GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida basketball coach Mike White was clear to state that he’s not aware of any actual setbacks in senior center John Egbunu’s pending return from a torn ACL, but he also said there are no guarantees there either.
That will surely concern those hoping Egbunu’s presence on the interior would be a difference-maker down the stretch of the season for the Gators.
“I don’t even think it’s a foregone deal that he’s going to be back,” White said Tuesday, raising some eyebrows among the gathered media. “I don’t spend any time thinking about it. I literally haven’t asked [team trainer Duke Werner] about John or Isaiah [Stokes] in a week or two, I guess. … They feel great. It’s just their knees. I guess it’s a wait-and-see thing. When that problem [of deciding how to add them into the mix] — which will be a great problem — presents itself, we’ll figure it out then.”
Egbunu sustained a torn ACL in his left knee last Feb. 14 and the Gators’ medical staff had been loosely setting late January as a potential target for his return.
Stokes, a freshman, is also recovering from a torn ACL, and it’s possible he could opt to take a redshirt this season.
Both returned to practice last week while being limited to non-contact drills. White acknowledged then that they each had a ways to go to get into game shape, but he seemed encouraged watching Egbunu throw down some emphatic dunks.
White revealed Tuesday that Egbunu has probably done a little less in practice recently while feeling pain in his non-injured knee, perhaps due to overcompensating for the other.
“I wouldn’t consider it a setback. It’s probably more normalcy with regard to an ACL, but he tried to do some non-contact stuff yesterday and he got a little sore,” White said. “… So who knows how long this process will be of acclimation for him.”
Egbunu, in particular, is key for the Gators, who have almost no frontcourt depth and nobody who commands the interior presence he does with his 6-foot-11, 265-pound frame. Egbunu averaged 10 points and 6.5 rebounds per game over the last two seasons with 84 total blocks in that span.
Without him, Florida has been left to rely on 6-foot-9, 225-pound center Kevarrius Hayes and 6-foot-8, 245-pound forward Keith Stone as its frontcourt anchors.
Gorjok Gak, a still-developing 6-foot-11, 245-pound sophomore, has been in and out of the lineup while dealing with his own knee issues and more recently a concussion that sidelined him the last two games.
He’s expected to be available Wednesday night when Florida (14-5, 6-1 SEC) hosts South Carolina (12-7, 3-4).
”We’ll get a little Gorjok Gak action, which we like to call ‘Gaktion,'” White said. “We’ve got a little ‘Gaktion’ coming our way today. Excited about that. Yep, add a little size. He looked good yesterday. Not a lot of contact, but he was bouncing around a little bit, wasn’t limping quite as much. His head feels clear.”
Even when he’s been on the court, though, Gak has averaged just 2.9 points and 2.6 rebounds per game.
White praised the defensive growth of Hayes and Stone, meanwhile, but it’s easy to see the difference a healthy Egbunu would make for the Gators — if that eventually comes to fruition.
”I had a few guys with ACLs in 18 years and had a teammate with Ole Miss with ACLs and you just never know, you just never know,” White said. “I don’t think we can put a ‘John is going to be back for this game and this is what he’s going to give us,’ I don’t think we can bank on any of that. It’s going to be some practices and evaluations and then it’s going to be a few minutes in a game and evaluate from there. …
“In all due respect to John, I’d love him to be back as much as anyone out there, at 100 percent, but thinking about that right now is taking the focus off where it should be.”