UF’s Egbunu inching closer to return

Florida center John Egbunu (15) dunks the ball against UNF during NCAA basketball action in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Fla., Tuesday, March 15, 2016. (The Florida Times-Union, Gary Lloyd McCullough)

Florida senior center John Egbunu took a positive step in his return to court when he was cleared for non-contact drills in practice on Monday.


Florida coach Mike White timetable for the 6-foot-11, 265-pound Egbunu remains a late January return at the earliest. Egbunu tore his ACL last Feb. 14 against Auburn and underwent surgery in early March.

Freshman center Isaiah Stokes (torn ACL recovery) and freshman forward Chase Johnson (concussion) also took part in non-contact work in practice on Monday.

“(Egbunu) looked great, he looked enormous. He’s got to get back in game shape, same with Isaiah Stokes,” White said. “It looks like we just signed two defensive ends. They’re both just big guys and John showed a little explosion, again non-contact, but he darn near tore the rim down a couple times yesterday and he was excited about it.”

Egbunu averaged 7.8 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds last season. Without him, the Gators have struggled to defend in the paint and score consistently inside.

Florida senior point guard Chris Chiozza said it was good to see Egbunu back on the court.

“Our post defense will be better when he’s back,” Chiozza said. “We won’t have to trap as much and he can clean up some more mistakes like Kevarrius does a good job of doing. I think when we get him back we’re going to have an even better defense and interior presence.”

In addition, White said freshman guard Deaundrae Ballard practiced Monday and should be available for Wednesday’s game at home against Arkansas (7 p.m., ESPN2). Ballard has sat out UF’s last two games with an illness. Sophomore center Gorjok Gak, who suffered a concussion on Saturday at Ole Miss, remains in concussion protocol and is doubtful for Arkansas.