Golden, 36, grew up in Arizona and save a couple years in New York, two seasons at Auburn and a two-year pro career in Israel, has been a West Coast guy, with his previous stop, the University of San Francisco, his first as a head coach. So far, however, he’s fallen for the University of Florida community and the surrounding area, with his family (wife Megan and their two young children) set to join him here in June.
Golden talked about his new home and several other topics in a sit-down with media members Thursday night before his speaking engagement (along with football coach Billy Napier) with the Fighting Gator Touchdown Club at the Touchdown Terrace.
“I love it,” Golden said of Gainesville. “To be honest, there’s a lot of things that remind me of Auburn, my time there — and I liked Auburn — but this is a better place. It’s bigger. There are more things to do. Better restaurants. I think it’s a better place to raise a family. So Megan and I are super, super excited when we got the opportunity. San Francisco? There are a lot of great things about it, but a hard place to raise little kids. We feel this is a much better fit for our family as we enter this kind of next chapter of our lives.”
He entered the basketball part of it back on March 18 when hired to replace Mike White, with his top priorities upon arrival keeping the team’s two best players, two-time All-Southeastern Conference forward Colin Castleton and promising guard Kowacie Reeves, in the fold. The Gators, of course, retained both players, with the 6-foot-11 Castleton agreeing to bypass a chance to turn pro and return for a fifth season.
Currently, the team has 12 of 13 scholarships for the 2022-23 season accounted for, with the one vacant spot a wild card. maybe something (or someone) will come of it; maybe the Gators let it remain open and use it next season.
Ideally, the staff would have liked to have added another front court player this offseason (and still may, who knows?), but they’ll live with the roster as is, if need be. They won’t sign a body just to fill the opening.
“I think we’re in good shape. As a lot of you are aware, when we got here, it was really important to me to make a run at Colin and see if we could get him to use his fifth year,” said Golden, who compared the return of Castleton and his production/experience to getting standout guard Jamaree Bouyea back for a fifth year at USF last season when he helped lead the Dons to the program’s first NCAA Tournament since 1999. “The same idea of keeping a really talented, mature player that had experienced a lot of success in the program to build around and, obviously, that helped us. a great attitude coming back, which he did.”
Castleton led the team in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots despiting playing the second half of the season with a shoulder injury. Last month, he underwent surgery, but he won’t be rushed back, Golden said. What matters is their big man being full-go in time for preseason practices.
Reeves, who averaged 16.3 points and shot 50 percent from the floor during the postseason, flirted briefly with the transfer portal, but chose to come back. Fifth year senior Myreon Jones and junior Niels Lane were on board to stay from the get-go, as was forward CJ Felderwho also had surgery to correct a painful sports hernia that severely limited his playing time the last few weeks of the season.
And then there’s 6-11 senior center Jason Jitoboh, who was playing far and away the best basketball of his career when he suffered a season-ending eye injury in a January loss at Tennessee. His recovery has been encouraging, but dealing with an athlete’s eye sight is delicate.
“He’s done a really good job the past couple of weeks with his body, just getting back into shape,” Golden said. “I’m really encouraged by him in terms of going back last year and seeing how productive he was and how high of a level the team was playing when he was on the floor. If we can keep him healthy, I think he has a chance to be a really impactful player for us this year.”
Speaking further on the roster and other topics:
† UF has signed four players out of the transfer portal, including forward Alex Fudge (LSU), wing guard Will Richard (Belmont), plus point guards Trey Bonham (Virginia Military) and Kyle Lofton (St. Bonaventure). Golden praised the untapped upside of the lengthy and athletic Fudge, who was a little-used role player as a SEC freshman last season, but was glad to bring a homegrown Florida kid (Fudge is from Jacksonville) back into the state. “He just turned 19 a couple days ago,” Golden said. In Lofton, the Gators landed one of the best and most experienced (116 career games, all starts) pure point guards on the market. He helped lead the Bonnies to the Final Four of the National Invitational Tournament. “Whether you’re a fan of the transfer portal or not, I think there are some benefits not only for the players, but for the programs,” Golden said. “We were able to get a lot of data on Kyle. He played a ton of minutes at St. Bonaventure. They won a lot of games. He’s a really good point guard, someone who ran that team for a long time. So we knew what we were getting.”
† In his introductory news conference back on March 23, Golden stated his objective of building a fence around the state and keeping the best Florida prospects for the its flagship university. The Gators will have two freshmen on the squad next season, both guards from Orlando Dr. Phillips High. Denzel Aberdeen, who signed with White’s staff last fall and opted to stay, and wing Riley Kugel, the team’s newest addition after signing this week, were stars on a 2021 Class 7A state-championship squad. The 6-5, 185-pound Kugel was rated as a top-50 national prospect by some recruiting services. Kugel originally signed with Mississippi State, but asked out of that letter-of-intent after a coaching change. “It’s two-way street in recruiting these guys. We obviously wanted to add Riley to the program because he’s a really good kid and a really good talent, but it’s important to us that they want to be here. That was something Riley exhibited from the first moment I reached out to him, that he was passionate about coming to Florida if it worked out for him. make sure he was the right piece to add, I think we did enough and both sides are really smooth it worked out.” On whether an established chemistry between Aberdeen and Kugel will be a benefit for the Gators, Golden added, “It doesn’t hurt … but they’re going to be freshmen.”
† Golden and Napier will join UF athletic director Scott Stricklin and a group of administrators in Destin, Fla., next week for their first taste of the annual SEC Meetings. Without a doubt, “Name, Image and Likeness” (NIL) will be a hot-topic of discussion in the coaches meetings, which could be extra-spicy this year following last week’s back-and-forth between Alabama football coach Nick Saban and Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher. Golden passed on a chance at a one-liner when asked if he would referee that discussion. “I’m just going to sit there and listen.”
† Though Summer “A” session is several weeks in, the next phase of offseason workouts (still with a limited squad) is set to begin June 6. Those regimes will be a combination of squad and individual workouts, as well as weight-room training with new strength and conditioning coordinator Victor Lopez† The new players (transfers and freshmen) are due to arrive for the start of the Summer “B” session.