Richard returning to full practice participation, Lofton close behind

After missing the vast majority of Florida’s preseason practices and being a non-contact participant for roughly a week due to a knee injury, sophomore wing Will Richard participated fully in Monday’s practice session, though he appeared to still be easing into certain aspect of it as he ramps up for the Gators’ season opener against Stony Brook, which is just three weeks away.

Florida head coach Todd Golden said the team “dodged a bullet” after Richard slipped in a practice roughly a week before the official start of preseason practices. Richard was observed using crutches for several days at the outset of fall camp and has otherwise had his knee taped to support what appears to have been an MCL injury. Golden said Richard should be fully cleared to participate in the Gators’ first scrimmage of the preseason, a home matchup against Miami on Oct. 22 at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

One of 20 college basketball players selected to participate in Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard’s invite-only basketball camp in Portland, Oregon, from Aug. 3-7, Richard was one of the most highly-coveted players who entered the NCAA transfer portal over the offseason after a very successful true freshman season at Belmont where he was a consistent producer for a team that finished its season with a 25-8 overall record.

Richard averaged 12.1 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.2 steals per game, putting himself on the map for some NBA teams and proving that he was ready to transfer to a higher-caliber program, which he was able to accomplish in April when he announced his decision to join Golden’s Florida team.

“They showed me how they could use me in their program and their goals for me,” Richard said. “Their goals lined up with what I wanted for myself. Their pitch was to help me get to the next level and help me be set for life not only in basketball but after basketball.”

Under-recruited out of high school, Richard was a three-star prospect who reportedly held offers from Belmont, Drexel, Furman and North Alabama. When he picked Belmont, he was confident his abilities could have taken him to higher levels.

“That was my mindset going into Belmont,” Richard said. “Just to show that I’m worthy to be here and just show that I’m able to play at the highest level and do what I need to do to help my team get wins. That was a big part for me going into my freshman year.”

While he had not participated fully in a practice prior to Florida’s session on Oct. 17, Richard had already emerged as one of the team’s best shooters with an extremely consistent shot from beyond the arc that could allow him to be a focal point of the team’s offensive pursuits.

“He’s one of our best shooters on the team,” assistant coach Korey McCray said recently. “He has a knack for rebounding. He’s a really good rebounder. He wants to score so he runs the floor hard. He goes hard to the offensive glass. He makes winning plays other than shooting. That’s what I love most about Will.”

McCray said Richard is also quite skilled on the other end of the floor.

Will Richard is a really good defender,” he said.

Florida is yet to practice as a full team nearly a month into its preseason schedule as Richard and senior point guard Kyle Lofton have missed time due to injuries, though Lofton is expected to rejoin the team on Wednesday.

While their absences have created some unforeseen obstacles in terms of determining the team’s most-optimal lineups, it has also given the Gators’ coaches an extended opportunity to assess their depth, which Golden said is one of the team’s “biggest strengths.”

We have a lot of guys I feel like will be capable to help us win games so that gives us flexibility for guys to have an off night and some guys to step up so that’s been encouraging,” he said. “I think we’ve got good length, good athleticism, we’re still trying to figure out how to play with each other to the best of our abilities but for being three weeks, three-and-a-half weeks out from our first game, I think we’re where we need to be right now. ”

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