1999-00 Gator Basketball Outlook
Florida basketball fever is in full bloom. The evidence is everywhere.
Check the Florida faithful. The support has swooned into a year-round thought process from midnight madness, to signing day to Selection Sunday - hoop hysteria now never rests in Gainesville. Check back-to-back post-season appearances, including Floridas improbable run to the Sweet 16 last year. Check back-to-back top-five nationally ranked recruiting classes and the four McDonalds All-Americans on the roster. Check the prognosticators, who have tabbed the Gators in preseason polls as a favorite to March in the Madness in the new Millennium.
Not bad considering three years ago, the Gators were coming off a 12-win season with an offense averaging 66.8 points per game on .429 shooting from the field. That was before head coach Billy Donovan arrived. Now, behind an up-tempo, full-court-pressing style of play, the Gators are coming off a 22-win season in which they scored 80.3 points per game on .473 shooting. Those numbers could continue to grow with seven of the Gators top nine players returning to go with a recruiting class ranked as high as the second in the nation. Count on another thing growing in Gainesville in 1999. Expectations.
"I think expectations are good," says Donovan. "I think expectations put more responsibilities on the basketball players and our basketball team that they have to work hard and theres an expectancy level every time they step on the floor. Im looking forward to the challenge our staff and players will face every day to meet those expectations."
The reasons for the expectations are simple.
- The four starters and seven letterwinners returning accounted for 74 percent of UFs scoring last year, 77 percent of the rebounding and 70 percent of the minutes played
- Five of the top six scorers return, including the top three
- The top four rebounders return
- The much-publicized four-man recruiting class from 1998-99, which was at times as good as advertised and other times played like inexperienced freshmen, are now sophomores
- Floridas 10-man rotation is complete with a roster two-deep at every position and a minimal talent difference between first and second team players
- Offensive balance. The 1998-99 unit became just the fourth in school history to have five players in double figures, but no one averaged more than 13 points per game
- Understanding of defensive schemes. The press, which was largely responsible for UF setting school records in steals and turnovers forced a game, is a complex system and everyone has another year under their belt
- Improved rebounding. A year after finishing last in the league in rebounding and only outrebounding eight opponents all year, Florida improved to seventh in the SEC in rebounding, grabbing more missed shots than its opponents 16 times last year
Senior sharpshooter Kenyan Weaks (11.3 ppg) joins a trio of double digit scorers returning Mike Miller (12.2 ppg), Teddy Dupay (11.0 ppg) and Udonis Halsem (10.5 ppg), - to lead the offensive attack.
"One of the things I liked about our club last year was that we became a true team with a couple of guys who could score in bunches on any given night. We didnt have to rely on one person to carry us every game," says Donovan after his 1998-99 unit went the first 19 games of the season without the same player as the teams leading scorer. "If we continue to carry that unselfish attitude and run our offense, there should be no reason why we cant have the same balance on offense this year."
Weaks, the lone senior on the squad, along with junior forwards Brent Wright and Major Parker will carry the leadership responsibilities on a squad featuring eight freshmen or sophomores on the 11-man roster.
"Teddy, LaDarius (Halton), Mike and Udonis should take a long hard look at the progress that the upperclassmen have made throughout their careers and try to follow their lead," Donovan says. "Kenyan came to college as a pure shooter and scorer, but has worked hard and is now one of our best defenders, while Brent and Major made tremendous strides from their freshman to sophomore seasons. They have all become more complete players."
Weaks, who needs just 127 points to reach the 1,000-point plateau, tied a school record by averaging 2.25 steals per game a year ago. Parker and Wright, both members of Donovans first recruiting class, shared UFs most improved player honors at the end of last season.
"I look at the progress Brent and Major showed from their freshmen and sophomore seasons and I expect last years freshman to have the same goal," Donovan says. "Brent and Major dedicated themselves in the weightroom and through individual instruction to get better and the results showed."
Wright, who gained 15-plus pounds after his freshman season, led the Gators in rebounding and shot .472 from the field after shooting just .356 as a freshman. The 6-8 power forward also saw his three-point numbers improve (.463 from .362). Already carrying an impressive physique (218 pounds on his 6-4 frame), Parker spent most of the off-season working on his game. Parker shot .455 from the field as a sophomore after shooting .380 as a freshman and .711 from the foul line following a .650 mark his first year. Parker and Wright also developed into the squads top frontcourt defenders.
If Miller, Dupay, Haslem and Halton match that improvement the numbers could be staggering. Miller led the team in scoring (12.3 ppg), while Dupay and Haslem set UF freshman marks (Dupay in three pointers with 64 and Haslem in field goal percentage with .603). Halton, who had off-season knee surgery, is the most athletic of the group and may possess the best raw skills.
For a second consecutive year, a nationally ranked recruiting class will be counted on to contribute. Headlining the incoming class are McDonalds All-Americans Brett Nelson and Donnell Harvey. Nelson and Harvey become the third and fourth McDonalds All-Americans to sign with Donovan over the last two years. Florida, which had only three McDonalds All-Americans in Gainesville prior to Donovans arrival, is the only school in the nation to have multiple selections to the McDonalds All-American game in each of the last two years. Nelson, who has been called the best prospect from West Virginia since Jerry West, was one of the premier prep point guards in the nation. The 6-3, 173-pound guard has an uncanny feel for the game and great court vision, a flashback of sorts to another spectacular guard from West Virginia who suited up for the Gators. The 6-8, 216-pound Harvey, the 1999 Naismith Prep Basketball Player of the Year, is considered by many recruiting services to be the nations number one player after gaining a reputation as a relentless rebounder. At 6-9, 222-pounds with a great shooting touch from outside, New Hampshires Matt Bonner has drawn comparisons to former Kentucky standout Scott Padgett. Bonner is also the valedictorian of his high school class. Justin Hamilton, a 6-3 192-pound guard, will fit into Floridas up-tempo style with his 38-inch vertical leap and explosive first step.
As much talent is returning to the hardwood in 1999-00, two voids are left unfilled - the departure of seniors Eddie Shannon and Greg Stolt. The duo began their careers as freshman roommates and ended their careers as co-captains on Floridas Sweet 16 squad. In between they combined to appear in 234 games for 6,721 minutes and score 2,471 points.
"If you look back at all of the comments I made prior to last season, I knew the success of our team was going to lie on the senior leadership from Eddie Shannon and Greg Stolt," says Donovan. "Sure I was excited about the talent level we had coming in, but I knew Eddie and Greg were going to be the ones that carried us there."
The seniors and the rest of the upperclassmen certainly carried the team down the stretch. Four freshmen started on opening day for the first time in school history and a freshman led UF in scoring in 13 of the first 20 games. A freshman also led UF in rebounding in 12 of the first 23 games. The veterans took over from there. An upperclassman was the leading scorer in 10 of the final 11 games and grabbed game high rebound totals in six of the final eight contests. Shannon was inserted into the starting lineup in the sixth game of the year and never looked back. He finished his career as UFs all-time leader in steals (204) and second in assists (493). All told, he now ranks in the top 20 in 19 UF career categories. Stolt, who came off the bench the entire regular season and turned down a chance to start on senior night, started every post-season game. He exploded for a UF SEC Tournament record 27 vs. LSU in his first start of the year and was the squads leading scorer in the NCAA Tournament (15.7 ppg). Stolt leaves Gainesville as the schools all-time three point shooter (226) and is one of only 18 players in UF history to score 1,000 points and grab 500 rebounds.
The Florida crowds should continue to grow in 1999-00. Last season, UF averaged 9,018 fans, up 2,617 since Donovans arrival. UF averaged 10,857 fans for eight SEC home contests, the second-best SEC home attendance average in school history. A school-record crowd of 12,443 showed up for the Kentucky game and two days later another 12,000-plus crowd was on hand for the Ole Miss game to mark only the second back-to-back 12,000-plus crowds in school history. Floridas student section, dubbed the Rowdy Reptiles, has made the OConnell Center one of the toughest places to play in the league. Florida was 14-1 at home last year and is 25-5 (.833) over the last two years at the ODome.
Florida fans will see a tougher schedule in 1999-00 and for those who cant make the games, more of them will be on national television. Although the complete schedule has not been finalized, the slate does include a trip to the prestigious Maui Invitational over the Thanksgiving weekend, an appearance in the Jimmy Valvano Classic in East Rutherford, N.J. and a trip to Chicago in January to face DePaul.
1999-00 University of Florida Position by-Position Outlook
- Teddy Dupay (So., 5-10, 175, 11.0 ppg, 2.8 apg)
- Brett Nelson (Fr., 6-3, 173, 31.9 ppg, 7.0 apg)
For the first time in four years Florida will not have Eddie Shannon in the backcourt...In addition to his leadership qualities that extended beyond the playing floor, Shannon left the program as the school's all-time steals leader (204) and a great understanding of the point guard role (he ranked last on the club in shots per minute)...A pair of McDonald's All-Americans will both see action at the point, sophomore Teddy Dupay and freshman Brett Nelson...Dupay, who earned Freshman All-SEC honors last year after establishing UF rookie three-point records (canning 64 of 170 from beyond the arc), ranked second on the squad with 2.8 assists per game...Dupay is at his best when he advances the ball quickly on the break...A deadly shooter from long-range, Dupay also ranked third in the SEC in free throw percentage (.810)...Dupay started the first seven games last year and was the first player off the bench a team-high nine times...Although Dupay will have to improve defensively, he was second on the team in charges drawn (seven) and third in steals (45)...Nelson, one of the premier prep point guards in the nation and a consensus top-10 player, has been called the best prospect to come out of West Virginia since Jerry West...He has great court vision and an uncanny knack to find the open man and will draw comparisons to another flashy guard from West Virginia who suited up for the Gators...Nelson finished his prep career with 2,199 points and scored in double figures in 71 of 72 career games.
- Kenyan Weaks (Sr., 6-4, 198, 11.3 ppg, 2.25 spg)
- LaDarius Halton (So., 6-3, 195, 5.1 ppg, 1.2 rpg)
- Justin Hamilton (Fr., 6-3, 192, 27.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg)
Sharpshooting specialist Kenyan Weaks will be the starter at the two guard....The squad's lone senior who has gained nearly 30 pounds since his arrival in Gainesville has a reputation as one of the nation's top pure shooters but tied a school record last year with 2.25 steals per game...Weaks, who ranked fifth nationally as a sophomore in three-point field goal shooting, was suspended for the first semester of his junior season...He got off to a rough start, connecting on just 16-of-61 (.262) from beyond the arc, but was a sizzling 29-of-57 (.508) the rest of the way...Weaks needs 127 points to reach the 1,000-point plateau and enters the season third on UF's all-time three point list (142 and needs 85 to pass the all-time leader Greg Stolt)...LaDarius Halton, who may be the most athletic player on the squad, suffered an off-season set-back after undergoing reconstructive surgery on his right knee in May He was sidelined for six weeks and will continue to rehab throughout the summer...Halton, a spectacular dunker and finisher on the break, showed tremendous progress in his game late in his rookie campaign...He made only three turnovers in the last 10 games after committing 27 in his first 21 contests...Halton averaged 13.0 ppg in November last year...Freshman Justin Hamilton, who has drawn comparisons to Halton, will also see action at the two guard .Hamilton suffered through an injury-plagued senior season at Sarasota Booker High School, but was still named the 4A Player of the Year after averaging 27.0 ppg and nine rpg Like Halton, he has an explosive first step and is a leaper.
- Mike Miller (So., 6-8, 218, 12.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
- Major Parker (Jr., 6-4, 218, 5.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg)
Mike Miller, a finesse player who has a great feel for the game and Major Parker, a physical defender, rebounder and emotional leader, give the Gators a formidable one-two punch at the small forward spot Miller, who gained 15-plus pounds before his freshman season began, became only the third frosh in UF history to lead the squad in scoring (12.3 ppg) and was second on the squad in rebounding (5.2 rpg) Miller started 19 games and was named Freshman All-American by Sports Illustrated and Basketball News Millers 25 points in his debut was the third best by a Gator frosh in school history and he was eventually named All-SEC (third-team Coaches) Ankle injuries forced him to miss three games and limited his action in several others .Parker made significant improvement in every aspect of his game from his freshman to sophomore year and shared UFs Most Improved Player honor with classmate Brent Wright Parker started 12 games a year ago, including all five in the post-season, and led the team in offensive rebounds in the NCAA Tournament Parker shot .455 from the field after posting a .380 mark as a freshman and shot .711 from the line after connecting on .650 as a rookie Parker also took fewer shots from his freshman to sophomore year despite playing more minutes Parker will also gain invaluable experience playing on the Southeastern Conference All-Star team that tours Japan in early August.
- Brent Wright (Jr., 6-8, 232, 8.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg)
- Matt Bonner (Fr., 6-9, 222, 35.0 ppg, 14.0 rpg)
Brent Wright is the returning starter at the power forward spot Wright will also see some action at the center position Wright has bulked up 15-plus pounds since his freshman year and has developed into the squads top rebounder and front-court defender .As mentioned above, Wright shared UFs Most Improved Player Award with Major Parker after making strides in his game last year Wright dominated the glass late in the season, averaging 9.1 rpg in the last eight games and 7.7 rpg in NCAA Tournament action Wright finished the year as the squads top rebounder (5.9 rpg and game-high rebounding honors 13 times) Wright was the primary defender on Georgias Jumaine Jones when the Gators held the second top scorer in the SEC to just three points Matt Bonner, the 1999 Concord High School senior class valedictorian who comes to Gainesville as one of the most decorated prep players in the history of New Hampshire basketball, will hope to fill the void left by departing senior and the schools all-time three-point shooter Greg Stolt Bonners game has been compared to Stolts and former Kentucky standout Scott Padgett Bonner, who has a great outside touch and a great work ethic, scored 2,459 career points and led his team to the state championship three consecutive seasons.
- Udonis Haslem (So., 6-7, 260, 10.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg)
- Donnell Harvey (Fr., 6-8, 216, 23.3 ppg, 14.0 rpg)
Patrolling the post for the Gators will be Udonis Haslem Haslem, who was the least publicized recruit in the 1998-99 freshman class, made an immediate impact on UFs inside game A wide body with good post moves and a soft touch, Haslem set a UF freshman record with a team-best .603 field goal percentage (ninth best in UF history) Haslem, who dropped 25-plus pounds and reduced his body fat from 15 percent to 9.8 percent prior to his freshman season, became the first freshman center in Gator history to be named All-SEC (Coaches Third Team) Haslem started the first 26 games of the season at the post, but came off the bench in the post-season after senior Greg Stolt was inserted into the lineup Haslem had his breakout game last year vs. Dukes Elton Brand, scoring 19 points Freshman sensation Donnell Harvey, who may be one of the most decorated prep players to attend UF, will see action at both the power forward spot and the center position The 1999 Naismith Prep Basketball Player of the Year and the 1999 USA Today Prep Basketball Player of the Year, Harvey brings a reputation as a relentless rebounder to Gainesville Harveys estimated 90-inch wingspan and intensity on the court make for a tough combination for opponents around the rim Harvey won the McDonalds All-American Slam Dunk Contest with a windmill dunk that began with him flat footed below the rim Harvey suffered a stress fracture in his left leg in the McDonalds All-American game but is fully recovered Harvey finished his prep career with 1,736 points, 1,334 rebounds and 319 blocked shots.
Did you Know .
UF has connected on 10-plus three pointers in 41 of the 90 games Billy Donovan has coached the Gators (UF connected on 10 or more just 11 times in the 315 games from 1986-96)
UF won four games last year when trailing at the half after winning just three when trailing at intermission in Donovans first two years
Florida has reached the 100-point plateau six times under Donovan
Florida has led the league in SEC Academic Honor Roll selections in every year Donovan has coached the Gators
Among SEC schools, only the Arkansas coaching staff has been intact longer than the Florida coaching staff
The Gators shot a combined 31,388 three pointers in preseason drills last year (August 28th to October 14th)
Floridas student section, dubbed the Rowdy Reptiles, was treated to doughnuts in the morning from athletics director Jeremy Foley and pizza at lunch from Donovan after they camped out overnight for tickets to the Kentucky game
The Florida athletic department has ranked among the nations 10 best for each of the last 16 years and in the top five the last 10