People didn’t imagine that the aftermath of the Billy Donovan era at Florida would go so smoothly. Then again, it is still incredibly early in Mike White’s tenure.
The two seasons prior to the 2016-17 season, the Gators failed to make the NCAA Tournament — one of those being the last year of Donovan and the other the first of White.
It is not as if we have a ton of numbers to back up any sort of claim that Florida is back. Or, more accurately, going to be as good in a sustainable fashion as those Donovan teams.
Still, reaching an Elite Eight in only his second season as the head coach is certainly a positive harbinger for White. We can all take guesses as to what it means for the long-term, but even if we acknowledge that the program might have been ahead of expectations so early in this new era, it’s going to be hard to temper down those old-turned-new high expectations.
But make no bones about it, having reached the Elite Eight this past season, Florida is in a tricky spot as a program.
The Gators lost wing Canyon Barry (graduated) and forward Devin Robinson (NBA Draft). That is two key players from what could be considered an overachieving team in the forever improving SEC.
There’s more to roster change than that, as new players do also enter the fold. Fans and media often focus on the losses of player, or just the influx of diaper dandies heading the university’s way via high schools across the country, but there’s also those fancy already-graduated from college kids.
This is where Florida’s good news comes in, and it comes in the form of a Russian graduate transfer… a turning of a few words folks in Florida likely never imagined they’d welcome with open arms.
Egor Koulechov, the former Rice Owls standout, committed to the Gators on Tuesday evening. He is — or was, at least on the Conference USA level — a rather prolific gatherer of counting-stats.
During the 2016-17 season, the 6-5 guard averaged 18.2 points and 8.9 rebounds for the Owls. As importantly, after coming off a sophomore season in which he scored 16.7 points per contest, Koulechov improved his shooting from beyond the arc, going from a 34 percent three-point shooter to a 47 percent marksman.
How’s that for data?
Here is where things get tricky. Lost in all the graduate transfer is (not) an epidemic hoopla is the fact that very few end up mattering. Sure, a few guys will be solid role guys for solid teams, but few are as impacting on the national stage as the backlash to the number of kids leaving one university for another apparently warrants.
This isn’t a great use of numbers, as young players do tend to develop, but prior to Rice, Koulechov played a season at Arizona State, where he only averaged 3.7 points in 14 minutes of action a game. While that is almost certainly due to being a freshman as opposed to being a lesser player in a power league, it does help highlight why some caution might need to be met with the player’s arrival to campus despite the gaudy numbers.
Thing is, Koulechov won’t be asked to be what he was at Rice while wearing a Florida uniform. Maybe he will at some point, but that would only be after he’s proven he should be some marquee player on a power program roster.
Until/if then, he’s going to likely be used as that sharpshooting daredevil who will offset whatever spacing issues Florida’s offense might face, adding a veteran presence in the process, and helping to curb the loss of some talented guards by being immediately eligible to play — both in the NCAA’s bylaw term and in skill set.