Kerry Blackshear Jr. chooses Florida over Kentucky and Tennessee

Former Virginia Tech power forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. will play his senior season for the Florida Gators. Blackshear announced his decision on social media Wednesday night (6/26).

“First of all want to thank coach Buzz and the amazing staff over these past four years,” Blackshear wrote on Instagram. “This team has become my family and I am so thankful for it. I also want to thank my Blacksburg family for taking a young kid from Orlando and showing him what home is. I am so fortunate to have stepped out onto the Cassell coliseum floor walk away from Blacksburg as a graduate of Virginia Tech. My next chapter will begin in Gainesville, Florida #GoGators”

This is a huge coup for Mike White and his staff, who already have the nation’s ninth-ranked recruiting class (per Rivals) coming to Gainesville. Now the Gators have landed arguably the best grad transfer on the market, and he fits perfectly on a roster that’s only weakness was the lack of a proven post presence.

The 6-foot-10, 250-pound power forward garnered second-team All-ACC honors last year when he led Virginia Tech to a Sweet 16 appearance. The Hokies lost by two to Duke when they couldn’t convert an easy layup at the buzzer off a gorgeous inbounds play designed by Buzz Williams.

Williams left Blacksburg to take the Texas A&M job back in his home state. Soon after, Blackshear simultaneously announced he was testing the NBA waters and entering the transfer portal. Many pundits felt he’d stay in the draft and likely end up playing in Europe next season.

When he pulled out of the draft, however, an intense one-month recruiting process ensued. Blackshear’s hometown of Orlando is only a 90-minute drive south of Gainesville, so the Gators had a major location advantage in their favor. Blackshear took his first visit to UF.

He would also take official visits to Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas. In addition, Va. Tech was believed to still be in the mix, as was Williams’s new Texas A&M program. In recent days, many national scribes had eliminated UF as an option altogether, claiming Blackshear’s decision was down to Kentucky, Tennessee and Va. Tech.

Blackshear led the Hokies in rebounding last season (7.5 rpg) and was second in scoring (14.9 ppg) and field-goal percentage (50.0%). He posted nine double-doubles and scored in double figures in 28 of 35 games.

Blackshear will start in a lineup that will likely consist of Andrew Nembhard, Noah Locke, Keyontae Johnson and Scottie Lewis. Nembhard, a sophomore who returned to school after testing the NBA waters, is a former 5-star recruit. Lewis is another 5-star who is currently projected to be the No. 14 pick in the 2020 draft at nbadraft.net. The website’s latest mock has Nembhard as the No. 35 overall selection.

Florida has another five-star freshman in Tre Mann and a high four-star big man in Omar Payne. Long-time UF beat writer Chris Harry recently reported that redshirt sophomore center Isaiah Stokes has dropped a bunch of weight since the season ended, so he could provide quality depth on the interior after dealing with injuries in his first two seasons at UF.

Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports elevated Florida to No. 7 in his preseason rankings with the addition of Blackshear. NBCSports.com bumped UF up to No. 10, while WatchStadium’s Jeff Goodman now has UF at No. 6.

Most books have had Florida with odds in the 50/1 neighborhood to win the 2020 national title in recent weeks. As of Thursday morning (6/27), 5Dimes had the Gators adjusted to 28/1 and Sportsbook had UF at 35/1.

White has taken the Gators to three NCAA Tournaments and one NIT in his first four seasons on the job. UF went to the NIT quarterfinals in his first year after replacing Billy Donovan.

Then in White’s second season, Chris Chiozza’s buzzer beater in overtime against Wisconsin at Madison Square Garden sent UF to the East Region finals. I was at MSG to see Florida race out to a seven-point halftime lead over South Carolina in the Elite Eight. However, Sindarius Thornwell would rally the Gamecocks past the Gators in the second half.

UF has been eliminated in the Round of 32 in back-to-back campaigns. It beat Nevada in the first round this past season before losing to Michigan.

With Blackshear now in the fold, anything short of a Sweet 16 appearance will be an immense disappointment in Gainesville. The big man’s presence certainly puts the Gators in the conversation of legit Final Four contenders, and it’s not a stretch for UF fans to have realistic hopes of winning the program’s third national title.

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