Golden Future

By: Robert Craft 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.