GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida forward Keith Stone admitted he was in “a dark place” earlier this season.
His confidence was shot, and whatever criticism was out there, he was hearing it.
“My parents sent me tweets. My brother, all those people sent me tweets and pictures. … My high school coach sent me pictures, and I was like, ‘Dang, that’s how they really feel about me?’ So I was like ‘All right,’ and I kind of lost confidence in doing anything,” he shared last week.
“I don’t know, I don’t use Twitter no more. I just got off of it.”
That’s probably for the best, but whatever chatter there is on social media about Stone now is surely overwhelming positive.
No longer in the “dark place,” the redshirt sophomore has earned a share of the spotlight for the Gators with the best four-game stretch in his collegiate career.
Florida took its first SEC loss Saturday at Ole Miss, but Stone set a new career-high for the second time in four games with a 23-point performance. He went 13 of 18 from the free throw line, registering the most attempts from the stripe by a Gator since Joakim Noah shot 22 way back in 2006.
Starting with a then-career-best 18 points at Texas A&M on Jan. 2, Stone has now averaged 16 points and 6.8 rebounds over his last four games after averaging 5.8 PPG and 3.2 RPG through the first 13 games.
“Keith will tell you, if you asked him, that there was one specific conversation, but I recall a bunch that were pretty similar, so I don’t know which one really hit home,” Gators coach Mike White said of what has prompted Stone’s emergence. “… And I don’t even know if it was me or a relative or an assistant coach, but for about a month now he’s just been consistently very good in practice, and we’re seeing it more and more in games.”
With the Gators (12-5, 4-1 SEC) decimated by injuries in the front court, the 6-foot-8 Stone has been a fixture in the starting lineup, but he’s been a totally different player over these last four games.
Stone had back-to-back games last season with 14 points against Alabama and 17 against Georgia, but a viral infection undermined the second half of his redshirt freshman season.
He then got off to an inconsistent start this season and started to question himself.
“Yeah, I was in a dark place at one time, but I talked with Coach White and the whole coaching staff. We had a couple conversations and that pretty much explained everything,” he shared last week. “I had no confidence. I was worried about what everybody was saying. The fans, the media. Just worried about that.”
Like White alluded to, Stone doesn’t specify which conversation sparked his resurgence, saying only that it happened earlier this season.
“He explained everything, and I’ve just been playing better [since] that meeting,” Stone said. “He told me simple things to do. Box out, just do the little things, it [doesn’t] matter how many points you score, what you do. Just go out there, have fun and play.”
Interestingly, Stone feels his breakthrough came in a Dec. 22 game against Incarnate Word, but he scored only 6 points with 4 rebounds that night.
“I just played and just didn’t think about anything. Even though I didn’t play hot, the way people expected me to play, I just went out and played,” he said.
The stats would soon follow a couple games later.
Stone had scored in double figures just once all season before breaking out for a then-career-best 18 points in that win at Texas A&M. He followed with 13 points and 6 rebounds at Missouri, 10 points and 8 boards against Mississippi State and his latest career-high 23 points (with 8 rebounds) at Ole Miss on Saturday.
Whatever sparked it, White has indeed seen a different version of Stone these last couple weeks.
“It’s funny, when you feel better about yourself, when you’re playing better it’s a little bit easier to be vocal and to lead. Keith’s fallen into that. And I’m as proud of that as I am of his production and his work ethic in practice,” White said. “He’s a really good teammate, he is. He and Kevarrius [Hayes], along with their production … they’ve become two of our most vocal guys, not only in games, but in practices, in the locker room. And sometimes you can get yourselves going that way on the front end.
“Sometimes that can get that going. Sometimes just by talking and leading and being infectious and thinking about your teammates can get you going, so it’s something we’ll continue to urge our guys to do. Keith’s been a good example of that.”