Florida’s rebuild would get tougher without Jalen Hudson
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida coach Mike White has a rebuilding project ahead, and he’s not quite sure how significant an undertaking it will be.
White is waiting to see what happens with leading scorer Jalen Hudson, who declared for the NBA draft late last month but left open the possibility of returning to school for his senior season.
Hudson has until June 11 — 10 days before the draft — to make a decision on his future. In the meantime, he is working out with teammates in Gainesville.
“He hasn’t officially left,” White said Wednesday. “He’s here and going through the process. ... If it’s in his best interest, in his family’s best interest and he’s got a great opportunity, then I’m for him.
“We want guys who really, really want to be here. We also want guys to have opportunities to pursue their dreams and play at the highest level.”
If Hudson does end up turning pro, the Gators would be left with their biggest void since 2014. That’s the year starters Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin, Patrick Young and Will Yugette graduated after leading Florida to the Final Four.
Hudson’s departure would leave Florida (21-13) without its top three scorers. Senior guards Chris Chiozza and Egor Koulechov ended their college careers with a loss to Texas Tech in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Chiozza and Koulechov were the most consistent players on a team that finished third in the Southeastern Conference despite lacking chemistry and communication.
“We’re a team that looked like a top-10 team at times and then we were a team that looked like an NIT team at times,” White said. “Really, the two guys we could count on for consistency are leaving us. That’s the biggest question mark going into next season and it’ll be something we continue to talk about as much as anything during this offseason. (It) will be an issue we hope to address and find some solutions this fall when we start practice.”
The answers could be in what’s considered the best signing class of White’s coaching career.
Point guard and highly touted ballhandler Andrew Nembhard leads a group that includes wing player Keyontae Johnson and shooting guard Noah Locke.
“I just wish all three of them were juniors immediately,” White said. “I think they are all competitive, high-character guys, a little bit more outgoing, possess leadership skills and they come from really good programs as well. Not that they are ready to start, (but) ... I think all three of them will have a chance to make an impact. But I don’t want to get way too ahead of myself because they are freshmen.”
Here are some other things to know about the Gators heading into the offseason:
MORE HELP COMING: Forwards Isaiah Stokes and Chase Johnson sat out last season with injuries and should be ready to go this summer, essentially giving White two more newcomers.
Stokes, the younger brother of former Tennessee standout Jarnell Stokes, has lost 30 pounds since arriving on campus and has fully recovered from knee surgery.
“He looks like a different guy,” White said. “He’s working hard and feels better about himself. It’s starting to come a little bit faster, too. I guess that’s how it works.”
Johnson played in four games before suffering a second concussion in practice and was shut down for the season. He has been cleared for noncontact practice.
“He’s 100 percent right now,” White said. “We just don’t want to risk anything. He went so long without playing (that) we don’t want a ton of contact there to risk another injury. But yeah, he looks great.”
GAK SURGERY: Center Gorjok Gak had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee last week after playing with pain and swelling all season. He will need four to six months to recover. He averaged 2.2 points and 2.4 rebounds in 29 games while averaging 8.9 minutes.
GRAD TRANSFER? If Hudson leaves, the Gators would have one scholarship available for next season. White landed Koulechov last year and Canyon Barry the year before, so he has a strong track record with graduate transfers.
“That’s definitely a possibility,” White said. “It’s hard for us right now, though, to really take that step and pursue guys wholeheartedly. We’re in a tough spot. We can’t pull the trigger on anybody. Our top recruit is Jalen, in that sense. We’re not about to tell Jalen, ‘Hey, why don’t you just go ahead and we’ll replace you.’ If he wants to come back, he’s going to be welcome, of course.”