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On Tuesday night, the Florida men's basketball team added a big piece to the puzzle for the 2017-18 campaign when Rice graduate transfer Egor Koulechov announced that he has committed to playing his final season for the Gators.
In the addition of Koulechov, Florida addressed its depth on the wing after losing Devin Robinson to the draft and Canyon Barry to graduation, while adding a player who could potentially compete for a starting role next season.
To gather some more information about Koulechov, Inside the Gators spoke with Rice beat writer Adam Coleman of the Houston Chronicle, who shared insight about the 6-foot-5, 210-pound wing.
What type of impact has Koulechov made for Rice over the past few seasons, and what was his role? How would you describe his skill set?
Coleman: Egor’s impact was immense at Rice. He was a huge reason this team had its best season in 13 years. He and another transfer in Marcus Evans were first-team all-C-USA selections – the first time Rice had two first team all-conference picks since 1954. Versatile player that even acted as a stretch four in Rice’s system, which was predicated on scoring fast and scoring often with the overall lack of size. Second on the team in scoring at 18.2 points per game and one of the best 3-point shooters in the conference at 47 percent from beyond the arc. Was an absolute steal for Rice as a transfer from Arizona State.
Based on your knowledge and what you’ve heard, what led Koulechov to want to transfer from Rice – considering the Owls had a winning record last season?
Coleman: He’s close with the new Rice coach Scott Pera, who actually recruited him to Rice. Egor has told me his transfer has nothing to do with Pera getting the job. Mike Rhoades leaving for VCU probably had little to do with his decision as well. Egor doesn’t hate Rice and there wasn’t any controversy either. Overall, the writing was on the wall for him as it was with the four other players who have transferred from Rice this offseason. It was a good time to try their hand somewhere else.
You can’t chalk it up to anything other than the current state of college basketball with all the transfers going on. He had an option to turn pro overseas, too. He has an extensive background in international hoops. But who knows? This move to Florida could change everything for him. In Egor’s case, I really think it’s about one last shot at the NCAA Tournament. Could he have done that at Rice if everyone decided to stay? Perhaps. But there is really only one way in for Rice. At Florida, his chance at the Big Dance is exponentially better. And he doesn’t have to reinvent himself to help a team that will already be very good.
What would you probably say are Koulechov’s greatest strengths as a wing?
Coleman: Well, it’s the 3-point shooting. At one point, Egor led the country in 3-point field goal shooting percentage. The final rankings don’t reflect that now, but I think Florida has a guy who can consistently knock down the 3-point shot, which is always welcome. And again, he’s versatile and a great ball handler. Can probably put him anywhere in the lineup sans the five and he’ll find a way to thrive.
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Conversely, what are some concerns about Koulechov’s game that Florida fans should be aware of?
Coleman: As with any shooter, he wasn’t safe from off nights. If the shot isn’t falling, it isn’t falling. I’ll say he didn’t have many cold streaks but it’s always possible with a player like Egor. I would say moving up to the SEC and how he’ll adjust is a concern, but he’s played basketball everywhere and been in some high-pressure situations. Florida is getting a mature player.
How would you describe Koulechov’s personality on the court and in the locker room?
Coleman: Extremely easy to get along with from the interactions I’ve seen with his teammates. Never caused a problem. Neven been an issue anywhere. Easy-going and will fit instantly with Florida. He is extremely competitive and it makes sense. He’s played a lot of basketball all over the world. He wants to win badly and that was evident even at Rice.
Koulechov was born in Russia but grew up in Israel. How important to him is his heritage, and in what ways has he showcased it in the past?
Coleman: Very important. We didn’t speak too much about this aspect but again, his international credentials are well-known. He played for the Israeli national team with the U-18 and U-20 squads. He led the U-18 team with 19.8 points and 7.9 rebounds in the 2012 European Championship B Division. I know those accomplishments mean a great deal to him.
Share an interesting, but not incredibly well-known, story about Koulechov that Gators fans would find interesting.
Coleman: This isn’t fascinating but I just remember after one loss, you could just tell he was not in the mood to answer questions in the postgame presser. Understandably so and it wasn’t his fault. Tough night for the team overall. Every athlete has those moments. I realized it and kept my questions pretty quick but before he left he thanked me for doing that. I just respected that he still tried to answer questions after a tough loss and that he actually thanked me for keeping it quick. Florida is getting a stand-up player in Egor.
But what that moment also made me realize is that even at Rice, Egor never stopped believing this team could beat anybody at any time. Rice lost at Texas Tech by one and at Pittsburgh by 10 last year, but won 23 games (second most ever for Rice). He went hard for this team and showed it every night. I think he’ll do great at Florida.
You can follow Adam Coleman on Twitter @RiceChron.
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