When Florida landed a commitment from Tuongthach “Tuon” Gatkek there were plenty of questions raised, and even more googling initiated.
Gatkek was a man of mystery, an unknown JUCO product without so much as a recruiting profile on any of the major scouting services. News of an offer to him only surfaced on Twitter a couple of days prior, and even then it wasn’t from one of the sources that would typically be deemed refutable.
Even with the atypical start to his D1 journey, Gatkek is now officially a Gator and a player we all likely have a whole lot to learn about.
Luckily, in 2021 film and statistics are readily available, meaning any player at any level can be studied.
Here is everything you need to know about the newest Gator Tuon Gatkek.
Let’s start with where he played, Trinity Valley Community College. This is actually a solid program in a very good JUCO league, one that sports a few historically relevant programs in Navarro College, Cowley Community College, Kilgore College, and Tyler Junior College, all places known for producing D1 talent. This is a nice sign for Gatkek who played against good quality competition in his lone year of JUCO, though in a way it adds even more to the mystery. Gatkek was a starter on a relevant team in a relevant JUCO conference, yet seemed to have zero division-I offers other than the Gators.
Playing alongside Gatkek were two committed D1 players. First, Dashawn Davis, a lethal scoring guard who averaged over 20 points per game and was the focal point of the offense. He is off to Oregon State to play for the Beavers. Anderson Mirambeaux, a 6’7”, 310 pound behemoth (who very well might weigh double what Gatkek weighs, considering Gatkek might be less than his listed 175 pounds and Mirambeaux could be more than his listed 310), is off to Cleveland State. Once again, the Gatkek mystery gets more odd, as despite having plenty of eyes on his games and him playing alongside two D1 players, he didn’t get much interest.
Trinity Valley was an outstanding basketball team going 23-3 on the season. They lost their first game of the season before rattling off 22 straight victories before heading to postseason play. Playing against Kilgore College, the team that handed them their opening loss of the season, in the championship game of their conference tournament, they had a heartbreaking single digit defeat. Then they went to JUCO nationals and lost in the Round of 16.
Gatkek was fourth on the team in scoring and first in rebounding and blocked shots, all while starting most games. He was a glue guy, and the high level of winning that Trinity Valley enjoyed should speak positively to Gatkek’s ability to contribute to winning.
Looking at Gatkek, a 6’9” post with a reported 7’4” wingspan, you’re hoping for a dominant defensive player who can get his hands into passing lanes and swat away shots at the rim. There were definitely some moments of incredible defense from Gatkek as he was able to slap away rebounds you would have thought for sure were unreachable. Gatkek is especially suited to weak side shot blocking, rotating over from the opposite side of the floor and making recovery plays with his length to knock away shot attempts given up from dribble penetration.
Where he struggled with rim protection was when physical perimeter players drove straight at him. Gatkek is rail thin right now and guards initiating contact would push him back several feet allowing for space to get their shot off. Now, Gatkek’s length still allowed him to recover and get his fingertips on some of these shots that followed physical drives, but that’s not something that he’s going to do much at the SEC level where there are guards capable of knocking similar players into the first row on drives.
Of course, this is no surprise to Florida’s coaching staff who know what they are getting and are aware that bulking him up is going to be a huge part of his development. Strength coach Preston Greene has never had an issue adding muscle to Florida players, and this will be a chance for him to really showcase his abilities.
Gatkek is still learning the game and you can see that sometimes he is slow to rotate, or takes poor angles when guarding in the pick and roll. This is something he’ll also have to continue to learn, though it’s worth noting that most young bigs, even ones that have been at the D1 level for a year or two, still struggle with these concepts and have much to learn. Gatkek’s path to a regular shift at the high major level is likely going to be as a defensive specialist, so this is definitely an area of focus as the Gators plan out his development track.
Offensively, Gatkek did some of his best work in transition. He loves to get out on the break and run, something that Florida fans will love to hear. His long strides cover so much ground, and if he catches a pass at full stride around the three point line his length allows him to get all the way to the rim without needing a dribble in, dare I say, Giannis Antetokounmpo-like fashion (there will be no more comparisons between the two, I promise). For a Florida team that wants to accelerate their pace of play, Gatkek’s love of involvement in the transition game is likely something that drew them to him.
There were also some moments where Gatkek grabbed a defensive rebound and then started the break himself, utilizing some dribble moves that were somewhat terrifying but shockingly effective, showcasing that he might end up having some upside as a 6’9” player who can handle the rock a bit. Right now the handle was still loose enough to make these full speed dribble episodes a bit stressful, though in fairness he didn’t actually turn it over often.
Using his ridiculous length, Gatkek is also a menace on the offensive glass. He can keep all kinds of rebounds alive by repeated tip outs and once he’s able to get two hands on the ball it was tough for anyone at the JUCO level to block his shot on the putback attempt.
Playing alongside a fantastic guard in Dashawn Davis, Gatkek was also the recipient of plenty of easy dunks and layups from defenses having to load up on Davis and opening Gatkek up to dump off passes. Once again showcasing his length, Gatkek was able to feast on some open dunks by having a wide catch radius and the ability to finish strong.
Gatkek attempted a few outside jumpers, something that he has said he wants to be part of his game. Those attempts didn’t look great, and he finished the season shooting 20% from three. Perhaps that shot will start falling in the future, but he has some work to do on the form. It is always difficult for players with such long arms to shoot the ball, meaning it could be a while before that shot is ready for in-game action. However, his touch didn’t seem too bad and the ball came out of his hand decently, so maybe it’s something we see sooner than later in Gainesville.
Overall, Gatkek was an impactful player on a really good JUCO team, and he did it as a freshman in a conference that was largely made up of players a year older than him. In a lot of ways, his skill set and frame are things that made the SEC fit a bit tough to imagine, if we’re being honest. However, so far he has found a way to be a starter and positive contributor while his teams dominate, so potentially he’ll slide into Florida and immediately start doing the same thing.
This will certainly be an intriguing study into Florida’s player development ability, and I am certainly cheering for Tuon Gatkek to succeed.