Florida has received a commitment from South Florida transfer John Egbunu, as CBS Sports's Jeff Borzello, ESPN's Jeff Goodman, and Scout's Evan Daniels all report. And in one fell swoop, the Gators have landed one of the best prizes of the 2014 transfer market, all but replaced Damontre Harris, and secured their frontcourt for at least the 2015-16 season.
Egbunu is the rare top-100 recruit who chose to go to a program less than commensurate with his skills, but he picked USF along with an AAU teammate, Drew Davis, the son of his AAU coach. Davis eventually failed to qualify to enroll at USF, but Egbunu ended up in Tampa — despite waiting until August 2013 to be cleared for the fall, then becoming the focus of an NCAA probe into his eligibility in January — and played fantastic basketball for a freshman for the Bulls.
Egbunu scored 7.4 points and grabbed 6.2 rebounds per game in just under 25 minutes a contest in 2013-14. He also became the Bulls' rim protector, averaging 1.3 blocks per game and occasionally doing things to make observers drool, like swatting a Marcus Smart attempt with picture-perfect form.
But USF was, charitably, terrible, going 12-20 and a hideous 3-15 in the AAC, as awful guard play and perimeter shooting (USF was dead last nationally in three-point percentage) submarined a team that had a surprisingly good frontcourt, between Egbunu and fellow freshman Chris Perry. Coach Stan Heath was fired in March, and the Bulls have had to endure a slew of transfers since, most notably Egbunu.
Egbunu chose Florida over a gaudy list of schools interested in him: Arizona, Georgetown, Michigan State, and Virginia Tech — where former South Florida assistant and Egbunu recruiter Steve Roccaforte landed after being let go along with Heath — were all said to be interested, and the Hoyas, Spartans, and Hokies got visits from the 6'10" center of Nigerian descent.
But he picked Florida. And that's a huge get for the Gators, who now have a center of the future more proven than any high school recruit they could have snagged.
Egbunu likely won't be eligible until 2015-16, as he's required by NCAA rules to sit out a year like any other transfer barring some unreported and documentable reason for a waiver, which, well, don't count on it. But Florida was in dire need of big men in 2015 and beyond, with fellow transfer Jon Horford having one year of eligibility remaining, talented big Chris Walker likely headed to the NBA after the 2014-15 season, and Damontre Harris seemingly stuck in a permanent purgatory of his own making. Florida had already reeled in the lanky Kevarrius Hayes for its 2015 class, but Hayes is the sort of slender, athletic project who doesn't profile as the cornerstone of a defense as a true freshman, and might be better served as a power forward.
Egbunu already was a defensive cornerstone for USF, and he should only get better with better coaching and strength training at Florida. You can't teach height, as the axiom goes, and Egbunu has plenty of it, but he's also got a fantastic frame, with long arms and legs, and he's got a gazelle's gait and a jackrabbit's hops. Since Harris committed to Florida, I have ranted and raved about his shot-blocking skills — but I legitimately think Egbunu could be better, because all of his tools are superior.
The logistics, though, are tricky. Despite Egbunu not being eligible to play until the 2015-16 season, he will require a scholarship in 2014-15 — and that means that Florida, with 13 scholarships already committed for the upcoming season, will be freeing up (or has freed up, more honestly) a scholarship for him, one way or another.
The most likely fallout is the departure of Harris, whose time at Florida included an arrest, a suspension that turned into an indefinite suspension and, eventually, a dismissal from the team, and a surprising return to school and the team that didn't ever include a return to Florida's official roster. And the word I've heard on Harris since the end of the 2013-14 season has been pessimistic at best, with multiple sources indicating that he'll never play for Florida.
Harris could leave Florida and transfer elsewhere — the program gave him his release in December, around the time Billy Donovan dismissed him from the team — or stay as a glorified walk-on and compete as part of a loaded team. Of those two prospects, I'd lean heavily toward the former, and I think it's highly unlikely that he'll be a part of the Florida roster in 2014-15.
Florida's other possible options for freeing up a scholarship next year would presumably include the medical disqualification of either Eli Carter or Dillon Graham, both of whom redshirted in 2013-14 as the result of serious injuries. Carter's recovery from a broken leg suffered as a Rutgers player at the tail end of the 2012-13 season went more slowly than expected, and Graham was plagued by bone spurs in both hips, which is probably even more painful than it sounds.
But both Carter and Graham have been close to model citizens at Florida, and certainly more so than Harris, and there's nothing in Donovan's history to suggest that he would run off a healthy, contributing player. (Only Gators also has a source who is adamant that Graham won't transfer.) The departure of Cody Larson was Larson's decision as much or more than it was Donovan's, and most of the rest of the transfers of the Donovan era have been attributible to players deciding Florida's system, and/or the playing time available within it, wasn't right for them.
Egbunu, meanwhile, is the other face of that coin: He's a talented player coming to a system that should showcase him, and really might end up a lottery pick if he excels like he could at the heart of Florida's defense.
His commitment also likely signals the end of Florida's recruiting in the class of 2015. With Egbunu on board, Florida has 14 players in line to be on scholarship in 2015-16, and even Chris Walker's very likely departure only gets the Gators down to 13. Unless unforeseen attrition happens, Florida simply won't have the space available to chase players like Antonio Blakeney and Daniel Giddens. Given how good Blakeney and Giddens are, that's either probably going to be a painful fact for some to accept ... or an indication that we may, in fact, see some of that unforeseen attrition.
But Egbunu's in a rare stratum of talented and athletic big men. If all goes according to plan, he is going to be an absolute terror for Florida on defense in 2015-16 and beyond. He alone is a really good pickup.
And even if he may not be a savior, he's more than just a salve.