Florida coach Mike White said he didn’t know what to expect when John Egbunu called him on May 19, five days before the deadline for underclassmen to keep their names in the NBA draft.
“Very much 50-50,” White said at the SEC spring meetings in Destin. “I thought it would go down to the wire with him already having the degree in hand. He didn’t just have the one option – he had several options.”
So White was thrilled when 6-foot-11, 255-pound Egbunu told him he was coming back for his senior season.
“It obviously adds a lot more firepower to our already pretty experienced frontcourt,” White said. “John calling and saying he was excited about being a Gator for another year was as big a recruiting call as I’ve gotten.”
Egbunu averaged 7.8 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds as a redshirt junior last season before his season came to an end on Feb. 14 after suffering a torn ACL against Auburn. Offensively, it was a struggle for Egbunu for much of last season, but he had posted his first double-double of the season (11 points, 10 rebounds against Texas A&M on Feb. 11) just before the injury. His physical presence and defensive ability was missed despite Florida’s run to the Elite Eight last season, and the added bulk inside he provides will be essential to compete in an improved SEC next season.
Of course, the first goal for Egbunu is to rehab from major offseason knee surgery. Florida trainer Dave “Duke” Werner and strength coach Preston Greene will play a vital role in Egbunu’s recovery. The timetable is for Egbunu to return by mid-January.
“I don’t think Duke’s going to release him until he’s 100 percent,” White said. “If it was a rush job, NBA Finals, Game 7, maybe he plays earlier, I don’t know. He’s made that comment to me that he thinks he’ll be 100 percent by January, and that’s when he’ll play. Now that he’s back, Duke and I haven’t met since John made his decision. We’ll look at it a little bit closer as that time approaches. But the plan will be to slowly work him in, depending on what the rotation is at that time, whether or now we even have a rotation at that time. We’ll throw him out there and evaluate him physically a little bit closer than the other guys.”
— White said redshirt freshman forward Dontay Bassett has been cleared for non-contact drills. “We haven’t done any contact this summer because guys have really been beat up in the weight room,” White said. “We’re trying to take advantage of the weight room, especially with our front-court guys right now. Probably three to four weeks from now, maybe five to six weeks from now, the last two or three weeks of Summer B, we’re going to do some contact, full-court stuff, and that will be his first time doing it in 10 or 11 months.”
— White said that guard KeVaughn Allen has had an excellent spring from a strength and conditioning standpoint. “He always had this threshold that he can’t get through,” White said. “We’ve all been on him, led by Preston of course. KeVaughn just blew right through it this spring and would go out and get extra shots, and then would want one of the managers to work him out and then ask Preston to work him out. He’s had a big-time spring, hopefully that will carry over.” White said Allen could see time backing up Chris Chiozza at point guard next season if incoming freshman Michael Okauru doesn’t develop as quickly as expected.
— With Justin Leon’s departure, White said the power forward position is “wide open” and mentioned Keith Stone, incoming graduate transfer Egor Koulechov and even sliding Kevarrius Hayes down from the center to power forward spot (with Gorjok Gak and then Egbunu playing center). Koulechov is only 6-5, but at 210 pounds played power forward at Rice and averaged 8.9 rebounds last season. “In our league he’s probably better off guarding the 3s (small forwards),” White said. “But that remains to be seen, too. I’ve never even put him through a drill, so maybe he plays a little bit bigger and stronger than I even envision right now.”
— White, on Chiozza’s big shot against Wisconsin and taking over for Kasey Hill at the point next season: “We don’t want Chris to fall into a trap. He made a huge shot and he had a great probably last six weeks to the season. He played as well as most point guards in college basketball in that stretch, but the instant fame that comes with all that can’t change who he is. We’ve had these conversations and we’ll continue to have them. He can’t forget how hard he worked and the mentality he had that put him in that position to play as well as he did late in the season.”
— With grad transfer Canyon Barry benefiting Florida as the SEC’s sixth man of the year last season, White said he’s all for the rule on immediate eligibility for graduate transfers to remain the same. “I’d like to give a guy the benefit of the doubt,” White said. “If he’s already graduated, he’s already done his deal. He went to school and got his degree, he’s got another year. I don’t see anything wrong with it.”