GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida point guard Chris Chiozza said the team started clapping as rehabbing center John Egbunu took the court for light drills Monday, an encouraging step as he nears his return from a torn ACL.
“It was kind of funny seeing John out there. We have not seen him out there in a long time. So he came out there and he was ready to practice and everybody was just happy,” Chiozza said.
Egbunu, who tore his left ACL last Feb. 14, was cleared for non-contact drills, but the timetable for his return has not changed. The Gators are still hoping the 6-foot-11, 265-pound senior will return in late January.
“Just kind of evaluating him from day to day. [Team trainer Duke Werner] is still sticking to the late January [window],” coach Mike White said. “I’m hoping late January means January 16th, might be January … how many days are in January? I don’t know. It’s a pain tolerance deal, it’s a swelling deal, it’s a comfort level. It is ultimately a conversation between Duke, our trainer, and John Egbunu at the end of the day.”
Freshman center Isaiah Stokes (ACL) and freshman forward Chase Johnson (concussion) have also been cleared for non-contact drills, though Stokes could still opt to redshirt and Johnson has played only 33 minutes this season.
Egbunu is the potential game-changer for the Gators.
Florida’s lack of frontcourt depth has been its weakness all season long. Kevarrius Hayes (5.1 points per game, 5.1 rebounds per game) has been the team’s only veteran presence inside, but at 6-9, 225 pounds he’s still outsized by many opposing centers. Meanwhile, still-developing 6-11 sophomore center Gorjok Gak has averaged just 10 minutes per game while playing through a knee injury and is now dealing with a concussion.
White talked Tuesday about the challenge of having guards play help defense in the post while trying not to expose the perimeter.
Egbunu, meanwhile, averaged 10 points and 6.5 rebounds per game over the last two seasons while totaling 84 blocks in that span. He brings a distinct defensive presence when healthy and has the potential to significantly change the dynamics of a Florida team that is nonetheless off to a 12-5 start and 4-1 in SEC play.
“You know what he can do. Everybody knows what he can do. He’s a huge presence on the defensive end and the offense end, as well,” Chiozza said. “He does a good job. He’s going to bring us some post presence on both ends of the court. I think our post defense will be better when he’s back. We won’t have to trap as much and he can clean up some more mistakes like Kevarrius does a good job of doing.”
Chiozza added that even though Egbunu was still very limited in practice Monday, “it was good just seeing him out on the court again.”
White said that both Egbunu and Stokes, if he opts to play this season, would still need to get into game shape in addition to being medically cleared.
“It looks like we just signed two defensive ends. They’re both just big guys and John showed a little explosion, again non-contact, but he darn near tore the rim down a couple times yesterday and he was excited about it,” White said.
NOTES: Johnson remains day-to-day while Gak is doubtful to play Wednesday night against Arkansas. But the Gators should have freshman guard Deaundrae Ballard (6.3 ppg) back in action after he sat out last week due to an illness.