A pair of Florida wings got some good press this week as junior Keyontae Johnson and sophomore Scottie Lewis were named to their respective position group’s award watch list.
Johnson was named to the Julius Erving Award watch list, awarded to the nation’s best small forward, while Lewis was named to the watch list for the Jerry West Award given to the top shooting guard.
Including Johnson to the Julius Erving watch list was a no-brainer. Johnson was one of the top players in the SEC a year ago and has found himself on the national radar as a possible All-American candidate. He was a stat sheet stuffer for the Gators averaging 14 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.2 steals per game last season and he’ll be looked to as a leader in his third year in Gainesville. With a reputation as a supreme athlete his ability to throw down ferocious dunks gets a lot of the attention, but Johnson is more than just a high flyer. He’s been a consistent 37% three-point shooter through two seasons and has become a responsible defender often tasked with guarding the opposing team’s best offensive player. If Florida reaches their ceiling as a team Johnson’s play will have a lot to do with it and team success could very well bring Johnson individual accolades as well.
Scottie Lewis’ addition to the Jerry West Award watch list wasn’t a sure thing but having his name included shows that there are many people expecting a breakout year from him. Things didn’t always go as planned for Lewis as his offensive and defensive performances lacked consistency but he was definitely playing his best basketball of the season at the end of conference play, evidenced by the 44% he shot from three. Keeping up that clip almost certainly won’t happen, but what could very well be unleashed from his game is the ability to attack the rack and finish. Lewis is a spectacular athlete, something that was often on display in transition but not often in the half court against set defenses. After an offseason of working on his handles he should be able to get more drives to the hoop and when that happens he can take flight and demonstrate the athleticism that has some NBA teams sniffing around his talents. Averaging 8.5 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 0.8 assists as a freshman he’d likely need to drastically bolster his numbers to get some consideration for the award but being included in the watch list is certainly an accomplishment.
Given the quality of competition the Gators are going to be playing against it makes sense that they’ll see a number of players on both the Jerry West and Julius Erving watch lists. In the Jerry West shooting guard category Florida will play against MJ Walker from Florida State, John Petty at Alabama, and Terrance Clarke at Kentucky. Both Walker and Petty have been warriors in past contests against the Gators and Lewis will have the task of slowing them down. Clarke is a trendy freshman at Kentucky with NBA buzz (I know you’ve heard that one before) and will challenge Lewis’ defense with his scoring. James Bouknight from Connecticut was another player the Gators were slated to see before the Huskies decided to cancel their trip to Gainesville. Watch for that game, a return from when Florida went to Storrs a year ago, to happen at Florida next season.
When it comes to small forwards on the Julius Erving watch list the Gators will see star freshman BJ Boston at Kentucky as well as Yves Pons at Tennessee. Boston is a player the Gators had some interest in as a recruit but ultimately he was set on Kentucky for most of his recruitment. He is a long, talented scorer in the Kevin Durant mold and you can see why he would be included on this list. Pons is an interesting player for the Vols, an absolutely absurd athlete who came to Knoxville with raw explosiveness but no real talent before slowly building his game to the point he’s at now. When Johnson faces off with Pons it will be the two most athletic players in the SEC, and some of the most athletic in the country, facing off and that could make for a legendary matchup.
Having two players named to watch lists speaks to the talent of Florida’s roster and the fact that the media is taking notice of what’s going on in Gainesville. Individual awards are going to be secondary to team success in the minds of both these unselfish players but if the Gators perform at a high level and become one of the top teams in the nation it will largely be because of these two.