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Florida basketball coach Mike White provided an update on center John Egbunu's expected return from a torn ACL.

Florida basketball coach Mike White addresses front-court issues, timeline for potential help

Ryan Young

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The Florida men’s basketball team tumbled all the way from No. 5 to No. 22 in the AP Top 25 poll after rough losses to Florida State and Loyola-Chicago last week.

The good news is the Gators bounced back with a 66-60 win over then-No. 17 Cincinnati on Saturday night. But their most glaring weakness nonetheless remains without an immediate solution.

The latest Gators Mailbag Question of the Day looks at Florida’s outlook for bolstering its frontcourt.

When will the Gators get some good news in their depleted front court with the return of injured players?

Not soon enough, unfortunately.

Coach Mike White revealed Thursday that the timeline for the potential return of center John Egbunu and/or big freshman Isaiah Stokes, both recovering from torn ACLs, is now looking like late January.

Florida simply doesn’t have a physical interior presence in Egbunu’s absence. The Gators managed to make a run to the Elite 8 last season nonetheless, but as this team has struggled to consistently deliver the defensive intensity White expects, the lack of depth on the interior has been magnified.

“[Team trainer Duke Werner] just continues to tell me late January,” White said. “Stokes is playing a little noon ball with our staff. Pounded that thing into him yesterday to make sure we got a ‘W’ against the managers. It’s nice to have that. Usually in noon ball we can’t pound it to the interior.

“John Egbunu had a good workout today with Coach [Darris] Nichols. He’s doing some individual stuff. No contact stuff with those guys.”

Meanwhile, junior center Kevarrius Hayes, who lacks the physicality of the 6-foot-11, 265-pound Egbunu, has had his struggles while being asked to anchor the Gators in the frontcourt. He’s averaging just 4.4 points and 4.6 rebounds in 24.4 minutes per game.

Also, freshman forward Chase Johnson remains out as he is “just not feeling well.” And sophomore center Gorjok Gak didn’t practice the first part of the week due to a knee injury.

As for Stokes, the 6-8, 270-pound freshman, he indicated in the preseason that he would consider redshirting this season if he felt it was in his best long-term interests.

“We talk about our offensive and defensive interior deficiency issues and part of it, quite honestly, is we’re decimated in the front line right now,” White said. “We have to get guys back healthy. We’re practicing with nine guys and the two manager/walk-ons.

“You wish we had all four bigs in practice today and we were at full strength, but we’ve got to make do. We just came off a game where we defended on the interior differently. We had to do it with five guys, less margin for error of course, but it can be done. We can’t rely on John Egbunu playing one-on-one defense for us for 38 minutes and letting everyone else extend out to shooters. And we’ve got to all be on the same page, and as we talked about earlier, not only in transition but in halfcourt. Our accountability level to each other has to be darn-near perfect.”

The next test for the 6-3 Gators comes Saturday against 8-1 Clemson in Sunrise, Fla.

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