- Between a top-10 recruiting class and coveted grad transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr., the Gators' infusion of talent could mean big things in 2019-20.
In continuing our annual summer theme of getting you acquainted with the next crop of young, skilled players that will arrive to college basketball, we're taking a closer look at the Top 10 incoming recruiting classes (per the 247Sports composite) in the country. These schools range from the usual faces (Duke, Kentucky) to fresh ones (Memphis, Washington, Georgia), but they all have one big thing in common: there's plenty of major talent arriving. Five-stars get the headline, but a truly great recruiting class often has depth as well—players who can be program-changers over three or four years, not just one or two. Without further ado, let's move to the next top-10 class: the Florida Gators.
Five-Stars: Scottie Lewis (No. 7), Tre Mann (No. 21)
Four-Stars: Omar Payne (No. 45)
Three-Stars: Jason Jitoboh (No. 301), Ques Glover (No. 407)
Other New Additions: Kerry Blackshear Jr. (from Virginia Tech), Tyree Appleby (from Cleveland State) and Anthon Duruji (from Louisiana Tech)
How the Class Was Built
Summer 2018: Five-star point guard Tre Mann became the first commit in Mike White’s 2019 class in late August when he opted to stay in the Sunshine State and give the Gators some serious blue-chip talent over offers from Kansas, North Carolina and Tennessee.
Fall 2018: Five-star wing Scottie Lewis decided to join Mann in Gainesville two months later, committing to the Gators in October, just one day after White also secured the commitment of four-star center Omar Payne. Lewis picked Florida over SEC rival Kentucky after taking official visits to both campuses in September.
Spring 2019: 6’11” center Jason Jitoboh joined the class in March, one day after three former Florida players (Deaundrae Ballard, Keith Stone and Michael Okauru) entered the transfer portal in the same 48 hour span. After the team’s numbers dwindled dangerously low to just nine scholarship players, Jitobah brought them back up by one. Three-star point guard Ques Glover became the class’s last late-ish addition in April.
How It Stacks Up to 2018 and Recent History
The 2018 class was headlined by former five-star point guard Andrew Nembhard, who tested the NBA draft waters but decided to return to Florida for his sophomore season. Four-star wings Keyontae Johnson and Noah Locke rounded out the relatively small three-man crew, which brought two fewer recruits to Gainesville than this year’s class but still contained enough talent to come in at No. 19 nationally as a class. 2019 marks the third consecutive Florida class to crack the top 20 and the fifth in six years to do so, but it's the program's first top-10 class since 2010. Lewis and Mann are the first five-star duo in recent recruiting history to commit to the Gators, who have had a string of successful seasons bringing in top-tier talent with dramatically lower-rated classes sprinkled in between.
White’s second season at the helm, 2016, saw a No. 69 standing, but that year’s class was sandwiched by two top-20 incoming groups. A decade ago, Florida landed the No. 61 ranked class only to follow it up in 2010 with the fifth-best effort in the nation, which then fell to No. 58 the next cycle. The extreme highs and lows have seemed to steady as of late, with the exception of ‘16—which can be likely be explained by the coaching change which occurred a season prior (but after the recruits had committed to play for longtime Florida head coach Billy Donovan). Continually higher profile faces have committed to play for the Gators in the last three straight years, culminating in this year’s top-10 class containing three top-50 players. Florida has become a team that can generally be counted on to be in contention for four and five-star talent and is increasingly expected to land a highly touted class each cycle, as 2019’s newcomers exemplify.
The incoming recruits mark White's highest-ranked recruiting class at Florida since he took over the program in 2015. Lewis is almost certainly expected to enter the NBA draft after this season, assuming all goes as planned. Mann could potentially leave after a one-and-done stint as well, but with Nembhard sticking around for a second campaign in Gainesville, Mann won’t run the floor on his own as much this season as he likely would should he stick around for his own sophomore season. The incoming freshman will likely share the backcourt with Nembhard, but an opportunity to establish himself as the primary point won’t be available right away. Payne should also stay for at least two to three seasons, while it wouldn’t be a surprise if Jitoboh and Glover stay in Gainesville for the entirety of their eligibility. This year’s newcomers are a talented bunch with plenty of offensive potential and enough size to lockdown the paint, but with a roster of equally-as-talented returners ready to step up and highly coveted grad transfers also coming to Florida, they won’t have to replace the production that left when three of the team’s top four scorers graduated all on their own.
Team Expectations for 2019-20
Florida is loaded with returning talent and brings in big-time experience in Kerry Blackshear Jr. to complement its impressive freshman class. Nembhard and fellow sophomores Locke and Johnson are also back to help guide the newcomers on a squad that could seriously contend in a stacked SEC. There’s a case to be made that White added more talent to his team this season than any other program in the country, getting the biggest grad transfer on the market to join one of the country’s most talented recruiting classes and an impressive returning roster. A Final Four appearance wouldn’t be a terrible surprise for Florida as this crew could bring the Gators back into the national conversation. While the Gators haven’t taken a noticeable step back under White’s watch, they also haven’t felt like one of the best teams in the sport in the same way they used to before Donovan departed for the NBA. This season’s crew could (and should) change that.
The Gators don’t have any 2020 commits on board quite yet and look unlikely to land any of the point guards they’ve offered to this point, which is likely due to the depth the guard group currently has and the fact that Mann could potentially stay for the 2020-21 season. Outside of combo guard Cade Cunningham, who kept Florida in his top five, there aren’t too many likely high-profile landings. The Gators are cool on a slew of five-star shooting guard recruits as well, but two current four-star wings–Moses Moody and Niels Lane—look to be warming up to the Sunshine State. Their small forward situation for 2020 reflects a similar scenario, with four-star, 6’7” Samson Ruzhentsev (who sits outside the class’s top-100) looking like their top prospect at the three. Big men look to be more seriously considering Florida, which may make sense given Blackshear’s limited remaining eligibility.