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Wednesday January 1, 2014 Billy D loving his new-found strength in numbers

Updated: 6:30pm, January 1

practice GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The University of Florida campus may look like a scene from “The Walking Dead” right now, but there’s plenty of activity inside the basketball practice facility.

Lots and lots of people, too.

Talk about a happy new year, for Gators coach Billy Donovan it almost seems like a new  season, what with all the players he has to work with now.

“It’s been great, especially all this week with the time off,” Donovan said. “This is really the first time we’ve had real numbers.”

The Dec. 14 arrival of freshman center Chris Walker was the first step. Then last week the Gators added Duke transfer forward Alex Murphy to the mix.

Though the 6-foot-10 Walker is still waiting to be ruled eligible and the 6-8 Murphy, per transfer rules, won’t play for the Gators until the end of the 2014 fall semester, their mere presence makes for a more competitive environment, not to mention more options for Donovan and his staff as far as lineups and situational work.

This week, the orange team (or scout squad) has featured a couple former top-20 national prospects in Walker and Murphy, plus walk-on Jake Kurtz (who has logged significant game minutes this season), and any other combination of regulars or walk-ons Donovan may want to roll out.

No more 3-and-3 or 4-on-4 drills by necessity.

Worth noting: And this is without any contribution from a trio of scholarship players in guard Eli Carter (out for the season with leg injury), guard Dillon Graham (out for the season with hip injury) and center/forward Damontre Harris (dismissed from team last month).

Between semesters, the NCAA rule limiting practice to 20 hours per week does not apply. And since the Gators have played just three games during that time -- defeating Memphis in the Jimmy V Classic Dec. 17, Fresno State in the Orange Bowl Classic on Dec. 21, and Savannah State on Sunday -- the team has basically spent the balance of its time the last three weeks focusing almost exclusively on itself.

Rest assured, UF has taken advantage of that time, with two-a-day sessions or individual instruction workouts.

The last three days have seen some ferocious practice sessions, including Monday's all-out block of just over an hour and Wednesday's two-hour run of mostly full-court press actions, with a little bit of defending the Princeton-style offense that a very solid Richmond squad will bring to the O'Connell on Saturday in the final non-conference game of the season.

In fact, on Wednesday a CBS crew was in the house to film an all-access feature -- "The Men of March" -- that already has profiled some of the nation's best coaches (Rick Pitino, Roy Williams, John Calipari, for example). The Donovan segment, which will include scene's from the coach's home on New Year's Eve, his workout regimen with strength and conditioning coach Preston Greene and some team meeting footage, is set to air before the March 1 home date against LSU.

That's a long way off.

In the interim, the Gators have some more time between semesters to use to their advantage. The second term doesn't start until Monday.

“The fact that we can have them here, to me, is the best part,” Donovan said. “There’s nothing else going on. No one’s on campus. It’s basically all basketball right now. It doesn’t mean we have to physically take them to the bring every day, but we can really test them physically and challenge them.”

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