Gator basketball hosts pair of transfers, ranks No. 19 in portal recruiting

During his introductory press conference on March 23, Todd Golden laid out his recruiting strategy, pointing to the areas he planned to target in order to mold Florida basketball into the shape he envisioned for it. The 36-year-old Gator head coach said that he wanted to “build a fence around the state of Florida” in high school recruiting, dominating a 400-mile footprint around Gainesville.

Golden said he also planned to target international prospects, capitalizing on his connections in Europe which are the byproduct of his past efforts to recruit overseas as well as his playing career in the second-tier league of Israeli basketball from 2008-2010.

And then there’s the NCAA transfer portal. Golden said having the ability to acquire experienced Division I talent is invaluable and it’s something he and his coaching staff plan to use to their advantage.

“In the past, programs recruited from the ground up,” he said in March. “Recruiting a lot of high school kids and developing from the bottom of the program, getting them through to graduation. It’s just changed. A lot of it is to the benefit of the student-athlete, which is good. With that freedom, the portal is even more important. The recruiting landscape changed more in the last two years than in the last 20.”

Under Golden’s instruction, the Gators have already done a good job when it comes to transfer-portal recruiting, a space that has netted the program three newcomers, Belmont guard Will RichardLSU forward Alex Fudge and VMI guard Trey Bonham.

Richard averaged 12.1 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.2 steals per game this year for the Bruins. Fudge averaged just 13.9 minutes per game last year, though he is a former four-star prospect in the 2020 recruiting class, ranked No. 57 overall in that cycle.

As a freshman at Virginia Military Institute, Bonham appeared in 24 games and made seven starts for VMI and averaged 8.6 points per game. A year later, the 6-foot, 170-pound guard from Mobile, Alabama, averaged 13.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game last year and recorded a 47.8 field goal percentage and 82.6 percent clip from the free-throw line.

Bonham was the Keydets’ top passer with a 28.5 percent assist rate, the 94th highest mark among qualified Division I basketball players last year. He also drew 5.1 fouls per 40 minutes.

The trio of additions currently ranks No. 19 nationally 5 in the SEC on 247Sports’ transfer class rankings, though it’s worth noting that all four SEC programs ahead of the Gators have taken on more transfers: Georgia (six), LSU (six), Missouri (five), and Arkansas (four) .

And still, there is room for Golden and his staff to improve their transfer recruiting ranking which they appear to be aiming for. The Gators still have three scholarship spots open on their 2022-23 roster after sophomore guard Elijah Kennedy announced his plans to transfer from the program. The Gators hosted St. Bonaventure transfers Kyle Lofton and Osun Osunniyi on official visits Thursday, according to an Instagram post from Lofton.

Lofton averaged 12.8 points and 5.9 assists per game last season while Osunniyi averaged 11.3 points, 7.5 boards and 2.9 blocks.

“It’s a very important piece, it’s a place you can go get more data on guys,” Golden said of the transfer portal in March. “We won’t be a strictly-portal program, but it’s going to be a piece of our program building, for sure. We’re looking for really good players. Guys who’ve achieved at a high level at their previous spot. These guys are young men, they’re allowed to make decisions like this.”

Florida’s roster took shape in short order after Golden took over the program. In addition to his three transfer additions, he managed to keep senior forward Colin Castletonsophomore guard Kowacie Reeves and senior guard Myreon Jones in the fold after former Florida coach Mike White announced that he had taken the same position at Georiga.

Golden still has room to continue building.

“We’re going to vet them the same way we would high school kids, talk to their former coaches, but you can find a lot of special student-athletes in the portal that can fit with the makeup of your program if you look hard enough,” he said.

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