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Florida’s Keith Stone, Michael Okauru to transfer

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A pair of somewhat surprising moves, but ones allowing a press of the reset button.

NCAA Basketball: Florida at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Keith Stone was supposed to be an integral part of the Florida Gators roster in this, his redshirt junior season.

Instead, a season that went sideways for him from its first game and got sideswiped by injury ends with Stone reportedly set to leave Florida as a graduate transfer.

Stone, a three-star prospect who was part of Billy Donovan’s final recruiting class, redshirted in the 2015-16 season, putting weight on a frame that made him a tweener forward. After a relatively unimpressive redshirt freshman campaign that fizzled once SEC play arrived in 2016-17, though, he came into his own as a shooter and a driver in 2017-18, making 42 percent of his threes and thrice scoring 20-plus points while starting the majority of Florida’s games.

The expectation for Stone in 2018-19 was continued development, likely into Florida’s third scorer behind Jalen Hudson and KeVaughn Allen. To say it was not met would be an understatement: Stone, a starter from opening night to Florida’s SEC opener, made more than three shots in a game just once as a redshirt junior, and topped out with a 12-point outing in Florida’s thrashing of Butler. His stroke from distance did not desert him, but Stone struggled as a creator and a defender, ultimately getting benched after a poor night in Florida’s loss to South Carolina.

And just when Stone appeared to be on the verge of breaking out of his season-long slump, with eight points in the first half against Georgia, tragedy struck, with an awkward landing resulting in a torn ACL that would prematurely end his season.

Florida would probably have brought Stone back for 2019-20, even if he is unlikely to be back at full health until January at the earliest. But rumblings had cast Stone’s return to the Gators as unlikely even prior to his injury — and, in Stone’s absence, freshman Keyontae Johnson stepped into a role Stone more or less played as a wing-forward in Mike White’s offense, often excelling.

And with Johnson and ultra-athletic incoming freshman Scottie Lewis likely to both play that role beginning next fall, Stone may well have interpreted the writing on the wall to mean he would likely come off the bench for the Gators — and maybe not even as Florida’s go-to sixth man, given that scoring guards Noah Locke and Tre Mann would be first in line for that role — if and when he returned to action.

And transferring out is thus probably not a bad call for Stone, who could be a go-to player on a roster with less talent than Florida’s will have next year and could also stand to be promised a defined role or a set number of minutes as a graduate transfer that White simply can’t afford to offer to a player who will be rehabbing rather than getting run for much of the summer.

For Michael Okauru, departing now — as he announced his intentions to do in a Tuesday tweet — is almost certainly a matter of seeing the writing on the wall.

That writing might as well have read YOU ARE PROBABLY NOT GOING TO PLAY MUCH HERE. Okauru earned the second-fewest minutes of Florida’s 11 healthy scholarship players in 2018-19, slotting in ahead of only Isaiah Stokes over the course of the full season. And Okauru’s 6.6 minutes per game were fewer than the 11.1 he saw as a freshman — when he shot 40 percent from distance, as compared to his 25 percent clip this year.

Was Okauru going to play a larger role as a junior at Florida, with Andrew Nembhard, Locke, and Mann all ahead of him in a guard rotation? Very likely not, barring unexpected improvement.

With Okauru and Stone departing, Florida is now set to have just 10 scholarship players — seven returnees and three incoming freshmen — on its 2019-20 roster, three short of the NCAA-mandated limit of 13 for Division 1 men’s basketball. I would look for the Gators to dip into the transfer market — probably the graduate transfer market — for forwards and centers to both replace what Stone could have brought and supplement a frontcourt that would seem likely to be Florida’s primary weakness, and would also imagine that Florida could also take a transfer guard.

Stone leaving Florida also means that every player on the Gators’ 2019-20 roster will have committed to the Florida with White as its head coach. Allen and Kevarrius Hayes, the other members of Donovan’s final recruiting class to stick it out in orange and blue, were four-year players for Florida, while Stone would have spent a fifth year in Gainesville had he returned.