Photo: Myreon Jones; Credit: University of Florida athletic association
When talent is plentiful, the possibilities are endless.
Following the 2020-21 college basketball season, the Florida Gators saw a mass exodus of contributors leave considerable holes across the lineup.
The Gators had to endure the departures of Tre Mann, the team’s leading scoring and offensive focal point, and Scottie Lewis to the NBA. Meanwhile, Noah Locke, Ques Glover, Omar Payne and Osayi Osifo found new homes via the transfer portal. In addition, Samson Ruzhentsev signed to play professionally with the KK Mega Basket in the Adriatic Basketball League in Serbia.
Florida’s roster reached a point of complete depletion. Over half of last year's roster was gone just 10 days following the Gators' second-round exit from the NCAA Tournament.
As a result, there was a glaring need to acquire game-ready athletes at nearly every spot, especially in the backcourt. Looking to replace scoring, facilitation, defense and ball-handling, the Gators targeted players in the transfer portal, an increasingly popular approach in college athletics.
Securing four guards in the process, Florida has rebranded the guard position heading into the 2021-22 season.
Now, the team’s veteran presence is plentiful, and so is the quantity of talent.
In anticipation of UF’s opening tip-off against Elon on Nov. 9, AllGators provides an overview of Florida’s rejuvenated group of guards.
As a former transfer himself, Tyree Appleby returns to bring Florida’s redesigned backcourt a sense of continuity and leadership.
Taking over as the starting point guard following Keyontae Johnson’s collapse against FSU last season, Appleby carved out a heavy role in the Gators game plan.
Starting 17 out of 25 contests for Florida a season ago, Appleby accounted for 11.3 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.
Showing an ability to attack the basket off the dribble, Appleby displays a knack for finishing in traffic. Due to his quickness, the 6-foot-1, 163-pound guard can blow past defenders with ease and has decent vision when the defense collapses on him to kick out to shooters on the perimeter.
Leading the team in steals last season, Appleby brings a strong defensive prowess to the table. Winning with quick hands and relentless effort on both ends of the court, the Jacksonville, Arkansas, native was spark plug at points for a historically slow-paced team.
However, his play style of having his motor in top gear also got him in trouble.
Plagued by turnovers — averaging nearly three a game — Appleby’s high energy had a tendency to turn into recklessness offensively.
He will need to work on that area of his game. Simultaneously, Appleby will need to strengthen his role as a facilitator, finding open shot-makers that the Gators team has added to the roster for open looks from the perimeter.
Appleby will once again be a mainstay in the Gators starting lineup this season. However, due to the plethora of guards at head coach Mike White’s disposal, Appleby will play in more consistent rotation — keeping him fresh — than he did in the thin unit last year.
One of the new faces in the fold of Gators guards in 2021-22.
Myreon Jones, from Penn State, is slated to bring the Gators versatility and consistency from the one and two spots.
Likely to see a bulk of his time as the off-ball guard, Jones will look to break Florida’s cycle of confidence-depleting scoring droughts with a strong impact shooting the basketball.
Averaging 15.3 points — on nearly 40% shooting from the field and downtown — 2.7 rebounds and two assists per game last season, the former Nittany Lion will be a consistent threat for opposing defenders.
Showcasing a smooth shooting stroke and quick release, Jones has no problem pulling the trigger even with minimal separation.
However, that is rarely the case.
Moving well without the ball in his hand, Jones will create a plethora of open-shot opportunities throughout the season.
Understanding the nuances of pinning defenders to screens to gain enough cushion to catch and shoot, Jones doesn’t have to have the ball in his hands to make magic happen.
While two-guard will be his primary position, there will be time carved out where he operates the point, a rather unfamiliar territory to which he continues to grow accustomed.
Flashing his vision at points in offseason workouts, there is little doubt that the combo guard should be able to transition smoothly from spot to spot this season.
Phlandrous Fleming Jr.
Phlandrous Fleming Jr. may be the most complete guard the team has to offer this season.
Showcasing above-average talent as a shooter, passer, rebounder, ball-handler and defender, Fleming has the potential to be a game-changer for the Florida backcourt.
Last season, Fleming was a primary option for the Charleston Southern Buccaneers. Averaging 20.1 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.8 steals per game, Fleming earned First-Team All-Big South and Big South Defensive Player of the year accolades in 2020 and 2021.
He is a dominant player at both ends of the court and one that the Gators can count on to make the routine plays and the flashy ones when needed.
While he will likely see his time on the wing, Fleming has the skillset to play the one, two and three spots for the Gators. Standing at 6-foot-5, 205 pounds with long, lanky arms, Fleming provides versatility for the Gators to contend with teams that like to run big or small.
He will play primarily at the two and three.
Brandon McKissic was the first player the Gators pulled out of the portal this offseason.
He is also the biggest wildcard.
Operating as the main scoring option for the University of Missouri-Kansas City last season, McKissic established and maintained a rhythm playing 34 minutes per contest.
Shooting an astounding 50% from the field last year, he proved to be a reliable scorer for UMKC, dropping 17.2 points per game.
His skillset as an uber-talented scorer is not in question. The concern arises with his consistency.
Will he be able to maintain similar production without being the primary scoring option against tougher competition in a crowded guard room?
That’s to be determined.
Meanwhile, his high-energy and vocal presence has the ability to elevate those around him. A vital part of what makes a good team great.
Getting his first chance to prove himself on a national scale, McKissic is equipped with the tools to shoot the basketball to be another scoring option from inside and beyond the arc for a Gators team that has struggled to score in the past few years.
To adequately contribute, McKissic will need to knock down routine jumpers despite playing in a more limited capacity and cut down on turnovers — averaging three per game last season.
If he can do that — and continue to set the tone in both ends of the court when called upon — he has the talent to elevate Florida to the next level.
He will fill the shooting guard position for most of his minutes.
As the coveted prospect in the Gators 2021 class, Kowacie Reeves was slated to see a large amount of playing time in the Gators backcourt in year one of his collegiate career.
Following the moves made in the transfer portal, his minutes were cut back significantly.
Now, instead of possibly starting in year one, Reeves has the opportunity to sit behind the quartet of veterans listed above him. He has embraced that, according to FloridaGators.com, and looks to be a sponge in his first season.
However, given his smooth shooting stroke along with an impressive frame at 6-foot-6, 170 pounds, Reeves is too talented not to see time for the Gators early on in his career.
His versatility allows him to operate similarly to Fleming, and he will appear on the wing in various lineups throughout the season.
The minutes will not be as plentiful as previously expected, but Reeves has the scoring potential to raise eyebrows with his production.
Niels Lane, Alex Klatsky, Elijah Kennedy, Jack May
One thing the Gators are not short of is guards. With four to five players likely to occupy the one and two spots consistently, four players sit in the reserve roles for the Gators.
Niels Lane will be the one rotational piece that sees the most playing time out of this group. However, it will still be minimal.
Meanwhile, Elijah Kennedy — a late addition to the 2021 recruiting class — Alex Klatsky and Jack May will rarely see the floor.
A major bright spot for the Gators squad this year compared to last is the abundance of depth. It will create an abundance of mix and match opportunities for the guard unit, and it can pay dividends in the Gators' success.
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