Keith Stone hadn’t had the season many expected of him, but when he went down with a torn ACL at Georgia on Saturday, more things changed for the Florida Gators than one might initially consider.
The redshirt junior was the only true power forward left on the roster after the departure of Chase Johnson earlier in the year. Now, the Gators have to find a way to play effectively with even fewer options to turn to.
That also means keeping the few that are left as rested as possible and away from the injury bug for a few more months.
“We’ve gotta learn on the fly and we’ve gotta continue to infuse confidence into these guys,” said head coach Mike White. “I think we’ve gotta practice differently now. We’ve gotta be sharper mentally. I don’t think we can be as physical for the rest of this season as we had planned on being and we had been to this point … The days of the three-hour practices are over with this group.”
While it is hard for a team any time it loses a player, especially when that player is on his way to having his best game of the season, injuries are a part of the game and Florida has to move on from it quickly.
If the Gators weren’t already relying on their freshmen enough, they will need one in particular to step up even more.
Keyontae Johnson earned his first start in place of Stone last game. He’s the most athletic player on the team and he’s had some eye-popping flashes, but he is the one freshman who is still navigating the transition from high school to college.
White has been stressing playing with a higher motor to him since he stepped on campus, and he’s stressing it now more than ever.
“He’s gotta play harder,” White said. “I met with him this morning and told him that. His motor’s gotta get better, as that will be his ticket to how much success he has at this level—how hard he learns how to play. He could be an elite defender.”
Then, there is a player on the roster who could really relieve some of the pressure put on the other guys to fill the hole. That is Isaiah Stokes.
He has the size to help Florida play with a bigger lineup if needed. He has a great feel for the game and is one of the only bigs the Gators have who can make offensive plays with the ball in his hands.
None of that matters, though, if he’s not on the court. And he hasn’t seen much time there lately because he is totally out of shape and plays too sloppy for White’s liking.
The only one who can change that is himself, but it all comes down to work ethic.
“When you don’t give yourself game experience, you put yourself further behind,” White said. “He’s had difficulty playing without fouling, he’s had difficulty finishing around the rim versus size and understanding our offensive and defensive overall system. You get further and further behind the eight-ball and you don’t get that game experience, you’re further behind in that regard.”
White also announced on Monday that junior center Gorjok Gak will be granted a medical redshirt for the 2018-19 season. Gak was supposed to become available a few weeks into the season, but despite no pain or swelling in his knee, he never got to a point of trusting to play on it again.
He hasn’t been a factor all season, so it doesn’t make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things, but it is just another example of how far behind Florida’s frontcourt is.
An injury piled on top of an already hurting position is the last thing a team fighting to keep its season alive needs. That’s just the epitome of Florida’s luck recently.