Gator Country May Basketball Q&A Part One

Now that the transfer portal has settled and we’re well into the offseason it’s time for another Gator Country members Q&A series!

As is always the case, I’ll be taking questions from Gator Country members on the Full Court Press basketball board. If people continue to ask questions these articles will continue, so it’s not too late to ask a question if you’re a member or join Gator Country today to submit a question.

Here’s part one:


Mrgator: Did we exchange a high scoring team for a defensive team that may struggle to score or do you see a good balance with the players we have and/or will add in the portal by fall?


In short–you nailed it. 


Last year when you look at Florida’s portal additions it was scoring, scoring, and more scoring. The staff probably thought they’d get some defensive upside from Handlogten (people who read my initial articles on Handlogten will know I did not), and Tyrese Samuel was a good defender at the center position and they possibly thought they’d still be able to get some defensive quality even though he was put in a tough position, but when you really look at the additions closely you could have seen this season coming. In the days of bringing in four year players from high school that maybe even redshirted their first season you could shape those guys into what you wanted them to be, but in the portal age you “get what you pay for,” much like how you can essentially predict how many sacks a NFL team is going to give up based on how much money and draft equity they’ve spent at that position.

That was last year, but it’s important to use that example to set the stage for the 2024-25 season where like the question asks and alludes to, the Gators instead went after defensive players. Alijah Martin brings some offensive punch but is known as a better defensive player, Sam Alexis was known around the Southern Conference as as a much more impactful defensive player, and Washington State’s Rueben Chinyelu is someone with almost no offensive game at the moment but is someone who can block a ton of shots. When you see how the Gators allotted their resources–it was all about defense. I think this is a good strategy for the Gators. Todd Golden has always been more of a defensive guy and when he tried to lean into offense like last year the Gators were never able to get into a rhythm and it was an up and down season that ended in frustration. This is definitely a roster that gets back to how Golden is most comfortable coaching, and that’s trying to get buckets in transition, dominating in the halfcourt defensively, and trying to find a way in the halfcourt offensively. 


The question mentions a “good balance” and to be honest I’m not totally sure if you could say that’s the case with this team–it is heavily, heavily tilted to the defensive side of things right now and I’m not sure there will be the internal offensive development among the players or enough elite schematic changes to make the Gators a top defensive team. Florida still has room on their roster but there aren’t a lot of impact players left so I think we’re looking at the main structure of what the team is going to be and fans should prepare themselves for a very different style of basketball this season than last season.

Alright, we started with a pretty long answer here–don’t expect this kind of length for every question, don’t worry!


67walkon: Is the likely starting lineup Clayton, Richard, Aberdeen, Condon and Haugh? Is anybody else likely to crack the starting lineup?

This is not the likely starting lineup according to what the staff has been saying, and once again–you can “follow the money” in this situation. Florida did use the resources required to get Alijah Martin to have him off the bench, so you definitely slide him in there. According to what I’m hearing from the staff, the starting lineup would be: 


Walter Clayton 

Alijah Martin
Will Richard

Alex Condon
Rueben Chinyelu


Again, this is just what they think right now. Personally, I think Florida’s best starting lineup would be:

Walter Clayton
Alijah Martin
Will Richard

Sam Alexis

Alex Condon


Look, we saw how much two centers hurt the Gators defensively last year and it’s not an experience I think the Gators should sign up for again. Additionally…I still have to squint to imagine Chinyelu playing big minutes in important SEC games. Yes, he was just a freshman last year and yes, he hasn’t been playing basketball for that long–but the film was extremely rough offensively and he was fourth in frontcourt minutes on Washington State who was a good team–but I don’t think the second big off the bench in the Pac-12 is someone that should be starting on an SEC team that’s trying to be serious. Condon at the five would play to his defensive strengths much better, and straight up–I just think Sam Alexis is a better player than Chinyelu right now, AND his versatility fits the starting lineup much better. Florida’s staff has always loved Chinyelu even going back to when he was a recruit so I think they’re going to try hard to make it work with him as a starter, but I’ll put my starting five out there as the one I think would be better. 


G8trdave: Do you think Walter Clayton sticks with the NBA Draft, or does he come back?


This question is not as straightforward as it was a couple weeks ago, I think. When Walter Clayton entered the NBA Draft while maintaining his eligibility there were a lot of people that thought it was a certainty he’d be back with the Gators but it’s never that simple. Additionally, you should never count out a player that’s “getting NBA feedback” until he actually gets that feedback. It’s important to note that there are two things at play here: the player performance, and the market. First, let’s talk about performance. Clayton did extremely well at the G League combine in both the athletic testing and the scrimmages. Sure, he measured as a 6’2” guard but that wasn’t a surprise to anyone, but when it came to athletic testing he was tremendous with his agility and vertical leap. Then in scrimmages he showed the scoring ability that translated just fine against better players where he was one of the top point getters. 


Now, let’s talk about the market. Whether or not to enter the draft isn’t always just a performance question, it’s looking at who else is available and what kind of opportunities will be available relative to other years. By all accounts this is one of the weakest drafts in a decade, and there isn’t the same level entering the league that would normally be expected. In past years when the draft was strong it might have been easier for Clayton to bow out knowing there would be a lot of guards with more prestige ahead of him with the available contracts, but this year there could be more spots available than ever.

I do not think Walter Clayton would be drafted if he stayed in the NBA Draft this year, but there is a good chance he’d get a two-way opportunity. Fortunately, with NIL the Gators will be offering him much more than the value of a two-way contract so it’s not a purely financial decision like these situations were in the past. Actually, if it was a short term, one year financial decision–a return to college would be the smartest one. However, if Clayton sees a chance to get his foot in the door in a weak NBA Draft cycle it could be the decision he makes.

Right now the biggest knock on Clayton is that he’s a 6’2” guard that isn’t a point guard. Right now Florida doesn’t have a true point guard and would be giving him the opportunity to play that position, so they’ll be selling him on the chance to come back, show some film at point, and put up big numbers. Florida should find out soon if he goes for this or whether he goes pro. My guess is that he’ll be back at Florida, though I don’t think it’s as certain as some initially thought.

A couple of these answers ended up going pretty long so we’ll stop part one here, but look for part two to come out soon and if you still have questions you want answered head to the Full Court Press board and post them on the appropriate thread.

Eric Fawcett
Eric is a basketball coach and writer from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His work has been found at NBA international properties, ESPN, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, Lindy's and others. He loves zone defenses, the extra pass, and a 30 second shot clock. Growing up in Canada, an American channel showing SEC basketball games was his first exposure to Gator hoops, and he has been hooked ever since. You can follow him on Twitter at @ericfawcett_.


  1. Walter also just recently became a dad. How much that factors into the financial decisions,
    Pro $ compared to N.I.L. $ – I have no clue, but it could factor in the final decision.

    Personally speaking, Walter is my favorite Gator hoopster so I sure hope he returns.