SEC Basketball Notebook: Injury issues linger but Gators have nice parts

Justin Rowland, Publisher
Cats Illustrated

Kentucky is always the center of conversation when the topic is SEC basketball.

This year there's Missouri and Cuonzo Martin's stacked team, too. Not to mention South Carolina, a media darling program ever since the Gamecocks' improbable Final Four run.

It's almost easy to forget about the Florida Gators. But don't. Mike White's team is fresh off an Elite Eight run and they've got plenty of reason for optimism heading into the 2017-18 season.



White's in a stronger spot

Jeremy Foley did quite a job in Gainesville. The former Florida athletics director oversaw championships in basketball and football. The baseball program is competing for a national championship in an all-SEC finals of the College World Series. And now the Gator basketball program seems primed for sustained success in the post-Billy Donovan era, with Mike White fresh off a season of validation, so to speak.

"I think there is a culture that's been created here by Jeremy Foley and his staff for a long time, and now it's obviously been taken over by Scott Stricklin and his current administrative staff," White said.

White's got more personal popularity and clout within the Florida community and athletics department than ever before. Fresh off that Elite Eight finish, UF rewarded White with a one-year contract extension (through 2022-23) and an $800,000 raise.

What does that kind of raise and extension mean for White?

"It means that I can continue sending my kids to the school that I'm sending them to," he joked.

But seriously.

"Overall it's what you're looking for," he said. "Or one of the things you're looking for if you're at a place you really like. You want to be wanted. You want to have some stability and you want to have continuity. For myself, personally speaking, my wife and kids are very, very comfortable where we are and we're happy. So we're happy that they're happy with us."

Injury updates

When John Egbunu went down last year it was widely perceived to be a brutal blow for a Florida basketball team that was playing, arguably, better than any team in the Southeastern Conference before his injury.

The ACL injury to Egbunu didn't stop the Gators from making a deep NCAA tournament run, although it's possible Florida could have gone even deeper and contended for a championship had their big man not gone down.

Incoming freshman Isaiah Stokes has also been working to return from his own ACL injury. He's also a big man.

"They're right on track," White said of the pair on the SEC's summer teleconference Monday. "Not a lot of news there really. They're doing what they're supposed to do. They've been consistent with their treatments. Dave Werner (Florida's men's basketball athletics trainer) is optimistic about the track that they're on."

White said the plan is to be patient with both players, but Stokes is tentatively expected to return to full form in December, while Egbunu could be ready a month after that. So they could rejoin the team midseason depending on the rest of their rehab and their conditioning.

"I think we're looking at very ballpark figures," White was careful to say.

Newcomer help coming

While guards like KeVaughn Allen and Chris Chiozza are likely to dominate the headlines when it comes to Florida basketball, there are some newcomers that folks in Gainesville are getting excited about.

The 2017 signing class wasn't one of the Gators' more heralded groups in recent memory, but the four person group (three if you remove Stokes from the equation, temporarily), has some potential with guard Michael Okauru and forwards Chase Johnson and DeAundre Ballard.

But the big name is a graduate transfer from Rice, Egor Koulechov, a first team all-conference pick originally from Russia, who averaged 18.2 points and 8.9 rebounds per game last year.

"I think (all of the newcomers) are going to have opportunity," White said. "I tell our guys all the time, 'You guys decide playing time. I don't.' Of course, you've got to probably start with Egor because of the fact that he's older and he came here as a graduate transfer as a guy we thought can make an immediate impact and obviously he thought the same thing. He's got a bunch of experience. It would probably start with him and (junior swing man) Jalen Hudson, who's got high-level Division I experience in the ACC. And with our four freshmen it will all depend on how quickly we can adjust."

Hudson transferred to Florida from Virginia Tech following the 2015-16 season. He sat out last year and is finally eligible to play in '17-18. Hudson averaged 8.4 points for the Hokies as a sophomore.

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