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John Egbunu to return to Florida for senior season

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The physical big man was considering going pro.

NCAA Basketball: Florida at South Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Florida Gators center John Egbunu will return to the program for his senior season, Florida announced late Friday.

"I'm a Florida Gator in my heart, so I wanted another chance to come back and be a Gator," Egbunu said. "I've graduated from here, and I love playing here, being a part of the culture and being with my teammates – it's a fun team to be around. It's also a chance for me to continue to improve and grow as a player and help the team however I can. And I can't forget to mention how great it is to play in front of the Rowdies and all of our Gator fans."

Egbunu had been considering forgoing his final season of collegiate eligibilty to turn professional, having entered his name for consideration in the 2017 NBA Draft. And I was told by a source earlier this spring that the feeling around the program had been that Egbunu — who graduated from Florida this spring, and who will spend much of 2017 rehabilitating from a torn ACL suffered in February at Auburn — would leave Gainesville rather than attempt to return for a cameo in the Gators’ 2017-18 campaign.

Instead, Egbunu will stay and aim to play with the Gators in the second semester of the 2017-18 season. Florida spokesman Denver Parler writes in Florida’s release that Egbunu’s recovery is “proceeding on schedule, and he is currently targeting a mid-January return,” while Florida staff writer Chris Harry writes that Egbunu’s recovery “figures to stretch into January.”

Egbunu averaged 7.6 points per game in 2016-17, down from his 11.0 points per contest in 2015-16, and his raw rebounding numbers stayed almost the same, ticking up only very marginally from 6.5 rebounds per game to 6.6 rebounds per game. But while that decline as a scorer tracked with a significant drop in scoring efficiency, as Egbunu went from making nearly 60 percent of his shots as a redshirt sophomore to under 50 percent of his shots as a redshirt junior, his rebounding percentages actually ticked up, and Egbunu improved substantially as an individual low-post defender, stymieing a slew of big men before sustaining his ACL tear in a blowout win over Auburn.

If Florida somehow gets back the Egbunu of 2015-16 on the offensive end and the Egbunu of 2016-17 as a defender, it will be getting one of the best frontcourt players in the SEC as a mid-year addition.

But Egbunu has a long and difficult recovery before him before he is even cleared to practice, and it remains to be seen whether a player whose physicality is integral to his game will be able to match his previous form, much less surpass it.