- Florida will likely need freshman Andrew Nembhard to contribute early and often after its departures, which included senior point guard Chris Chiozza.
In the one-and-done era, college basketball fans have grown accustomed to having to get to know a slew of new, highly-touted names and faces each season, many of whom will spend just one year on campus before moving on to the NBA. Just look at the 2018 draft, where it took 10 picks before Mikal Bridges became the first non-freshman (or international) to be selected. Not all elite freshmen will pan out, but history dictates that many of them will help headline the sport for the next year—and, for some, maybe even beyond.
With that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top incoming freshmen in college basketball and breaking down the impact those players could have this season. The rankings are according to RSCI Hoops, a composite that averages from 25 different expert top-100 lists. We move to the No. 25 overall recruit, Florida's Andrew Nembhard.
What he means for the Gators' recruiting class
The five-star guard from Ontario, Canada, comes to Gainesville fresh off of four seasons in Florida alongside consensus No. 1 recruit and fellow Canadian R.J. Barrett at Monteverde Academy. The duo capped off their high school career with a perfect 35–0 record and a U.S. national championship before parting ways for Florida (for Nembhard) and Durham (for Barrett). Nembhard is the Gators' top recruit in the 2018 class. He’s a gifted floor general who comes in with four-star small forward Keyontae Johnson (No. 69 in the RSCI rankings) and four-star combo guard Noah Locke (No. 77). Locke, a dangerous shooter off the dribble and in catch-and-shoot situations, and Johnson, an outstanding driver with a soft touch, complete the talented trio of Gator recruits.
How he fits
With the graduation of four-year Gators guard Chris Chiozza, the five-star Nembhard could contend for the starting point guard slot. Nembhard ran the Montverde offense as a pass-first distributor with tremendous success, making him the perfect successor to Florida’s all-time assists record-holder Chiozza, who led the Gators to an Elite Eight appearance in 2017. Both talented guards run the point with a pass-heavy-but-not-shooting-shy approach, so if anyone can replace the all-around production that Chiozza brought to Gainesville, it’s Nembhard. With four inches on his predecessor, the 6’4”, 185-pound Nembhard could play as a more physical version of the Gators’ graduate.
Nembhard has great vision on the court and runs a sneaky but smart offense. While all eyes were on Duke commit R.J. Barrett during their time at Monteverde, Nembhard made plays from the point quietly but with consistent success. He has an eye for finding the open lane and is quick with a release when the moment is right. With crafty handles, crisp passes, incredible ball control and improved three-point shot, the Canadian standout will fit right in with head coach Mike White’s Gators, who attempted 182 more threes than their opponents last season. His quickness and his ability to contribute on all fronts also mirror that of Chiozza, who averaged 11.1 points, 6.1 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game during his final season in Florida. Nembhard will have help in the backcourt from Chiozza's backup last year, KeVaughn Allen, as well as former Virginia Tech transfer Jalen Hudson, who was the Gators’ leading scorer in his first season in Gainesville. Hudson averaged 15.5 points while shooting 40.4% from three-point range and 45.5% from the floor but struggled defensively.
Importance to Florida's success/team outlook
Florida basketball has been a consistent SEC contender for the last two decades, picking up 20+ wins in 19 of the last 20 seasons while bringing two national titles to Gainesville during the same span. After a somewhat disappointing 2017–18 season in which the Gators opened as a top-10 team but finished with 13 losses on the season and an early exit from the NCAA tournament, White will look to his recruits to regain a foothold in SEC play. With the loss of two of his top three scorers in Chiozza and Egor Koulechov, the team is in need of results from its recruits even more than in years past.