Florida Gators

Golden Future

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

With the 2023-24 basketball season in the rear view, Florida coach Todd Golden and his assistants will now turn their attention to the transfer portal and adding more pieces to the roster for next year.

The Gators must replace graduate transfers Zyon Pullin and Tyrese Samuel and will have at least one more scholarship opening to fill. Here’s a look at UF’s returning roster and recruiting needs for 2024-25.

Priority No. 1 for Golden is recruiting Walter Clayton Jr. back to Florida for his senior year. He was the team’s top playmaker this season, hitting several clutch 3-pointers and leading the Gators in scoring at 17.6 points per game, ranked No. 5 in the SEC.

Clayton also had the fifth-best single-season scoring total (633 points) in Gator history. His return for 2024-25 would help maintain Florida’s high-powered offense and give Coach Golden a dynamic shooter to attract a top point guard in the portal.

Clayton plans to make a decision on his future after taking some time to weigh his options on declaring early for the 2024 NBA Draft or returning to UF.

Will Richard returns at the 3-spot as a senior, which will be his third year in the starting lineup for Florida. He averaged 11.4 points in 2023-24  up from 10.4 a year ago  and had a few standout performances, including a pair of 23-point games in home wins over Alabama and Mississippi State.

Florida’s backcourt could also bring back Denzel Aberdeen and Riley Kugel for their junior years and Kajus Kublickas as a sophomore. Kugel has decided to transfer, no surprise especially after Kugel was relegated from a starting job to a backup position.

The Gators lose one of their two starters in Samuel, but sophomore center Micah Handlogten has a long rehab process ahead of him. He will spend the offseason recovering from a fractured lower left leg in the SEC Tournament final.

Golden didn’t have a timetable on Handlogten’s return after his injury.

The 7-foot-1 Handlogten was one of the best rebounders in the country this season, ranking in the top five nationally for offensive rebounding percentage (17.8%). He had four double-doubles, including a 23-point, 17-rebound performance vs. Georgia, and averaged 3.5 points and 6.9 rebounds.

Florida’s frontcourt returns Alex Condon and Thomas Haugh. They outperformed their recruiting rankings (although On3 did rate Condon as a four-star and the nation’s No. 124 overall prospect).

Condon, an SEC-All Freshman selection, led the league’s freshmen in rebounding (6.4) and blocked shots (45). He also averaged twice as many points (7.7) as Handlogten and more minutes played (20.3). Haugh averaged 3.9 points, 3.7 rebounds and 14.7 minutes.

.The Gators lose at least three scholarship players in seniors Pullin, Samuel and Julian Rishwain. One of those scholarships goes to 2024 signee Isaiah Brown, a four-star shooting guard.

Golden and the coaching staff will look to fill the other two roster openings with a point guard and big man from the portal. Finding a replacement for Pullin will be another top priority.

Given the uncertainty of Handlogten’s status and when he’ll be available, it’s also important for UF to land an impact power forward to join the frontcourt of Condon, Haugh and Szymczyk.

After Pullin posted one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in the nation and Samuel led the SEC in field goal percentage, Florida will be able to sell point production on the transfer market.

The Gators also need to improve defensively, so it will be key for Golden and his staff to add some transfers who are strong defenders and can make a difference on that end of the court.

Coach Golden has built a culture that players like and a style of basketball fans enjoy watching. He has the Gators on the right path to be top program in the SEC and the country.

Gator Basketball fans: the future is Golden.

Golden Era To Begin

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

One day after San Francisco’s season ended against Murray State, news broke that Florida was close to hiring Dons coach Todd Golden as head coach.

Golden worked at Auburn under Bruce Pearl for two years, and Pearl weighed in on Florida’s decision to hire him.

Pearl had nothing but good things to say about Golden returning to the SEC. He didn’t initially comment on Friday because it wasn’t official, but the Gators made the announcement later that day. Pearl could share his full thoughts on his former assistant’s big move.

“That’s an absolutely grand slam hire by Florida,” Pearl said. “Todd Golden is in that next generation of brilliant young coaches. I’m so happy for Todd and his family.”

Golden worked under Pearl at Auburn from 2014-16 before heading to San Francisco, first as an assistant from 2017-19 before moving up to the big chair in 2019.

With the Dons, Golden totaled a 57-36 overall record, including a 23-22 mark in West Coast Conference play, and took them to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998 this season.

Murray State defeated San Francisco 92-87 in overtime in the Round of 64. The next day, Florida announced Golden would replace Mike White, who became the new head coach at Georgia.

Golden brings multiple years of SEC experience from 2014 through 2016 under Bruce Pearl. He worked at Columbia as an assistant before then from 2012-2014, then became an assistant at San Francisco from 2017-2019 under current Washington State coach Kyle Smith. Golden moved up to head coach in 2019 after that move.

He led San Francisco to the NCAA Tournament this season with an at-large bid and reports suggest he opened negotiations with Florida early in the week and things moved quickly after his team’s elimination.

After Golden was officially announced as the new basketball coach at Florida, he released a statement on social media.

“I’m energized by the opportunity to lead an elite program at Florida, and I’m ready to get started,” said Golden. “Florida has a championship-level athletic department, university and men’s basketball program, and I embrace the standard of excellence at Florida and the passion of Gator Nation. We couldn’t be more excited about what the future holds in Gainesville.”

In hiring Golden, Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin has acquired yet another coach from the lower levels to lead a high-profile program. In December, Stricklin hired away Louisiana’s Billy Napier to lead its football program.

Sources in recent weeks told CBS Sports that Stricklin wasn’t concerned with bringing in a big name from a power conference; he was focused on hiring the best fit and in fact, Strickland wanted to hire young.

Golden played collegiately at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif., where he helped the Gaels to two NCAA Tournament appearances.

As a senior point guard, he ranked second in the nation with a 3.68 assists-to-turnovers ratio and led the West Coast Conference with a .574 3-point field goal percentage.

He was also lone captain of Saint Mary’s 2007-08 team. Golden finished his career as the Gaels’ all-time leader in free-throw percentage (.852) and eighth in assists with 269.

Golden also acknowledged that college basketball has drastically changed in recent years, saying he can’t wait to get started recruiting in the transfer portal.

Can Golden get the Gators back to the NCAA Tournament in 2023? We’ll see what his first roster in Gainesville looks like this coming season.

Disney Or Six Flags?

By: JJ Lanier

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Since John Calipari arrived in Lexington almost twelve years ago, Kentucky has dominated the SEC.

Over that period of time, in conference play, the Wildcats have won six regular season and conference tournament titles, while finishing in either first or second place in every season but one.

Kentucky has essentially been operating at the level of Disney and the rest of the SEC has been Six Flags.

Still, even when you’ve been as dominant as the Wildcats have been there is usually a season mixed in there somewhere, when other teams are able to get their shots in- last year’s UNC season comes to mind.

Could this be the year the tables are turned?

The one team that automatically comes to mind that’s in the best position is Tennessee.

The Vols are probably the league’s most completely team, with a nice mix of experience, talent, and coaching.

They have played the second toughest schedule of anyone in the SEC (Kentucky’s has been the most difficult, by far) and they have been the most impressive doing it.

The only thing I worry about, and I realize I’m contradicting myself a bit here, is I just don’t trust Rick Barnes.

Yes, I think he’s a good coach, his teams just tend to fall short when they’re the leaders. In a weird way I would actually feel better about their chances if Kentucky were playing at a higher level.

Teams like Arkansas, Missouri, Auburn, and LSU could certainly let wind up at the top of conference if Tennessee were to falter, but there are still too many questions about each for me to feel comfortable separating any one of those from the pack.

I think some of the other teams (Georgia, LSU, Texas A&M) will certainly have a shot at some upset wins, I just don’t think they’ll be able to compete for a shot at the top spot.

Florida is the one wild card in this whole thing. After witnessing Keyontae Johnson collapse on the court and then the aftermath of that event, you can’t predict how they’re going to react.

And just to be clear, these are a bunch of teenage kids who saw a teammate and friend collapse in front of them, so however they respond on the court is really inconsequential.

Of course, this topic is only relevant because Kentucky is off to their worst start in over a hundred years. An optimistic fan will argue the team has played the most difficult schedule in the country and their young players will mature and grow over the course of the season.

Everyone else will counter with the fact Kentucky still lost those games and those young players have more than likely never faced this kind adversity that is currently staring them in the face.

We should have a good idea who may be on the right path after the first few games, since Kentucky begins their conference schedule against some of the league’s weaker teams.

Even though we knew this season was going to be different for all the obvious reasons, I think most still felt like Kentucky was the team to beat and most everyone else was playing for second place.

With Kentucky’s early struggles it feels as if a number of teams have an opportunity to feel what it’s like to be the top dog.

Don’t get me wrong, going to Six Flags can be great, but it’s Disney that most everyone is after.