Graduate Transfer Target: FGCU’s Zach Johnson

University of Florida football has become DBU and it looks like now the basketball team is quickly becoming Graduate Transfer U. Canyon Barry and Egor Koulechov gracing the past two rosters with their presence has been huge for the teams success, and considering both of those players were some of the most highly sought after graduate transfers in the country landing them shows that Gainesville is a desirable destination for veteran players looking to finish out their careers at a major program. This leads me to believe Florida is going to be in the mix for graduate transfers every offseason, and it’s a strategy I’m a huge fan of. As much as young, highly rated, one-and-done talent fills ESPN’s news cycle recent history has shown it’s not young talent that wins in college basketball, it’s veteran teams with battle tested players. Graduate transfers are a great way to interject experience onto your roster and I think the Gators are likely going to be in the mix for another graduate transfer this offseason. I will likely showcase multiple players who the Gators could target this offseason, starting with a player I think could very well be the best possible. Keep on reading to find out who.

What Is A Graduate Transfer?

For those who don’t know, it’s a player who has earned his bachelor’s degree and still has a year of eligibility remaining due to a year taken as a redshirt. That player is granted a waiver by the NCAA allowing him to transfer and play immediately without having to sit out a year.

Do the Gators Currently Have A Scholarship Open?

No. We are currently all maxed out for the 2018-2019 season. However, I don’t know if that is actually going to be the case. Jalen Hudson will certainly put his name into the NBA Draft class but will likely do it without signing an agent, meaning he could return to college. This puts the Gators in a position where they won’t know for sure until later in the spring if he is leaving, so they likely won’t be able to fill that spot with a 2018 recruit as most of the quality recruits will have long since signed somewhere. There is also always the possibility of transfer out, and if that happens you’d like to see the Gators still make use of all their scholarship positions and to me the best way to do it in that situation is by bringing in a graduate transfer.

What About Egbunu?

The John Egbunu situation is an interesting one. Obviously he has technically graduated, but he could get a year back for a medical redshirt and be eligible as a rare 6th year senior. The Gators are currently full without counting Egbunu coming back, meaning a scholarship would need to open for him to return. Whether or not he wants to do that at this stage of his life is a question, and whether or not he’ll be physically able to compete coming off a year and a half without game action puts into question whether the Gators would want him. I have been claiming since December that he wouldn’t play last year and that he would come back next season as a 6th year senior, a take that got me ridiculed, and though I would love to be vindicated I’m not quite sure if it’s in the best interest of both him and the team. If it does work out, however, he will be a welcomed sight that would drastically shift the framework of Florida’s frontcourt if he could bring the same dominance he had prior to his injury.

The Player I Think The Gators Should Target

Zach Johnson
Current School: Florida Gulf Coast University
Birthplace: Miami, Florida
6’2” 195 Pounds

2017-2018 Stats
Points Per Game: 16.1
Assists Per Game: 3.0
Rebounds Per Game: 3.3
Steals Per Game: 2.0

Let’s start with a belief I have that may be different than many of yours. I think that Florida’s biggest need next season in a graduate transfer context is a point guard. My thought is that many fans think a big man is our biggest need, but I have to disagree. Though Florida’s big men problems this past season were talked about both locally and nationally, I think they were overblown. This past season Florida was an above average team in defensive points in the paint, defensive rebounding, defensive field goal percentage on post ups, and block percentage, all stats related to the forward positions. Offensively, the Gators did struggle to score inside with their bigs but other than Egor Koulechov who played the undersized power forward spot the team is returning every single frontcourt piece that played minutes last year and will have 6’9” Chase Johnson and 6’8” Isaiah Stokes active, two players I think will be able to play roles immediately and both have the ability to provide offense. Though I don’t think Kevarrius Hayes, Gorjok Gak, and Dontay Bassett will get hugely better offensively next season I’m sure they will all take steps forward and with that many players returning and getting older the ability to finish inside has to improve at least somewhat.

The bigger need is a point guard. Look around college basketball and you’ll see that it’s teams with experience at the point guard spot that have success, and it’s upperclassman guards that win you championships. With Chris Chiozza leaving the Gators are putting a lot of faith in 5-star recruit Andrew Nembhard to produce, and though I think he is extremely capable I would love to see the Gators have some insurance at the position. Though Michael Okauru was listed as a point guard coming in as a recruit, according to KenPom and Synergy he only played 1% of Florida’s available point guard minutes and though KeVaughn Allen played 22% of Florida’s point guard minutes he never thrived in the role, often looking uncomfortable as the primary ball handler instead of player who can catch and go on the wing. The Gators do not have a boatload of options at point guard and I think the premium on that position makes it Florida’s number one priority if they were to take on a graduate transfer.

Anyways, lets get back to Zach Johnson.

Johnson is an explosive guard, a powerful and compact 6’2” and 195 pounds that is a frame built for contact. After redshirting his true freshman year with an injury, he instantly stepped into a massive role for the Eagles and have been a major piece of the program these last three seasons. That first year redshirt has allowed him to be a graduate transfer, should he decide to utilize that option.

Has He Been Released?

No. Not yet.

Do You Think He Will Get A Release And Transfer?

Yes. Firstly, because he has the opportunity to because he took a first year redshirt and I feel like a player of his caliber wants to go to the biggest stage and showcase his abilities. A 3-star recruit out of high school he’s not a player who came out of nowhere and he has developed himself into a player that should be competing against the nations best. Look at two of the nation’s best point guards still leading their teams in the Sweet Sixteen. Jevon Carter at West Virginia and Keenan Evans at Texas Tech. Were they highly rated recruits out of high school? No. Carter was 299th in the country, and Evans was 315th. Both developed their games throughout their college careers and became top-10 point guards in college basketball in their senior years.

Johnson was ranked 276th. Right in the same range as those guys. On the same career trajectory. Could the Gators get an elite point guard just like that? I think they could.

Secondly, there are tons of rumors that Florida Gulf Coast’s head coach Joe Dooley is about to leave to take on a different job. He’s been rumored in jobs such as UMass, Rhode Island (if Hurley left for one of the big openings currently available), and most likely, East Carolina. There is not a lot of optimism amongst Florida Gulf Coast fans that he is going to be there next season. If he were to leave, Johnson would be playing for a coach he didn’t commit to so I don’t see why he wouldn’t look to play elsewhere. Players in his class that he committed to play with such as Brandon Goodwin, Christian Terrell, and Antravious Simmons are all graduating as seniors, further changing the experience he would have if he stayed with the Eagles. I really expect him to utilize the graduate transfer rule.

Strengths

Johnson is really efficient offensively. Averaging 16.1 points per game he was arguably the Eagles best player and he did it extremely efficiently shooting 52.1% from 2-point range and an excellent 39.2% from 3-point land on 5 attempts per game. The offensive tool he would bring to the Gators is the his ability to drive into the paint, using his speed and power to beat his primary defender and either finish in the paint himself or attract secondary defenders so he can kick the ball out. That ability to pressure the defense from the point was something the Gators didn’t have as much last year and it’s something the Johnson thrives at. He also plays great in transition and can get to the hoop on the fast break, something that was on display with the up-tempo Florida Gulf Coast team. The Gators, without a lot of wings capable of finishing well inside, often resorted to jump shots in transition and Johnson would give them a player capable of getting right to the hoop for layups or fouls. The dimension of a driving guard would bring another weapon to Florida’s offense and the fact that he can shoot the ball well too means you aren’t making the same sacrifices you often have to make with other slashing guards. Often playing with fellow ball handler Brandon Goodwin and sharing the point duties he didn’t have incredible assist numbers but 3 per game isn’t bad, and it would put him at second place if he were on the Gators last year. His experience in two point guard lineups means he could seamlessly play with Nembhard, who at 6’4” would still provide size in the backcourt.

Johnson’s presence on the defensive end would also be welcomed. The way he can pressure the ball and get into opposing ball handlers would be very reminiscent of Chiozza, and with Johnson’s larger frame he would even be more of a deterrent in some matchups with stronger guards. At 2 steals per game his thievery was on full display last season and anyone who knows Mike White knows he loves his point guards to be able to pressure the ball. He has also been vocal about wanting his point guards to be physical guarding the ball, something Kasey Hill did well but Chiozza wasn’t as good at with his slighter frame. Johnson could get the Gators’ defense back to being physical at the point of attack, something that would help the entire team scheme.

x-Factors

Experience. Johnson has played a ton of basketball in his three seasons starting 86 of 103 games played and averaging 26.9, 29.3, and 32.4 minutes per game in those years. For reference, Florida’s career workhorse Chris Chiozza played 3495 minutes in his four-year career and after three seasons, Johnson is already at 3043. Despite being from a small conference Johnson has played in 3 NCAA Tournament and 1 NIT game, postseason experience that even Canyon Barry and Egor Koulechov didn’t have. He’s also a big game player that has stepped up the big challenges and good competition. Against Wichita State in the non conference he scored 19 points showing he could hang with good competition, and in the Atlantic Sun Conference championship game this year he scored 37 points and hit 9-13 three-pointers against Lipscomb to try and will his team to a NCAA Tournament birth. If he were to leave Florida Gulf Coast, his final game with them would be a 23 point performance in the NIT against a really good Oklahoma State team with excellent guard play, further supporting Johnson’s big game potential. Consistency has also been a huge part of his game and he’s been a double figures scorer in each of his seasons, so you know exactly what you’re going to get from him. He’s also a Florida kid, and staying in-state could be one of Florida’s advantages when recruiting a player that will have tons of other interest. He has also played against the Gators in the non-conference portion of the season in 2016 and 2017, and perhaps seeing those teams play will also be a lure.

Bottom Line

If a scholarship opened and the Gators were looking for a graduate transfer I think the point guard position is the most important to fill and I think Zach Johnson is the perfect player for the Gators. He brings an ability to drive and finish that the Gators lacked from their backcourt last year and his defensive prowess and the style he guards are exactly what Mike White longs for from his lead man. He is from the state and would be transferring to another school in-state so I think this is a serious possibility. If you think the Gators should look for a big man instead of a point guard I would implore you to take a look at the Gators’ returning pieces and I think you’ll see they can manage quite adequately. If you look around the landscape of college basketball it’s teams with veteran guards that succeed and though I have faith in Nembhard (believe me, as the first Canadian Gator I will be his HUGEST fan) I think shoring up that position and adding backcourt depth would be the best thing to do.

And I think Zach Johnson is the perfect fit for that position.

1 COMMENT

  1. Why would we go for another guard? We have Allen, Okauru, Ballard, Locke, Nembrand and Johnson. This is if Hudson leaves. If he stays we have 7 guards on the roster and two (Stone and Hayes) healthy bigs. Gak, surgery, Stokes recovering, Johnson recovering, Bassett recovering round out the unhealthy bigs.

    The two healthy bigs that we have averaged 9 rebounds and 13 points a game between them which a quality big should average on his own. I love Stone and Hayes, and I have no doubt they will improve on their numbers next year. But then so will 75% of many of the other bigs in college basketball so it’s a wash.

    The real concern is what we are going to get with Stokes, Johnson, Bassett and Gak – all of whom are dealing with some kind of injury or another. Best case scenario is they come back full strength in which case with an average of 4 rebounds per, we can expect 24 rebounds a game from them. An average of 2 rebounds a game from the 7 guards gives us 38. We averaged 35 last season. Our opponents averaged 37 rebounds against us. So under a best case scenario- best case – with an average of 4 rebounds from each of our bigs, we will out rebound our last year opponents’ average by 1 rebound.

    It seems to me the improvements need to come in front court scoring and rebounding. Getting another 6’2″ guard doesn’t seem to be the solution.