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Kerry Blackshear commits to Florida

The Gators waited out a circuitous recruitment — and landed the biggest prize of transfer season.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-East Regional-Virginia Tech vs Duke Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

There has not been a transfer recruitment more closely watched in college basketball in recent years than that of Virginia Tech transfer Kerry Blackshear, whose star turn against Duke in the 2019 NCAA Tournament made him a wanted man as soon as he announced he would enter the NBA Draft process and the transfer portal in mid-April.

And the talented big man kept the college basketball world on tenterhooks for the better part of the last few months merely by going about his draft preparation quietly. It was no major surprise when Blackshear withdrew from the NBA Draft, as he did not crack many big boards, but it was also no surprise when he went on a series of visits — including to Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Kentucky — during an extended re-recruitment.

What was surprising to many was how closely-held the details of that recruitment were. Neither Blackshear nor his family spoke to reporters, leaving many to piece together crumbs — or, worse, pretend that crumbs constituted a full meal — in assessing his opaque decision-making process.

On Wednesday night, Blackshear sprang one final surprise — by committing to Florida, as first reported by Stadium’s Jeff Goodman and then confirmed by just about every other college basketball reporter with a gig, and some local folks, too. Multiple sources also confirmed to Alligator Army that Blackshear had committed to Florida.

Blackshear himself finally made it official around 10 p.m., posting a graphic and a note to Instagram.

And yet, it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise at all.

Blackshear visited Florida first after finishing his NBA Draft efforts, and Florida insiders consistently connected him to the Gators largely because of proximity to home. Blackshear played his high school ball at Orlando’s Maynard Evans High, and his parents remain in the area. (There was also the matter of Blackshear being a longtime fan of Al Horford, a no-brainer given their similar games.)

Blackshear was also frequently thought to be searching for a program that would showcase his talents and give him a chance to compete for significant stakes in 2019-20. And Florida seemed to fit that mold best, with a promising returning core of Andrew Nembhard, Noah Locke, and Keyontae Johnson joined by top-10 recruit Scottie Lewis and poised to improve on the Gators’ second-round NCAA Tournament exit but no established big man seemingly a threat to take a starting spot from Blackshear.

Comparatively, no team Blackshear seemed to be considering had both legitimate hopes of a deep NCAA Tournament run and a large hole for him to occupy.

Kentucky, which also pursued Blackshear extensively, was able to go the furthest of the teams chasing him in the NCAA Tournament and should have a roster at least on par with the Gators’ this fall. But the Wildcats’ annual problem — “problem,” to be fair — of getting an appropriate number of touches to every excellent player brought to Lexington by John Calipari would likely have presented itself to Blackshear even if the Wildcats didn’t first land fellow graduate transfer Nate Sestina of Bucknell this cycle, thanks partly to Stanford graduate transfer Reid Travis having an up-and-down year that left his father miffed about his NBA Draft stock.

Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas A&M, and Virginia Tech, by contrast, would all seem to be in rebuilding mode for 2019-20 to one degree or another, with the Razorbacks, Aggies, and Hokies all in their new coaches’ first year and Rick Barnes attempting to build a team as good as Tennessee’s 2018-19 squad — arguably the Vols’ best ever. And while A&M did have the pull of Blackshear’s former coach, Buzz Williams, and Tech had the gravity of years of memories made in Blacksburg, neither of those things ever seemed to matter all that much to Blackshear himself, making Virginia Tech’s 11th-hour push to bring Blackshear back seem a bit over the top.

And so Blackshear is headed to Gainesville, where his parents should be able to make short drives to see him play and where he could end up being the fulcrum of an offense that will give Mike White a go-to option down low for the first time since John Egbunu’s injury — and could also conceivably become Florida’s best big man since at least Patric Young.

Blackshear’s commitment also extends a string of success for the Gators in recruiting former Virginia Tech stars. Blackshear will follow Dorian Finney-Smith and Jalen Hudson in becoming Hokies-turned-Gators.

He will be expected to be the best of the bunch, no small feat given what Finney-Smith and Hudson were capable of at times for Florida. But Blackshear averaged 14.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per contest at Virginia Tech last year, and did so despite splitting the spotlight with first-rounder Nickeil Alexander-Walker, a potent offensive player. When Blackshear dropped 18 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists on Duke in the Sweet Sixteen — frequently getting the better of none other than Zion Williamson — it was less aberration than meeting expectation.

In any projected Florida lineup, Blackshear will be the most polished offensive player — and even if he is flanked by several Gators with NBA aspirations, those players — almost to a man — have reputations as team-first players. If Blackshear’s year at Florida is to be a success, it will be because either he or the players around him or both sublimate at least some of their ego for the betterment of the team.

But Blackshear picking Florida alone adds an immense talent to what was already a promising nucleus, and will make a team that should have shown up in every preseason top 25 a frequent top-10 choice and a trendy Final Four pick.

For Mike White and his program, the hype is here.

What the Gators do from here will make that hype ring out or ring hollow.