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Florida lands commitment from VMI transfer Trey Bonham

Florida has its creator.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 29 VMI at Wofford Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Florida’s men’s basketball program had already earned commitments from a couple of players in the transfer portal as of the weekend — but its most important commit of this offseason may have come on Monday, as Virginia Military Institute transfer Trey Bonham reportedly made a commitment to the Gators, and gave Todd Golden’s program its first lead guard in so doing.

Bonham played two seasons for the Keydets of VMI in significantly different roles. Shooting a superb 43 percent from three helped him thrive as a freshman while mostly being used as a reserve asked to score points coming off the bench, but his playmaking proved to be his standout skill as a sophomore who ran the Keydets’ offense, and his 28.5 percent Assist Rate ranked just inside the nation’s top 100 in that statistic and reflected a season in which he had 16 games with four or more assists and just one without multiple helpers.

That Assist Rate is not just better than any posted by San Francisco star Jamaree Bouyea over his three years leading Golden-coached Dons teams, but better than the very good one — 26.9 percent — put up by Tyree Appleby for Florida in 2021-22, and comes without turnovers nearly as frequent as the ones Appleby made. (Bonham had just four games with four or more turnovers and a Turnover Rate of 17.4 percent last year; Appleby had a staggering 10 such games and a Turnover Rate of 23.6 percent for thee Gators.)

And evaluating Bonham ought to be done in the context of him replacing Appleby — whom Golden could probably have kept as a lead guard with the proper overtures — as the Gators’ top floor general.

If Bonham can sustain that level of performance as a passer and shot creator against SEC competition, he is likely to be a fine replacement for Appleby, whose intentions to return to college basketball but transfer from Florida were first reported in late March.

But Bonham also did a fine job of adjusting his game to score when needed for the Keydets as a sophomore despite his performance from three dropping to 33 percent, shooting 118 free throws in 27 games and making 83 percent of them, exceeding Appleby’s 125 free throws in 34 games on a rate basis and nearly matching his 85 percent accuracy from the line. Bonham also shot 54 percent on twos, far and away better than Appleby’s poor 41 percent on those shots, and his at the rim shooting percentage of 58 percent is likewise far superior to Appleby’s maddening 43 percent at that range.

That statistical profile — of a guard who generates a lot of assists without as many turnovers and can also get points by driving and scoring both at the rim and line when his shot isn’t falling — is likely to be one that many Florida fans who lamented Appleby’s streakiness will be happy to hear about. And though Appleby’s defense and athleticism are going to be hard for Bonham to match despite being (6’0”, 170 pounds) and Appleby (6’1”, 168 pounds) fairly similar in stature, excising turnovers would have helped Florida’s ill-fated season immensely, and is probably worth a swap of some defensive dynamism.

For what it’s worth, though, Bonham’s Steal Rate was 2.6 percent — just behind Appleby’s 2.7 percent.

While there are obvious questions about whether Bonham can keep doing what he did for VMI while playing against Florida’s usually tough non-conference schedule and the increasingly good SEC, what he did a year ago is arguably better than what Appleby did.

Bonham doesn’t get credit for every bit of his profile, and Appleby wasn’t solely responsible for even all of his “own” mistakes on the floor — basketball is a team game, assists require other players to make shots, turnovers can be on receiver more than passer, and turnovers generally mount when one player is asked to do as much as Appleby was for Florida. And Bonham’s Keydets didn’t win anything worth shouting about, either, finishing 16-16 and going 1-6 to close their year mostly thanks to an atrocious defense.

But while I’m a believer in Appleby’s talent and have reveled in his best performances, Bonham’s seemingly steadier play is probably more like what Florida needed last year — and something that Todd Golden wants from his lead guard.

Barring something unexpected, Bonham would seem to be that player for Golden’s first year in Gainesville.