On Tuesday, Gators men’s basketball assistant coach Kevin Hovde, guard Will Richard, forward Alex Fudge and guard Trey Bonham met with the media to update the team as they continue with fall practices.
Here are the main takeaways:
- The former Richmond assistant coach will be focusing on the offense in Todd Golden’s first season. “I think for us, we’re, number one, always going to try to recruit the best possible talent,” Hovde said about their philosophy. He said it’s not about recruiting to schemes, but rather adapting an offense to the talent on the team. Overall, Hovde said that the attitude and work ethic of the squad have really impressed him as they improve.
- As Kyle Lofton missed time due to injury, Hovde said that Myreon Jones and newcomer Trey Bonham have improved tremendously with more reps. “Myreon is a little older, a little more steady. Trey’s more kind of a playmaker,” he explained. Hovde further explained that the starts of plays are most important for the guards. After that is when the other positions come into play.
- With newcomer Bonham, Hovde said that his playmaking ability has been showing up in practice. Hovde said Bonham has been an effective passer with good numbers on non-box score stats such as virtual assists, where a player misses a shot on what would have been an assist. He added that Bonham has been extremely effective in one-on-one transition, in the pick-and-roll and as a decision maker. He did add that Bonham does need to improve on being an offensive organizer.
- Although battling an injury, Lofton made his return to the court in practice on Wednesday, albeit in a limited capacity. However, in the times Hovde did see Lofton on the court prior to his injury, he’s been impressed with the transfer guard and described him as a “true point guard.” Essentially, Lofton does a good job organizing the offense going up the court. While at Richmond, Hovde coached against Lofton, who was at St. Bonaventure. “He was a guy that you just did not want to compete against because he was so tough. You just knew he was going to make sure his team was ready to go,” he said. He further compared him to Chris Paul.
- Another newcomer making his return from injury is guard Will Richard, who Hovde said has a high basketball IQ. From watching his film at Belmont, he added that the staff noticed how smart and effective he was at cutting and rebounding. However, they think he’s arguably one of the best shooters on the team along with Jones.
- Along with the four transfers and the late addition of Aleks Szymczyk, Golden and the staff brought in two true freshmen in Dr. Phillips (Orlando) teammates guard Denzel Aberdeen and forward Riley Kugel. Hovde said that Aberdeen was “way ahead of the game as a freshman” in his work ethic, fighting through fatigue and being an organizer on the floor. “Riley’s like a basketball savant,” he said of Kugel. Although he didn’t join until after summer, Hovde said Kugel has picked things up quickly, especially on defense.
- As Hovde implements the Gators’ new offensive scheme, he explained what the staff considers a “good shot.” “You’re trying to get as many rim-twos as possible,” he said. “Catch-and-shoot threes would be the next one.” He explained that there are some mid-range shots that are good, but that it can be very hit-or-miss for an offense. “A good rule when you’re playing is a good shot is a shot that the other four guys on the floor know is coming,” he explained. “That’s where the mid-range can be tricky.”
- This week, Richard made his return to the court after a knee injury kept him out. He said that the injury was a result of an awkward fall on a slippery spot while rebounding, and he initially thought it was a lot more serious. Luckily for him and the Gators, it wasn’t as bad as initially thought, and he’s now full-go at practice. Richard added that he’s been testing the limits of his knee the past few days, but from observations at practice, you wouldn’t have noticed he was even hurt if it wasn’t for the tape around his knee.
- Within Golden’s offense, Richard said his role is primarily as a scorer, whether off a dribble or screen, or whether inside or beyond the arc. “That’s something I work on a lot,” he said. “Being a shooter is something I’ve worked on my whole life.”
- Florida’s 2022-2023 roster is made up of eight returnees, four transfers and three freshmen. Three of the returnees are former transfers themselves. With all of the variance, Richard said that the chemistry on the team is extremely good. “That was something that I noticed when I first got here. Everybody clicked automatically,” he said. “We’re all best friends now. It worked out really good.”
- Although he previously played for Belmont of the Ohio Valley Conference, Richard does have experience playing against an SEC school. The Bruins faced Vanderbilt in the first round of the NIT. Despite an 82-71 loss, Richard finished with a team-high 22 points and eight rebounds. “I feel like I’ve always been an underdog, so going against guys that were more recruited than me is something that motivates me a lot,” he said.
- An LSU transfer, Fudge said the decision to come to Florida came down to wanting to be closer to hometown Jacksonville and how the staff treated him. “When you feel love from the whole staff, that’s the best feeling because you feel like you can go to anybody,” he explained. He added that he felt a connection to Golden right away and that Golden told him about how they wanted to bring Castleton back.
- Specifically on Castleton, Fudge said that he someone he can look up to. “I see when he turns up when he’s getting buckets… that like gives me courage,” he said. “With Colin, it’s a blessing.” He added that Castleton has surprised him with his ability to shoot the three. “Now I’m like, ‘We got a stretch five,’” he said while laughing. He added that Castleton’s ability to play the perimeter is scary.
- As Fudge continues to get accustomed to life as a Gator, he said one thing the coaching staff has been preaching to him is consistency, something he struggled with at LSU. “I’m getting better with it,” he said, “but it’s something I have to do every day.” He said the key to improving is playing with a motor while adding that finding consistency and rhythm off-court, such as a rhythm with eating or class, will help find a rhythm on the court.
- In an Oct. 3 practice, Fudge made the play of the day with a reverse one-hand slam over CJ Felder, something he said that he did in a previous practice. Although he dunked over his teammate, and earned the praise of his other teammates, Fudge said that he and Felder have a great relationship. He said that as the two main fours (traditional power forward) on the team, they’re competing with each other for the spot while giving each other tips and pointers. “We learn from each other a lot,” he said. He added that if he had to choose between a dunk or blocking a shot, it’d be a tough decision, but it’s hard to argue against dunking over someone.
- In the same way Dan Mullen described Kyle Pitts as a unicorn, Fudge described Kugel as a unicorn with his ability to finish at the rim. Kugel may dunk or may lay it in, but he has a strong ability to finish in the paint. “He’s like a highlight player,” Fudge said.
- In Lofton’s absence, Bonham has gotten more reps at point guard, which he said has helped him. “When (Lofton) first got out, I was kind of confused because I was playing both the one and the two,” he said. He only knew certain plays for each spot, but now he’s a lot more comfortable in the offense. Echoing Hovde’s statement, Bonham described himself as a playmaker within the offense due to his ability to pass and shoot.
- Echoing Fudge’s impressions of Castleton, Bonham said that the senior forward cannot be stopped on the offensive end. “He can get wherever he wants, and I think you all can see that now he’s got a three to his game now. He’s shooting step-backs and stuff,” he said. “He’s going to be a problem this year for sure.”
- Defensively, Bonham believes that the team’s athleticism, quickness and size could lead them to be one of the best in the country. He added that having big guys like Castleton, Fudge and Jason Jitoboh have helped him improve his own game. “I’m glad you all weren’t here in the summer because you all would’ve thought I was trash,” he said. “It took a lot of time, basically the whole summer, just getting used to that length.” He said that getting to the rim was his biggest struggle.
- As the Gators continue practice, the rotation and “depth chart” is appearing to find itself. However, Lofton said that the competition is running rampant throughout practice no matter the players’ spots. “We split the team blue and white. Usually, the first group is on one team, but there’s been days that the second team busts the blue team in the mouth and they win the day,” he said. “I feel like we got 10, 11 guys that can start.”