Omar Payne joins growing list of players to leave Florida

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida’s rebuilding project continues to grow.

Forward Omar Payne entered the transfer portal Tuesday and became the fifth player to leave coach Mike White’s program since the end of the season.

The 6-foot-10 Payne joined shooting guard Noah Locke, backup point guard Ques Glover and reserve forward Osayi Osifo in looking to play elsewhere next season. Star point guard and leading scorer Tre Mann entered the NBA draft with plans of hiring an agent, meaning he has no intention of returning to school for his junior season.

Payne, a sophomore from Kissimmee, averaged 3.8 points and 3.2 rebounds while playing close to 16 minutes a game this season. He was suspended for Florida’s opening-round win against Virginia Tech in the NCAA Tournament after getting ejected for elbowing Tennessee’s John Fulkerson in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

The Gators shouldn’t have much trouble replacing any of the four transfers. Locke was a slow-footed, one-dimensional shooter. Payne, Glover and Osifo were backups who rarely made the Gators better when they were on the floor.

But there’s no indication Florida is done dealing with departures. Guards Scottie Lewis and Niels Lane along with forward Samson Ruzhentsev are still weighing their options, according to the team’s official website.

Forward Colin Castleton, guard Tyree Appleby, forward Anthony Duruji and center Jason Jitoboh, meanwhile, told White during end-of-season exit interviews that they intend to return.

It’s unclear what the future holds for talented swingman Keyontae Johnson, who has not been cleared to practice or play since collapsing on the court during a game in December. The cause of his collapse and his current condition have not been released publicly.

The Gators will be active in the burgeoning transfer portal to rebuild their roster, especially since White signed just one prospect in the 2021 class: guard Kowacie Reeves.

Still, it’s a troubling trend for White, who has yet to graduate a single player he signed since replacing NBA-bound Billy Donovan in 2015.

His entire 2016 (Eric Hester, Dontay Bassett and Gorjok Gak) and 2017 (Deaundrae Ballard, Mike Okauru, Chase Johnson and Isaiah Stokes) classes have transferred. Only Keyontae Johnson remains from Florida’s 2018 class, which lost talented point guard Andrew Nembhard to Gonzaga last year and now is without Locke.

Payne is the 12th of 18 signees during White’s last five years to transfer, leaving the Gators with little continuity and in a constant state of rebuilding.

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