When San Francisco transfer Julian Rishwain announced his commitment to Florida, he wasn’t expected to have much of an impact in the 2023-24 season.
Rishwain’s 2022-23 campaign came to a horrific end when he suffered a non-contact knee injury in January. These injuries can often keep players out of action for as long as a calendar year and given that it took place in January it wasn’t just his current season that was finished–the upcoming season was in jeopardy.
For that reason, his commitment to Florida where he filled the Gators’ final open scholarship was seen as a bit of good will from Todd Golden and his staff–they knew Rishwain to be a hard worker and a man of character, and coming to Florida would give him a chance to rehab and maybe get into some action in conference play. There was also some thought that he would redshirt the 2023-24 season and come back in 2024-25 fully healthy.
However, some news came down this past week that completely changed the story. Rishwain was cleared for full contact, meaning he could be available for game action in a few weeks once he gets back to speed after nearly ten months of recovery.
Now, we can start to think about what this could mean for Florida, what might be expected from a healthy Rishwain, and how much he should see the floor.
Rishwain’s story starts in the 2019 season when he played as a freshman for Boston College alongside former Gator CJ Felder. At just under 15 minutes per game he got solid run for a first year player, though Boston College did a lot of losing in a challenging ACC. When COVID hit Rishwain, a Sherman Oaks, California native, wanted to get closer to home so he transferred to San Francisco. As a sophomore he averaged 7.9 points per game, his career high, while shooting 37% from three. Next season as a junior he averaged 7.4 points per game but improved his three-point shooting to 43% making him one of the most lethal catch and shoot players in the country.
Unfortunately for Rishwain, his senior season wasn’t so successful. His shot stopped falling, meaning he was going to see the bench in key moments in games. The three-point shot that he was known for dipped to 24%, and then he suffered the devastating knee injury that ended his season.
Now that he’s healthy, the Gators find themselves with this question–are they getting the 43% three-point shooter from two years ago, or are they getting the 24% three-point shooter from a sample size more recent. And, of course–how will Rishwain’s knee injury affect all of this?
In 2021-22, Rishwain hit 40% of his catch and shoot threes and 58% of his off the dribble threes (though it was only 19 attempts). He could get these threes in a number of ways, whether as a pure floor spacer or off movement with the Dons getting him loose with dribble handoffs and screens.
In 2022-23, the catch and shoot threes that Rishwain used to thrive on started to betray him. He shot only 23% on catch and shoot threes, and his 31% from three off the dribble wasn’t good enough to salvage his overall efficiency.
Whether in 2021-22 when Rishwain’s threes were falling or in 2022-23 when they weren’t he wasn’t someone who provided much offensive inside the arc. He was an intelligent cutter when teams would overplay him on screening actions, but generally if it wasn’t a wide open backdoor cut–Rishwain wasn’t getting a lot of activity at the rim. Now that he’ll be taking a significant step up to the SEC level–you can bet that shooting the three will be much, if not all, of what he’s bringing to the Gators when he’s on the floor.
If the Gators want to get the most out of Rishwain’s shooting they should pay close attention to what his shot chart has looked like the past two years. Many catch and shoot players love the corners–but that isn’t the case with Rishwain. Even when he was having his best season as a junior–he shot only 33% from the corners which is below the national average. Last season as a senior, he shot 16%. Where he thrives is from either wing where he shot an astonishing 46%, clearly where he likes to operate from. Even last year with his immense struggles he managed 33% from the wings which isn’t great but is still respectable, whereas from every other part of the floor he was poor. Given that Rishwain is going to be somewhat of a gadget player at the SEC level the Gators will have to pay close attention to his best spots on the floor in order to have him be effective.
Jump shooters are generally stereotyped as poor defenders, but Rishwain has actually been solid on that end of the floor. He’s got good size for a guard at 6’5” and 190 pounds (what he was listed at last season–though he’s said to be up to 200 pounds at Florida) and he takes pride on that end of the floor. As a junior Rishwain was a solid defender, but last season he took a huge step in that area and had rock solid numbers grading out as the best points per possession defender on the team. Additionally, the Dons were 9 points better per hundred possessions defensively with Rishwain on the floor versus on the bench, which is a pretty solid number for an individual player. Watching the film, it almost seemed like he kicked his defensive intensity up to another level a couple of weeks into the season when he realized his shot just wasn’t falling like he was used to–something that speaks to his competitiveness.
The question now is whether he’ll still be able to defend at a high level now that he’s coming off a huge knee injury–and if his quality defense at the West Coast Conference level will also turn into quality defense in the SEC. If Rishwain is able to regain his 40% three-point stroke and defend at a league average level in the SEC he could push for a role–but that is easier said than done. It’s not like there is a track record of role players going from the WCC to SEC–and there certainly isn’t a record of players doing it after coming off major injuries.
If Rishwain is able to contribute for the Gators it will be an incredible story of resilience, and it will be easy for fans to rally around a high-character, hard working player that loves to shoot the ball and play defense. It will be an uphill battle, but clearly Florida’s coaching staff think there is a chance that Rishwain will ultimately be able to contribute.