JUCO transfer Tuongthach Gatkek looking to break into rotation in 2021-22

After one year of JUCO ball, forward Tuongthach Gatkek is working his way into the Gators rotation.

Name: Tuongthach Gatkek

Number: 32

Position: Center

Class: Sophomore

Height: 6’9”

Weight: 172 lbs

Hometown: Portland, Maine

High School: Caprock High School (Texas)

2020-21 Stats:

25 6.2 66.3 20.0 42.4 6.9 0.8 2.2 0.8 0.8 0.8 9.7


Tuongthach Gatkek was one of the stars of the 2020-21 Trinity Valley Community College basketball team. He averaged 9.7 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game last year for the Cardinals (23-3) before transferring to Florida.

Gatkek earned All-Region Honors as a freshman and had 19 points in his final game with TVCC, a second-round exit in the NJCAA Tournament. His season-high of 23 points came against Tyler Junior College in March. If anything, Gatkek was only getting better as the season went on.

Florida’s frontcourt is fairly busy with Colin Castleton, CJ Felder, Jason Jitoboh in the mix, but Gatkek could see decent minutes in the more lopsided Gator victories. He’ll have to get a bit more size to compete at this level consistently, but the defensive instinct is there to build on.

With some development, Gatkek could end up seeing more minutes down the road. Many of the starters are set to graduate or move on, leaving the door wide open for the JUCO transfer.


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Jason Jitoboh should provide valuable size and depth to Florida as a junior

Jason Jitoboh worked on his conditioning during the offseason and is ready to get back into the Gators’ rotation.

Name: Jason Jitoboh

Number: 33

Position: Center

Class: Junior

Height: 6’11”

Weight: 305 lbs

Hometown: Abuja, Nigeria

High School: Hamilton Heights (Tenn.)

2020-21 Stats:

12 3.7 55.6 0.0 50.0 0.6 0.0 0.1 0.1 0.8 0.2 0.9


Jason Jitoboh was the only true center on Florida’s roster for the shortened 2020-21 season, but the former three-star recruit wound up sitting out of more games than he played in as a sophomore.

After a promising finish to his freshman season backing up Kerry Blackshear Jr., Jitoboh struggled with his weight and fell out of the rotation. He’d finish his second season at Florida with just 11 total points over 12 games.

Forward Colin Castleton took on the starting big man role for the Gators after transferring from Michigan, and Omar Payne once again finished the year ahead of Jitoboh in the rotation.

Both of Jitoboh’s best games in 2020-21 were against Tennessee. In a regular-season win over the Vols, he played a season-high 13 minutes and pulled in three rebounds. Jitoboh’s season-high in points (5) came in a second-round exit of the SEC tournament for Florida.

If Jitoboh can keep himself well-conditioned as a junior, he should be able to back up Colin Castleton and fight for minutes against bigger teams. Payne transferred to Illinois, so that’s one less big man to compete with.


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Elijah Kennedy seeing key reps as a true freshman

Kennedy has a tough path to the court on a deep squad, but the true freshman is still making a moderate impact off the bench.

Name: Elijah Kennedy

Number: 10

Position: Guard

Class: High School Recruit

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 185 lbs

Hometown: Virginia Beach, Virginia

High School: Green Run

Twitter: @eligotnext


A three-star recruit from Virginia Beach, the same area that gave the Gators Keyontae Johnson, Kennedy was a late addition to the 2021 class, which only had eventual five-star recruit Kowacie Reeves committed for most of the cycle. He was ranked as the No. 161 overall player in the recruiting class.

Kennedy suffered a knee injury during his junior season in 2019, and it severely impacted his recruiting. He told The Virginian-Pilot when he signed with the Gators on Aug. 2 that the way Florida handled Keyontae Johnson‘s collapse, from which he still hasn’t been cleared to play, was one of the things that made his Florida offer so attractive.

“One thing that made me feel comfortable was with everything Keyontae has been through, the school is still helping him out,” Harris said. “(Kennedy) will feel comfortable with him being there with another 757 guy.”

Kennedy wasn’t necessarily expected to make much of an impact this season, but given his ability to succeed on both ends of the court, he’s actually seen a good bit of reserve action this season. He’s appeared in every game, seeing a season-high nine minutes in the win over California. He scored three points in the wins over the Golden Bears and the Seminoles, which marks his career-high. However, he’s shooting just 3 of 10 on the season and hasn’t been very impactful on the defensive end or in passing the ball so far.

Still, he’s contributing more than many expected from the three-star and the Gators will hope to see him continue to develop as the season goes on.


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Kowacie Reeves looks to make an immediate impact at Florida

Reeves was the top signee in Florida’s 2021 class, and he could be an immediate impact player in Gainesville.

Name: Kowacie Reeves Jr.

Number: 14

Position: Guard

Class: High School Recruit

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 182 lbs

Hometown: Macon, Georgia

High School: Westside

Twitter: @wacie_wacie


Reeves spent much of his recruitment as the only commitment in Florida’s 2021 class before the Gators eventually signed a pair of unrated prospects in Tuongthach Gatkek and Elijah Kennedy. But Reeves was the real prize here.

A four-star recruit on the 247Sports Composite (but a five-star according to Rivals), Reeves rated as the No. 41 player in the country and the nation’s No. 9 shooting guard coming out of high school.

He has great size for a scoring guard at 6-foot-6-inches, and his elite shooting makes him a wing attacker with a lot of potential. He’s the kind of player that Florida has spent some time looking for, and he could make an immediate impact as a true freshman, though the Gators have a lot of guard depth after adding three in the transfer portal.

While his offensive game doesn’t have a lot of question marks and he’s a good ball-swiper, 247Sports’ Jerry Meyer wrote that he needs to develop more physicality as a rebounder. Reeves has a great frame, and he should be able to develop into it nicely.

Reeves was the only elite signee in the 2021 class, but he has the potential to be a very valuable addition to the roster.


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Patience paying off for Rick Wells in his sixth season

Wells is making an impact on the field after a difficult start to his Florida career.

Name: Rick Wells

Number: 12

Position: Wide Receiver

Class: Redshirt Junior

Height: 6’1″

Weight: 200 lbs

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida

High School: Raines

Twitter: @Rick_Wells3

2020 statistics:

12 120 10 0 20


Wells was a three-star recruit from Raines High School in Jacksonville coming out of high school, and he was the first player to join the 2016 recruiting class under then-coach Jim McElwain. Wells held firm on his commitment, and he eventually signed with the Gators.

The early part of Wells’ college career was marred by off-the-field incidents. He was arrested for an airsoft gun incident in 2016 before the beginning of the season, and he eventually redshirted after not appearing in a game that year. Then, he missed the entirety of his redshirt freshman season in 2017 due to his involvement in the credit card fraud scandal.

Wells was internally disciplined in the summer of 2018 for another airsoft gun incident that involved five of his teammates, as well, and he only made one catch for 10 yards as a redshirt sophomore despite appearing in 10 games, mostly as a reserve receiver and on special teams.

It was largely the same story in 2019. Wells was suspended for the season opener for unknown reasons, and despite playing in nine games, he only boosted his catches from one to two for 27 yards.

The 2020 season, however, was when things finally started to go right for Wells. Though he was buried on the receiver depth chart by Kadarius Toney, Trevon Grimes and Jacob Copeland, he still had the best season of his career, by far. Appearing at receiver in 10 games, he totaled 120 yards on 12 catches.

Wells understandably took advantage of the extra year of eligibility allowed to players due to COVID-19, and he returned in 2021 for his sixth year in his biggest role yet.

2021: Through three games, he already has seven catches for 82 yards, and he caught the first touchdown of his college career in the season opener against Florida Atlantic. Though he’s still a backup, he’s one of Florida’s primary rotational receivers, and he should be in store for a career year during his final campaign in the orange and blue.


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Florida baseball’s Josh Rivera looks for more consistency in 2022

Rivera was excellent in 2020, but his “COVID” freshman season in 2021 was a bit inconsistent.

Name: Josh Rivera

Number: 24

Position: Infield

Class: Freshman (second-year)

Height: 6’2″

Weight: 205 lbs

Hometown: Avon Park, Florida

High School: IMG Academy

Twitter: @joshrivera24

2021 statistics:

54 210 30 48 5 26 18 52 .253 .324 .389


Rivera started his career at Avon Park High School before finishing up at the sports-specialized IMG Academy in Bradenton. The No. 53 overall player in the country, Rivera was a preseason First Team All-American going into his senior season. Drafted by the San Diego Padres out of high school in the 22nd round, he decided to sign with coach Kevin O’Sullivan and the Gators instead.

Rivera saw starting action in 16 games at shortstop as a true freshman in 2020 before the season was canceled due to COVID-19. He batted .298, finished tied for third on the team with 17 hits and hit two home runs.

The expectations were high for Rivera heading into his “COVID” freshman season in 2021, and though he started 52 of the 54 games he appeared in at shortstop and second base, he wasn’t as consistent at the plate as he was in 2020. His average dropped to .253, and he struck out 52 times on the season, third on the team behind Jud Fabian and Kirby McMullen.

He did have some positive moments, being named the SEC Co-Newcomer of the Week after stringing together five hits in an upset victory over Vanderbilt in a weekend series. He also went 4-of-5 in a run-rule win over Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament.

Though he wasn’t particularly consistent in 2021, Rivera will be one of the players the team relies on in 2022 after losing a good chunk of talent this offseason.


Nathan Hickey set up to be a leader after huge 2021 season

Hickey was one of Florida’s top players in 2021, and he should be poised for a dominant 2022 season.

Name: Nathan Hickey

Number: 11

Position: Catcher/Infielder

Class: Freshman (COVID-19)

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 205 lbs

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida

High School: Providence School

2021 statistics:

60 278 40 71 9 50 42 40 .317 .435 .522


A high school First Team All-American at Providence in Jacksonville, Nathan Hickey was the No. 15 catcher and No. 162 player overall in the class of 2019, according to Perfect Game. He committed to coach Kevin O’Sullivan and the Gators, where he saw immediate action.

Hickey started 13 of 17 games before the season was canceled, and he appeared in 15 of them. He was second on the team in batting average (.311) and home runs (four). Though COVID-19 ended the season before Hickey could really hit his stride, he entered his “COVID” freshman season in 2021 expected to be one of the best players in the lineup.

He mostly lived up to that, making the Newcomer All-SEC Team and the SEC All-Tournament Team. He started all 60 games (one of just two players to do so) and his .317 batting average led the team. With nine home runs and 50 RBI, he was one of the most productive players in all of the SEC.

Defensively, he struggled at catcher throughout the season, but a decision during the SEC Tournament to move him to third base paid off, as he looked much better at that position. With younger catcher Mac Guscette able to take up that mantle, Hickey could very likely enter the 2022 season as the starter at third base, once again.

A guy who should almost certainly be an early-round pick next year, Hickey should be one of the best players on the team, if not the conference.


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Brandon Sproat could be a mainstay of Florida’s rotation next season

Sproat has the chance to take over as a weekend starter in 2022.

[mm-video type=video id=01f9ywkgja71p5xswj6f playlist_id=01eqbz250mdknqvm5z player_id=none image=https://images2.minutemediacdn.com/image/upload/video/thumbnail/mmplus/01f9ywkgja71p5xswj6f/01f9ywkgja71p5xswj6f-87593ad4e74e95ce73cbce227b1e1b98.jpg]

Name: Brandon Sproat

Number: 8

Position: Right-Handed Pitcher

Class: Freshman (COVID-19)

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 205 lbs

Hometown: Pace, Florida

High School: Pace

Twitter: @BrandonSproat

2021 statistics:

16 2 2-1 21.2 29 19 15 18 6.65 2.03


One of the better high school baseball prospects in the country, it was unclear if Sproat would make it to campus. The Pace, Florida, native was ranked the No. 149 player in the country in the class of 2019, and he was selected by the Texas Rangers in the seventh round of the 2019 MLB draft.

But he elected to pass on the pros, instead making good on his commitment to the Gators and joining coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s team. He saw limited action as a true freshman in 2020, totaling just six innings across four games before the season was canceled.

It was an impressive six innings, though, as he struck out eight batters with an ERA of just 1.50. Entering the 2021 season, Sproat was expected to play a major role in Florida’s bullpen. Though he made 16 appearances as a “COVID” freshman, he only saw 21.2 innings across the whole season, making just two starts.

Though his 2-1 record was solid, his bloated 6.65 ERA was not (though it sat below 4.0 before Sproat allowed seven runs in 2/3 innings in the season finale against South Alabama). He allowed almost as many walks as strikeouts.

He didn’t see much action once SEC play started, but that will likely change in 2022. With Tommy Mace likely heading to the professional ranks, that leaves an open spot in UF’s weekend rotation. It could be reclaimed by Jack Leftwich, but if he remains in the closer role that seemed to suit him, Sproat is a primary candidate to take over.

He’ll have the opportunity to work on his game quite a bit this summer. He’s a part of the Chatham Anglers of the Cape Cod Baseball League, and he was also selected to join the 2021 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, alongside O’Sullivan, who will serve as the pitching coach.

Whether he’s a weekend starter at the beginning of the season or not, he will see a lot more action both out of the bullpen and in midweek games. The Gators will need him to be much sharper than he was in 2021.


Hunter Barco could be Florida’s ace in 2022

Barco had an all-around solid season in 2021, but he may need to be much more than solid in 2022 if he takes over the Friday starter role. If Tommy Mace departs, Barco will likely be the Gators’ top pitcher in 2022.

Name: Hunter Barco

Number: 12

Position: Left-Handed Pitcher

Class: Junior (COVID-19)

Height: 6’4″

Weight: 210 lbs

Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida

High School: The Bolles School

Twitter: @hunter_barco

2021 statistics:

16 16 10-3 83 77 43 26 94 4.01 1.24


Many didn’t expect Barco to end up at UF. He was considered by some to be a first-round talent coming out of high school in the 2019 MLB draft, but he slid to the Milwaukee Brewers in the 24th round, and he turned down a multi-million dollar signing bonus that didn’t meet his requirements. He enrolled in Gainesville instead.

He had an electric true freshman season despite it being shortened due to COVID-19. He made four starts and one appearance in relief, notching a 2-0 record and a 1.40 ERA. Heading into the 2021 season, he was expected to be the Sunday pitcher, behind Tommy Mace and Jack Leftwich.

His first start of the season in the opening series to Miami was rough, as he allowed six earned runs in 3 1/3 innings, and he took the loss. Barco eventually worked an ERA that was bloated to start the season down to 4.01 with some very solid games in SEC play. He ended up with a 10-3 record, and his best performance came against eventual CWS finalist Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament when he pitched a complete game in a 13-1, run-rule victory.

But Barco’s occasional blowups like he suffered against the Hurricanes persisted, even as he eventually solidified himself as the Day 2 starter. Heading into his “COVID” sophomore season in 2022, he’ll have to improve a lot. Assuming Mace departs for the minor leagues, Barco is the leading candidate to be UF’s ace next season.


Garrett Milchin should play a bigger role if he stays healthy in 2022

Milchin’s unlikely return to the field in 2021 was one of the best stories in all of college baseball, and it’s not done being written yet.

Name: Garrett Milchin

Number: 3

Position: RHP

Class: Redshirt Junior (COVID-19)

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 215 pounds

Hometown: Windermere, Florida

High School: The First Academy

2021 statistics:

6 6 2-1 21.2 24 14 3 20 4.98 1.25


The No. 11 right-handed pitcher in the nation in the class of 2016, Milchin was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 39th round of the MLB draft out of high school, but he stuck with his commitment to Florida. He saw 19 appearances as a true freshman on the 2017 national title team, coming out of the bullpen in SEC play and starting a pair of midweek games.

In his first career start against Florida State, he threw 4 1/3 scoreless innings en route to a win, and he finished the season with a 3.29 ERA and a 4-2 record. He saw action in the lineup with 26 plate appearances, and though he only batted .182, he hit a home run.

During Milchin’s relief appearance against TCU in the College World Series, he motioned to the dugout to pull himself from the game. An MRI the next day revealed a tear to his ulnar collateral ligament, and he required Tommy John surgery.

The lengthy recovery cost him the 2018 season, but he was set to return in 2019. Then, injury struck again. Milchin re-tore his UCL, requiring another  Tommy John surgery, which held him out of the entire season again. He was still recovering during 2020 and didn’t see any appearances before the season was canceled.

Milchin’s unlikely return to the field came on Feb. 23, 2021, nearly four years removed from his last appearance in a real baseball game. He started UF’s midweek game against UNF, allowing one run in two innings.

He became Florida’s primary midweek starter, and all six of his appearances in 2021 were midweek starts. He managed a 2-1 record and totaled 20 strikeouts compared to three walks. His 4.98 ERA could have been better, but it was an encouraging return to the bump for Milchin. He didn’t see any plate appearances on the season.

Milchin has the option to return to Florida for a rare sixth year of eligibility, and it would be a nice boost for the Gators if he did. At the very least, he’d likely retain his midweek starter role and could push for a spot in the weekend rotation.