Like many a college basketball team last season, the Gators were overhauled over the course of the offseason, though largely not by their own choice. They lost player after player to the transfer portal, the draft, and even an overseas contract. However, head coach Mike White and his staff did an admirable job plundering the transfer portal for new additions of their own. There’s an argument to be made that the team came out the other side looking better than when the offseason began.
This roster is a bit glutted with guards, but it’s a more balanced team than meets the eye. White’s preferred offensive system utilizes three guards. Thus, the team needs to have two varieties of guard, the smaller playmaker and the larger enforcer or shooting specialist. Additionally, both of the team’s non-scholarship players are listed at guard and will make little to no impact on the season.
As a team made up of transfers who were looking for a fresh start or holdovers looking to put the Oral Roberts upset in the NCAA tournament behind them, the Gators get a new slate.
Entering the year ranked in the top 25 of Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, and it’s easy to see how that could break either too high or too low as the season wears on. If this team, made up of guys who have very little experience playing together, meshes well, they will be a powerhouse in the SEC. If they don’t, this could get ugly. They have the opportunity to define their own identity and their own destiny.
Here’s a look at the players who will be suiting up for the Florida Gators men’s basketball team in 2021.
Tyree Appleby will be the starting point guard for the Gators during the 2021 season, a title he has thoroughly earned. Initially the backup to Tre Mann last year, he forced his way into the starting lineup and White found ways to maximize their on-court minutes together.
He’s a high-energy player who slices up clumsy big men in the paint and is able to launch 3-point shots at an average hit rate. Appleby’s defensively capable, and being in his fifth year, he has a few tricks up his sleeve. He will be one of the Gators’ most prominent players this season.
The first player Florida bagged this offseason, Brandon McKissic is a grad transfer who is taking his first stab at high-level competition as a collegiate athlete. He spent the first five seasons of his career with the UMKC Kangaroos, a Summit League team with little in the way of challenging competition. There, he was a big-time scorer while also winning a Defensive Player of the Year award.
McKissic’s best role on this team is probably as Appleby’s backup, but his vast experience may be too tempting to White to limit his role.
Myreon Jones was offensively potent in the Big Ten and became a force at the perimeter despite his unorthodox shooting form. Penn State forced him into the point guard role he was never meant to hold last year and he’ll be transitioned back to a secondary ball-handling role with the Gators.
Like much of this assembly of players, Jones is older and will be playing his fourth year of college basketball. He can return for a fifth season if he chooses, but will likely be eyeing a place in the draft if he plays well enough.
Elijah Kennedy was a late pickup for the Gators during the 2020-21 recruiting cycle as the Gators scrambled to piece together the back end of their roster, but the award-winning Virginian is not a throwaway on the scholarship list. His ranking nationally was punched down by a horrific knee injury he suffered that nearly punched him out of basketball entirely, but he’s healthy now and ready to make an impact.
He’s not likely to find the court much this season, but his ability to stretch the floor and make plays off-ball screens is a good building block for the future of the Gators as they compensate for inevitable departures after next year.
Kowacie Reeves is a freshman who will get a lot of chances to make a mark for the Gators this season. White likes to turn to his more experienced players, but Reeves’ talent is too much to ignore. He is a threat at the rim and around the perimeter and is a threat offensively right out of the chute.
While he also bringing skills defensively, Reeves will have to improve his physicality before he can make a big impact on that side of the ball. Nonetheless, he’s an exciting recruit who is primed for a real role in Gainesville.
Like McKissic, Phlandrous Fleming is a grad transfer with a whole treasure trove of experience when it comes to playing college basketball. He was the lone bright spot on a truly atrocious Charleston Southern team last season, and as such, they basically gave him the keys to the kingdom. His freelancing will need to go down for him to play well in Gainesville, but his contributions in three-point shooting and willingness to be an enforcer will be more than welcome on this roster.
It’s tough to see how his game will translate at a high level, but he must have been convinced that there will be playing time available here because 2021 will be his final season of NCAA eligibility.
One of the few non-scholarship players on this roster, Alex Klatsky was a two-star recruit and has barely seen the court during his time as a Gator. It was a little surprising to see him stick around instead of hunting a scholarship and starring role on a lower level team after Scottie Lewis — his best friend on the team and former roommate — left for the pros. Klatsky will almost certainly be stapled to the bench again this season, as the Gators are flush with guards.
Almost everything I just wrote about Klatsky could be applied to Jack May in this segment. The son of former White assistant Dusty May, Jack was a standout on his Florida high school team but an unranked recruit nationally and doesn’t hold a scholarship to play for the Gators. Nonetheless, he’s in his third year with the team and will ride the pine again. Hey, you gotta fill out the roster somehow, right?
Niels Lane was held to a minimal role during his freshman season, rumored to have been sidelined due to a lingering injury that he was never able to completely shake. This season should be different — he’s a defensive dynamo and had surprisingly good handles for his size, which is large for a guard.
There is some buzz around his sophomore season, though. As Eric Fawcett pointed out for Gator Country, there could be something to the fact that he played with the first team over Myreon Jones in an intro-squad scrimmage. He’s a major breakout candidate for this team.
Another transfer, CJ Felder was made available to the Gators by means of the Boston College diaspora that took place after their disaster of a season last year. Regarded by some as a potential NBA player, Felder is a nightmare to face in the interior and opposing players are hard-pressed to get any kind of easy scoring opportunity against him.
The swing skill will be his shooting, which is easier to teach than his intact defensive and rebounding instincts. Felder is locked and loaded for a starting role at power forward, but look for him to grab some small-ball center minutes as well.
Though Anthony Duruji was never meant to be a starter on last year’s squad, he was pressed into service and did as well as could be expected. Duruji is a high-effort, high athleticism player who tends to be his own worst enemy. Able to fly high and block shots or posterize an opposing big man when he gets his timing right, he’s just as often out of sync and winds up getting into foul trouble.
He also has too much faith in his own long gun, and White didn’t seem to care much about stopping him from taking those shots. He’ll be placed back into a secondary role for the team this year, where he’ll be more suited to carry out his responsibilities.
Length is the name of the game for Gatkek, a JUCO transfer who is listed with a 6-foot-9-inch body and reportedly sports a 7-foot-4-inch wingspan. Those measurables are impressive, but the Gators are taking a huge gamble, as they’re bringing him into the program on the merit of little else. He was a good performer for Trinity Valley CC, but JUCO numbers are hardly an indicator for success in the best basketball conference in the nation.
He’s rail thin and inexperienced, meaning he’ll have to add good muscle and learn how to use that reshaped body in a hurry if he has any shot at meaningful playing time this season, or perhaps even next.
It’s tough to know what to say about Keyontae Johnson at this point. He suffered a terrifying cardiac incident that was later attributed to non-COVID related myocarditis. After that initial diagnosis, the Johnson family has been quite private about his status. It’s totally within their rights to do so, and we hope they are able to find the peace they need to get through this difficult time.
However, beyond the fact that he hasn’t yet been cleared for basketball activity, we know little else. There’s a decent chance he’ll never play again. His presence on the roster isn’t a burden, though, as most teams really only use 10-man rotations anyway, and his presence as “Coach Key” is a massive morale booster to the players in this program.
It wouldn’t be going out on a limb to say that Colin Castleton is the best player on the Gators’ roster right now. He had a triumphant 2020 season that saw him emerge as a top shot-blocker in the conference and establish himself as a hub of the Florida offense. The limiting factors in his game are a lack of physicality or a three-point shot.
Supposedly, his shooting has improved immensely after he was turned down by the league in last year’s draft process. If that’s so, he’ll be one of the best players in the SEC this year and likely wind up a professional in 2022. Even if he’s basically a finished product, he could probably find a place in the G League or an overseas league if he wanted.
Jason Jitoboh is one of the less-known players with a scholarship on the Gators’ roster, but he’s been raising eyebrows behind the scenes during the Gators’ fall camp and is slated to be the backup center this year. He’s a big man’s big man, with plenty of weight to throw around and the ability to set punishing screens.
If he’s truly cut down on some of the bad weight and improved his lateral agility, the Gators will be in for a treat after the abysmal play of Omar Payne as the backup last year.