In Lofton, the Gators have their Quarterback

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Closed college basketball games this time of year are closed for a reason, with any details coming mostly in general terms. The guy played well. So is this and that. We were pretty good in those areas, but we need to work on them. Such things.

The Florida Gators beat a very good Miami team last weekend at Exactech Arena and the results showed for the coach Todd Golden a nice baseline to work from in the last two weeks of the preseason. The Gators had some highs and some lows against the Hurricanes, a team that advanced to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight last season and finished fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but UF also operated without the fifth-year quarterback. Kyle Lofton, marquee transfer via st. Bonaventure. Lofton was sidelined after suffering a groin strain in the first week of preseason practice.

However, he was cleared for full-contact work on Monday and returned to practice this week, meaning he will make his UF debut in Saturday’s game — again behind closed gym doors — in Jacksonville.

What does it mean to have him back?

“Well, we’re not going to have 20 turnovers in this game, so let’s start with that,” the head coach said Corey McCray he said, revealing a bit of detail.

 

Kyle Lofton

Lofton will definitely have an impact at UF’s ball security, an aspect the Gators weren’t very healthy with against the Hurricanes. The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder has started all 116 games of his career with the Bonnies, averaging 38.1 minutes and posting a better than 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio (5.2 to 2.4) over his four seasons.

When he takes the floor, Lofton will be the program’s first true starting quarterback since Andrew Nembhard started all 67 games in 2018-19 and ’19-20.

“She’s an organizer, she’s a pressure switch. She’s definitely going to help us that way,” Golden said, turning to the junior. Trey Bonham (Virginia Military Institute transfer) in place of Lofton while allowing the senior’s fifth year Myreon Jones and freshman Riley Kugel alternate on the ball as well. “But Kyle, he’s a real point guard and he’s a guy who’s been doing this his whole life, and I think we’re going to be a much better ball-handling team with him on the floor.

Lofton started 30 games last year at SBU (missing 3 due to an ankle injury), averaging 38.5 minutes, plus 12.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 2.0 steals and 2.6 turnovers , leading Bonnie to the NIT Final Four. . He was among the most sought-after quarterbacks in the country entering the transfer window, turning down trips to Arizona, Purdue, Tennessee and Texas to sign with the Gators.

UF is lucky to have him, but he feels just as happy for this new opportunity.

“I’ve played so, so many minutes, and obviously I’m blessed to still be playing here,” Lofton said after Thursday’s practice, which was easily one of the mostly polished offensive events like Saturday’s scrimmage at JU (and the regular season opener Nov. 7 against Stony Brook) approached. “I feel like I’m learning Coach’s system with all the pick-and-roll stuff. That’s like riding a bike for me. That’s my game.”

It should work pretty well with a 6-foot-11 Colin Castleton setting screens and surrounding himself with a supporting cast that the coaching staff believes will knock down shots and thus open up space for Lofton to run the offense.

The coaches have a lot of confidence in Lofton’s feel for the game and ability to make the right plays.

“He gets us into our offense and calms us down — if we need to calm down — and he can go for a bucket if we need one,” McCray said. “He’s our leader. He’s our quarterback.”

And it’s nice to have a quarterback back.

Lofton watched the Miami game from the sidelines. He had some thoughts, noted a few bright spots, but also offered some constructive criticism.

“We’ve got to be more physical. We’ve got to hit some guys and battle,” Lofton said before laughing. “Me? I’m a physical guy.”

Even better, he’s a proven and elite floor general, which the Gators have lacked the past two seasons and haven’t been on the floor for the first time in this new era of Florida basketball.

But not this next time.

“We didn’t have Kyle, so I think getting him back will make us a little more solid,” Golden said. “I think we’re in a good place.

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