The Florida Gators men’s basketball team’s eventful 2019-20 offseason got more dramatic on Wednesday — and then did so again on Thursday morning.
And both moves were arguably very good for the Gators.
Wednesday’s move was Deaundrae Ballard entering the transfer portal, a move first reported by Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports and later confirmed by Florida. Ballard was the third player to announce intentions to transfer away from Florida in just two days, following the Tuesday announcements that Keith Stone and Michael Okauru would depart Gainesville.
And while Stone was a starter for the Gators for a while and played in every game he was healthy for in 2018-19 and Okauru was a useful enough reserve to get burn in one of Florida’s NCAA Tournament games and all of its SEC Tournament contests, Ballard was effectively glued to the bench by year’s end, playing just five minutes over Florida’s last 10 games. And he was riding pine mostly because of his own doing, with his habit of continually straying from Mike White’s concepts on offense, and forever hunting his own shot, landing him outside of White’s rotation.
That penchant did make him a useful player for two Florida teams that occasionally needed a gunner to hoist some shots, and Ballard scoring in double figures six times this year is testament to his ability as an individual scorer. But Ballard had none of those performances after Christmas, and was seemingly the source of each game’s dumbest turnover more often than not; ultimately, Ballard committed 22 turnovers in 343 minutes this year — more, somehow, than the 13 Noah Locke committed in 913 minutes, and more than White would ideally prefer from a reserve guard.
And that is probably at the root of Ballard’s transfer: Ballard is what he is, and two years of coaching (which he reportedly took to heart) haven’t meaningfully molded him into anything different ... and the high-volume, high-octane, high-risk player he is would be a better fit as a starter for a team that isn’t on Florida’s level. Of Florida’s three transfers this week, I think Ballard stands to be the one that most qualifies as addition by subtraction — but I also think he’s the player most likely to flourish elsewhere, given that most of the friction and frustration related to his time at Florida seems to have been related to him being a square peg in a round hole, not any sort of malice or lack of work ethic.
Ballard’s transfer left Florida set to have just nine scholarship players for 2019-20, a dangerously low number. But that number would tick up by one not even 24 hours later, as Thursday morning brought the expected news that three-star big Jason Jitoboh committed to the Gators.
Jitoboh had been on Florida’s radar for a long while — he told Florida graduate Jake Weingarten’s Stockrisers site that the Gators made him his first offer — and Florida beat out Tennessee and UCF, among others, for the 6’10”, 270ish-pound center. And in the three-star prospect, ranked No. 255 by the 247Sports Composite rankings for the 2019 class, the Gators are adding a project who might pay off more down the line than the rest of the players in his star-studded class.
It does not take a long look at his highlights, in which his standout trait is good and willing passing, to get a sense of how raw Jitoboh is as an offensive player.
But that’s arguably something that Florida is now well-equipped to work on, with a dedicated big man coach in Al Pinkins who did a hell of a job in turning Kevarrius Hayes from a terminally limited offensive player over much of his Florida tenure to someone the Gators could — and did — rely upon for points in the paint late in this year. And Jitoboh might not need to play right away in 2019-20 if Florida can bring Isaiah Stokes, Dontay Bassett, Gorjok Gak, fellow incoming freshman Omar Payne and a graduate transfer big to bear as its frontcourt.
That’s a big if. to be fair: Stokes and Gak have injury histories and conditioning to work on, it isn’t entirely clear what Payne can be as a freshman, and Florida hasn’t actually landed a graduate transfer big man yet, despite a prevailing sense that such a move is going to transpire. But Jitoboh’s ceiling is higher than Bassett’s, and he’s a different player from Payne — who profiles more as a Hayes-style forward who can also defend the rim like a traditional center — and so it makes sense for Florida to add him even if the Gators end up redshirting him.
What more Florida will do, with another three scholarships to allocate for 2019-20 — barring, of course, more attrition — remains to be seen, but I would imagine the Gators are more likely to end up with transfers, especially ones who could have an instant impact, than uncommitted prospects from here on in.