Why Riley Kugel’s return to Gators boosts chances of Florida basketball bounce back in 2023-24

By OnlyGators.com Staff
April 6, 2023
Why Riley Kugel’s return to Gators boosts chances of Florida basketball bounce back in 2023-24

Image Credit: UAA

The only consistency with the Florida Gators basketball program over the last few seasons has been its roster inconsistency. Between expected transfers, surprise transfers, unfortunate medical situations and a coaching change, the Gators have been unable to hang on some of their best players while simultaneously bringing in a number of transfers who only stuck around for short periods.

So when freshman guard Riley Kugel arrived late ahead of the 2022-23 season, hopes were raised he could be a stalwart at Florida for at least a few seasons. Then, Kugel didn’t just play well — he made headlines, got the NBA’s attention and became the first Gators freshman to accomplish some of his point-scoring achievements since Bradley Beal, the last such player to depart immediately after one season for the NBA Draft.

After a rocky Year 1 under head coach Todd Golden — largely due to a couple poor evaluations on transfers and the late-season injury to standout forward Colin Castleton — there was concern Kugel would leave, if not for the NBA, perhaps another program via the transfer portal. Even as he reassured Florida fans that he was dedicated to the team, those worries existed.

Kugel calmed those fears Tuesday with a social media video showing highlights from his freshman with a simple affirmation of his commitment to the team: “I’m back.”

The Gators have seen quality players eschew the NBA to return to the program before, but given Kugel became the first Florida freshman since Beal to score double digit points in 10 straight games, he gives the Gators (and Golden) a legitimate scoring threat and fulcrum around which next year’s team can be built.

A member of the postseason All-SEC Freshman Team, he averaged 18.5 points over the last six games, shooting 45.4% from 3-point range during that stretch. In many games, he was the lone bright spot for the program.

With Kugel back, and Yale forward EJ Jarvis — one of Florida’s priority target this offseason — joining out of the transfer portal, it seems the offseason attrition is complete. However, the Gators still have seven of 13 scholarships open, and Golden has made clear he anticipates filling the roster out of the portal rather than through the recruiting of high school prospects.

Two of those spots will likely be taken by the program’s lone commitments, three-star F Thomas Haugh (Pennsburg, PA) and Australian center Alex Condon, a 6-foot-10, 230-pound developmental prospect from the NBA Global Academy.

Ultimately, the key to Florida’s success next season — coming off its first sub-.500 campaign since 1997-98 — will be Golden’s evaluations of those available in the transfer portal. Some key misses last offseason, which Golden has acknowledged privately, left the roster stagnant rather than pushing it forward with the head coaching change.

The Gators also hope to see continued development from sophomore G Will Richard, who flashed late in the season and could form a tremendous one-two punch with Kugel in the backcourt.

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