When a player makes the leap from mid-major to high-major basketball there are always going to be questions about how they are going to translate. The Gators picked up two up transfers in Tyree Appleby (Cleveland State) and Anthony Duruji (Louisiana Tech), both of whom will be ready to make an impact after sitting out the 2019-20 season with a mandatory redshirt.
Projecting exactly how a transfer will do at their new home is difficult. One way to make an educated guess is by looking at the numbers. I did that a few months ago here, something that ended up delivering what look to be reasonable expectations for the two transfers. Another way is to isolate their past contributions against high-major competition, an easy example of how they’ll look playing against the caliber of competition Florida will see. In the case of Tyree Appleby I did that here if you want to check out how he looked in his high-major experience at Cleveland State.
Anthony Duruji’s Louisiana Tech Bulldogs played in a better league (Conference USA) than Appleby’s Cleveland State (Horizon League), but surprisingly actually played against less high-major competition in non-conference play. In fact, in Duruji’s sophomore season at Louisiana Tech (his final before transferring to Florida) he only played against one high-major opponent. Luckily, that opponent was no slouch. It was the LSU Tigers, who if you recall back in 2019 (the Gators ended up playing them three times that season) were a fantastic squad, a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament who ended up making the Sweet Sixteen. They featured guards Tremont Waters, Skylar Mays, and Marlon Taylor as well as big men Naz Reid and Kavell Bigby-Williams. Looking at how Duruji fared in this contest will give some indication of how he might measure up against SEC competition in the 2020-21 season and perhaps tell us a bit about what we could expect him to contribute.
Before we get into the specifics of how Duruji played let’s jump to the finish line. LSU ended up winning the game 74-67, a tight game where Louisiana Tech actually led with 12 minutes left in the second half. Considering how good that Tigers team was it was an incredible performance by the Bulldogs to make it a game, and a large part of that was the play of Duruji. Here was his stat line:
8-14 Shooting (3-4 3PT)
Looking at Duruji’s college career so far, this was likely the best game he has played.
Duruji is known as a spectacular athlete, something that was amplified when playing in Conference USA games where he was the most explosive player in the conference. Concerns about how that translates to the high-major level are fair, but his performance against LSU as a sophomore should help ease them. Here are some of Duruji’s highlights from the game.
Watching some film of #Gators Anthony Duruji when he was a sophomore and his Louisiana Tech team played against LSU. He had 22 points and 9 rebounds, showing that he should have no problem competing with the length and athleticism of the SEC. @Anthony_Duruji pic.twitter.com/R50bB4ca7j
— Eric Fawcett (@Efawcett7) November 8, 2020
Even against LSU, one of the longest and most athletic teams in the country, Duruji shined as a spectacular athlete who very well might have been the best leaper on the floor. Look at the way he elevated in traffic to get the ball away taller players. LSU was 8th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage that year and Duruji was able to get 3 offensive rebounds, something not many players were able to do. In that moment he looked like the most athletically dominant player on the floor and if he was doing that against LSU as a sophomore, there is no reason he won’t be doing that in his fourth year of college for the Gators.
When it came to attacking off the dribble Duruji was able to get to the rim a few times and drew two fouls when attacking. There were two layups he ended up missing that he would love to have back and on those plays you could tell there is still some polishing to do when it comes to his offensive game. His explosiveness makes for a great first step but at this moment his ball handling wasn’t at the level to keep up to his speed making for a couple awkward drives. This is an area where improvement should be expected from his time as a sophomore to where he’ll be at for the Gators with a redshirt year where I’m sure he tightened up the handle.
So much of Duruji’s performance that was impressive is that he stepped up when his team desperately needed it. This was unquestionably the biggest game on the schedule and Duruji was relied on as a player who could hang athletically with a gifted LSU team. One area Duruji’s clutch gene came through was when it came to his 3-4 mark from the three-point line with one of the hits coming while he was getting fouled. Duruji shot 35% from three in his two years as a Bulldog, an encouraging number for a player known as a slasher and dunker. His jump shot can be a little messy at times and lacks some fluidity (something you often see from players who are as long as Duruji, huge wingspans make prototypical shooting form a bit tougher) but when it came to taking and making big shots he was more than ready against the Tigers. The national average for three-point percentage hovers around 33-34% from year to year and if Duruji can be over that mark while also bringing all-world athleticism, the Gators will be in great shape.
Speaking of Duruji stepping up when the team needed him, he took on defensive assignments that were incredibly difficult. Louisiana Tech lacked size which often meant Duruji was forced to play center, something you saw in that video clip where he was matched up on Naz Reid. Duruji is listed at 6’7” and 215 pounds whereas Reid is listed at 6’10” and 250, so this was no easy matchup. Fighting for every inch Duruji showed a great compete level, but ultimately it was his length and leaping ability that made up for the size difference. Reid ended up with 4 points on 2-7 shooting and Duruji’s defense was a huge part of that. When he wasn’t checking Reid he also had a few minutes on 6’11”, 255 pound Kavell Bigby-Williams and he showed he could hang despite giving up a lot of size. If the Gators choose to go small with Duruji at the center for stretches he’ll be able to battle bigger players and I’m sure it’s something Mike White plans on trying.
A one game sample shouldn’t be used to entirely define one player but it can give an indication of where that player is at when it’s against elite competition. Especially for a player like Duruji whose game is so predicated on athleticism these types of evaluation settings are important. If he wasn’t able to compete athletically with LSU you’d know right away and if he was overmatched there would be fair reason to have concerns about his fit at Florida. However, not only did he hang with LSU but he thrived, coming out as the best player on the floor that night.
Something else that can’t be forgotten is that this game was played on November 16, 2018. By the time the Gators tip off the 2020-21 season over two years will have passed since that moment. That means Duruji’s game should have improved significantly since that game against LSU and after a year of dedicated work as a redshirt he could be ready to break out. Duruji isn’t getting the same attention as some of his teammates but he could be a major piece of what makes Florida successful this season.