Gators could need more of Gorjok Gak in tough matchup with Wisconsin

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — After playing just 48 minutes during the regular season and being relegated to the bench for 9 of the previous 10 games, Florida basketball freshman center Gorjok Gak was right in the middle of things in the NCAA Tournament last week.

Late in the first half against East Tennessee State he announced his presence with a put-back dunk off a missed shot by teammate Kasey Hill. And in the next game against Virginia, Gak had a season-high 6 points and 2 rebounds in 10 minutes of action.

He went 5-of-5 from the field in those games and perhaps earned a little more confidence from the coaching staff and his teammates that he can be a contributor as the Gators continue their March Madness run Friday night with a Sweet 16 game against Wisconsin.

“I’m really proud of Gorjok. He’s come a long way,” coach Mike White said. “He’s a guy, talk about some maturity for a freshman. He’s pulled a bunch of DNPs, and he’s had several reasons to pout or to not be ready when his number’s called, and he’s given us some productive minutes. And he’s had a couple highlights we showed the team (Monday) where he drew some applause and hoorahs from guys. They’re proud for him too.” Gak has always had intriguing potential as a 6-foot-11, 231-pound prospect from Sydney, Australia, with a 7-foot-4 wingspan and obvious athleticism. He was rated a 3-star recruit by ESPN, Rivals and 247Sports, but his freshman season faced obstacles from the beginning.

He was initially ruled ineligible for the season by the NCAA over questions about how many games he played for a prep school in Bradenton, Fla., after arriving from Australia. He would have to wait until his sophomore year and have only three years of eligibility.

But the day before the first game, in response to an appeal by Florida, the NCAA granted Gak a waiver to compete immediately.

He admits now there was a long period when he wondered if he’d even get to play at all this season.

“I just left that all to my coaches and the NCAA,” he said.

The eligibility was one hurdle. Earning playing time was another.

As a raw prospect, he was limited to a few minutes here and there through the first part of the season. Once SEC play began, Gak rode the bench for seven consecutive games, played limited minutes in the next three and then headed back to the bench another seven games. A foot sprain contributed to the latter stretch.

After starting center John Egbunu was lost to a torn ACL last month, White continued to mention Gak as a possible factor in the Gators’ suddenly very thin front court, but the playing time didn’t follow.

Until last week.

“I mean, I just always stayed patient and ready for whenever coach calls out my number. I just want to do whatever I can to help the team,” Gak said in the locker room after that win over Virginia. “I always just prayed a lot and […]