At media day a couple weeks back, Mike White said seniors Jalen Hudson and Kevarrius Hayes would be the natural leaders of this 2018-19 Florida Gators basketball team, but he needed a few more to emerge.
Florida now has two weeks of practice under its belt, and he is starting to see that happen. The Gators are still struggling with some fatigue and lack of toughness at times, but White likes the character this group of guys has shown so far.
Even a few players who aren’t obvious candidates to be leaders have made strides in that area.
“KeVaughn [Allen] has stepped up a little bit,” White said of the senior guard. “He’s getting out of his comfort zone a little bit. Our three freshmen have some leadership qualities, characteristics to them. They’ll become leaders in this program. Keith Stone’s trying a little bit. He’s definitely leading by example. He’s becoming more consistent. He’s having less of those young guy phases where he has a bad day in practice or he has an off day.”
Allen is by far the most surprising name on that list. He is known for being an extremely quiet, introverted person. He’s barely said 10 words to the media in three years, and his teammates confirmed that his personality is essentially the same when he is around them.
But they have been harping on him to at least become more vocal when he steps on the court for some time now. He’ll never be the loudest person in the room, but he is finally breaking out of his shell when it comes to basketball.
“It’s been a big difference with KeVaughn,” Hudson said. “I’m excited to see how he plays this year. He’s definitely been more vocal, definitely been more aggressive than I’ve seen since I’ve been here. So, I’m just excited to see how it turns out.”
White added that freshmen Andrew Nembhard, Noah Locke and Keyontae Johnson have been three of the most accountable guys on the team, which is not typical for younger players.
And Keith Stone has not had a bad practice yet. Consistency has held him back his entire Florida career, so it is a testament to the work he’s put in to change that.
As far as Hudson and Hayes, they have stepped into the roles expected of them. This is their final season, and Florida needs them to be the voices of reason on the court.
Hayes has always been a guy who leads both vocally and by example. For Hudson, it’s been a bit more of a transition.
“He knows he’s got to get more consistent with his energy and intensity levels, and he knows he has got to get better at just fighting through fatigue as well,” White said of Hudson. “And that’s our whole team, other than probably Kevarrius … Kevarrius is going to be Kevarrius, and he’s going to play as hard as he can play. Jalen is, if he could learn that characteristic, you’re talking about a special player. Because he’s got an ability to really score it, he’s really smart, he’s high-character guy. He’s leading a little bit, he’s talking. So, he’s got a chance to have a really strong finish to his college career.”
The Gators lost a lot of leadership after last season, and that can be a difficult thing to replace. It will be much easier to tell how well they were able to fill those holes come time for the season, but it seems to be headed in the right direction.