and ability to play away from the basket will allow White to spread the floor. Stone is a perfect guy at the high post where he can set a screen and pop out for an open jumper. He’s also a good enough ball handler to run the baseline and if White wants to go really big, he can show a front line of Egbunu, Hayes and Stone.

Dontay Bassett took a redshirt this year while recovering from surgery on a fractured foot, but he’s a taller version of Stone, maybe a little better on the inside but maybe not as good on the perimeter. Bassett and Stone both can run the floor and are mobile enough to play press defense.

The final power forward option will be freshman Chase Johnson, whose game really took off as a senior at Huntington Prep when he played against better competition on a regular basis. Johnson will bring a tough guy mentality to the Gators. At some point in his career he might set a record for floor burns. He can also shoot, finish in transition and won’t back down from anyone defensively. He’s a high post guy who can take his man outside and drain jumpers although he needs to increase his range beyond 17 feet.

CENTER

Barring a visit from Benny Hinn we can’t count on Egbunu until January as he recovers from his ACL. That means Hayes will start the year at center but he will have sizeable backups in Gak and Stokes. When Egbunu comes back, Florida will have nearly as many options with big guys as Kentucky and that is impressive.

Hayes is a sponge who keeps absorbing knowledge every time he plays. He’s gone from a guy who could block a few shots to a well rounded player who can defend straight up, intimidate in the paint, rebound and when given opportunities, score. Eventually he may prove to be an ideal high post guy but when the season starts he’ll be in the low blocks.

Gak has enormous potential and he’s not finished growing. He’s listed at 6-11 but when you see him stand beside Hayes in the locker room (Hayes is almost 6-10), Gak is a good three inches taller. Gak is athletic, has great defensive timing and looks like he could become a beast on the boards.

Stokes won’t wow anyone with his leaping ability but he is so wide he doesn’t need to. He simply clears space and the ball comes to him. He also sets a devastating pick. Like his brother Jarnell, once he gets the ball in the low blocks you’re not going to root him out and he’s probably going to score. Defensively, he’s not going to block many shots but he’s so strong he will push his man off the blocks and make him take shots outside his comfort zone.

EXPECT FLORIDA TO BE A PRESEASON TOP 10-12 TEAM

Based on how they were able to get to the Elite Eight game without Egbunu and not much depth on the inside, the Gators have everybody’s attention so expectations will be higher next year, particularly with the added talent. White will have quality depth that he didn’t have this year and the Gators should be a much improved rebounding team. Additionally, there will be more shooters at his disposal so prolonged slumps like the 0-14 second half against South Carolina might be a thing of the past.

Maybe the biggest reason the Gators will be rated among the top 10-12 teams in all the preseason polls and mags will be Chiozza. He established himself as a big time point guard in the last half of the season and next year he won’t have to share the minutes with Hill. If I had to name an MVP for the 2016-17 season, Chiozza would be my pick and that was coming off the bench. I think the Gators played better when he was running the point and I think they will be better next year with him as the starter.

If Robinson comes back, Florida will have an outstanding 1-2 scoring punch with Allen, but even if he goes pro, White will not lack for scorers. Defensively, the personnel allows White to go big if he wants or put an athletic team that still has some size out there when he wants to play a 94-foot game. You can count on the fact that defense will always be Florida’s trademark, but next year’s team will have the personnel to match up with any style, even South Carolina’s kamikaze approach.

Mike White has won 48 games in two seasons, more than any coach in Florida basketball history did in his first two seasons. While the entire SEC should be a more experienced and improved league from top to bottom, Florida should start the season in or near the top ten and have the personnel and experience to stay there the entire season. Florida’s Elite Eight run caught nearly everyone by surprise this season. Next season and in seasons thereafter, that’s what should be expected.

CAMERON NEWBAUER NAMED UF WOMEN’S BASKETBALL COACH

The early names out there were San Antonio Spurs assistant and WNBA legend Becky Hammons, Mississippi State assistant head coach Johnnie Harris and former Duke coach Gail Goestenkors. At least two of those three were given very serious consideration to take over Florida’s women’s basketball program, but in the end athletic director Scott Stricklin surprised everyone by hiring Belmont coach Cameron Newbauer. In his four seasons as the head coach at Belmont, Newbauer compiled a 79-50 record including a 24-9 record in 2016 and a 27-6 mark (16-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference) in 2017. Belmont made the NCAA Tournament both years.

Newbauer is no stranger to the SEC, having served as an assistant for the Georgia men’s program from 2005-07 and as Andy Landers’ assistant with the women’s program at UGa form 2008-11. From 2011-13 he was the chief recruiter for Louisville, which got to the NCAA championship game in 2013.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

The Gators saw their 22-game softball winning streak come to an end Monday night as Auburn’s Kaylee Carlson won a 1-0 pitching duel with Delanie Gourley at Katie Seashole Presley Stadium. The Gators (29-2, 7-1 SEC) will try to get back to their winning ways Wednesday night when they host Bethune-Cookman. They will be on the road this weekend for an SEC series at Arkansas.

Florida’s 9th-ranked baseball team (16-9) will square off with #10 Florida State (18-7) tonight at The Baseball Grounds in Jacksonville. The Gators beat FSU, 1-0, earlier in the season in Gainesville.

It’s been quite a year for sports in South Carolina. First, Coastal Carolina won the 2016 NCAA baseball title and Clemson followed that up by winning the 2016 national championship in football. Now South Carolina has both its men’s and women’s basketball team in the NCAA Final Four. And for good measure, Coastal Carolina alum Dustin Johnson just won the Dell Technologies Match Play on the PGA Tour. In the latest USA Today Top 25 College Baseball Poll, Clemson is ranked #5 and South Carolina #6.

Former Penn State president Graham Spanier was convicted of child endangerment for his coverup of former Penn State assistant Jerry Sandusky. Emails from 2001 proved that Spanier knew children were at risk with Sandusky.

QUESTION OF THE DAY

Consider this the how do you feel today about the Final Four question. You will have the right to change your mind on Friday, but who do you see advancing to the championship game as of this morning?

MUSIC FOR TODAY

Although he’s better known for his song writing (Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Three Dog Night and Bob Dylan are among the many who have recorded his songs) John Hiatt is a terrific performer who does a great concert. His latest album is “Terms of My Surrender.” Today’s music is a 2015 video of his performance at Jazz San Javier.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EffdKV7y4Kg


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