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Gators coach Jim McElwain spent Tuesday at the SEC spring meetings in Destin. (File photo: Tim Casey)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The SEC spring meetings are taking place this week in Destin.

Here is a Florida-flavored batch of links from Tuesday’s gathering:

--Rookie UF coaches Jim McElwain, Mike White all ears at SEC meetings writes Edgar Thompson of The Orlando Sentinel.

--Florida’s most experienced offensive lineman, fifth-year senior Trip Thurman, is back in the weight room after missed spring camp, plus more notes from Robbie Andreu of The Gainesville Sun.

--Keeping recruits, team intact key for Gators coach Michael White writes Antonya English of The Tampa Bay Times.

--Alabama coach Nick Saban expects big things from McElwain writes Thompson.

--McElwain praises former Gators coach Will Muschamp for culture he left behind at Florida writes Brandon Marcello of AL.com.

--McElwain updates transfers and injuries, Grady to play QB writes Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports.com.

Tuesday May 26, 2015 Weekend of UF champs, Donovan's goodbye ad, Lopez retires, more tidbits

Updated: 10:34am, May 26

The Gators celebrate late Sunday night after winning the SEC Tournament with a 7-3 victory over Vanderbilt. (Photo: Michael Wade)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A huge weekend for the Florida baseball and softball teams.

The UF baseball team won its first SEC Tournament in four years and the Gators softball team won the Gainesville Super Regional against Kentucky to advance to the Women’s College World Series.

If you were hanging at the beach instead of the ballpark over the holiday weekend, here are some fresh links from around the Internet to catch you up:

--Billy Donovan said goodbye to the Gators and the Gainesville community with a full-page ad in the Gainesville Sun.

--It took awhile, but the Gators beat Vanderbilt on Sunday to win the SEC Tournament as Drew Champlin rewinds the day for AL.com.

--The Gators earn the No. 4 overall seed in the NCAA baseball tournament writes Kevin Brockway of the Gainesville Sun.

--Gators coach Jim McElwain tries to win over cynical fans writes Edgar Thompson of The Orlando Sentinel.

--Pat Dooley of the Gainesville Sun writes about the Florida softball team’s dominance of Kentucky on the way to the WCWS.

--Florida’s Josie Kuhlman and the doubles team of Brooke Austin and Kourtney Keegan saw their impressive runs at NCAA Finals come to a close Sunday writes Graham Hall of the Independent Florida Alligator.

--A Q&A with Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley from Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union.

--A good read from Greg Hansen of Tucson.com on former Gators head baseball coach Andy Lopez choosing life over baseball. Lopez is retiring after 14 seasons at Arizona.


GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Gators are back in the SEC Tournament championship game for the second consecutive season following an impressive come-from-behind victory over No. 1-ranked LSU on Saturday.

The Gators (43-16) face defending national champion Vanderbilt (42-18) today at 4:30 p.m. ET on the SEC Network. (Link to watch via WatchESPN).

If you prefer your baseball accompanied by nail-biting, Florida’s 2-1 victory Saturday was your kind of game. LSU starter Alex Lange handcuffed Florida for most of the afternoon. It wasn’t until Lange departed that Florida scratched through with a run in the eighth inning to tie the game.

A pair of costly base-running mistakes threatened to doom the Gators, but when freshman catcher Mike Rivera stepped to the plate in the top of the ninth, he rendered them a moot casualty with a solo homer that proved to be the game-winner.

The Gators hope to celebrate one more win in the SEC Tournament in today's championship game. (Photo: Michael Wade)

Florida returns to the SEC Tournament title game a year after losing to LSU 2-0 in last year’s final. The Gators are seeking their first tournament championship since 2011.

Meanwhile, Vanderbilt had no trouble disposing of Texas A&M, 12-3, setting up an all-SEC East championship game.

The Commodores last won the tournament in 2007 but have been regulars in the championship game under head coach Tim Corbin, who is 1-6 in SEC Tournament finals in his 12 seasons.

This is a rematch of one of the best regular-season series of the season. After losing 2-0 at Vanderbilt in the first game of the series two weeks ago, the Gators won the final two games, including a 9-7 comeback win in 10 innings in the series’ finale.

With both of these teams expected to earn national seeds in the NCAA Tournament, today could be a primer for more postseason duels between these two. For now, let’s take a look at the Florida-Vanderbilt matchup for the conference tournament title:

*****

Dansby Swanson

PLAYER TO WATCH: Vanderbilt junior shortstop Dansby Swanson is projected as the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming MLB amateur draft by ESPN.com, so each time Swanson steps to the plate or fields a ground ball today, scouts will be watching his every move.

Swanson has been red hot in Hoover, batting .412 (7-for-17) with four homers, two doubles and eight RBIs. When the Gators won two of three at Vanderbilt two weeks ago, the Gators kept Swanson in check until the final game of the series when he hit a pair of homers in Florida’s 9-7 win. He was 3-for-12 overall.

On the season, the Most Outstanding Player in the 2014 College World Series is hitting .352 with 13 homers and 58 RBIs. Swanson is also a splendid defensive shortstop like LSU’s Alex Bregman, who made a highlight-reel play in Saturday’s game but ultimately watched Florida celebrate a dramatic win.

The Gators will take the same outcome today.

*****

PITCHING MATCHUP: O’Sullivan has tabbed junior right-hander Eric Hanhold (1-0, 3.91 ERA) to start today. Redshirt freshman lefty Ryan Johnson (5-0, 2.52) gets the start for Vanderbilt.

Hanhold has not pitched in the tournament. He made 13 appearances during the regular season and started three times. In 23 innings, Hanhold has allowed 26 hits, walked nine and struck out 22. If Hanhold struggles, expect O’Sullivan to quickly turn to the bullpen with plenty of fresh arms available in Danny Young, Bobby Poyner and Shaun Anderson.

The Gators did not face Johnson in Nashville two weeks ago. Johnson was a regular mid-week starter for the Commodores and pitched out of the bullpen. In 50 innings, he has allowed 43 hits, walked 12 and struck out 31.

*****

COACH CHATTER

Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan: “To win a game like that it should help us moving forward with our confidence and dealing with some adversity. LSU is a great ball club and there is a reason they are the No. 1 team in the country. It was a great ballgame all the way around by both clubs.”

Vanderbilt’s Tim Corbin: “What is noticeable about Dansby and guys that play at that level is that they rise to another level when things matter. Not to minimize the level of his play throughout the season, but when something is on the line he thrives in it.”

*****

NOTABLES: Florida seeks to win the SEC Tournament championship for the seventh time (1981, ‘82, ‘84, ‘88, ‘91, 2011); Vanderbilt seeks its third title (1980, 2007) … Florida is 6-6 all-time in the championship game … Gators reliever Taylor Lewis has pitched 24 ⅔ scoreless innings over his last nine appearances, and has earned the victory in five of those outings … The Commodores have hit eight of the 17 home runs in this year’s tournament … Vanderbilt’s bullpen has pitched 14 ⅔ innings without allowing a run.

Florida shortstop Richie Martin squares to bunt in Friday's game. The Gators seek to advance to the SEC Tournament title game today vs. LSU. (Photo: Michael Wade)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The last time Florida played LSU, the SEC Tournament title was on the line.

That was a year ago in Hoover, Ala. When the schools meet this afternoon at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, a berth in the SEC Tournament championship game is at stake.

The Gators (42-16) won their second consecutive game in the tournament on Friday night behind a dominant pitching performance from left-hander A.J. Puk. In a 10-0 run-rule victory over Arkansas, Puk pitched seven scoreless innings and struck out 11.

During one stretch Puk struck out six consecutive batters and nine of 10. Puk’s performance followed a strong outing Thursday from Logan Shore in an 11-2 victory over Auburn.

Meanwhile, No. 1-ranked LSU (48-9) stormed back from an early deficit to defeat Auburn on Wednesday, 9-8, and advanced Thursday with a 10-5 victory over Arkansas. The Tigers had a bye Friday, awaiting the Florida-Arkansas winner.

In last year’s SEC Tournament championship game, LSU won 2-0 in a pitching duel that included six scoreless innings from UF’s Karsten Whitson in the final start of his college career. The Tigers have won nine consecutive SEC Tournament games dating back to 2013.

Today’s winner faces the winner of the early game between Vanderbilt and Texas A&M in Sunday’s championship game. (Link to watch WatchESPN).

Let’s take a look at the Florida-LSU matchup:

*****

Alex Bregman

PLAYER TO WATCH: This game features two of the best shortstops not only in the SEC, but in the nation in Florida’s Richie Martin and LSU’s Alex Bregman. Florida fans have watched Martin continue to improve for three seasons.

The same can be said for LSU fans and Bregman.

A junior, Bregman is hitting .330 with 22 doubles, three triples, nine home runs and 47 RBIs. He is also handy with the glove, committing only seven errors in 307 chances. No secret why MLB draft analysts have Bregman going high in the first round in the upcoming draft.

*****

PITCHING MATCHUP: Two freshmen square off in this one. Two Alexes, too.

Florida right-hander Alex Faedo (4-1, 3.59 ERA) faces LSU right-hander Alex Lange (10-0, 2.11).

Faedo started the season in the bullpen and eventually became a regular in the rotation, providing the Gators with some stability as Puk wobbled through a tough spell. Faedo has struck out 45 in 47 ⅔ innings and allowed 47 hits, including a team-leading nine home runs. He will want to locate his pitches against an LSU team hitting .321 overall with 47 home runs.

Lange was the SEC Freshman Pitcher of the Year after going undefeated and striking out 91. He has allowed only 60 hits in 81 innings. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Lange came to LSU from Lee’s Summit, Mo., where he was the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2014 after going 12-0 with a 0.82 ERA.

*****

COACH CHATTER

Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan: “For us the whole thing is about being consistent. That’s two nights in a row where we’ve swung the bats really well and it’s two really good starts by Logan and by A.J., and that’s kind of what we need. We’ve swung the bat fairly good the whole year, but to put these performances back-to-back, that’s a step in the right direction.”

LSU’s  Paul Mainieri: It’s great to be in the ‘Final Four’ of this tournament and compete against some of the best teams in the nation. We’re going to continue to play our fast-paced, aggressive style and give ourselves a chance to advance. We’re very comfortable in this environment.”

*****

NOTABLES: The Gators are hitting .337 in three SEC Tournament games … Florida has scored 27 runs in the three games … First meeting of season between the teams … LSU has won five of last seven SEC Tournaments, with Florida (2011) and Mississippi State (2012) interrupting Tigers’ grip on title … The Gators have won 60 SEC Tournament games, second only to LSU’s 74 entering today.

Friday May 22, 2015 A Florida-Arkansas primer for rematch tonight in SEC Tournament

Updated: 9:38am, May 22

Gators coach Kevin O'Sullivan during Thursday's win against Auburn. The Gators face Arkansas in a rematch tonight at the SEC Tournament. (Photo: Hal Yeager).

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Gators swung back hard Thursday after their loss to Arkansas with an 11-2 thumping of Auburn in the SEC Tournament, pounding Tigers pitchers for 15 hits.

By staying alive in the tournament, Florida (41-16) earned a rematch with Arkansas (35-21) tonight at 7:30. The Razorbacks lost to No. 1-ranked LSU 10-5 on Thursday night.

The stakes are easy to understand for both teams: win and keep playing, or lose and go home.

When the teams faced off Wednesday night/Thursday morning -- the game didn’t end until 2:33 a.m. ET -- Florida owned a 6-3 lead after six innings but Arkansas scored a run in the seventh and rallied for three in the ninth to win 7-6.

It was a difficult loss for the Gators to digest, and making matters worse, they only got a few hours sleep before they had to be back at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium for Thursday afternoon’s tilt against Auburn.

No worries, The Gators scored eight runs in the third inning and cruised behind a strong outing from ace Logan Shore, who limited Auburn to two runs over 7 ⅔ innings before turning it over to reliever Frank Rubio.

Today’s winner faces LSU on Saturday. (Link to watch WatchESPN).

Let’s take a look at the Florida-Arkansas matchup:

*****

Josh Tobias

PLAYER TO WATCH: Gators senior 3B Josh Tobias went hitless against Arkansas on Wednesday, snapping his 12-game hitting streak.

However, he led Florida’s barrage of hits on Thursday by going 4-for-5 with two runs and two RBIs. A career .269 hitter entering this season, Tobias was a regular in the lineup because of his glove. He is an excellent defensive player and has only one error all season.

A decision to turn back into a switch hitter this season has made Tobias into one of the SEC’s most dangerous hitters. He his hitting a team-high .372 with 12 doubles, five triples, five homers and 36 RBIs.

*****

PITCHING MATCHUP: Florida sophomore lefty A.J. Puk (7-3, 4.77 ERA) faces Arkansas freshman right-hander Dominic Toccolini (6-3, 3.96 ).

When Puk is in control, he’s as good as any pitcher on Florida’s staff -- or any team’s staff. However, an up-and-down season cost him a regular spot in the rotation late in the season. Puk routinely hits 96-98 mph on the radar and leads the Gators with 74 strikeouts in 54 ⅔ innings. If Puk can deliver Florida a strong start tonight, Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan will have plenty of options over the weekend.

Meanwhile, Toccolini is a formidable challenge for Florida’s lineup. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Texan has made 12 starts and has 67 strikeouts in 75 innings. Opponents are batting .230 against Toccolini, ranked the 158th best prospect in the country by Baseball America coming out of high school.

*****

COACH CHATTER

Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan: “I think we are in pretty good shape now. In all we have six guys who have not thrown yet. Everybody else should be close to ready to go. It should come down to our starters, specifically A.J. If he gives us the start we need him to then we should have a chance.”

Arkansas’ Dave Van Horn: “It just started out bad. We got behind the eight-ball real quick. You can’t make five, six errors against anybody, much less one of the best teams in the country and expect to win, that’s for sure.”

*****

NOTABLES: Arkansas committed a season-high six errors in its loss to LSU … Razorbacks OF Andrew Benintendi, the SEC Player of the Year, is 1-for-12 in the SEC Tournament. His average has dropped from .415 to .395 … The teams’ only meeting this season was Wednesday … Gators OF Harrison Bader (0-for-3) was the only player in the starting lineup without a hit in the victory over Auburn.

Gators starter Logan Shore seeks his second solid outing against Auburn in seven days in today's SEC Tournament matchup in Hoover, Ala. (Photo: Jim Burgess)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Gators face Auburn in an elimination game this afternoon at the SEC Tournament. (Link to watch WatchESPN).

The teams got here in similar fashion.

Florida owned a three-run lead entering the seventh inning on Wednesday night against Arkansas, but the Razorbacks rallied with a run in the seventh and three runs in the ninth for a 7-6 win. Meanwhile, Auburn scored five runs in the first inning against No. 1-ranked LSU but watched as the Tigers came back for a 9-8 victory.

Holding a lead will be premium this afternoon as the loser goes home.

The teams got to know each other well last weekend at McKethan Stadium in the final series of the regular season. After dropping the first game, the Gators won the final two games of the series to earn the No. 4 seed in this week’s conference tournament.

Auburn is the No. 9 seed and had to beat Kentucky in the first round Monday to advance.

Let’s take a look at the Florida-Auburn matchup scheduled to start at approximately 2 p.m. ET after the Missouri-Alabama game. The games at Hoover (Ala.) Metropolitan Stadium are live on the SEC Network:

*****

JJ Schwarz

PLAYER TO WATCH: Florida freshman JJ Schwarz had a pair of doubles and three RBIs in Wednesday’s loss. A second-team All-SEC selection, Schwarz finished 3-for-4 and scored a run.

One of three Gators to start every game this season – shortstop Richie Martin and second baseman Dalton Guthrie are the others – Schwarz is hitting .296 with a team-leading 14 home runs and 57 RBIs.

In last weekend’s three-game series against the Tigers, Schwarz went 1-for-11. The Gators hope his bat stays awake today after his three hits against the Razorbacks.

*****

PITCHING MATCHUP: Florida sophomore right-hander Logan Shore (6-6, 2.83 ERA) faces Auburn junior right-hander Dalton Rentz (3-3, 2.10 ERA).

Shore opened the season as Florida’s ace and has been very good at times and inconsistent at others. He’ll need to be sharp today to help out a bullpen that used four pitchers on Wednesday after starter Dane Dunning lasted just 1 1/3 innings.

Shore limited Auburn to two hits and two runs over seven innings in a 4-1 loss to the Tigers seven days ago.

As for Rentz, he has split time between the rotation and the bullpen, making seven starts and 15 relief appearances. In the Gators’ 3-1 win over Auburn on Saturday, Rentz pitched three innings in relief and suffered the loss (3 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 SO).

*****

COACH CHATTER

Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan: “It was a tough loss, but we’ve got no other choice but to bounce back. It’s a quick turnaround but it is what it is. We’ve just got to be ready to play.”

Auburn’s Sunny Golloway: “The things that are important at this point of the season: Make sure your starting pitchers are doing a good job, feel good about them going into next weekend. Sure, you want to win the SEC Tournament, you want to stay in the winners' bracket, but what's truly important is to train a program and get a program to Omaha, is to make sure you're in tournaments like this that your starting pitching does a good job, the offense is clicking, the defense is playing well.”

*****

NOTABLES: Gators senior 3B Josh Tobias’ 12-game hitting streak was snapped Wednesday. Tobias’ homer off Auburn reliever Izaac Yarbrough was the game-winning hit on Saturday … Auburn CF Anfernee Grier’s diving catch against LSU on Wednesday earned top spot on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays … Auburn’s eight runs against LSU were its most in the SEC Tournament since 1998 when the Tigers claimed their last title … In the last meeting between the schools in the SEC Tournament, Florida won 6-1 in 2012.

Wednesday May 20, 2015 A Florida-Arkansas primer for tonight's SEC Tournament matchup

Updated: 11:04am, May 27

Senior third baseman Josh Tobias enters the SEC Tournament with a .366 average and 12-game hitting streak. (Photo: Jim Burgess)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Gators make their debut in the SEC Tournament tonight when they face Arkansas, a 2-1 winner over Tennessee on Tuesday.

As the fourth seed, Florida had a first-round bye Tuesday. The Gators last won the tournament in 2011, which marked the program’s first title in 20 years.

This is an event dominated by the SEC West over the years. A team from the West Division has won 16 of the last 19 seasons. Only Florida (2011), Vanderbilt (2007) and South Carolina (2004) broke through during that span.

Still, this is a Florida team that has the talent to make a run. The Gators made it to the championship game last season before losing to LSU, which has won the past two tournaments.

“No. 1, you want to be playing your best baseball at the end of the year,” Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “This tournament forces you to minimize your mistakes. You have to play clean. If you don’t play clean you are going to end up back on the bus going home.”

Let’s take a look at the Florida-Arkansas matchup scheduled to start after the LSU-Auburn game, which starts at 5:30 p.m. ET. The games at Hoover (Ala.) Metropolitan Stadium are live on the SEC Network:

*****

PLAYER TO WATCH: Arkansas OF Andrew Benintendi, the first Razorback to be named SEC Player of the Year. Benintendi led the SEC in batting average (.415) and home runs (17).

Andrew Benintendi

“To hit .400 in any league is quite an accomplishment,” O’Sullivan said. “I’m just glad he is sophomore-eligible for the draft. He is well-deserving of player of the year.”

You can bet Florida’s pitching staff watched closely how four Tennessee pitchers approached facing Benintendi. He went 0-for-5 on Tuesday night and struck out in his first three at-bats.

*****

PITCHING MATCHUP: Florida sophomore right-hander Dane Dunning (5-2, 3.54 ERA) faces Arkansas freshman right-hander Keaton McKinney (6-1, 2.83 ERA).

Both were drafted out of high school and are making their first career starts in the SEC Tournament.

Dunning, 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, struck out eight in four innings while on a pitch count May 5 against USF. The 6-5, 220-pound McKinney made 14 starts during the regular season, striking out 41 in 76 1/3 innings. He really heated up late, going 5-0 with a 1.56 ERA in his last six starts.

*****

COACH CHATTER

Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan: “Arkansas is typical Arkansas. They’ve got really good starting pitching, they’ve got a deep bullpen and I think they have a veteran lineup. I see a lot of ourselves in them to be honest.”

Arkansas’ Dave Van Horn: “I think about that team a lot. I remember being 12-12, pretty much dead and buried by probably everybody in the country that follows us and college baseball and probably in our own state. When we started [pitching] we started winning. Started winning close games instead of giving games away.’’

*****

NOTABLES: First meeting of season between the schools … Florida is 2-1 against Arkansas in the SEC Tournament, last facing the Razorbacks in 2010 … Arkansas went 16-7 over its final eight SEC series, the only team to not lose a conference series over that span … The Gators showed their comeback ability in a pair of wins last weekend against Auburn, overcoming early deficits in both victories. Still, Florida is much better when scoring first, going 29-4 … Arkansas advanced on shortstop Michael Bernal’s walk-off double with two outs in bottom of ninth inning Tuesday … Arkansas has won 19 of its last 24 games.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Aaron Rhodes had a very specific task Friday night.

The fourth-year junior from Venice (Fla.) High, one of three Gators to be honored at today’s final regular-season game as part of Senior Day, was summoned from the bullpen by head coach Kevin O’Sullivan to keep the game close.

Auburn scored three runs in the third inning and threatened to win on back-to-back nights at McKethan Stadium to put a damper on the start of the postseason for the Gators.

Aaron Rhodes

Rhodes replaced starter A.J. Puk (3 ⅓ IP, 3 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 6 SO) with a runner on and one out in the top of the fourth. The ballpark seemed on the verge of a nap.

Rhodes needed 24 pitches to get two outs to end the inning, but no runs scored. And then in the bottom of the inning, the Gators scored three times to tie the game and energize the crowd.

Pete Alonso singled up the middle to score Josh Tobias with the tying run, and Alonso’s sacrifice fly in the sixth proved the game-winner in Florida’s 4-3 comeback win.

Rhodes, who has bounced back and forth from spot starter to long reliever in his UF career, played a crucial role on this night. He earned his eighth career win by limiting Auburn to one hit over 3 ⅔ scoreless innings. Rhodes retired nine consecutive batters during one stretch.

“It means a lot, especially on Senior Day to go out and do that for everybody on the team,’’ he said. “It’s crazy to think that my career is almost over here at Florida. It was exciting to go out there and throw up a few zeros and keep the team in it.”

Friday night’s outing was Rhodes’ most important of the season as Florida continues to jockey for position in next week’s SEC Tournament. Vanderbilt’s victory Friday night clinched the SEC East for the Commodores -- Florida is two back with one to play -- but the Gators want to head into the SEC Tournament in the right frame of mind.

“He did an awesome job. He was nails,’’ said Alonso. “That’s all I’ve got to say. He did a really good job of picking up A.J. At this point in the season that’s what we need to do, find a way to get outs, find a way to manufacture runs, because at this point in the year it’s imperative that we win. We want to have home-field advantage.”

Rhodes threw 57 pitches, 37 for strikes. He struck out three and walked one. In 14 appearances, Rhodes’ only other victory came April 18 in a one-inning relief outing at Mississippi State.

His approach was simple.

“Get early outs to keep my pitch count down,” Rhodes said. “I feel pretty comfortable coming out of the pen just because I have experience. If they need me to start, I’ll start, I’ll do whatever it takes to win. I don’t care.”

Unless he makes a surprise appearance today, in his final regular-season appearance for the Gators, task accomplished for Aaron Rhodes.

Jenny Rowland -- known as Jenny Ester growing up -- at the 1989 U.S. World Trials.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The search that landed Florida’s new gymnastics coach got a boost from the Gators’ ex-coach.

When Rhonda Faehn announced last month she was resigning to take a job as senior vice president of USA Gymnastics, UF Athletic Director Jeremy Foley consulted with Faehn about potential replacements.

Jenny Rowland was on the list.

“I mean, probably her strongest advocate was Rhonda, who certainly has a lot of credibility with us,” Foley said.

Foley announced Saturday the hiring of Rowland, who has spent the last five years as an assistant and associate head coach at Auburn.

Gators gymnastics coach Jenny Rowland

This is the 40-year-old Rowland’s first opportunity to run her own program. And it’s not just any program. The Gators have won three consecutive national championships to join the sport’s elite college programs.

“The thing that excited me the most about her is obviously following a great coach and not being intimidated by that,’’ Foley said. “[She] wants to build on Rhonda Faehn’s legacy, proud to accept that responsibility and wants to build a great program here.”

Faehn and Rowland are by no means strangers. In the small world of elite-level gymnastics, the two crossed paths regularly in the SEC. However, their friendship dates back to when both were gymnasts instead of gymnastics coaches.

“Rhonda has been a huge impact in my life,’’ Rowland said. “She’s just a few years older but I remember we were both on the National Team at the same time; I was on the juniors and Rhonda was on the seniors. I’ve watched her grow up in the national scene and in the collegiate scene starting as an assistant coach at Nebraska and then continuing at Florida.

“She’s just been a huge role model, a great mentor to me and I just can’t thank her enough for the support and her helping me out through this process.”

Rowland is in transition mode as her two kids finish school in Alabama. She inherits a Florida team that is expected to be in national title contention in her first season with the return of senior All-American Bridget Sloan and a talented supporting cast.

Rowland looks forward to coaching Sloan rather than judge her.

“I have to say I’ve known Bridget Sloan since she was 12, whether she knows that or not,’’ Rowland said. “I’ve been judging her and following her gymnastics career for quite some time, so I’m very familiar with her gymnastics, with her personality. I’ve been very fortunate to have been on the floor as a judge while she’s a competitor.”

In addition to her past ties to Faehn, Rowland also has Florida ties. Rowland lived in Florida for about five years when she was a young teenager, training in the Largo area. She later moved to Oklahoma and competed in college at Arizona State.

Rowland said her background as an elite-level gymnast can help her connect with Florida’s talented roster as she tries to build relationships. She knows what is required to compete and attain success at the sport’s top level.

Rowland has now reached the highest level as a coach in college gymnastics. To help her get started at Florida, Rowland will have at least one of Faehn’s assistants to make the transition as seamless as possible. Adrian Burde, who has coached vault and tumbling for the Gators since 2011, is staying at UF.

Rowland can’t wait to move into the O’Connell Center and lift off.

“It has been a long-term goal for me [to become a head coach],’’ she said. “It wasn’t until recently that I knew I was ready to take the jump.  I have a great mentor who has taught me a lot over the past five years, [head coach] Jeff Graba here at Auburn, and Rhonda has also been a great mentor for me outside of my current situation.

“It was time. I was ready to spread my wings and I’m ready to fly.”

Second baseman Dalton Guthrie is one of the reasons Florida remains in the hunt for the SEC regular-season title entering the final weekend. (Photo: Tim Casey)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The No. 7-ranked Florida baseball team opens a three-game series against Auburn tonight at McKethan Stadium to conclude the regular season.

The Gators (38-14, 17-10) must get help, but they technically remain alive for the SEC title after winning two of three games last weekend at Vanderbilt (37-16, 18-9).

To win their second consecutive SEC crown, Florida has to sweep Auburn and have No. 1-ranked LSU (44-8, 19-7) get swept at South Carolina, Vanderbilt lose at least once at Alabama, and Texas A&M (42-9, 17-9) lose its series at Ole Miss.

If the Gators can overcome Vanderbilt to win the SEC East, they will be no worse than the No. 2 seed in next week’s SEC Tournament.

Regardless of how this weekend plays out, the Gators have put together a solid season in head coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s eighth year.

He told reporters Wednesday afternoon that the regular season has been a success.

“Not every season is going to go perfect. There’s going to be ups and downs, but if you told me every year you’ve got three games left and you’re still in the hunt, I’d take that every year,’’ said O’Sullivan. “I’m really encouraging our guys to play the best baseball they can and not to put too much stock in [the conference standings].”

Before Florida starter Logan Shore (6-5, 2.85 ERA) throws the first pitch tonight, here are five reasons the Gators are still in the hunt with three games left:

*****

GLOVES OF GLUE

Florida ranks third in the SEC in hitting (.296) and fifth in pitching (3.41 ERA), but when it comes to fielding, no other team comes close. The Gators own a .985 fielding percentage and have made just 30 errors in 52 games, 11 fewer than Arkansas, which has the second-lowest error total in the league. The Gators are especially strong up the middle where shortstop Richie Martin, second baseman Dalton Guthrie and center fielder Buddy Reed chase down a lot of balls that others don’t get to. And then there is senior third baseman Josh Tobias, who has handled 101 chances this season without an error. Give that guy a Gold Glove.

*****

THE FINISHERS

The Gators have played 13 three-game series – nine of them in conference – and are 12-1 in the third game of the series. In SEC play, Florida is 8-1 in the final game of a three-game series and four of those games determined which team won the series. To still have a shot at the SEC title, Florida won the rubber game at Georgia and at Vanderbilt the past two weekends.

*****

BIGGER BATS

Thankfully, college baseball seems to have discovered a happy medium between too much offense and not enough. A new ball with lowered seams has helped increase offense after teams averaged a record-low 0.39 home runs per game last season in records dating to 1970. The Gators have benefited like others. Florida has hit 48 home runs entering tonight’s game after belting just 26 a season ago. But more than home runs, this is a more balanced lineup than the Gators had the past two seasons. Tobias is hitting a team-high .361 and is one of five starters hitting .300 or better: Martin (.310), Reed (.316), left fielder Harrison Bader (.306) and right fielder Ryan Larson (.316). Meanwhile, freshman catcher/designated hitter JJ Schwarz leads the team in home runs (14) and RBIs (54).

*****

Senior Bobby Poyner has limited opponents to a .219 average in 49 2/3 innings. (Photo: Tim Casey)

BACK OF BULLPEN

The Gators have a good starting rotation led by Shore, but the group has been inconsistent and forced O’Sullivan to shift roles and rely on the bullpen perhaps more than he expected. However, due to an abundance of pitching depth, Florida has managed just fine. Senior lefty Bobby Poyner (4-1, 2.36 ERA, 3 saves) and junior-college transfer Taylor Lewis (4-1, 1.78, 6 saves) have been keys to Florida picking up wins when the starters have struggled. Also, freshman right-hander Alex Faedo (4-1, 3.74) has been invaluable as a spot starter (15 games, 8 starts) when A.J. Puk (7-3, 4.73) and Dane Dunning (5-2, 3.54) have run into rough patches.

*****

FANTASTIC FRESHMEN

Florida’s recruiting class was ranked No. 1 in the country and now we know why. Whether it’s been Schwarz’s power, Guthrie’s defense, Faedo’s arm, Jeremy Vasquez’s bat or the catching of Mike Rivera, this freshman class has contributed since the first weekend of the season.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Gators head coach Jim McElwain announced Wednesday that third-string quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg has transferred to Columbia.

Quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg receives direction from offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier during spring camp. (Photo: Tim Casey)

Mornhinweg signed with the Gators in 2012 after finishing his high school career as the all-time leading passer at Saint Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia. Serving as the emergency starter after Jeff Driskel and Tyler Murphy suffered season-ending injuries in 2013, Mornhinweg started the final three games of the season.

Mornhinweg appeared in one game last season but did not throw a pass. He finishes his UF career 44 of 63 for 344 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

“We wish him the best," McElwain said. “Would love to have him stay here. Moving forward, as you guys all know, that position, especially in this league now, you need to have some depth.”

Mornhinweg’s departure leaves the Gators with only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster: sophomore Treon Harris and redshirt freshman Will Grier. Walk-on Jacob Guy took extended reps during spring practice with Harris out due to a family tragedy and remains on the roster.

Meanwhile, the Gators are expected to bring in a transfer quarterback over the summer to help build depth at the position.

“We’re constantly looking at that spot as well as some other spots on the roster to try and make sure we get some needed bodies in those areas,” McElwain said.

*****

JACKSON UPDATE: Redshirt freshman defensive back J.C. Jackson is no longer a UF student. McElwain said Wednesday that Jackson is not enrolled in classes and is working to figure out the next step in his future.

J.C. Jackson

“He’s got a lot of things he’s dealing with right now," McElwain said. “We’ll support him and help him do what he can, but right now he’s not enrolled in school and dealing with some things outside that are a lot bigger than the Florida Gators.”

While a physically talented player, Jackson has faced multiple issues off the field. He faces three counts of armed robbery from an incident in Gainesville on April 18.

Jackson was a two-way standout at Immokalee High prior to arriving at UF. However, he was redshirted last season following shoulder surgery.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The introductory press conference for new UF men’s basketball coach Michael White drew a crowd on Monday.

New Gators basketball coach Michael White. (Photo: Tim Casey)

Gators football coach Jim McElwain, women’s basketball coach Amanda Butler, and dozens of University Athletic Association personnel stopped by to hear what White had to say.

It was the first press conference to introduce a new Gators head coach since Billy Donovan took the job on March 27, 1996 – or 6,985 days according to TimeandDate.com.

Of course, nearly all the state’s major newspapers had writers documenting White’s debut. Here is a look at coverage from some traditional media:

--Gators need to cease and desist comparing Michael White to Billy Donovan writes Mike Bianchi of The Orlando Sentinel.

--New Gators basketball coach White: ‘I’m not into begging for recruits’ writes Palm Beach Post columnist Dave George.

--White was committed to Louisiana Tech until something ‘special’ came up writes Sean Isabella of the Monroe (La.) News-Star.

--New UF coach embraces opportunity to follow Donovan writes Gainesville Sun columnist Pat Dooley.

--Gators coach White returns to roots (sort of) writes Joey Johnston of The Tampa Tribune.

--A good read from Antonya English of The Tampa Bay Times: For Michael White, Gators basketball chance feels just right.

--White, Gators appear to be a perfect fit writes Florida Times-Union columnist Gene Frenette.

--Florida introduces Mike White as head coach of men’s basketball writes Graham Hall of the Independent Florida Alligator.

Sunday May 10, 2015 Gators freshman Kulhman rolls as NBA Hall of Famer takes notes

Updated: 6:48am, May 10

Gators freshman Josie Kuhlman clinched Saturday's victory over Georgia Tech as Florida advanced to the Sweet 16. (Photo: Jim Burgess)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Gators freshman Josie Kuhlman was unfazed by her taller opponent in Saturday’s NCAA Tournament match.

Once the 5-foot-6 Kuhlman takes the court, she usually handles business as one of Florida’s top newcomers. Saturday was no different as she faced Georgia Tech’s Rasheeda McAdoo, whose 5-foot-11 frame depicts athletic grace and sturdy genes.

“We’re pretty familiar with each other,’’ Kuhlman said afterward. “I knew what to expect coming into the match.”

In Florida’s 4-0 sweep of the Yellow Jackets on a blistering afternoon at the Alfred A. Ring Tennis Complex, it was Kuhlman who clinched the victory for the Gators.

Rasheeda McAdoo

Her victory over McAdoo at No. 2 singles (6-3, 6-2) in 1 hour, 47 minutes served as Florida’s official invitation to the Sweet 16 next weekend in Waco, Texas.

“I thought we played great,’’ Florida head coach Roland Thornqvist said. “I was very pleased to see we were the aggressive team. I thought our players were very determined.”

As the Kuhlman-McAdoo match unfolded, a man in a blue and gold T-shirt with “McAdoo 14” on the back watched closely as he sat alone away from the main part of the stands where most of the spectators were seated.

He would occasionally glance at what appeared to be a notebook in his hand.

Third-year Georgia Tech coach Rodney Harmon, who replaced Bryan Shelton three years ago when Shelton was hired by UF as men’s tennis coach, said the tall and lean man now in his early 60s often takes notes during Yellow Jackets matches.

“Bob is great. He is a tremendous supporter,’’ Harmon said. “What’s great about him is he is a tremendous student of the game of tennis. He’s taking notes and stats. When he’s taking stats, after [the match] he’ll tell me, ‘this is how many first serves, this is how many’ ... He really wants the girls to do their best and pursue excellence.”

Perhaps there have been other NBA Hall of Famers to stop by and watch a tennis match at UF, but Bob McAdoo was the only one there Saturday.

His daughter Rasheeda is a Georgia Tech sophomore after blossoming on the elite junior tennis circuit as a standout at American Heritage Prep in Boca Raton.

Bob McAdoo in the final stages of his NBA career with the Lakers.

McAdoo, after 18 seasons as an assistant coach with the Miami Heat, moved into a scouting and community relations position this season. He recently returned to North Carolina to pay his respects to his college coach, Dean Smith.

Kuhlman was born well after McAdoo’s prolific NBA career ended with a pair of championship rings with the Showtime Lakers of the 1980s, but she knew all about his daughter and her backstory before they took the court Saturday.

“I’ve actually played her a lot,’’ said Kuhlman, who is from Ponte Vedra. “We’re both from Florida, so growing up in juniors, we actually played a lot together. We’re friends and stuff. It was interesting playing her again.”

After the match ended, McAdoo remained seated as the rest of the crowd departed, checking over his notebook. A trio of strangers stood nearby chatting as he processed information from his daughter’s match.

In a nearby conference room a few minutes later, Harmon expected to catch up with McAdoo once he finished his postmatch press conference.

“What he’ll do is, he’ll come to me first and ask me what I saw technically,’’ Harmon said. “And then he’ll say, ‘well based on what you saw technically and the things you guys have been working on, these are the trends I saw while I was charting.’

“To be honest, it’s really, really helpful because we don’t have time to chart it [during a match]. We’re busy. He’ll give you the empirical data. And he’s got a good sense of humor. His biggest thing for, not just his daughter but all the girls, is to work hard. He was such a hard worker and made himself into a great NBA player.”

Dante Fowler, the third overall pick in the NFL Draft, suffered a knee injury on Friday in his first rookie minicamp with the Jaguars. (Photo: Tim Casey)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The wait for former Gators defensive lineman Dante Fowler Jr. to play in his first NFL game just got longer.

Fowler, the third overall pick in last week's NFL Draft, suffered a torn ACL in his left knee during his first rookie minicamp workout with the Jacksonville Jaguars on Friday afternoon.

ESPN's Adam Schefter confirmed the news late this afternoon from a league source. 

The Jaguars confirmed Fowler's injury but did not immediately release information about its severity.

In his three seasons at Florida, Fowler never missed a game, playing in all 37 games during his three seasons.

Fowler posted a pair of tweets after news broke of his torn ACL:

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – It didn't take the Gators long to find Billy Donovan's replacement.

They found him in Ruston, La., where for the past four seasons Michael White has won 101 games as head coach of Louisiana Tech University. 

White's hiring Thursday night created a stir in the college basketball world and in Gator Nation.

While a relative unknown to many Florida fans accustomed to unprecedented success the past 19 seasons under Billy D, White is no secret in gyms around the country.

Here is what Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski had to say about White late in the 2012-13 season when Louisiana Tech was rolling. (White's father is Kevin White, the current athletic director at Duke and former AD at Notre Dame).

"I better watch out. This kid's good. He's my AD's son."

Krzyzewski was joking of course, but he made his point: White was viewed as an up-and-comer early on during his tenure at Louisiana Tech.

Florida will officially introduce the 38-year-old White as its head coach on Monday during a press conference on campus.

For now, here are some fresh links from around the Internet to catch you up on White:

--Florida passed on big names, bet on Michael White to keep Gators great writes Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com.

--Florida completed a swift and stealthy search to replace Billy Donovan writes Pat Forde of Yahoo.com.

--Gainesville Sun columnist Pat Dooley writes that Florida AD Jeremy Foley is pumped to hire the coach to replace the irreplaceable.

--Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi writes that “much like a young Donovan, White is a disciple of a pressing, pushing pyrotechnic style of basketball.”

--Andy Hutchins of AlligatorArmy.com offers his take on Florida’s hiring of White to replace Donovan.

Meanwhile, you can watch ESPN.com college basketball analyst Jeff Goodman discuss Florida's hiring of White in the video below:

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The climb back to competitive golf seemed far in the distance for Florida’s Anna Young in those first weeks and months after a right wrist injury ended her junior season.

Young was so far removed from the lineup that for the first six weeks after doctors shut her down -- she injured the wrist while doing Burpees as part of her cardio fitness routine -- Young couldn’t even use her right hand to putt.

“As much as it sucks getting hurt, I learned a lot about myself and a lot about my game,’’ Young said Wednesday afternoon following a practice round at Lonnie Poole Golf Course in Raleigh, N.C., site of this week’s NCAA Regional.

Young did what she could to stay connected to the game. When she stopped by the practice green, Young putted using only her left hand.

Seems like a small detail, but in the game of golf, a small adjustment can make a huge difference.

The 21-year-old Young, who at 14 decided she wanted golf to be her future, discovered a nuance in her game that has helped her since she returned.

Florida senior Anna Young's improved short game has boosted her game since she returned from a wrist injury. (Photo: Ron Irby)

“When I putt my right hand likes to manipulate the clubface if I’m unsure about a shot,’’ she said. “Once I was able to use only my left hand, it took that manipulation out of it.”

Prior to her injury, Young always considered her ball-striking ability the strength of her game. In the year and a half since, her short game has made strides to close the gap.

That improvement is what helped Young (75-73-72--220) tie teammate Karolina Vickova for the Gators’ best score at the SEC Tournament last month in her first appearance in the event.

A native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Young began her college career at Tulsa. However, after her freshman season, she decided to transfer to Florida to be closer to her swing coach in Orlando.

She played in nine tournaments as a sophomore and started her junior season by winning the Cougar Classic in Charleston, S.C., shooting a final-round 67 to win the three-day tournament at 5-under par.

A month later her season was over because of the wrist injury.

Slowly, Young has worked her way back into the lineup. She finished tied for 10th at the SunTrust Gator Invitational earlier this season and tied for 17th at the SEC Tournament. Young’s improved play has her confident she can help the Gators at the NCAA Raleigh Regional, which runs today through Saturday.

The top six teams advance to the NCAA Championships on May 22-27 at The Concession Golf Club in Bradenton.

“I’m really happy I played well because I didn’t hit the ball very well,’’ she said. “I was playing a 30-yard slice with most of my clubs and shots, so I was kind of working my way around the course. I had to get a lot of up and downs to play as well as I did. I’ve been working on my short game a lot, especially after I got injured. I got so good at certain shots that it really helped me.”

Young expects her short game to factor prominently in how well she plays. She said the greens are fast and tricky at the regional site.

With her UF career nearing a close, Young’s mindset is one of an explorer about to start a new journey. A psychology major, Young plans to turn professional later this summer and fulfill a dream.

“I know I have a long road and a lot of hard work ahead of me, but I’m excited to go,’’ she said. “This is exactly what I want to do. I just can’t imagine being done and not getting better and improving. If you practice right, you can get better if you have the right mindset.”

However, she will remain an amateur through late July when she returns home to Saskatoon to play in the Canadian Women’s Amateur Championship on her home course, Riverside Country Club.

“I was really hoping it would be there,’’ she said.

But this week, her focus is on navigating Lonnie Poole Golf Course and advancing to the NCAA Tournament. The 18-team field features five SEC teams (UF, South Carolina, LSU, Mississippi State and Alabama).

The Gators are the No. 5 seed.

“[The SEC Tournament] was the best I played since I had been injured,’’ she said.  "Even though I didn’t win, it was a win for me. I’m really ready to do it all again this week and give it all I got.”

Tuesday May 5, 2015 Gators Draft Recap: Reality vs. Mock Draft Analysts

Updated: 12:29pm, May 5

NFL personnel review data at UF's Pro Day last month. (Photo: Tim Casey)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – I enjoy the NFL Draft, but I’m not a draftnik. Same with National Signing Day. I follow recruiting closely when commitments and speculation become official rather than the daily whims of 17- and 18-year-olds.

For true draftniks nothing compares to the months between the Super Bowl and the NFL Draft. More and more websites devote space and resources to draft projections every year. Seems like everyone and their Uncle Bill have a mock draft posted on their blog.

Still, despite the endless cycle of analysis and regurgitation of that analysis, each year the draft proves how much of a gap there is between the experts and the NFL personnel making the picks.

This year’s draft proved no exception. In fact, all you have to do is review the eight Gators selected. Florida’s eight picks led the Southeastern Conference and gave Florida 20 players selected in the last three years.

Some projections were spot on; most were not. That’s the unpredictability of the draft.

Here is a review of reality vs. mock draft projections:

*****

DANTE FOWLER JR., DL

Taken with the third overall pick in the first round by Jacksonville, Fowler was an easy call by the time the draft rolled around. Nearly all the major draft pundits had him as a top-10 pick. The NFL Network’s Mike Mayock was his most vocal supporter in the months leading up to the draft. Mayock had Fowler going third overall to the Jags weeks before the draft, which prompted others to move Fowler above highly touted defensive linemen available such as USC’s Leonard Williams and Clemson’s Vic Beasley.

Mock Drafters’ Grade: A

*****

D.J. Humphries made a good decision by leaving school a year early, going to the Cardinals in the first round. (Photo: ArizonaSports.com)

D.J. HUMPHRIES, OL

Humphries left school early despite being told to stay in school by the NFL Draft Advisory Board. D.J. knew best. Humphries impressed NFL personnel at the combine in February and his stock soared from there. By the time Thursday’s first round started, most of the mock drafters had Humphries as a first-round pick, with multiple NFL.com mock drafts predicting Humphries to the Cardinals at No. 24. Well, he went 24th overall to the Cardinals, slightly above where Humphries was ranked among ESPN scouting guru Todd McShay’s top 300 prospects (32nd) or NFLDraftScout.com’s list of prospects (36th).

Mock Drafters’ Grade: A

*****

CHAZ GREEN, OL

Green was the third player off the board for the Gators, selected in the third round (91st overall) by Dallas. Green did not receive a lot of publicity leading up to the draft and most projections had him a mid-round pick at best. NFLDraftScout.com rated Green as the 191st prospect available, and McShay ranked Green 133rd overall. The Cowboys clearly thought much higher of the 6-foot-4, 315-pound Green, who has the potential to develop into a starting right tackle in the NFL.

Mock Drafters’ Grade: C-

*****

MATT JONES, RB

The depth at running back was deep this year with Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon considered the top backs available. Jones was projected by most analysts as a mid-round pick. However, the Redskins saw him as a perfect complement to starter Alfred Morris and selected Jones with the 95th overall pick in the third round. McShay ranked Jones the 135th-best prospect in the draft and NFLDraftScout.com had him ranked 154th. The Redskins viewed him in much higher regard.

Mock Drafters’ Grade: C-

*****

MAX GARCIA, OL

The versatile Garcia played tackle and guard his first season at UF in 2013, and then moved to center as a senior and anchored an offensive line that had four players get drafted. Garcia was drafted by Denver in the fourth round as the 133rd overall selection. He was a mid-round pick on most mock drafts and McShay pegged him as the 132nd-ranked prospect in the draft, so he was spot on. NFLDraftScout.com wasn’t as high on Garcia, ranking him No. 227 prior to the draft. Overall, Garcia went about where most expected and gives the Broncos a high-character player to develop.

Mock Drafters’ Grade: A

*****

NEIRON BALL, LB

Ball was under the radar heading into the draft after suffering a season-ending knee injury late in his senior season. However, Ball performed well at UF’s Pro Day last month and appeared in excellent condition. The Raiders obviously saw something they liked, taking Ball in the fifth round with the 161st overall pick. That is 117 spots higher than where McShay ranked Ball and more than 220 spots higher than where Ball was ranked by NFLDraftScout.com. If Ball can stay healthy, Oakland got a player with a lot of untapped potential waiting to make an impact.

Mock Drafters’ Grade: F

*****

Receiver Andre Debose performs a drill at UF's Pro Day last month. (Photo: Tim Casey)

ANDRE DEBOSE, WR

Debose never lived up to expectations at Florida due to injuries and his lack of development as a go-to receiver. However, Debose made his mark as a kickoff and punt returner and that was enough for the Raiders to take a chance in the seventh round, selecting Debose with the 221st overall pick. Few expected Debose to get drafted. Most analysts viewed him as a player who would be invited to a minicamp or signed as an undrafted free agent, hence he was not in McShay’s top 300 draft prospects and ranked – are you ready – 727th on NFLDraftScout.com’s list of prospects. If Debose succeeds in the NFL, the Raiders will look like geniuses. If he doesn’t, the rest of the league can say “we told you so.”

Mock Drafters’ Grade: N/A

*****

TRENTON BROWN, OL

The 6-foot-8, 355-pound Brown has the kind of size that NFL scouts can’t ignore. A former standout basketball player in high school, Brown continues to develop as a football player. Still, the 49ers used their seventh-round pick (244th overall) on Brown. Prior to the draft most expected Brown to be a mid- to late-round pick. McShay rated him the 207th-best prospect available and NFLDraftScout.com pegged Brown No. 241. In the end, he was picked where the majority of projections had him.

Mock Drafters’ Grade: B+ 

Friday May 1, 2015 Billy Donovan to NBA: What They Are Writing

Updated: 3:41pm, May 1

Billy Donovan was officially introduced as head coach of the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday afternoon.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Former Gators coach Billy Donovan – yes, a little strange to see that description in front of his name – just wrapped up his introductory press conference in Oklahoma City.

Donovan answered questions for nearly 40 minutes with Thunder star Kevin Durant and some of his teammates in attendance.

Donovan said he woke up Thursday morning feeling really good about the situation and that’s when he made up his mind to leave Florida after 19 seasons, six SEC titles and two national championships.

Colleague Chris Harry will have a story later today off Donovan’s press conference.

For now, here are some columns from around the Internet discussing Donovan’s move to the NBA:

*****

Billy Donovan listened to every pitch a year ago – the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Detroit Pistons – and forever found a reason to turn jobs down. From rosters to geography to ownership styles, Donovan passed with an understanding that Oklahoma City loomed in the distance.

--More from Adrian Wojnarowksi of Yahoo! Sports

*****

Donovan doesn't do this unless he knows that his GM is one of the best roster-builders in the executive game, and his willingness to leave the Florida job that included 19 years, two national championships and four Final Four appearances to partner with Sam Presti shows the kind of faith that they can only hope Durant and Westbrook still have by this time next year.

--More from Sam Amick of USA Today

*****

Sitting at his kitchen table eating pasta on a summer night in 2007, Billy Donovan didn’t sound like a man who would ever leave Florida for the NBA. He had tried to bolt. He had signed a contract with the Orlando Magic that June. He had held a press conference. But he just couldn’t go.

--More from Andy Staples of SportsIllustrated.com

*****

By making a bold and somewhat outside-the-box hire with Donovan, Presti chose someone whom he hopes can challenge the Thunder’s superstar tandem and shake up an offensive system that had become stilted and stale.

--More from Michael Lee of The Washington Post

*****

He's theirs now, the only basketball coach that a lot of young Gator fans have known. He's the Thunder's. He's Kevin Durant's. He's the NBA's. He's not ours anymore.

--More from Gainesville Sun columnist Pat Dooley

*****

Donovan on Thursday agreed to a five-year deal to become the head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, league sources told Yahoo Sports. This is a huge loss to a fragile game. It's an understandable move for the man, but a detrimental outcome for the wobbly sport he's leaving behind.

--More from Yahoo! Sports columnist Pat Forde

*****

Donovan, deep down, has always had a desire to give the NBA a try. Who could blame him? Donovan accomplished more than anyone in Gainesville could have ever hoped. He needs to take on that one last challenge. And UF? He's paid in full.

--More from Florida Today columnist David Jones

*****

Hiring a coach who’s unproven in the NBA might make hearts drop in Thunder Nation. This team has championship-caliber talent. It also has a superstar going into the final year of his contract. Why would the Thunder pick Billy Donovan?

--More from Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman

*****

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The three-day NFL Draft opens tonight with the first round.

It shouldn't take Florida long to continue one of the more impressive streaks in college football.

The Gators are one of six teams who have had a player taken every year in the Common Draft era, which started when the NFL and AFL held a joint draft for the first time in 1967.

Steve Spurrier

Quarterback Steve Spurrier was the first UF player selected in the Common Draft era, taken third overall in '67 by San Francisco. Running back Jimmy Jordan went in the third round that year to Atlanta.

Florida defensive lineman Dante Fowler Jr. is projected as a top 10 pick tonight and offensive lineman D.J. Humphries could also go in the first round.

The Gators were regulars in the NFL Draft long before the Common Draft era, though. The last time Florida didn't have a player selected: 1951.

The following season, Detroit selected center Carroll McDonald in the 13th round and every year since at least one UF player has been picked in the NFL Draft.

#####

Dante Fowler Jr. is expected to have a big smile on his face Thursday as one of the first players selected in the NFL Draft. (Photo: Tim Casey)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The NFL Draft is on tap starting Thursday.

Gators defensive lineman Dante Fowler Jr. is expected to be among the first players taken.

In today’s list of links for your perusal, included is a story on Fowler from his hometown newspaper.

Here are items on others with ties to Gator Nation in the news:

--From St. Petersburg, Dante Fowler Jr. reaches for NFL heights writes Antonya English of The Tampa Bay Times.

--Gators offensive lineman D.J. Humphries – at 305 pounds – ready for his big moment writes Joseph Person of The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer.

--Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman takes a look at three top coaching candidates for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, including Gators head coach Billy Donovan.

--The Chicago Bulls need former Gators standout Joakim Noah to step up on offense writes Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times.

--Gators linebacker Neiron Ball, whose career was hampered by injuries at UF, flashes NFL potential writes Edgar Thompson of The Orlando Sentinel.

--Former Gators running back Lorenzo Hampton steered his son toward baseball and that paid off recently when Lorenzo Hampton Jr. signed with Cal.

--Did the Eagles sign former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow to be a two-point specialist? That is what New York Daily News columnist Gary Myers writes.

--Former UF standout Brian Johnson is making a case to be promoted to the majors by the Red Sox, but in what role asks Christopher Smith of MassLive.com.

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