Redshirt years can be difficult for players when they transfer from one program to another. After competing nearly year-round from the time they were in middle school they’re forced to the sidelines, watching their teammates and friends compete without having a means of intervention since they can’t get into the game. They’ve got to keep their fitness level up and continue to grow their skills despite the fact they’re many months from game action.
Another unfortunate element of the redshirt year is that players can be forgotten. They go to a new school and a new fan base that probably hasn’t seen them play before and instead of being able to get on the floor, showcase what they can do, and endear themselves to the home crowd they have to put on a polo or a track suit and stay on the pine.
Florida has a pair of special transfers in Tyree Appleby, from Cleveland State, and Anthony Duruji, formerly of Louisiana Tech. While Florida has utilized the graduate transfer to great success they haven’t dabbled in a lot of true transfers and for that reason it’s easy to forget about what the Gators have waiting for them in the 2020-21 season. Additionally, now that we’re midway through the year with the current roster we can start to see how Appleby and Duruji will fit in.
Both Appleby and Duruji are outstanding players whose decisions to come to Florida honestly probably didn’t get enough fanfare at the time they happened and despite the team’s struggles and roster limitations there hasn’t been a lot of talk about these two players and how they could help moving forward.
These two players were never forgotten but it’s probably time for a reminder of what they are as players and what the Gators are going to get when they get activated in a year.
Every year in college basketball you see older, experienced teams thrive. More and more underclassmen are leaving college hoops for pro possibilities and for that reason there is a lot of roster turnover in high major basketball.
The Gators are 344th in experience this year with only one senior in Kerry Blackshear. A year ago they were 269th. Florida hasn’t been able to get old recently and experience hasn’t been a strength in quite some time.
Both Appleby and Duruji played two years before transferring to Florida meaning when they take the floor they’ll both be redshirt-juniors. In their fourth year of college basketball they’ll be veterans out there and that’s something the team has desperately needed. Not only did they play two years each, but they played a lot. Appleby started in 54 games while at Cleveland State and Duruji started 50 at Louisiana Tech. Both earned their roles in the starting five midway through their freshman years and never looked back and they both played heavy minutes throughout their careers at previous schools, 30.5 per game for Appleby and 29.9 for Duruji.
Mike White and his staff have been tremendous recruiters while at Florida, but sometimes you don’t know exactly what a freshman will be in his first year or two before they develop. The Gators have had some great performances from freshmen but they’ve also had to rely an awful lot on young players to produce. Next year the Gators will have the luxury of inserting two proven college players to the mix.
Duruji scored 12.2 points per game while adding 6.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. That season Conference USA was considered the 16th best league according to KenPom so Duruji saw good challenges every night. Additionally, it’s worth noting in the non-conference they took on the LSU team that was eventually a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament with multiple talented frontcourt players Duruji had to match up with.
In that game he had 22 points and 9 rebounds.
Cleveland State played in the Horizon League, a conference ranked 18th according to KenPom. Is it high major competition? No, but Appleby torched it in a way not many players could.
Last year he averaged 17.2 points, 5.6 assists, 3.7 rebounds, and 1.4 steals. It’s also worth noting that his team didn’t have a lot of offensive weapons and he was the focus of every team’s scouting report. Putting up those kinds of numbers is difficult in any league and he showed time and time against that his knack for scoring is going to be effective against just about anyone.
Let’s get into some specifics.
There have been countless calls by fans for Florida to play faster but truthfully the current roster isn’t currently built to be a transition-heavy attacking team. A focus on transition offense in practice has resulted in an improved fast break attack recently and the Gators are up to 1.015 points per possession in transition.
Keep that number in mind.
It just so happens that Duruji and Appleby are both players that thrive in transition. 22.1% of Appleby’s shots came in transition while 15.4% of Duruji’s came on the run. Not only did they take a lot of shots on the break but they were extremely effective.
Appleby led a tremendous fast break at Cleveland State which resulted in some excellent numbers. When running transition with the ball in Appleby’s hands Cleveland State was at 1.374 points per possession. His speed in the open floor and shiftiness with the ball in his hands made him incredibly difficult to guard and his ability to pull up and shoot at any time and at any range made him a constant threat. The Gators have some good ball handlers and distributors in transition but they don’t have someone with the scoring threat of Appleby and he will bring an entirely different element to the fast break.
Duruji is simply an all-world athlete. At 6’7” with ridiculous length and a max vert that would exceed most NBA players it’s safe to say he’s going to stand out in college hoops, even at the SEC level. Those physical tools make him perfectly suited to playing in transition and at Louisiana Tech he was a one-man wrecking crew on the run. He was at 1.2 points per possession in transition while shooting 63.6%. At his size he’s still faster than a lot of guards and he seemingly could always get to the hoop whether it be using just his speed or his physical strength as well to shield defenders. When he got there he would simply elevate over any defenders in the area and finish.
Not only are Appleby and Duruji great transition players individually but they have the perfect complementary skills. Appleby is a threat with the ball in his hands as someone who can pass with precision or pull up to hit a jumper and Duruji is an absurd finisher who is going to dunk anything around the rim. This is going to be a scary fast break tandem and it’s something that’s going to make fans extremely happy.
When it comes to shooting the three the Gators have been enigmatic of late with some hot shooting nights as well as some serious dry spells. Inconsistent shooting is going to come with having a young team and inserting two fourth-year players in 2020-21 is going to really help.
At 6’7” Duruji can get his shot off against most defenders and he was a decent 33.9% three-point shooter a year ago, mostly making his attempts from the corners while not being quite as hot above the break. It’s worth noting that as a freshman he was a 39.4% three-point shooter, albeit on not a ton of attempts, but looking at his form he’s likely a better marksman than 33.9%. Considering he’s an athletic forward he’d offer value as a shooter from that position even if he stays at 33.9% but as a more experienced player that number could definitely rise.
Appleby, simply put, was a ridiculous shooter at Cleveland State and it’s one of the reasons he was so sought after as a transfer. His 38.9% from three is a great number on it’s own right but it doesn’t tell the entire story of how good a shooter he is.
You see, Appleby isn’t someone who had the luxury of camping out on the perimeter waiting for teammates to find him an open shot. He was the one with the ball in his hands having to create for everyone, and that means a lot of his threes were difficult, contested threes off the dribble. In his last year at Cleveland State Appleby only had 59 catch and shoot attempts and a whopping 117 attempts off the dribble. Many of those were from behind the arc and the fact that he was still able to put up a great three-point percentage shows just how incredible of a shooter he is. At Florida his ability to hit tough shots is going to welcomed as they don’t have a lot of perimeter players who can improvise and hit a tough shot, but there is also a really good chance he gets a ton more open shots than he did at Cleveland State. If he hit 38.9% of his threes when most of them were really difficult attempts there is a good chance his percentages are much higher when playing with some other playmakers at Florida.
When you see Appleby’s point totals you might think he was a score-first guard but that’s not actually the case as he was one of the best passers in college basketball. Appleby was 12th in the country in assist rate in his sophomore year and that number wasn’t a fluke as he was 37th as a freshman.
As a reference point Andrew Nembhard is currently 51st in assist rate after finishing 46th as a freshman.
We all know how good of a passer Nembhard is, so you should now know how good Appleby is as a passer.
Appleby’s lethality as a scorer definitely plays a role in his ability to pass and get his teammates open shots as he attracts a ton of defensive attention with his shifty ball handling and accurate pull-up game. When Appleby takes a ball screen teams need to be aware of his ability to shoot at any moment and they usually have to send multiple defenders at him. What’s impressive about Appleby is that he remains unselfish despite his scoring talent. When teams send multiple defenders he doesn’t force things, he simply makes the right play and hits the open man.
Florida hasn’t had a scoring point guard like Tyree Appleby in a long time and he is going to really change their look offensively. As one of the best scorers and best passers in college basketball you have to look at him as one of the most talented overall offensive guards in the country and he’ll be looking to make noise while at Florida.
Athleticism isn’t everything when it comes to defense but man, it helps. Watching the film of Duruji at Louisiana Tech is a treat and there are times where it feels like he guard the entire floor. At 6’7” Duruji moves like a 6’1” guard. He’s extremely quick and changes directions effortlessly and that allows him to cover a lot of ground. When guarding the ball there isn’t much ball handlers can do to get around him and as a help defender he could come over and block shots you didn’t think were possible for him to get a hand on.
Mike White likes to switch a lot of actions within his man-to-man defensive scheme and Duruji is perfectly suited to that. If he gets switched onto a guard he can use his long arms to deter drives, or simply slide his feet and utilize his quickness. If he gets switched onto a center, no problem. He’s got more than enough strength to bang with the big guys and if they try to shoot over the top he’s got the length to stop it.
Not only does he have the physical tools but he has the desire to work hard defensively and control that side of the floor. Playing heavy minutes at Louisiana Tech didn’t seem to hurt his motor and he always competed defensively, sprinting to close out to shooters or to help out on a drive.
When an opponent puts up a shot Duruji is always looking to end the possession with a defensive rebound. He was 402nd in the country in defensive rebound rate grabbing 18.2% of possible boards at Louisiana Tech and that’s something that’s going to be welcomed with the Gators, a team that hasn’t been great in the rebounding department over the last few years.
Looking at what Tyree Appleby and Anthony Duruji bring to the table is fascinating because in a lot of ways they plug the holes that the current roster has.
Mike White wants to play fast but hasn’t been able to. Both players thrive in transition.
The Gators haven’t had a potent scoring guard in a lot of years. Appleby is precisely that.
Florida hasn’t had a great option at the power forward spot in three seasons. Duruji is the versatile forward piece that can play multiple roles.
And, both are adding valuable experience that the team really needs. There is a reason both were heavily recruited in the transfer market and a reason Mike White desperately wanted them. They really are a lot of what this team needs from both an on the court and a personality standpoint.
Getting too excited about what these two players are going to add in 2020-21 might seem foolish because the Gators are halfway through a season right now without them but Tyree Appleby and Anthony Duruji deserve it. They came to Florida without a lot of hype and there should be excitement and expectations for what they’ll bring this year. Both are working incredibly hard by all accounts to be highly impactful players next year and if their past work in college is any indication they will be fantastic SEC basketball players.