Throughout the summer I’ve gotten tidbits here and there about the Gators basketball program and while on their own not all of them warranted a story or even a post on the forums, they have accumulated to the point that I could put them all together.
Here are various updates I have gleaned from sources about how things are going around Florida’s basketball program.
There has been a lot talked about Tre Mann’s summer, especially regarding his unfortunate bout with COVID-19. Fortunately, he’s on the other side of it and by all accounts is looking good. He has noticeably grown (listed at 6’5” by the Gators) and when you see him next to Scottie Lewis (who is listed at 6’5”) he almost looks a bit taller.
Mann started the offseason declaring for the NBA Draft, something that some people found surprising since his freshman season didn’t go off as we would have expected for the McDonald’s All-American. While he didn’t have a reasonable shot at getting drafted or even getting a two-way deal as an undrafted free agent, there were teams interested in talking to him. He had multiple meetings with the Atlanta Hawks, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Philadelphia 76ers, and he also reportedly spoke to the Minnesota Timberwolves as well. His work in high school was enough to get on the radar of some NBA teams and the fact that he was able to have those conversations shows why he went through the process, even though some people thought it was a curious decision.
The incoming recruit from Michigan has spent a lot of time working on his offensive game this offseason, particularly his shooting touch. This could differentiate himself from the lob catching Omar Payne or the baby hook post-up game of Jason Jitoboh and could help him carve out a role. Castleton applied for a waiver this offseason, one that he was ultimately able to get. Being from Florida and moving closer to home during the pandemic worked to his favor, as that exact kind of transfer has yielded multiple successful waivers this offseason.
On another note, Castleton told me that his wingspan is around 7’3”. Just looking at him his rangy arms are instantly noticeable and it’s nice to hear he has a +4 wingspan to his already tall 6’11” frame. Castleton is a solid defender who can move his feet well and he offers some ability to dribble and pass the ball that Payne and Jitoboh don’t bring so he has a chance to play a big role at the center position.
Florida’s incoming freshman from Russia by way of Tennessee basketball powerhouse Hamilton Heights has had an interesting offseason as it was up in the air whether he’d be able to go home to Moscow. The fear was that if he went there he wouldn’t be able to get back into the country in time, something that could derail his offseason. However, things ended up working well and he got to Gainesville on time and ready to work, measuring at a 6’7” which looks fantastic for a skilled wing.
All reports of Ruzhentsev in practice are that he is shooting the (blank) out of the basketball. I had heard from multiple sources that this was the case, and then Mike White mentioned it in a zoom press conference where he referenced Ruzhentsev hitting shots like Noah Locke. He then realized that was some heavy, heavy praise and decided he should probably walk back the statement a bit as to not give sky-high expectations for Ruzhentsev, but just the fact that he is in the conversation with one of the best shooters in the country is entirely exciting. And, of course, he’s shooting the ball like that at 6’7’.
Ruzhentsev has a picture perfect jump shot with immaculate form and if you haven’t yet seen it you are in for a treat.
Florida’s other incoming recruit Niels Lane has had some terrible luck recently. In high school he had much of his final year ruined by injuries and then mono that wiped him out, something that kept him from being as highly regarded as a recruit that he could have been. Unfortunately his poor luck continued this summer. Although he tested negative in a COVID-19 test, he was found to be in close proximity with someone who was positive at the time and for that reason had to enter quarantine. This slowed down his summer and put him behind the rest of the pack in Florida’s practices, but the word is that he has really battled to catch up. Lane looks to be in good shape and measured at a muscular 6’5” and 206 pounds. In high school he was a lockdown defender and he also has good ball handling skills so he could play a number of roles and I’ll be interested to see how the Gators deploy him.
For those of you who regularly read my work at Gator Country you’ll know I am a massive Tyree Appleby fan and have been very excited for him to take the floor for Florida. While reports are that Appleby has looked great, the number one player that I hear the most about is Anthony Duruji. An All-Conference player at Louisiana Tech before transferring to Florida it shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s now dominating practice as a fourth-year college player but it’s still awfully exciting. A 6’7” power wing who is as explosive as it gets, he’s going to drastically add to Florida’s length and athleticism, but it isn’t just his physical tools that are getting a lot of love. His passing and playmaking has been spoken about, as well as his three-point stroke. He was an okay shooter at Louisiana Tech but players often seem to get better shooting as they get older so it makes sense his three-point shot is developing. It’s likely the Gators are going to start Scottie Lewis at the three and Keyontae Johnson at the four this year, but Anthony Duruji is definitely going to make his presence felt and the Gators might have to get him into the starting lineup which could see Lewis going to bench, or Locke coming off the pine with Lewis sliding to the two.