The Florida Gators basketball team got back to business with the first official practice of the season on Thursday. Arguably the most impressive guy on the court: Keith Stone.
The redshirt sophomore forward was doing it all. From defending at a high level, to driving to the basket, to hitting jumpers and draining three pointers. In the final 30 minutes of practice, he might have made every single shot he took.
After a long offseason, he’s just as smooth, but a much more well rounded player than he was this time last year. He lost 10 pounds of fat and replaced it with five pounds of muscle, and now he looks as strong as ever in all facets of his game.
“Keith could potentially be one of the guys, if not the guy that enhances his role the most,” said head coach Mike White. “He’s going to be given a lot of opportunity. He’s very talented. He’s continued to become a better conditioned athlete, tougher physically and mentally, and he’s matured probably as much as anybody.”
While the season hasn’t even begun yet, Stone’s story is shaping out a lot like Devin Robinson’s did last year. That is what White expects, anyways.
Robinson went from being an inconsistent role player in his first two seasons to becoming one of the most valuable players offensively and defensively through an Elite Eight run.
Stone’s role should make a similar jump after averaging just 12.1 minutes per game last season. While many of his minutes were valuable ones, it was hard for him to get in a rhythm coming in and out of games.
That shouldn’t be an issue this year, as Stone is expected to be the new starter at the power forward spot.
“I think it’s easier for you to remain consistent when you know what you’re gonna get and there’s an expectation of how many minutes you’re gonna get and what your role is gonna be,” White said. “In his defense, Keith Stone was a guy that came in and out of the game a bunch last year as a freshman. He was competing against seniors and a really good junior, of course. I think Keith will find more comfort and more confidence knowing that his number is gonna be called more. We expect him to play with confidence and be more consistent this year.”
Whether Stone is the next Robinson story or not is still to be determined and it will be easier to tell once some basketball games are actually played, but the way he looks a month out from the season, his version of the story could turn out even better.
“He’s working,” White said. “He’s rebounding the ball well, he’s trying defensively. We all know he’s got some stuff that’s hard to teach offensively with his size, and pace, and skill level, his versatility … He’s a very gifted offensive player.”
He is a key to an offense that is supposed to take a step forward in 2017-18, and must be a leader on a defense expected to take a step back. All the stars are aligning for Stone to have his breakout season.