Photo: Kyle Lofton; Credit: University of Florida Athletic Association
When thinking about the potential star power on the Florida Gators basketball squad in 2022-23, it's easy to connect with the familiar faces returning from a season ago.
While Kowacie Reeves Jr. and Colin Castleton will surely assume prime roles for the Gators and provide the spark needed for the team to reach March, they aren't the lone talents with the potential to ascend Florida in year one of the new era.
Todd Golden glowingly described starting point guard Kyle Lofton as a strong leader for the unit on Tuesday afternoon prior to the Gators' first official practice period of the preseason.
He is the glue of the unit in 2022-23.
"First and foremost, he's a great leader. He commands respect from his teammates, but he also does a really good job of holding them accountable in a way that they want to run through a wall for him, and he's just a really, really talented winner as a player.
"Now, he's not an incredible shooter, he's not the best athlete in the world, but he ends up winning everything he's doing. He's that guy. He does all the little things that you want as a point guard. He uses his voice, which is really important to me, and like I said, he just has a really great rapport with his teammates. Colin, all the way down to the freshmen, respect him in a big way, and I think for your point guard, that's what you dream of having. I think that gives us a chance to be really good because of that."
Lofton has embraced that role since stepping on campus at UF this summer.
"I think it's really important, especially being an older guy," Lofton said. "Obviously, I'm in my fifth year now, just coming in, showing that we're here to win, foremost. All the personal accolades stuff like that, it will come when we win. So, just making sure that everybody is doing what they've got to do, even myself, just day by day coming in here focused and that's going to make us better."
The first official practice of the preseason indicates that his addition to the unit can be exactly what Florida needs to return to the tournament after missing out a season ago.
Seeing Lofton work in drills and the intra-team scrimmage, the St. Bonaventure transfer is living up to the expectations he garnered when he entered the portal following his senior season with the Bonnies.
He proved to be a general of the offense on Tuesday, an aspect of his game that is lauded when watching his four-year collegiate career. However, the most noticeable part of his skillset presented was his potential growth as a shooter.
Lofton continues to make plays at the basket but also found himself knocking down difficult shots from midrange and beyond the arc.
Namely, Lofton showcased his pull-up jump shooting ability off the dribble today when working one-on-one with freshman guard Denzel Aberdeen in the scrimmage portion of the practice.
Putting the ball on the floor from the left wing, Lofton hit a hesitation before seemingly looking to attack the paint with his right hand. Having Aberdeen on the front portion of his left hip, Lofton felt the freshman begin to cheat toward the basket — to contest what he thought would be a layup or floater attempt. The fifth-year senior snatched the ball back toward him, leaving Aberdeen working toward the cup, before pulling up and knocking down a 16-footer in rhythm.
Despite a lackluster career from downtown, he also contributed from beyond the arc throughout the day.
Lofton shot 103 three-pointers last season, only connecting on 29 to hit just over 28% from deep. That tainted his overall shooting percentage, which still hovered at the 40% mark, yet can be improved upon with greater efficiency.
If he can add the long ball to his arsenal with consistency, Golden and Co. will be in an even better spot than they imagined when they signed the highly touted prospect this offseason, mainly because that means he can be a multidimensional scorer on top of his skills as a facilitator. That's reminiscent of what Golden had at San Francisco in Jamaree Bouyea.
"I had a great point guard in San Francisco, Jamaree Bouye. He was one of the best point guards in the country and made my life a lot easier. As soon as Kyle got down here, I worked out with him a couple times and was like, 'Alright, we got another one. We have another really, really good point guard.'"
Equipped with the full package for a prototypical point guard, Lofton's length, speed, ball handling ability, facilitation, decision making and pride on the defensive end immediately pits him as the best one-guard prospects for the Gators since Andrew Nembhard departed from Gainesville.
Tre Mann operated primarily as a two-guard during his career at Florida — Nembhard and Tyree Appleby controlled duties at the one in his two seasons — despite the ball-dominant approach he took as a scorer.
The difference between the two is Lofton's potential to excel at Florida (unlike Nembhard, who transferred away to Gonzaga after two years), given the system suits his style of play.
"It's another reason I came here," he said Tuesday. "My old school, we played slow, kind of, less possessions. I think now we're going to speed the tempo up, get more possessions. I think that's going to be better for me."
On Tuesday, he looked right at home as one of the best players on the court for the Gators.
If it remains that way when Florida hoops tip off in November, the squad's ceiling for success is high.
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