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Expect Florida Gators to Lean On Kowacie Reeves in Colin Castleton's Absence

With center Colin Castleton slated to miss extended time with a “significant” shoulder injury, expect Florida to look to freshman Kowacie Reeves for relief.

An opportunity to move back to .500 stares the Florida Gators in the face Saturday.

Following a tough 0-3 start to conference play in the 2021-22 season, the University of Florida has strung together two significant victories over South Carolina and Mississippi State to surge back to a respectable mark as a middling SEC squad.

As a result, today's bout against Vanderbilt in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center provides Mike White’s program an opportunity to climb back to surface level.

They attempt to do so without their leading scorer and rebounder Colin Castleton, who suffered a potentially “significant” shoulder injury during Tuesday’s practice. It ultimately led to him being sidelined against Mississippi State.

“I know it’s significant,” White said following Wednesday’s comeback win over Mississippi State. “I know that. I know he's seeing the appropriate people, maybe even as we speak here, so he had no chance of playing tonight and really unfortunate for Colin and his teammates. I knew it was significant because physically, he's got a lot of toughness.”

While the chance to move to even against the Commodores rests as a significant concern, the group's sustainability with their starting big man trumps a singular home contest against a bottom half SEC squad.

In light of Castleton's (possibly) prolonged absence, AllGators presents the main factor for Florida’s success without their start center: True freshman Kowacie Reeves.

His presence on the wing may not directly correlate to the hole created by the 6-foot-11 center now being on the bench, but Reeves’ emergence is paramount to the Gators' success.

Starting in the last three contests after suffering through “Did Not Participate’s” earlier in the year, Reeves has begun to showcase his offensive prowess to provide the Gators a much-needed spark.

Prior to Reeves being thrust into the starting lineup, the offensive attack had grown stale, but he has installed a scoring presence, mainly beyond the arc, that wasn’t there before his on-court arrival.

Unlike former Gators guard Tre Mann, Reeves doesn’t operate as a ball-dominant guard that excels as a shot creator.

His style is different but still efficient.

Excelling in the catch and shoot, Reeves has perfected his ability to rise above defenders, whether they are sticking to him or closing out when the ball is kicked to him off the dribble drive.

The idea of being a textbook shooter looks different for everyone, but Reeves’ shot mechanics from the catch to the release is nearly picture-perfect as he works smoothly through his progression.

It’s a consistency that makes him look like he’s always the only person in the gym shooting, a trait held by some of the greatest scorers in basketball.

Namely, Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant — albeit possessing a complete game that is incomparable— comes to mind in this regard. Durant utilizes his length to create separation at the top of his shot and maintains the confidence to knock down contested jumpers consistently.

Tallying just 4.7 points per game on the year, Reeves has tripled his production with increased usage in the past two contests. Scoring 14 points in back-to-back conference wins, the true freshman has been a catalyst for the resurgence of Florida’s lacking identity with his overall production.

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That’s a testament to his desire to improve on both ends.

“There's a good chance he's in the practice facility right now to get shots,” White said. “That's the type of guy he is.”

Coming out of high school, Reeves was coined as a prolific scorer that would be groomed defensively to become a star in the orange and blue.

The long and athletic wing failed to give himself the opportunities to disrupt passing lanes and keep himself in front of defenders due to impatient tendencies that consisted of him struggling to stay on his toes, down in his stance, and on the floor.

Against Mississippi State, the two-guard began to turn a corner, according to White.

There was one noticeable instance where his impatience got the best of him.

As the Bulldogs traveled up the court, Reeves sat down in his stance on the left side of the lane just above the elbow. While he was locked in on the Mississippi State ball handler, who began to operate the offense from the top of the nose of the Gator logo, Reeves bit hard for when the MSST guard started to move from left to right across the top of the key.

Despite no ball fake, Reeves would spring into the air, unconventionally leaving his feet while the Bulldogs still ran through their set. He would be subbed out momentarily but reinserted into the lineup soon after.

Outside of that, Reeves has figured out how to utilize his favorable frame for the better, keeping himself light on his toes and maximizing his impeccable wingspan to create tipped balls or force opponents into bad decisions.

His work ethic to improve defensively has been evident from a spectator standpoint as he shows progression each game.

Earning a starting spot, as a result, Reeves is capitalizing on the opportunity he has been granted and is living up to the hype of being an NBA-level talent.

His impact in the past two contests has been immense for Florida.

It will have to stay that way — and possibly increase more rapidly than he expected — for Reeves and the Gators to remain on the straight and narrow path to the tournament without Castleton.

That sentiment becomes especially true when looking down the challenging slate of games coming up on the schedule.

It will consist of three games in five days, including the No. 24 Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville in the final game of that stretch, before hosting a pesky defensive Oklahoma State squad for the Big 12/SEC challenge in one week.

Reeves and the Gators look to begin that stretch on a high note against Scottie Pippen Jr. and the Vanderbilt Commodores today at 1 p.m. on SEC Network.

Stay tuned to AllGators for continuous coverage of Florida Gators football, basketball and recruiting. Follow along on social media at @SI_AllGators on Twitter and Florida Gators on Sports Illustrated on Facebook.