Florida Gators HC Mike White Breaks Down Roster Acquisitions
The Florida Gators entered the 2019-20 basketball season with high expectations that ultimately were not met before things were shut down early amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Florida entered the year ranked No. 6 in the preseason Associated Press poll, and exited the year unranked, 19-12, 11-7 in conference play.
Should there be a 2020-21 season, as the possibility of full-length sports seasons are still in limbo, Gators head coach Mike White is excited to rebound from what ended up being a down-year. With new faces across the roster allowing the team to play fast, White is anxious to infuse his young and new talent with returning veterans.
"We have one junior college kid coming in and two freshmen, and then the two transfers," White told the media on Wednesday: New faces in East Florida State College forward Osayi Osifo, Roselle Catholic (N.J.) guard Niels Lane, and Hamilton Heights Christian Academy (Tenn.) forward Samson Ruzhentsev, with former Cleveland State point guard Tyree Appelby and Louisiana Tech forward Anthony Duruji ready to take the court after sitting out of the 2019 season due to transfer rules.
"I'll start with the junior college, young man, Osayi Osifo," said White. "Very, very athletic active, hard-playing guy. And all five of these kids are tremendous people aside, Osayi is a breath of fresh air to be around."
Osifo, 6-8, 210 lbs., averaged 8.8 points and 6.7 rebounds across 20.6 minutes per game in 54 career appearances for EFSC, seeing his minutes increase to 39.4 per game as a sophomore, where he tallied 15.7 points and 11.1 rebounds per contest. Although he comes from smaller competition, Osifo provides college experience and upside as a two-way player.
"You know, with Samson [Ruzhentsev], he's from a basketball standpoint that's got really good size for his position. He can play either wing spot. He's got some toughness, he's really competitive," said White. "He's a worker, and he can shoot it at a high clip like [Gators guard] Noah Locke. You know, Noah is one of the best shooters in the country so I should probably be more hesitant to say that, but a guy that can sprint into three balls. And guys, they can do that, especially with size, will always have a chance to earn minutes."
Ruzhentsev, who contemplated going home to Russia this offseason amidst the virus, ultimately stuck around and enrolled during the summer given the uncertain possibility of returning to the United States during these times. The 6-7, 210 lb. wing, a consensus top 50 player in his class, averaged 19.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.2 steals per game in 31 appearances as a senior.
"Niels Lane is a elite level athlete," said White of Ruzhentsev's fellow incoming freshman. "Very versatile and kind of play some 2, 3, 1, will be as talented a defender as anyone on our roster, gives us another really high-level athlete."
Lane, 6-5, 195 lbs., is a similar player to Gators guard Scottie Lewis in the strengths of his game and his physical makeup. Both play with a hot motor and utilize gifted athleticism to make a defensive impact across the entire court. Lane averaged 14.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.6 assists on 26.8 minutes per contest, shooting 50% from the field and 36.7% beyond the arc, in 13 games for Team Final, a travel basketball program that specializes in training players to play in the NCAA.
"Our two sit-outs last year were Tyree Appleby and Anthony Guruji, and Tyree will have a chance, you know, at the point guard position, he will be highly competitive there. Very good speed, playmaking abilities, he's a true point, very good passer but can also make shots," said White. "And Anthony Duruji will be as athletic as anybody in our league. High-level defender, rebounder, driver. He's got some similarities to, you know, to Keyonte Johnson in some ways, and to Scottie Lewis in some ways, and but he's also got some differences as well."
Florida also obtained the services of former Michigan wing Colin Castleton, who transferred on April 30th. He has applied for a transfer waiver for immediate eligibility, according to White.
"Then with Colin Castelton. He's a guy that we recruited a couple years ago and missed on and we're excited to have him back, whether or not he's out this season. We'll find out soon enough, I guess."
The Gators are tasked with replacing multiple big-time contributors in the projected 2020-21 season, namely graduated forward Kerry Blackshear Jr., and point guard Andrew Nembhard, who transferred to Gonzaga, among other transfers. Appelby, along with rising sophomores Tre Mann and Ques Glover, will compete to fill in Nembhard's minutes, while Osifo and Duruji can immediately challenge for playing time in Blackshear's previous role with other veterans. Castleton, too, should he gain immediate eligibility.
Ruzhentsev and Lane, meanwhile, can be eased into action provided the experience Appelby, Osifo, and Duruji provide out of the gate.