Florida coach Todd Golden gestures during the first half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Kentucky on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Youngblood)

Todd Golden Talks 2023 Season and Team’s Future

Florida Gators men’s basketball head coach Todd Golden spoke with media Thursday, just over a year since his hire at UF March 18, 2022. In his first season as head coach, Golden and the Gators posted a 16-16 regular season record and went 9-9 in conference. The Gators missed the NCAA Tournament and lost to UCF in the first round of the NIT. Golden spoke about his first season at the helm of the squad, the future of the program and the recruiting measures the team will take during the offseason.

First season

Golden, who previously coached at San Francisco in the West Coast Conference, had a season filled with ups and downs. For starts, the Gators played a very challenging schedule. Florida played 7 of the Sweet 16 teams in the regular season (and scrimmaged Miami), and the SEC is one of the toughest conferences in the league. The Gators fell to Xavier, FAU, West Virginia and UCONN early in the season, which Golden said rattled the squad.

However, there were some shining moments last season. Center Colin Castleton was named to the First Team All SEC and Defensive Team All SEC, and guard Riley Kugel was named to the Freshman All Team SEC. Also, Florida beat Tennessee (No. 2 at the time) in February. Still, the Gators struggled to stay consistent, lost a lot of close SEC games and Castleton had his season cut short due to a broken hand suffered against Ole Miss Feb. 15.

Despite a .500 record, Golden said he was proud of his team and what they accomplished. The SEC clearly had stacked competition, as they lead all conferences with eight teams in the NCAA Tournament (Miss. State played in the First Four). Florida’s program transition combined with constant competition was not easy to multitask, but Golden is content with his first year in charge.

Transfers and Recruiting

Florida is entering a total team rebuild this season. A total of eight players are set to depart from the squad. Castleton, Myreon Jones and Kyle Lofton finished their final year of eligibility, while five active players have entered the transfer portal since the end of the season. Guards Trey Bonham, Kowacie Reeves and Niels Lane, are in the portal alongside Forward C.J. Felder and Center Jason Jitoboh.

Golden said he was not caught off guard by the defectors and doesn’t suspect anyone else will enter the portal.

As players hit the portal to leave, coaches search the portal for their roster. Golden and his staff gained multiple players from the portal last season (Trey Bonham, Alex Fudge, Will Richard, Kyle Lofton), and will look to do even more of that this offseason. The head coach said they will be searching for bigger, more physical players as Castleton and Jitoboh depart, as well as guards to run the frontcourt offense through and look toward for more scoring.

Also, Florida will try and get international players this offseason. The Gators picked up Aleks Szymczyk, a 6’10 240 lb. freshman from Frankfurt, Germany, last season. He appeared in the final seven games of the season following Castleton’s hand injury. Szymczyk will likely get more reps next season and expect more international players to be in a Gator uniform soon.

Todd Golden Looking Forward

While Florida has a lot of moving pieces to deal with this offseason, the team still has some components to lean on. Kugel had an outstanding freshman year, 17.3 points in his final 10 games of the season. There is still some nervousness that Kugel may hit the transfer portal, but as Golden said earlier, he doesn’t suspect anymore departures. The Gators will also rely on guard Will Richard, who was the second-highest scorer (10.5) and rebounder (4.5) on the team behind Castleton, to be a key contributor to the squad next season. Kugel and Richard could become a solid frontcourt duo that may help pull players from the portal to the squad.

Golden said that Richard needs to become a leader on the team, especially after putting up such a solid season performance.

The Gators roster is still up in the air, but if they are able to retain and develop players such as Kugel, Richard, Fudge and even Szymczyk, Florida will at least have a backbone of returning players. A tough schedule, injuries and the overturn of players and staff was a lot for first-year head coach Golden to handle. Hopefully, his squad is able to move forward and make strides in recruiting this offseason.

About Alex Winn

Sports Journalism student at the University of Florida.

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