The Christmas break is a time when most basketball teams around the country rejuvenate and come back healthier than ever to begin conference play.
It’s not looking like the Florida Gators got that same luxury this year, as just eight scholarship players have practiced in the three days since the team got back at it.
“I haven’t been a part of something like this,” said head coach Mike White. “It’s nuts, how many guys we’ve got banged up. I know they’re just as frustrated — and their teammates are. We’d like to get to full strength at some point.”
Florida has been down a couple of huge factors on the interior all season in John Egbunu and Isaiah Stokes.
Then, the absence of Chase Johnson over the last few weeks turned out to be another hit to the lack of size on this team.
Johnson has been through a whirlwind in his first season with the Gators. He first suffered a concussion before the season even began, then came down with an illness that kept him off the court just a few games in.
He finally started heading in the right direction before the Clemson game, only to find out from the medical staff that he had suffered another concussion at some point. He has been going through concussion protocol ever since.
In addition to those players who were out before the break began, Gorjok Gak and Jalen Hudson are now questionable for Saturday’s SEC opener against the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Gak has struggled with knee issues all season after aggravating it in summer league play. His knee has been swollen since the last game before the break, keeping him out from practice.
As for Hudson, White said he is dealing with a virus, and he was not sure if he’d be able to go in Friday’s practice or not.
White said if those guys do not practice on Friday, it will not necessarily rule them out for the game, but it will be pretty important in regard to how productive they could actually be. They will be re-evaluated and a final decision will be made after shoot around.
While the Gators don’t enter conference play in the greatest of conditions, the ones who are healthy benefitted from the break and have made the most of practices this week.
“We have a lot of guys either banged up or sick,” White said. “That said, we’ve gotten some stuff done. I like the renewed energy level and focus that those eight scholarship players have come back with. We’ve worked hard, had a good attitude and hopefully we can get some of this offensive mojo back here soon.”
The Gators will need to get something going in order to get some confidence back against a team that has beat them five consecutive times.
There is no other way to put it, Vanderbilt has had Florida’s number since White took over. The Gators only lost five times to SEC teams last season, and the Commodores were responsible for three of those.
The first two games were separated by just two points apiece, and Florida took Vanderbilt to overtime in the SEC tournament quarterfinals, but again, just couldn’t get over the hump.
Of course, these are two very different teams. The Commodores are just 5-7 so far this season and no longer have Luke Kornet, but the Gators are banged up and have failed to play to their potential.
How Florida handles adversity on Saturday could be a big indication of the kind of team it will be in conference play this season.
“Our guys understand that Vandy has gotten the better of us the last couple years, but if we’re thinking about that, then we’re thinking about the wrong things,” White said. “We need to think about this year’s Vandy team and how to defend them, and how to shoot the ball with more confidence, have better floor balance, all those things. This team executing against this year’s Vandy team tomorrow at 4 o’clock is what will give us a chance.”