During the 2021 NBA draft, the Gators saw two of their players — Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann — selected by pro teams. Both now playing in the G League for their respective clubs, Florida basketball has restocked its cupboards and has yet to lose a basketball game in their non-con schedule.
As this team finds its identity and virtually the entire college basketball season still lays before us, it is a bit too early to speculate heavily about the 2022 NBA draft. However, could the Gators have any players involved in the draft process at all this season? Most of the big-time recruits Mike White has brought into the program have moved onto other opportunities and none of the remaining players, though successful in college, have drawn much attention from the draftnicks.
Let’s take a look at some of the pillars of this roster and examine what they have to offer a pro team and what they’d have to improve to get a genuine chance at the next level.
James Gilbert/Getty Images
With the exception of Tre Mann, Colin Castleton was the best player on the Gators’ roster last season. He tested the NBA draft waters before withdrawing his name from consideration and returning to Florida. His shot-blocking ability and soft touch around the hoop are difficult to teach. There’s no doubt he has his sights set on the NBA, and he has the best chances to make it among this year’s Gators.
What he needs to improve: There’s only two players in the modern NBA who can make a significant dent in the league playing the way that Castleton does: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid. Those two set a virtually impossible bar, especially for someone as thin as Castleton. If he wants a real chance at a professional future without going overseas, he needs to add good weight and expand his shooting range. Supposedly, he’s been knocking down tons of threes in fall camp and practices. Without the ability to watch practices for ourselves, it’s a “believe it when I see it” situation because nothing he’s done so far indicates that he has that shot in his bag.
PF Keyontae Johnson
Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun
About this time a year ago, Keyontae Johnson was being talked about as a late lottery pick and his future looked brighter than anyone in the program. It wasn’t a question of whether he’d play in the NBA, but when. He brings three-level scoring ability, rebounding toughness, and the athletic talent to believe in his defensive projection. A projected late lottery pick in early 2021 NBA mock drafts, he was a distinct person of interest in NBA war rooms.
What he needs to improve: Do I even need to say it? It feels gross to call Johnson’s medical status “in need of improvement” but that’s where we’re at from the cold, unfeeling perspective of a transactional league. His family has kept his medical condition under wraps, and thankfully, reporters have mostly been respectful of their wishes. However, he hasn’t been cleared to play again nearly a year after his on-court collapse. It hurts to say, but by now, his flame is most likely burned out. Even if he can play again, the opportunity cost of his recovery is immense in a sport that prioritizes youth and his heart condition is a gigantic red flag when considering him as an investment, which is precisely how teams view their players.
PG Tyree Appleby
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Tyree Appleby is a scrapper who plays a high-energy game and will have plenty of opportunities to showcase his talents in a full-time starting role with the Gators this season. He does everything White asks of his leading guards — he’s slippery in the paint, defends well, and is fast enough to be anywhere he needs to be. Overcoming a lack of interest from teams early in his career, he put together a tidy little season as Tre Mann’s backup last year to build on.
What he needs to improve: Appleby’s wins on defense feel more like energy plays than high-end skill, which will not translate to the pro level quite as well. Additionally, he’s a fine enough 3-point shooter for this team, but NBA scouts will want to see a step forward in that regard. There are also a few things he won’t be able to change scouts’ mind about no matter what he does. Pro teams are suspicious of little guys in general his listing is generous at 6-feet-1-inch. Also, some will attribute his success around the basket to the clumsiness of college big men no matter how many he carves up or how proficiently.
SG Myreon Jones
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
In a basketball environment where teams are more focused on scoring than ever and getting better all the time, an efficient player like Jones is sure to raise some eyebrows. He shot the 3 at a higher rate than almost anyone in the Big-10 last season and he is getting reps as a ballhandler in White’s scheme. He’s a dangerous college player and is sure to put up pleasing box scores.
What he needs to improve: Because he lives and dies with his perimeter shot, NBA teams are understandably going to want to see more consistent performance from him as a shooter. Jones routinely disappears on the court for long stretches of time, only to come rumbling back with a vengeance. His indomitable attitude is a bonus, but a steadier hand is needed to make it as a pro. His ballhandling fits as a secondary guard and his mechanics on the floor are funky enough that some teams wouldn’t touch him with a ten-foot pole. He can make things happen at the net, but he’s not exactly a force with his back to the basket. Dial all of his attributes up to 115% and you’d have an easy second-rounder, but he’s just not quite good enough on tape to believe in how it will translate.
SG Kowacie Reeves Jr
Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun
Kowacie Reeves Jr. was the Gators’ only recruit through most of the recent cycle, and the freshman has a chance to be the Gators’ first one-and-done player in Mike White’s tenure. He’s a gutsy shooter and has gotten stronger over the last 18 months. He has the building blocks to play the wing, which is being valued as the most important position in the NBA right now. Hooping is built into the young Gator’s genome — Reeves Sr. is a coach and both generations positively live and breathe basketball.
What he needs to improve: As a borderline 5-star prospect, there’s not too much question that he’s a good player. However, he didn’t demonstrate enough physical play as a high schooler to convince talent evaluators of his readiness to compete at a high level, especially as a non-ballhandling player. He has to put play on tape and demonstrate his improvement as a tough paint scorer and rebounder to attract attention in the NBA draft. That’s going to be tricky to pull off, as Mike White takes a very conservative approach to phasing in young players. The Gators’ cupboards are well-stocked with experienced, high-effort players, the type who appeal to White’s sensibilities at the top of the depth chart.
PF CJ Felder
[caption id=”” align=”alignnone” width=”1000″>
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sportsman’s
When he’s on, C.J. Felder is a nightmare for opposing shooters to face down. He was known as the best defender in the ACC last season and the Gators poached him in the transfer portal. He can play as either the power forward or the center depending on the deployment of other players. Paired with Castleton and Anthony Duruji, the Gators’ frontcourt will be a no-fly zone.
What he needs to improve: Lopsided play doesn’t work particularly well at the NBA level and Felder hasn’t really shown that he can score against high-end bigs or stretch the floor. It’s easier said than done, of course, but that’s the only thing standing between him and a future at the next level. Boston College used him as a weapon in transition, but his spot-up shot is a work in progress, and frankly, the Mike White era Gators have little track record of developing bigs.
Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Some of the players we’ve discussed here are already a stretch to imagine as a future professional, and the rest of the roster is too much of a long shot to even squint at and see a prospect.
Brandon McKissic and Phlandrous Fleming Jr. have never played against high competition and are old for amateurs, which are big black marks on their resumes. They’d have to shoot the lights out and shut down the opposing guards defensively to even get on the radar. Additionally, McKissic’s size will work against him and Fleming absolutely must be more responsible with the ball in his hands. They play with a ton of fire, a common trait on this roster, but the desire to win isn’t nearly as valuable as the skills to win.
Anthony Duruji is an athletic specimen, and a highlight reel of his soaring leaps and eager 3-point attempts would paint a picture of a future NBA player. He runs too hot, though, and he’s technically unrefined and undisciplined. As a fifth-year player, he will be seen as too old for those mistakes to be excusable.
Niels Lane might be able to change the conversation with a big year if everything clicks, but right now, he’s still an unknown quantity. The Gators love his toughness, have faith in his ability to defend most positions, and he has been rumored to be an improved shooter. However, he’ll need to put all those traits on the floor for significant minutes to budge the needle. If he winds up as a non-leading ballhandler, it still might not be enough in an offense-first NBA environment.