How Kerry Blackshear gives Florida basketball something it has been desperately missing

By Michael Phillips
September 27, 2019
How Kerry Blackshear gives Florida basketball something it has been desperately missing
Basketball

Image Credit: ESPN Images

Virginia Tech forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. was the most coveted graduate transfer prospect in the nation following the 2018-19 season. Every school wanted the 6-foot-10 big-man who averaged 14.9 points and 7.5 rebounds a game last season. 

Fortunately for the Florida Gators, the hopes of head coach Mike White came true on June 26 when Blackshear chose to continue his career in Gainesville, Florida. 

“He was the best transfer available in the country last year,” White said Tuesday. “He’s a really good player. He’s an awesome young man, for those of you that had a chance to spend a little time with him. He’s a big addition to our program.”

White was clearly ecstatic when learning Blackshear would be suiting up in the orange and blue this season, and Blackshear knew the coach would react that way. So, instead of just telling White straight up, Blackshear decided to have a little fun as part of the reveal. 

“So we were speaking at a Gator Club in Melbourne,” White said. “How about that, one of my favorite places. We were basically mid-event, and I had my phone on vibrate in case one person called because I thought that the decision may be coming, and I excused myself, walked over to the corner, and it was K.J. And you can ask K.J., crazy story. 

“He told me, ‘I’ve got bad news for you, Coach.’ And I was crushed. Crushed, but I knew I needed to get back to the Gator event. So I couldn’t let myself go there. Just hey, my mindset was, we’ll talk later, I’m in a middle of a speaking engagement. I said, ‘So we’re on the outside looking in, I guess?’ Where did you end up choosing to go, man? I’m happy for you. Crushed a little bit, but we’ll talk later.’

“He says, ‘Yeah, I’ve decided that I’m going to go to University of Florida.’ He just totally messed with me, yeah. So I’m still a little bit mad at him for it. I’m going to get him back Friday [when practice starts].”

White will surely make good on that promise as he has promised that the Gators are in for a rude awakening practice-wise once sessions begin.

With Blackshear’s addition, Florida now has something it hasn’t in quite some time — a dominant big that can control the paint and consistently score down low.

“He’s very talented,” White said. “He’s smart. He understands the game at a high level. He’s tough. He’s stronger than he looks. He looks strong, but he’s really strong, and he’s difficult to defend. He’s a good defender as well. 

“He gives us an opportunity to play a little bit differently offensively than we’ve played here in that we’ve struggled to score on the interior. We’ve struggled at times to get to the foul line, to throw it in the post. He’s the best passing big that I’ve coached. He’s good at a lot of things.”

Blackshear joins an extremely talented, young core of sophomore point guard Andrew Nembhard, sophomore guard Noah Locke, sophomore forward Keyontae Johnson and freshman guards Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann.

According to White, the top priority Blackshear had entering this season was gelling with his new teammates. As the new guy, Blachshear did not want to throw off the team’s rhythm or step on anybody’s toes. He just wanted to add to it and help make the team better.

That’s a great mentality to have, but it may not always be the right move on the court.

“There’s not a big sell to K.J.,” White said. “In fact, he passed up an open shot the other day, yesterday, that I wasn’t too happy about, and I let him know it, and he understood it. He’s so unselfish. He’s leery of stepping on toes. He wants to gel so badly that you can see he’s probably overthinking it a little bit. 

“Really unselfish, super skilled — a couple of these other guys we’ve got to rein in a little bit, but I don’t have that worry with him. He wants Florida to win. He’s in a good place right now. If we’ve got 14 [players] that want Florida to win more than anything else, then we’ve got a chance.”

Figuring out how you fit into the offense and with a brand new team can be a timely process for a player, and it’s a far more common task nowadays than it has been in the past thanks to the transfer portal and significant increase in frequency of graduate transfers.

Luckily, the Gators have been proactive when it comes to such transfers since White has been on campus. The team knows exactly what it’s like to bring an experienced player who is a new member of the program. 

“’Grad Transfer U,’ bring them on,” White said. “Put that out there. See who’s available in the spring.”

Canyon Barry and Egor Koulechov are prime examples of that, and White certainly used them to help him land Blackshear and ease him through the process. 

“Yeah, we broke through with Canyon, who helped us get Egor, and they both helped us get K.J.,” White said. “We sold that for sure, the experiences that those guys had here academically and athletically and socially. 

“It was a big selling point in K.J.’s process. Boy, those first two guys, they were tremendous, two of my favorite guys that we’ve had. In fact, Canyon Barry is in there right now working out. Gainesville is a second home to him. … Egor Koulechov had a great one-year career, was a pleasure to coach.

“K.J. should be no different.”

For Florida, the hope is Blackshear is even better.

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