The Florida Gators had already been on one of their most impressive recruiting runs in men’s basketball this century entering the weekend. Mike White’s top-10 signing class, headlined by top-10 prospect and potential lottery pick Scottie Lewis, had already been supplemented by Virginia Tech transfer Kerry Blackshear, maybe the best graduate transfer available in the relatively short history of graduate transfers.
And now the Gators have added Cleveland State guard Tyree Appleby, who made a public commitment to Florida late Sunday, and have the foundation for a fine crop of newbies in 2020-21 as well.
Appleby was a star for a bad Vikings team in 2018-19, averaging 17.2 points, 5.6 assists, and 3.7 rebounds per contest while also connecting on 39 percent of his threes. Appleby’s Assist Rate of 37.4 was No. 12 nationally, and he drew 6.7 fouls per 40 minutes, No. 25 in Division I. That production couldn’t prevent Cleveland State from going 10-21 and finishing near the bottom of a wretched Horizon League, but on a team with just one senior playing meaningful minutes, it’s hard to fault Appleby too much for that.
And what Appleby can do is much more exciting than what his team couldn’t do. Quick as a blink, decisive with the ball, and confident in his shot, Appleby presents a lot of problems to defenders despite being undersized at about 6’1” and 165 pounds.
It’s not hard to see why Tyree Appleby is desired by so many high major teams. Extremely crafty scorer and gifted passer. #Gators trying to work out a visit soon. @Lil_App04 pic.twitter.com/aLd8YemxHF— Eric Fawcett (@Efawcett7) July 3, 2019
Florida may need a player like that desperately in 2020-21 — or may have needed that player, anyway. By the time that season begins, Lewis will almost assuredly be on an NBA roster after a single one-year stint in Gainesville, Blackshear’s eligibility will have expired, and Andrew Nembhard may well have forgone a junior year for a second and final tour through the NBA Draft process. Add in that Noah Locke is more shooter than slasher, and factor in that while Florida should still have freshman scorers Tre Mann and Ques Glover back for their respective sophomore seasons, neither has seen the floor yet, and Appleby becomes an appealing pickup merely for being a proven quantity at the collegiate level, even if he was an unknown coming out of his Jacksonville, Arkansas high school.
And with Florida increasingly seeming to prioritize shooting and shot creation from its guards under Mike White, who used that formula to great effect at Louisiana Tech, assembling a quartet of Appleby, Locke, Mann, and Glover would give defenses four headaches to deal with on the perimeter, something that Florida hasn’t really had in several years.
And then there’s the possibility that any of those four players — or others on Florida’s roster — might not be with the Gators in 18 months’ time for whatever reason. White lost the final member of his 2017 recruiting class, Isaiah Stokes, just after Blackshear’s commitment was announced, and though he and his assistants moved quickly to replace Stokes by locking in on and securing a commitment from Appleby, that sort of attrition is something White and every other college basketball coach will have to contend with going forward, as the trend toward player empowerment shows few signs of letting up.
Florida probably doesn’t have all that much flight risk to worry about from Locke, who fits White’s system beautifully; Mann, who grew up in Gainesville; or Glover, whom the Gators stole out from under Tennessee’s nose by extending maybe his best offer late in the 2018-19 cycle. But it should have even less to worry about from Appleby, who will almost certainly not be eligible in 2019-20, but would have two years to play after that: A transfer who leaves a second school before playing a minute would struggle to find much purchase at a third.
And so White and his assistants have rebuilt a roster that looks Final Four-level strong for 2019-20 and still has a foundation for the future laid beyond that.
Now all he has to do is coach that roster, and develop it into a team capable of achieving the lofty goals that will be set for it.