Florida’s Egbunu returning for senior season

The Gators have 20/1 odds to win the 2018 NCAA Tournament at Sportsbook.ag.

Published on Saturday, 5/20/17, at 2:52 p.m. Eastern.

Florida center John Egbunu is returning to school for his senior season. After testing the waters of the 2017 NBA Draft, Egbunu announced Friday that he’s coming back to UF.

“I’m a Florida Gator in my heart, so I wanted another chance to come back and be a Gator,” Egbunu said in a school release. “I’ve graduated from here, and I love playing here, being a part of the culture and being with my teammates – it’s a fun team to be around. It’s also a chance for me to continue to improve and grow as a player and help the team however I can. And I can’t forget to mention how great it is to play in front of the Rowdies and all of our Gator fans.”

Egbunu tore his ACL in a Valentine’s Day win at Auburn. Therefore, he will almost certainly miss the entire non-conference slate. The hope is that Egbunu will be ready for SEC play in early January.

Egbunu, who started his career at South Florida before transferring to UF after one season in Tampa, averaged 7.6 points and 7.8 rebounds in 24 games as a junior this past year. He has played 58 games for the Gators, including 49 starts. The 6’11” 255-pounder has 84 blocked shots since coming to Florida.

With the return of Egbunu and rising junior Kevarrius Hayes, the Gators will have great size and muscle in the paint. Gorjok Gak, who is also 6’11”, will also be back for his sophomore campaign. Although Gak’s skills remain a work in progress, the Australian big man provided quality minutes from off the bench during UF’s run to the Elite Eight in 2016-2017.

The starting lineup will likely consist of Chris Chiozza and KeVaughn Allen in the backcourt. Hayes will start at center, while grad transfer Egor Koulechov (18.1 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 47.2% 3-point shooter at Rice in ’16-17) will most likely start at power forward. Kourlechov can also play the ‘3’ position, but the small-forward slot could go to Keith Stone (who can also play the ‘4’), Va. Tech transfer Jalen Hudson or incoming freshman DeAundrae Ballard.

John Egbunu has 84 blocked shots in 58 career games at Florida. The senior center hopes to be ready to play by early January after tearing his ACL in a Valentine’s Day win at Auburn.

Hudson sat out last season after leaving Blacksburg. He is an explosive scorer who will have to improve defensively to earn a spot in the starting lineup. Dontay Bassett, who redshirted as a freshman last year after season-ending foot surgery, will also compete for playing time at small forward.

Ballard is considered the prize of a four-player recruiting class. All four players in Mike White’s second class were tabbed as four-star recruits.

Most publications that have posted Way-Too-Early preseason Top 25 rankings for next year have the Gators in the Top 10. They have 20/1 odds to win the 2018 national title at Sportsbook.ag. Those are the 10th-shortest odds on the board.

For more Florida basketball conversation, check out Episode 6 of my Games Galore podcast. UF beat writer Chris Harry and I talk Gator hoops for 30 minutes starting at the 47:15 mark.

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