Fresh ‘Bigs’ Check In Early

Fresh 'Bigs' Check In Early

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — On at least two, perhaps three, instances during Monday’s first offseason workout, the freshmen tandem of Alex Condon and Thomas Haugh, matched against one another in 2-on-2 drills, got tangled up, with both spilling to the floor at the same time. Clumsy? Hardly. 

“They compete,” said Jonathan Safir, Florida’s director of basketball strategy and analytics. “They go hard all the time.” 

That competitiveness jumped out at the Florida staff when they scouted the two front court prospects, long before the UF coaches realized how sorely they would need a hefty infusion of size and ferocity in their program.  

Now that competitive nature is officially part of the team — several weeks early, in fact — with Condon, the 6-foot-11 center from Australia, and Haugh, a 6-9 forward from Pennsylvania, having arrived on campus for Summer “A” classes last week and tipped off the Gators’ offseason program Monday with weight-lifting in the morning and on-court drills (the NCAA allows four hours per week) in the afternoon. 

Usually, new arrivals check in for Summer “B,” but the ever-changing landscape of college basketball made a path for both rookies to be earlier than any Florida freshmen in … well … a long time. Maybe ever. 

“I think my friends back home had their senior prom last week, but this is great. I love being here,” said Haugh who hails from New Oxford, Pa., but prepped at Perkiomen School in the Lehigh Valley outside Philadelphia. “I was happy to come early.” 

Same for Condon, a native of Perth, the fourth-largest city in Australia, and product of the NBA Global Academy, a prestigious basketball factory Down Under.

“It’s been really good to make connections with the boys,” Condon said. “And the coaches have been awesome transitioning me from the other side of the world.”

Haugh (pronounced “Hawk”) signed last November, while Condon took an official visit in the fall, committed almost immediately and officially signed in April. Both were considered late-bloomers in their development. Now as true freshmen playing Division I basketball, their projected impact, at least externally, probably is tempered. That’s fine. Additional front court help is on the way in the form of a trio of seasoned transfers in 6-11 fifth-year Tyrese Samuel (by way of Seton Hall), 6-8 grad-transfer EJ Jarvis (Yale) and 7-1 sophomore Micah Handlogten (Marshall). They’ll be here soon enough, with their collective experience and past production expected to translate immediately for a team that posted some of the worst rebounding numbers — 285th defensively and 320th on the offensive glass — in the country last season. And that was with three-time All-Southeastern Conference forward Colin Castleton in the post for nearly three-quarters of the year. When the 6-11 Castleton suffered a season-ending broken hand in February, the Gators became both undersized and overwhelmed down low. 


UF coach Todd Golden, with just one returning “big” (seldom-used 6-10 sophomore Alex Szymczyk) from last year’s 16-17 squad, vowed to fix things up front and both Condon and Haugh are part of the plan. Not just for their intangibles, either. Golden loves their individual skill sets, as well as their all-around feel for the game. 

“I think both can help us next year,” Golden said.

Condon only took up basketball a few years ago, having grown up a standout Australian rules football player, following in the footsteps of his father, one of the best on the continent. Suffice to say, there aren’t a lot of nearly 7-footers on the Aussie football field, so Condon gave hoops a chance after his teenage growth spurt. He turned out to be pretty good, with offers from both Utah and Saint Mary’s before the Gators took notice of Condon’s performance against some terrific competition in the Tark Classic in Las Vegas last year.

In December, Condon came on an official and knew where he wanted to be. 

“Now I want to make a mark from the start,” said Condon, whose football background manifests itself in physicality, toughness and how hard he plays, which is nothing short of a blessing for UF and its search for production at the “4” and “5” spot. “I have the mindset to guard guys and not play scared. I’ve played against ex-pros and some great competition in Australia. I won’t play scared. That’s the biggest thing for me and my freshman season. Hopefully that’ll get me minutes.”

Where Condon’s first physical attribute, obviously, is his size, for Haugh, it’s his athleticism and shooting form, with the latter encouraging enough to envision him at both the small forward “3” positions as well as “4.” What Haugh might do best, though, is run the floor, use his hops and battle on the boards. 

“Whatever role Coach has for me, that’s what I’ll do,” Haugh said. “Obviously, the other bigs aren’t here yet, but I have confidence in myself. I feel if I put my mind to something I can do it.” 

They both are doing so early. Consider that UF’s best rookie last season, guard Riley Kugel, did not show up until the last week of August and missed the entire offseason program. Kugel was behind when he got here and took him into the second half of the season before he morphed into the team’s best post-Castleton player; a SEC All-Freshman selection.

Condon and Haugh may not come with Kugel’s four-star pedigree, but they’ll immerse themselves in the NCAA-allotted eight weeks worth of offseason skill work, plus weight-training and condition in the run up to the 2023-24 season. 

The rest of the Gators soon will be here soon, too. 

“The first [workout], it got to me a little bit. It all came at me really fast, especially all the shooting on the move,” said Haugh, clearly winded after his first session, but not enough to dampen his enthusiasm. “My goal is to keep improving with my shooting, my ball-handling, just every aspect of my game.”

That’s the idea. 

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