Feb 4, 2017; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators head coach Mike White smiles as he does the gator chomp after they beat the Kentucky Wildcats at Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. Florida Gators defeated the Kentucky Wildcats 88-66. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Mike White Reviews Gator Men’s Basketball Season

After all of the magic that was Chris Chiozza’s miracle game-winning floater in the Sweet 16, Florida’s destruction of Virginia in the Round of 32 and Mike White’s emergence as a Coach of the Year candidate, the Gator season has officially come to a close as White held a post-season press conference to assess his team’s season on Tuesday afternoon.

White will spend the coming weeks with his family at the beach and on the recruiting trail scouting new prospects for a program re-emerging as a national power. Florida, after their fifth Elite 8 appearance in seven years, is once again on the come up after two straight disappointing seasons. The Gators’ 2017 recruiting class is ranked 10th in the nation by ESPN and the team as a whole is only losing four seniors next season. Below, you can find a recap of each player’s performance this season, accompanied by a grade, a preview of Florida’s potential starting line-ups for next season and some recruiting bits about each player coming in next year.

Final Gator Bites from Mike White (April 4, 2017)

Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Kasey Hill (B)

To many Gator fans, as was the case with Patric Young and others, it seemed as if Kasey Hill was just going to be at the University of Florida forever. Kasey Hill was the only player on this year’s roster who had also competed for the 2013-2014 team who made it all the way to the Final Four. Hill was the senior leader of this group both on the court as a floor general and off of it as a mentor to UF’s younger players. He led the team in steals and assists per game, while averaging nearly 10 points per contest.

The knock with Hill, over his four-year career, was that he could never get his shot consistently going. He never hit more than 29.7% of his three-pointers or 40.7% of his total shots in a given season. Despite that, Hill set many records and will be remembered in Florida Gator folklore for some time. Hill will finish 47th on the all-time scoring list, second in assists, fourth in steals, sixth in steals in a single season, ninth in assists in a single season and 10th all-time in total games played for the Gators.

Kasey Hill was also named Second Team All-SEC and to the SEC All-Defensive team this season.

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

KeVaughn Allen (A)

The sophomore from Little Rock, Arkansas took the steps needed to be the team’s most efficient scorer this season. Allen led the team in scoring, free-throw percentage (along with Canyon Barry) and came in second in three-point percentage among players with 21 games played or more. Allen scored at least 13 points 22 times this season and led the team in 20+ point games with eight on the year.

Besides Kasey Hill, Allen played the most minutes per game on the team and was instrumental in helping the Gators become the fastest backcourt in college basketball. KeVaughn Allen will be a for sure starter next season. He finished the year strong, being named to the NCAA Tournament All-East Regional Team, First Team All-SEC, the USBWA and NABC All-District Team and AdvoCare Invitational All-Tournament Team.

In the record books, Allen is now tied for the highest career free-throw percentage in school history and finished this year with the sixth highest free-throw percentage in a season in Florida program history.

Justin Leon (A+)

Many of you might ask why Justin Leon has a higher grade than KeVaughn Allen. The grades given are partially based off of what the expectation was of a player coming into the season and if they had out/underperformed those guidelines. Justin Leon was the hardest working player on the Florida Gators this season and improved his three-point and free-throw shooting exponentially. Leon shot 39.8% from three-point range this season, which ranked ninth in the SEC.

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

He averaged 13 points per game in Florida’s final three games of the NCAA Tournament and was instrumental in the team’s thrashing of Virginia. Leon went from being a JuCo transfer to a starter on an Elite 8 team in the SEC. When you talk about glue guys, Justin Leon is the ultimate glue and locker room guy.

Devin Robinson (B+)

While the player known as DRob finished third on the team in scoring and shot 40% from three-point range in the NCAA Tournament, he still has a ways to go until he reaches his peak. Robinson is a lottery-level talent, and barring an early jump to the NBA, will likely be taken in that range in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Robinson, as Mike White has mentioned several times, improved his play so much through commitment to defense and rebounding. It was easy to notice this season how well DRob crashed the offensive glass and hunkered down on defense. After a tough transition year with White in the 2015-2016 season, the relationship between the two flourished this season.

If Robinson decides to return to the Gators, it will be massive for the program in terms of depth for the following season and recruiting purposes. A pitch to recruits that includes a lottery-level talent staying four years at a major program speaks volumes both about the current state of Florida basketball and Mike White.

Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

John Egbunu (B-)

John Egbunu was set for a great second season with the Florida Gators until he tore his ACL. Before the injury, Egbunu was the team’s best shot deterrer at the rim and stopped teams from feasting in the post. After his injury, the team’s paint-presence suffered, with a lot of the slack falling on Kevarrius Hayes and the less-experienced Gorjok Gak.

Had Egbunu stayed healthy, his grade may have been higher and his team may have gone further. Still, it will be interesting to see if Egbunu will return or seek other options at the next level.

Kevarrius Hayes (B-)

Kevarrius Hayes stepped up big time after John Egbunu’s loss, but it’s hard to give him a grade better than a B-. The offensive game and paint presence must get better to become a bonafide starter night in and night out. Next season, the Gators will either be without Egbunu entirely or without the center until around the start of the SEC season. Hayes ended the season as the team’s leading shot-blocker, but only third in rebounds per game.

Next year, Hayes must prove himself in the box score as a bigger contributor in both scoring and rebounding, and as a leader of the team. He is well-respected in the locker room and extremely well liked as a teammate.

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Chiozza (A+)

After a rough start to the season in which Chris Chiozza scored in double-digits just twice in the team’s first 21 games, a meeting with Mike White changed Cheese’s attitude and playing style. Chiozza scored at least 11 points in nine of the team’s final 15 games and ended the season second in both steals and assists per game behind Kasey Hill. He also finished tied for fourth in the SEC in three-point percentage by season’s end.

Chiozza this season recorded only the fourth triple-double in UF history against Missouri and will forever be remembered for his game-winning three-point floater over Wisconsin at Madison Square Garden in the waning seconds of the Sweet 16 in New York City. He recorded at least one steal in 16 of the team’s final 20 games and was named to the NCAA Tournament All-East Regional Team and SEC Community-Service team. Chiozza will be the starting point guard for Florida next season, taking over for the graduating Kasey Hill.

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Canyon Barry (B+)

Canyon Barry will be remembered more for his chase down, LeBron-like block in the closing seconds of the Sweet 16 against Wisconsin than for his under-hand free throw shooting style. He only played one season for the Gators but was an instrumental component off of the bench with his offense and rebounding.

Barry ended the season second in scoring and tied for first in free-throw percentage. The most impressive stat from Canyon this season is the fact that he scored at least 12 points off of the bench in 20 games this season. Barry was named the SEC Sixth Man of the Year and deserved it wholeheartedly. Canyon Barry will be successful wherever he goes, whether it be the NBA, Europe or as a nuclear engineer.

Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Keith Stone (C)

Keith Stone showed, in flashes, that he could be an instrumental part of the team in coming years. Stone only averaged 12.1 minutes per game, but missed two games with an ear infection that led to vertigo, which would affect him the rest of the season. Stone scored at least 10 points in four games this season and had his breakout performance against Georgia in January when he went off for 17 points on 5 of-6 shooting from the field.

Despite the successes listed above, Stone did have some bad stretches. Stone could very well propel himself into the starting lineup, but is still a work in progress. This season, he once went seven games without a point, shooting 0 for-16 during the stretch.

Stone could work more on his inside game and rebounding than constantly floating out to the corners for three-pointers. He could very well be a starter next season, especially if Devin Robinson ends up leaving, but needs to continue to prove it this off-season.

Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Gorjok Gak (C)

Gorjok Gak played only 16 more minutes in the entire regular season than he did in four games in the NCAA Tournament. After Schuyler Rimmer had his minutes reduced, Gak stepped up as the team’s backup center behind Kevarrius Hayes in the Big Dance. Gak has a long way to go until he becomes a key part of this team, but showed great raw talent in the post-season. He should serve as a solid back-up center next season. The Gators should be able to expect 10-13 minutes per game from Gak in the 2017-2018 season.

Eric Hester (B)

Eric Hester is a solid shooter and will need to put some weight on next season to solidify consistent playing time in what will be a guard-heavy roster next year. Gator fans will remember the freshman for his 16 point, 5 of 5 shooting from downtown performance against LSU. That game is when many Florida fans figured out who#2 on the end of the bench was.

With Chris Chiozza, KeVaughn Allen, Jalen Hudson, Michael Okauru and DeAundrae Ballard all fighting for playing time next season, Hester will have to make a name for himself this off-season.

Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Schuyler Rimmer (D+)

Schuyler Rimmer just never panned out for the Florida Gators. The transfer from Stanford never averaged more than 6.5 minutes per game with UF and failed to score more than four points in a game this season. Rimmer didn’t play in the final two rounds of the NCAA Tournament after essentially being replaced by Gorjok Gak. He was certainly an important practice, locker room and culture guy, but could never make a real impact for the Gators on the court.

Jalen Hudson (N/A)

Hudson had to sit out via transfer rules but he could be a big time scorer for the team next season.  Hudson scored at least 11 points in 12 games with Virginia Tech during the 2015-2016 season, notching three 20+ point games as well. He averaged 8.4 points in 20 minutes per game played in his last season at Virginia Tech, but shot 40.1% from the field and 34.6% from beyond the arc. Where Hudson needs to improve his game at Florida is in his defense and he also just a career 65.9% free-throw shooter.

Projecting The Starting Lineup

Without knowing whether or not Devin Robinson or John Egbunu will return, it is hard to give a single starting lineup to project for next season. John Egbunu won’t appear as a starter in any of the lineups because of his injury, which will render him unplayable until at least December.

1. Chris Chiozza, KeVaughn Allen, Jalen Hudson, Devin Robinson, Kevarrius Hayes

If Devin Robinson decides to return, Florida could go with a three-guard lineup and maximize their speed as a backcourt. Chiozza, Allen and Hudson can all distribute and score from both inside and beyond the arc. Devin Robinson will play the four, but won’t be limited to the paint. As we’ve seen, Robinson’s three-pointer improved as the season went on and he’s always had the ability to shoot the mid-range jumper. Hayes is the starting center simply because there isn’t another option until Egbunu comes back from injury.

2. Chris Chiozza, KeVaughn Allen, Devin Robinson, Keith Stone, Kevarrius Hayes

If White decides that Jalen Hudson should come off the bench, despite being a prolific scorer, as Canyon Barry did this season, this could be the starting group.  In this lineup, Devin Robinson has free-range as a three, while Keith Stone will have a bigger role inside pulling down rebounds and scoring second-chance buckets.

3. Chris Chiozza, KeVaughn Allen, Jalen Hudson, Keith Stone, Kevarrius Hayes

This is the same lineup as the first lineup, but substitutes Keith Stone for Devin Robinson if he doesn’t return for his senior season. Keith Stone, unlike Devin Robinson in this lineup, would be more confined to the paint.

4. Chris Chiozza, KeVaughn Allen, DeAundrae Ballard, Keith Stone, Kevarrius Hayes

This is the least likely of the lineups, but one that would be quite interesting. DeAundrae Ballard is a freshman, but at 6’6″ and 170 pounds could be the perfect swingman for this team if Devin Robinson leaves. Ballard can score from anywhere on the floor and would be intriguing as a diaper-dandy starter. This lineup is unlikely, but would be fun to watch for Gator fans.

Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Recruiting Round Up

The four players making up Florida’s Class of 2017 are forward Isaiah Stokes, guard/forward DeAundrae Ballard, forward Chase Johnson & guard Michael Okauru in descending order from highest to lowest ranked. This class is currently ranked 10th in the nation, per ESPN, and features all four-star prospects. Stokes (59th), Ballard (64th) and Johnson (98th) are all listed in the 2017 ESPN 100, while Michael Okauru barely missed the cut.

Isaiah Stokes is the prized possession of this recruiting class and is the younger brother of former Tennessee stud Jarnell Stokes. Stokes is a 6’8″ 273 pound beast of a forward. Stokes has the ability to make one move and score in the paint on even the most talented of low-post defenders. He has a real knack for scoring on second-chance points and always seems to be in the right position for offensive rebounds. Stokes can also sink the mid-range jumper from the elbow extended with ease. A player comparison for Isaiah Stokes could be Paul Millsap.

DeAundrae Ballard is a 6’6″ 173-pound swingman who is an all-around efficient scorer that can get it done from three-point range, mid-range and around the rim. He’ll help the Gators at the three position, a spot Florida could be quite weak at if Devin Robinson departs for the NBA. Ballard has shown he has a high-motor and near unlimited energy at the high school level. Player comparisons for DeAundrae Ballard are Josh Richardson and Will Barton.

Chase Johnson is the third-highest ranked member of the 2017 class and is a 6’8″ 210 pound power forward from West Virginia. Johnson barely made the ESPN 100, coming in at 98th, but is not a name to forget. Florida fans will like Johnson for his grit, quick-feet and versatility. Johnson flies around the boards and is a talented offensive rebounder, something this 2017 class will be remembered for as a whole. Johnson will play the four for Florida, but might not see too much playing time until his sophomore year. Could he be a Chandler Parsons type player because of his breakout capability?

Michael Okauru is one of the quickest guards in the nation at the high school level and loves to play aggressive defense beyond the arc to force steals and transition opportunities. Okauru is an above-average shooter, but makes his money attacking the rim and scoring off of fast breaks. He’s listed at 6’4″ and has enough speed and size to be a contributing two-guard in his first season with the Gators. Perhaps he reminds people of Victor Oladipo at the next level.

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