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Monday November 23, 2015 'Next Day Takeaway' (Purdue 85, UF 70)

KeVaughn Allen vs Purdue

Freshman guard KeVaughn Allen (right) tries to manuever past Purdue's Dakota Mathias in Sunday's Hall of Fame Tipoff in Connecticut. Allen had his most efficient offensive outing in his brief Gators career. 



GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Three follow-up observations from Florida’s loss Sunday against 21st-ranked Purdue in the finals of the Hall of Fame Tipoff in Uncasville, Conn. 

1) Hello, John Egbunu. UF’s 6-foot-11, 255-pound transfer center showed big in the box score against the big-bodied Boilermakers, scoring 19 points (just one off the career-high 20 he carded against Memphis during his previous life at South Florida) on 7-for-14 from the floor and seven rebounds. He also went 5-for-6 from the free-throw line, where he figures to visit a bunch this season. Good for him. Gators coach Mike White, though, was somewhat tepid with his praise for Egbunu, given some defensive lapses in the halfcourt. In practice, Egbunu has been a defensive rock, but he erred in his coverage of several ball screens -- chasing the post, instead of impeding the guard -- and the play resulted in a layup. That’s a correctable issue and White will commence correcting it at practice Monday. 

2) Freshman shooting guard KeVaughn Allen wasn’t much of a shooter his first three games. The two-time Arkansas player of the year made just seven of his first 24 collegiate shots and only two of his first 12 from the arc. Against Purdue, he was 5-for-9 from the floor for a career-best 12 points. He hit one of his three treys to go with a rebound and assist, but no steals from one of the team’s best on-ball perimeter defenders. Not eye-opening numbers, but Allen didn’t turn the ball over, either, after committing six the first three games. White and his staff have huge expectations for Allen, who despite his phenomenal athleticism and explosiveness off the bounce will need some time to figure some things out at this level. That his best game came against UF’s best opponent thus far was encouraging.  

3) Remove backup point guard Chris Chiozza from the equation -- he was a solid 3-for-5 from the floor and 2-for-4 from the arc -- and UF’s five other perimeter players (starters Allen, DeVon Walker and Kasey Hill, plus backups Devin Robinson and Brandone Francis-Ramirez) combined to go 23 of 76 from the floor (30.2 percent) and a woeful 5-for-30 from the 3-point line (16.6 percent) in the two-day tournament. Yikes. For Robinson, it was really the first time he struggled with his shot this season, yet he mostly maintained his new-found willingness to go to the glass; even against the Boilermakers’ massive size. Walker and Francis-Ramirez, though, were 2-for-20 and 0-for-10 for the weekend. Walker is a very good defender who needs to let his offense be organic, rather than force things. Francis-Ramirez, now 6-for-25 overall and 3-for-15 from deep, just needs a shot or two to fall. He’s a much better shooter than the numbers show ... but those numbers are what they are, for now. 

Sunday November 22, 2015 'Next Day Takeaway' (UF 74, St. Joseph's 63)

Updated: 12:40pm, November 22

Gators vs SJU's

UF guard Kasey Hill (left) and forward Dorian Finney-Smith (right) tag-team St. Joseph forward Pierfrancesco Oliva during Saturday's 74-63 win at Mohegan Sun Arena. [Photos by Bob Blanchard, RJB Sports]


UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Three follow-up observations from Florida’s win Saturday over St. Joseph’s in first-round play of the Hall of Fame Tipoff at Mohegan Sun Arena. The Gators (3-0) will meet No. 21 Purdue (4-0) in the tournament championship game Sunday at 5:30 p.m. The Boilermakers beat Old Dominion 61-39 in Saturday’s other game.

1) Any focus on what a perceived “rotation” will be in light of UF’s depth and athleticism seems pointless right now. The Gators, still without senior forward Alex Murphy (plantar fasciitis), used all 11 of their players against the Hawks, with Coach Mike White subbing out strategically and liberally in dealing with foul trouble across the board. In doing so, the Gators were still able to maintain their up-tempo ways, but did yank the press late in favor of a match-up zone that caused the Hawks problems. While the Gators, with point guard Kasey Hill fouled out, made six of their last eight field-goal attempts, St. Joe’s was just two of its last 11, with a couple turnovers.    

2) The maturation of sophomore Chris Chiozza continues. His 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer was huge, but what UF the coaches really like is his willingness to run the team and look for open teammates without hunting for shots for himself. UF only had 11 assists against the Hawks. Chiozza had four of them. And while on the subject of team-first thinking, freshman guard Brandone Francis-Ramirez made an unselfish play late that probably went unnoticed in the big picture. “BFR” was really struggling with his shot. He was 0-for-7 from the floor, including 0-for-5 from 3-point range, and had not scored when center John Egbunu grabbed a rebound in the final minute and started the break. The Gators had numbers and Francis-Ramirez got a pass out in front. He easily could have taken the ball to the basket for a layup -- to get in the scoring column of a game already decided -- but instead he touch-passed the ball toward the goal where Devin Robinson soared in for a two-handed slam. That play said something about where Francis-Ramirez’s head (and priorities) were at that moment. It was with the team. 

3) Purdue has the front court size of an NBA team. It's truly striking up close. Sophomore center Isaac Haas (13.8 ppg, 8 rpg, 3 bpg) goes 7-2, 282 and is backed up by 7-foot, 255-pound A.J. Hammons, who went for 18 points (on 8-for-13 shooting) and six rebounds against ODU. Forwards Vince Edwards (10 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and Caleb Swanigan (9.8 ppg, 9.3 rpg) go 6-8 and 6-9, respectively. In the halfcourt, the Boilermakers will be a handful to deal with because even with that enormous size they still shoot nearly 42 percent from the arc; four players have at least six makes from deep. Guard Kendall Stephens (12.3 ppg) is at 43.8 percent, with all but three of his 35 field-goal attempts from beyond the arc. Florida will have to great closing on the perimeter, but cognizant of the point and post. Tough assignment against a Purdue team averaging 86.2 points per game. So what can the Gators do? They can’t match up with those big bodies, but UF is a good rebounding team (plus-16 ratio through three games). Ideally, the Gators will play defense well enough to force some misses -- Purdue, individually, is not a great play-making team -- and turn the game into an up-and-down, transition affair where the Boilermakers’ size can be challenged against Florida's athleticism and numbers. 

Wednesday November 18, 2015 'Next-Day Takeaway' (UF 104, NC A&T 54)

Updated: 1:03pm, November 19

Schuyler & Mike

UF coach Mike White speaks to junior center Schuyler Rimmer during Monday night's defeat of North Carolina A&T. 


 Three follow-up observations from the Gators’ home-opening win Monday night and O’Connell Center regular-season debut for Coach Mike White

1) The coming weeks will bear out what White’s first Florida team does well and not so well. After shooting 15.8 percent from 3 in the first game and 51.7 in the second, it’s probably safe to assume the Gators are neither that bad nor that good from long range. Probably somewhere in between. But what’s apparent, at least so far, is that this team plays hard -- really hard -- and that is an absolute prerequisite for White and something that is a constant point of emphasis. Example: At Friday’s shootaround (four hours before the Navy tipoff), White gathered his players at midcourt for their brief “family time” chat (a ritual after every practice). When asked what was the most important thing heading into the game, at least three players answered, “Play hard.” White nodded his head. “I like hearing that.” 

2) Counting the sloppy exhibition game against Palm Beach Atlantic, turnovers have decreased proportionately with each game: 23 (PBA), 19 (Navy) and 13 (A&T). That last number is still too many for White’s liking -- especially compared to just 16 forced against an overwhelmed opponent -- but he’ll definitely live with similar 13-assist, 3-turnover ratios from his two point guards. Starter Kasey Hill had eight assists and two turnovers, while Chris Chiozza came off the bench for five and one.  

3) Through two games, backup center Schuyler Rimmer is 7-for-9 from the floor and eight rebounds while serving as the top reserve option for starter John Egbunu. Rimmer, the 6-foot-10 transfer from Stanford by way of Orlando Boone High, also hit a 3-pointer. If Rimmer, who is very sound defensively and has very good hands, can be any threat from deep, that could work wonders in spreading the floor come Southeastern Conference season. 

Next: On Friday, the Gators (2-0) head to Uncasville, Conn., where Saturday they face St. Joseph's (currently 2-0, with a date vs. Buffalo Wednesday night) in the first round of the first game of Hall of Fame Tipoff (2:30 p.m.) at Mohegan Sun Arena. Pending the outcome, UF will face either Old Dominion (1-0) or No. 21 Purdue (2-0) on Sunday at either noon or 5:30 p.m. ODU and Purdue play at noon Saturday. 

Monday November 16, 2015 Freshman Stone opts to redshirt; Leon returns vs NCA&T

Updated: 9:47am, November 17

Stone mug GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Discovering or experimenting with possible rotations is in vogue this time of the college basketball season. As far as Mike White and his first Florida team goes, one decision has been made. 

Freshman forward Keith Stone will redshirt in 2016-16. 

Stone (right), the 6-foot-8, 230-pounder from Deerfield Beach, Fla., was set to be lost in the numbers of the UF frontcourt. White and his staff considered transfer Justin Leon, out of Shawnee (Ill.) Community College, as a redshirt candidate, but the early season injury to forward Alex Murphy prompted the coaches to re-access their options. 

 For Stone, the choice was fairly simple. He could deal with the numbers game this season -- 10 minutes one night, maybe two the next, or maybe even none -- or he could take a year to develop his game and his body and measure this season's minutes against minutes he’d get in a fifth year of eligibility.

 The decision ultimately was his. 

“I understand I have a bunch of guys playing in front of me and I’ve got a lot to learn about playing at this level,” Stone said Monday after the team’s shootaround in advance of the the home opener against North Carolina A&T. “So I’m going to take a year to get better, work on my body and get my mind right.”

Stone, who scored six points in 10 minutes during UF's Nov. 5 exhibition defeat of Division II Palm Beach Atlantic, did not play in Friday night’s win at Navy because he was still contemplating his decision.

Justin Leon Leon (right) did not play against the Midshipmen either, but because of a hyperextended right knee suffered in that PBA game. He scored two points in six minutes before injuring the knee. 

“I wanted to be out there [at Navy] so bad, but I’m happy to be back now,” said Leon, who was cleared to return to action Sunday. “I’ll probably get limited time, but it’ll be nice to put a jersey on, dress out and play in a game that actually counts.” 

Leon, the 6-8, 200-pounder from Arkansas, is not going to wow anyone with his skills, but when in the game he’ll play with as much effort as anyone on the floor. That effort is infectious, and with Murphy out another four to five weeks, UF needs Leon’s activity/depth in the post, where he averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds as a junior-college player.

DeVo taking court ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- DeVon Walker was Florida’s starting small forward in the Gators’ preseason game last week. It was quite the development, given the fourth-year junior’s last time on the court with fans in the stands was the 2014 Final Four against Connecticut. 

“I was excited,” Walker said. “I was too excited. I was excited in a bad way. My rhythm and everything was just sped up.” 

Walker, the 6-foot-6 guard/forward from Winter Haven, Fla., sat out the 2014-15 season after with a knee injury suffered during a summer pickup game with teammates. For Walker, it was tough watching the Gators struggle to the program’s worst record since 1998. All he could do was rehab and train with an eye toward the ’15-16 season. 

So when it came in the form of the Nov. 5 exhibition game against Division II Palm Beach Atlantic, Walker scored four points on 1-for-5 shooting -- all from 3-point range -- to go with five rebounds, a couple assists and three turnovers in 18 minutes.  

On a team that’s fairly deep when healthy, those aren’t great numbers. Walker, even overly excited, can do better and knows it. In a closed scrimmage against Central Florida a week earlier, Walker was really, really good. He finished with 17 points on 6-for-10 shooting, including 4-for-7 from distance.

DeVo mugMaybe the opportunity just to shake the rust was the springboard he needed. The Gators will know soon enough. UF opens the season Friday night against Navy in the second game of the Veterans Classic at Alumni Hall. Walker will start at the small forward spot. 

In new Coach Mike White’s system, Florida will play fast. White wants the Gators to be “sped up” (Walker's words above), but in the context of what they do. 

“We’re all adjusting,” Walker said. 

With UF down two frontcourt players -- forward Alex Murphy will be miss 4-6 weeks with plantar fasciitis in his right foot and forward Justin Leon is day-to-day with a hyperextended right knee -- the Gators will need Walker to play serious minutes; probably at the small forward and off-guard spts. 

“We’re definitely toying with it,” White said of his rotation options. “With this team, it’s got so much parity and we have some inconsistencies right now. There’s so much unproven that I think it’s in our best interest to throw guys in and out, and give guys opportunities, do our best to hold them accountable by substituting for mistakes. Especially defensively and rebounding and with effort mistakes in the hopes that it helps us improve throughout the year.”

Walker is in that mix and thus will be given every opportunity to succeed or fail. Given where he was this time last year, what more could he ask for? 

Not wonder he's excited. The good and the bad way. 

“Honestly, I don’t think there’s a word in the Webster dictionary for it,” Walker said of that anticipation. “I can’t even explain it, to put it into words is something I just can’t do. I’m beyond excited. Not only for me, but for the coaches, for the guys. I think it’s great to start this journey with one another. And at Navy, what a great place to start.” 

Thursday November 12, 2015 For Gators, a Veterans Day opportunity like no other

Updated: 4:38pm, November 12

Team photo

The Florida basketball team takes a team photo in front of a Sierra Knighthawk fighter copter during Thursday's tour of the United States Naval Academy, a prelude to Friday night's season opener against Navy in the Veterans Classic. 

>>> [Check out Tim Casey's photo gallery of UF's tour here.] 

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Honor, courage and commitment. 

Those are the core values the three officers addressing the basketball teams from Florida, North Carolina and Temple Thursday morning said defined the United States Naval Academy. One of them, a captain, asked a member from each program to give the values their respective teams aspired to. 

UF’s senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith chimed in on behalf of the Gators: “Determination and dedication.” 

Then this question was put to everyone in the Commandant’s Conference Room. 

Do your habits of today match your goals of tomorrow?  

For the next four hours, the Gators, Tar Heels and Owls -- as participants in Friday night’s Veterans Classic at Alumni Hall -- got an intimate look inside how the remarkable midshipmen have worked daily to achieve those goals and their “Call to Serve” since 1845.

“Think about what these guys do, the sacrifices they make,” said an in-awe Gators coach Mike White, whose team opens its 2015-16 against Navy at 21:30 Friday. “And all we ask of our guys is to go to class and play hard.”

The campus experience tour began with a stop at a docked Yard Patrol (or “YP”), an 80-foot ship used mostly for training and basic seamanship and navigation. The vessels are piloted mostly up and down the eastern seaboard on maneuvers and exercises. 

From there, the Gators were led to an MH605 Sierra Knighthawk, a multi-mission wartime helicopter parked in the middle of a nearby athletic practice field. As the team moved closer to the chopper, one of the guides had a word of warning for 6-foot-11 center John Egbunu and 6-9 forward Devin Robinson. 

“You guys better duck.” 

He was kidding. 

The Knighthawk’s primary charge is combat search and rescue, special warefare support and airborne mine countermeasures. 

Chiozza in helmet Points guards Kasey Hill and Chris Chiozza (pictured right) climbed aboard and did the pilot/co-pilot thing, very much looking the part (except for the Gators warm-up suits). 

Then it was over to check out a grenade launcher, a 23,000-pound armored Humvee and 7-ton Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement (MTVR). 

The gun was so heavy it required a tripod, but a direct hit on the Knighthawk (about 100 yards away) reduce the craft to ashes. As for the Humvee, it was a struggle just to open one of the armored doors. In fact, a guide recalled a tour in Afghanistan when his Humvee was struck broadside by a enemy rocket. 

“No one was injured,” he said. “But the window glass spidered-up a little bit.” 

The MTVR isn’t called “7-ton” because it weighs that much, but rather because it can carry that much off-road. In battle, it can seat 16 soldiers in the back, plus three in the front. 

“Imagine what it takes just climb into one of these for real,” said assistant coach Dusty May, who was joined on board by Finney-Smith and freshman center Kevarrius Hayes. “I mean, to be riding in it and knowing where you’re going and what’s about to happen.”

None of them really, truly could. 

On to Luce Hall, home to the bridge training simulation rooms. Inside, midshipmen learn how to operate large ships in rooms with stunningly vivid and realistic images beamed from seven cameras that create a horizon view of 210 degrees. Because they are full-motion simulators, instructors can alter the weather and seas to make things quite rough.

The room (or the bridge) literally feels like it’s swaying with the sea.  

Senior forward DeVon Walker and Hayes were on the wheels. Robinson stood at the front of the bridge, barking commands -- “Left standard rudder! Right standard rudder!” -- when applicable. Walker and Hayes took their orders.

Not exactly “Call of Duty” stuff. Much closer to the real thing. 

Note: Word had it the North Carolina players steered their ship into another vessel.

“Well, then I guess that’s one win this season,” Walker said. 

Freshman guard Brandone Francis-Ramirez left the room with a different takeaway. 

“I feel seasick, man.” 

Bridge from back

Above: Senior foward DeVon Walker (left) and freshman center Kevarrius Hayes (right) pilot from the bridge in the full-motion simulation room, while sophomore forward Devin Robinson (center) mans his command post. Below: That's Robinson (middle) eyeing the seas, with Coach Mike White (far right) taking in the ride.

Bridge 2   


From there, the team walked across campus, through stunning Tecumseh Square and into hallowed Memorial Hall, which under the famed slogan “Don’t Give Up the Ship” honors all Academy officers killed in action. Yes, all of them, dating back 170 years. 

Back in Tecumseh Square, all four teams gathered to watch the daily ritual of noon meal formation, an Annapolis tradition since 1905 (and this one in the rain), when roll call prompted responses from sword-wielding officers of, “All present and accounted for,” before dismissing their companies for a massive march to lunch at Bancroft Hall. 

In the mess hall, the Gators, Tar Heels and Owls scattered about -- some alone, some in pairs, some recruited by friendly plebes looking to talk basketball -- to chow with these remarkable men and women.

About 4,400 cadets in all.  

Too many to individually thank for dedicating their lives to protect our freedom. 

"A couple days ago, our players probably looked at this as a trip to play a game at Navy and maybe do some sight-seeing," White said. "But today was really something special, and you could see the guys' eyes light up on the tour, and it will be a day they're going to remember."

Here’s to honor, courage and commitment. 

Alex injured GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Reserve forward Alex Murphy will be sidelined from four to six due to the foot injury he suffered in Thursday’s night’s exhibition win over Palm Beach Atlantic.

Magnetic resonance imaging tests Friday on Murphy’s right foot revealed a partial tear to the plantar fascia. The fifth-year senior from Rhode Island was injured driving to the basket in the first half of UF’s 89-42 win over the Division II Sailfish at the O’Connell Center.

He entered the game at the 13:36 mark of the first half and was called for a player control offensive foul less than two minutes later. Murphy rolled to the ground, immediately grabbed his foot and after a couple minutes had to be carried to the locker room.

The projected 4-6 week window could have the 6-foot, 225-pound fifth-year senior back as early as the first week in December (perhaps in time for UF’s three-game gauntlet at Miami, at Michigan State and against Oklahoma State in the Orange Bowl Classic) or could keep him off the floor until after Christmas. 

Murphy, who transferred from Duke two seasons ago, averaged 5.1 points and 2.0 rebounds in 23 games last season. His absence means more frontcourt minutes for somebody. Whether that means junior DeVon Walker, sophomore Devin Robinson, junior Justin Leon or perhaps even freshmen Kavarrius Hayes or Keith Stone -- or a combination of several -- is something Coach Mike White and his staff will figure out as they play with the early season rotation.

The Gators open the regular season Nov. 13 at Navy.

Wednesday November 4, 2015 Preseason Primer: Know your college basketball rules changes

Updated: 4:44pm, November 4

NCAA logoGAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The NCAA made made some not-so-subtle changes to their college basketball rules -- both for men and women -- during the offseason. As in, there will be some pronounced differences in how games will be officiated during the 2015-16 campaign.

With both Gators squads set to make their 2015-16 debuts in the coming days -- Mike White’s men play a home exhibition Thursday night against Palm Beach Atlantic and open for real Nov. 13 at Navy, the same day Amanda Butler’s team rolls out at Temple -- here’s a preseason primer on some of the most significant rules alterations that fans may notice.

Most are intended to aid the offense and make the game more free-flowing.



* The shot clock has been reduced from 35 seconds to 30, and the 10-second backcourt count will not reset if a defender causes the ball to go out of bounds, if the offense retains possession on a held ball or if a technical foul is called on the offensive team while the ball is in the backcourt. Note: If the offense calls a timeout in the backcourt, the 10-second shot will reset.

Defense * The five-second closely guarded count has been eliminated.

 * A major emphasis on hand-checking and body bumping the ball handler figures to be one of the most radical of the changes -- and has altered how coaches are telling their players to defend. An arm bar will be allowed when guarding in the post when the offensive player has his back to the basket and is without the ball. On the perimeter, defensive players are prohibited from hand-checking players with the ball.

* The restricted area arc -- a.k.a. the semi-circle beneath the basket where defneisve players are not allowed to draw charges -- has been moved to 4 feet away from the basket (instead of 3). The goal is reduce the amount of charges taken under the basket. 

* Verticality for jump-shooters will be closely monitored relative to fouls. If a defensive player clearly is not going to make contact with a jump-shooter on a so-called “fly-by” play, for example, the offensive player cannot alter his elevation to seek out contact with the defender.

* Dunking will be allowed in pre-game and half-time warm-ups (which surely will make the Rowdy Reptiles happier about being in their seats early).


* Games will be played in four 10-minute quarters, rather than two 20-minute halves, with 75 seconds between the first/second and third/fourth quarters.

Amanda* As part of the quarters system, teams will reach the bonus and shoot two free throws on the fifth team foul of each quarter, with the team fouls resetting at zero for each quarter.

* As an addendum to the 10-second backcourt rule put into effect two seasons ago, the shot clock will not reset if the ball is deflected out of bounds by the defense, if the offensive team retains possession on a held ball or if a technical foul is called on the offensive team in its backcourt.

* Inside the 59.9-second mark of fourth quarters and overtime, a timeout called immediately after a made basket, defensive rebound or steal will allow the offensive team to inbound the ball into the frontcourt at the 28-foot mark on the side of the court where the scorer’s table is located.

* Defensive players in the post can place a forearm or open hand with a bend in the elbow on an offensive post player with the ball and back to the basket.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Mike White and his Florida basketball team will make debut Thursday night armed with their backup center and backup point guard.

Sophomore center Schuyler Rimmer, the transfer from Stanford, learned Friday that he’d been cleared to play this semester, while guard Chris Chiozza, who sprained an ankle at practice last week, is expected to be cleared for the exhibition game against Division II Palm Beach Atlantic at the O’Connell Center.

Rimmer mug UF’s opens the regular season Nov. 13 at Navy.

The 6-foot-10, 245-pound Rimmer was a 1,500-point and 1,100-rebound player at Orlando Boone High. He signed with Stanford and played 69 minutes in 16 games before transferred to UF last December as a walk-on. Though he arrived at the end of the first semester, the NCAA granted his appeal for eligibility this semester.

If the NCAA had not signed off on the appeal, Rimmer would not have been cleared to play until UF’s Southeastern Conference opener Jan. 2 against Georgia, thus missing the season’s first 11 games.

"I was really excited when I found out I was going to be able to play," Rimmer said after practice Monday. "You only have so many games in a college career, so that puts that much more emphasis on playing as many as you can. So it's awesome I'll be out there with everybody and have a chance to help the team."

Chiozza rolled his ankle during a full-contact drill during a practice at the O’Dome and had to be carried off the floor.

“I was scared at first,” he said. “Been playing a long time, but never had an ankle [injury].”

Chiozza, who averaged 3.9 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists while playing in all 33 of UF’s games last season, has improved his shooting and been in a healthy competition for the point guard spot with junior Kasey Hill. He was held out of a scrimmage Saturday, but returned to non-contract drills at practice Monday.

Saturday October 31, 2015 Happy Homecoming! Billy D rides Westbrook, Durant for comeback thriller in Orlando

Updated: 9:28am, October 31

Billy D ORLANDO -- Billy Donovan had just wrapped eight minutes worth of Q&A with the local media Friday night. Most were locked in on the Oklahoma City Thunder coach’s return to the state he once ruled, albeit on a completely different level.

After he thanked the group, Donovan made his way toward the opponent’s locker room when he was stopped by a game operations official.

“Coach, we need your starters, please.”

“All right,” Donovan said, pointing to the lineup chart. “Let’s go with Durant ... Westbrook ... .”

Right then, he looked up at a friendly media face and smiled.

“How’s that, so far?”

Um, good. And Billy D is good so far, also. Very good.

So is his team.

The Thunder, down by 18 in the second half, got 48 points from point guard Russell Westbrook and 43 from forward Kevin Durant in a furious and pulsating 139-136 double-overtime defeat of the Orlando Magic before a raucous sellout of 18,846 at Amway Center.

Westbrook’s 40-footer with .07 seconds left in regulation tied the game at 117. Magic guard Victor Olidipo's 3-pointer at the buzzer tied it in the first overtime at 126. Westbrook and Durant had nine of OKC’s 13 points in the double-overtime to help put the game away and give their coach a 2-0 start to his NBA career.

“Our guys kept battling back,” Donovan said afterward. “We found a way to pull it out in the end.”

It’s only two games into his rookie NBA season, but Donovan seems to be loving his new life. Of course, having two of the best players on the planet doesn’t hurt.  

The NBA schedule-makers obviously knew what they were doing when they matched the Thunder against the loaded San Antonio Spurs in the season-opener for both teams Wednesday night, then dispatched the Thunder to Florida for Donovan's first road game, which happened to be against the team for which he was named head coach in 2007 and kept the job for about 72 hours.

In Donovan’s debut two nights earlier, the Thunder came from behind in the fourth quarter to beat the Spurs in a 112-106 thriller between two of the league's best teams. His second game showcased his two best players, as Durant and Westbrook scored 40 or more for the third time in their careers (the first time since 2012). No other duo in NBA history has done it more than once.

"It was one of the best games I've ever played in," Olidipo said. "I just wish we won."

More than three dozen of Donovan’s family members and friends were in the house to see it, scattered throughout the lower bowl, some of them -- including wife Christine -- decked out in their blue and orange (light blue, by the way) team colors.

“The wisest choice I made was turning that responsibility over to my wife. She was in charge of that,” Donovan said earlier the of ticket-securing duties. “I’m sure I’ll get a chance to see some people from Florida who will come down.”

The Gators team, now under direction of Mike White, practiced Friday night in advance of a Saturday scrimmage, so Donovan’s former players and support staff members weren’t there, but the wife locked up 40 tickets for others. There was a noticeable Thunder following in the arena.

Texts from Donovan's UF family had been blowing up his phone all week, what with well-wishes heading into the season, congratulations for his opening victory and anticipation of Friday's homecoming.  

For the local media, Donovan’s spot on the Orlando sidelines was another opportunity to revisit his return to the city where he coached and then didn’t. Truth be told, though, the story is fairly tired by now, given that Donovan has played at Amway five times since he was introduced as the Magic coach, only to change his mind two days later. He lost to UCF in 2010, beat Stetson in 2011 for his 400th career victory, and won second- and third-round NCAA Tournament games (against Albany and Pittsburgh) en route to the 2014 Final Four.

He also was here in July for the NBA’s summer league.

“If anything, it feels a little different just being back in the state of Florida,” Donovan said.

As for the difference in the basketball, the wider free-throw lane and deep 3-point line make the NBA game a radically more spaced one than the packed-in college game, Donovan explained. And on the increased number of games -- more than double a college season -- Donovan said the players being veterans and having a familiarity with personnel and systems across the league is a built-in advantage when it comes to the quick turnaround between contests.

Yes, he's adjusting. And his players appear to be adjusting to him.

It's fun.

Bill Donovan attended the Spurs game and said it was an altogether different thrill compared to Donovan’s first college games.

“I love those too, but this thing ... I tell you, it was beyond belief,” he said. “With the players he’s got, the atmosphere they have there in Oklahoma City, just the whole thing. It’s all taken up a notch, that’s all I can say. You can see why a lot of these guys talk about wanting to be the NBA.”

Including his only son.

Billy D gave 19 magnificent years to the Gators. He earned the right to give try his coaching acumen at the game's highest level.

“If he didn’t do it,” his father said, “he would have had ants in his pants and been whining about it for the rest of his life.”

Billy D & Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder coach Billy Donovan flanked by superstars Kevin Durant (left) and Russell Westbrook (right).

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Florida basketball team has Wednesday off, which means they’ll likely be on a couch someplace when a certain coach’s NBA career officially tips off tonight.

Billy Donovan, who led the Gators to unfathomable heights over 19 seasons and recruited all but one player on the current UF roster, makes his regular-season debut with the Oklahoma City Thunder Wednesday against the San Antonio Spurs. The game, set for 7 p.m., will air on ESPN, but because it’s the NBA don’t expect Donovan to be one of the marquee storylines of the broadcast. With the comeback from injury and pending free agency of Kevin Durant, the ascension of electrifying point guard Russell Westbrook and the Spurs welcoming prized offseason acquisition LaMarcus Aldridge, the “Billy D” story is merely a sidebar.

Except if you’re a Gators fan.

Or player.

“I want to see how Coach D does,” senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith said. “I want to see if he throws any of our sets in there.”

Like “Motion High Special,” “Baseline Runner” and “45” and “54.” Those were all halfcourt staples of the UF repertoire under Donovan and now will be run featuring two of the five best players in the world.

Billy D & Durant “I definitely think ‘54’ will work really, really well,” senior forward Alex Murphy said of the high-ball screen set, where the 5 sets the pick, rolls and is replaced by the 4 (versus “45,” which is a pick-and-pop with Durant the likely 4-man. “Basically, I think they’ll run stuff just to get those two guys the ball in space. In the NBA, with the defensive three-second rule, it changes everything. It’s about getting those guys in areas they feel most comfortable.”

Murphy smiled.

“I mean, it's Durant and Westbrook,” he said. “Sounds like a pretty easy job to me.”

Certainly a different job than the one Donovan, who turned 50 in May, held since 1996. Where college basketball is about the coaches and recruiting, the NBA is all about the players with the fat contracts. Yes, the coaches have a pivotal role, but even Phil Jackson took a backseat to Michael, Kobe and Shaq while amassing his 11 world championships.

Yet, here’s what Westbrook, who was fourth in the 2015 MVP voting, had to say about the offense Donovan brought to the Thunder; an offense many a talking head and analyst had projected for years would work ideally at the next level.

“Definitely more space,” Westbrook said. “Guys are in position where they can score the basketball. The space is essentially good for myself and for guys that can shoot the basketball, roll to the basket. You can use your strengths very well.”

Donovan hired a pair of former NBA head coaches, Mo Cheeks and Monty Williams, as assistants (one specializing in offense, the other defense), but also as confidants. Excellent move. The transition will be substantial, especially with the day-to-day dealings of an 82-game season (plus playoffs). Even for a future Hall-of-Fame coach.

“That’ll definitely be different for him,” junior point guard Kasey Hill said. “He won’t be with them like he was with us.”

Translation: “He’s not [cussing out] Kevin Durant,” Finney-Smith said.

Or Westbrook?

“Oh, hell no!” Finney-Smith said, laughing.

Heck, Donovan already has made one radical change with his in-game operations. He keeps his suit jacket on through the contest. For nearly two decades at Florida, that thing was shed before tip-off.

Makes you wonder what else he’ll do differently. Murphy, for example, thinks the “mad Billy faces” will be few. After all, a coach can only get so upset with one possession, one quarter, one game, one loss when it’s just one of 82.

“And I think that will be a big adjustment for him,” Murphy said. “What happens when he loses two or three in a row? How’s he going to react? He’s so competitive and hates to lose so much. But he’s also really, really smart. He’ll figure it out.”

Saturday October 24, 2015 PGs stand out in Gators' final intrasquad scrimmage

Updated: 2:06pm, October 24

Kasey Hill GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The first scrimmage of the preseason was a 20-minute mini-game, with officials. The second went 24 minutes. During both, each session was broken into 4-minute periods.

Saturday morning, though, the Florida Gators went a full 40. Literally.

As in, down to the final second.

Senior forward Alex Murphy took a perfect underneath inbound feed from point guard Kasey Hill and banked in a layup at the buzzer to give their Orange squad a 75-74 victory over the Blue team in the final intrasquad scrimmage of preseason.

In erasing an eight-point deficit with about five minutes to play, the Orange got 16 points on 8-for-19 shooting and seven assists from Hill (right), the junior who put together some of his best basketball since Coach Mike White’s first team reported for the official start of practice 3 1/2 weeks ago.

The Orange had five players hit double-figures, with redshirt freshman wing Brandone Francis-Ramirez adding 13 points (3-for-9 from 3-point range). Sophomore Devin Robinson missed all four of his 3-point attempts, but the 6-foot-9 forward continued on his upward tick in scoring 12 points (he was 6 of 8 inside the arc) and grabbing a game-high 11 rebounds, much to the delight of the UF staff.

Sophomore center Schuyler Rimmer, the 6-10 transfer from Stanford, had 10 points and five rebounds, while freshman forward Keith Stone was good for 11 points.

The Blue team, which let a 69-61 lead fritter away, got a game-high 24 points and three rebounds from 6-11, 245-pound center John Egbunu, who put in eight of his 16 field-goal attempts and drew all kinds of fouls in the post. Problem: He was just 8-for-16 from the line.

Both senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith and sophomore point guard Chris Chiozza finished with 15 points. Finney-Smith had eight rebounds and five assists; Chiozza eight assists. Junior wing Devon Walker had 13 points and six rebounds.

Freshman KeVaughn Allen, also playing for the Blue, missed both his shots from the floor and went scoreless for the game.

On the overall point guard front, Hill and Chiozza combined for 15 assists and just three turnovers. Not so encouraging, though, was the overall 11-for-42 marksmanship (just 26.2 percent) from the 3-point line of both teams, a facet of White’s offense the Gators sorely need.

UF opens the 2015-16 regular season Nov. 13 at Navy.

Friday October 16, 2015 Spurrier WAS 'Team Florida'

Updated: 7:35pm, October 16

Spurrier chompGAINESVILLE, Fla. -- One more thing about Steve Spurrier and the Gators before we dive into the first college football weekend since 2004 that he won’t be on a sideline.

Earlier this week, UF soccer coach Becky Burleigh recalled an afternoon back in 1995, the first year of the program’s existence, went she went to lunch at old Yon Hall. It was her first stop in the dining area since her Gators lost to Auburn on penalty kicks in the inaugural Southeastern Conference Tournament.

Burleigh, then 28, had her food on a tray as she made her way to a table when a voice came from across the dining hall.

“Hey Coach Becky!” Spurrier shouted loud enough for all to hear. “Better work on those penalty kicks!”

Cue the coach's cringe.

“He knew in depth about every sport,” Burleigh said. “He was Team Florida.”

The phrase “Team Florida” was coined years ago and became something of a creed among the Gators coaches. “Team Florida” means pulling for each other and working with each other toward the common goal of bringing success to the Florida program. Its entirity.

All Gators.

Spurrier was all about that.

He once ended a spring practice early and ordered his team over to the tennis stadium to watch the UF women play No. Stanford. Spurrier even took a marquee quarterback recruit to a Sunday afternoon soccer game.

Rex Grossman verbally committed in the second half.

When Burleigh’s team won the 1998 NCAA championship, Spurrier and wife Jerri held a party for the soccer staff at his home to celebrate.

“It wasn’t just that he was involved and knew what was going on,” Burleigh said. “He held everyone accountable for being more Team Florida.”

In a retrospective focusing on the coach earlier this week, I wrote how Sun Tzu’s “The Art War” became his Bible. It was a 2,500-year-old book that spoke to him. Spurrier passed that book around to his fellow UF coaches, first giving it to volleyball coach Mary Wise.  

“Steve respected winners,” UF athletic directory Jeremy Foley said.

And he didn’t like it when the Gators were losing.

In 1999, the UF men’s golf team finished 10th in the SEC Tournament. On his first day back at the course, Buddy Alexander pulled into the parking lot and to find Spurrier’s Buick parked in the space marked reserved for the men’s golf coach.

Alexander came into the office and, as a joke, sent someone down to the driving range, where Spurrier was hitting balls.

The messenger pulled his golf cart behind Spurrier.

“Hey Coach Spurrier,” he shouted. “Coach Alexander told me to tell you to move your car out of his spot.”

Spurrier looked back.

“You go back and tell Coach Alexander he can have his space back when he does better than 10th in the SEC Tournament. That’s terrible!”


Thursday October 15, 2015 Robinson's strides show up in second scrimmage

Updated: 7:10pm, October 15

Devin mug shot GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Devin Robinson entered his sophomore season knowing he had to do a lot more of everything.

Somewhere on his list of improvement goals -- somewhere below a need for his rebounding -- was establishing more consistency on offense. A 1-for-7 shooting display in last Friday’s first intrasquad scrimmage wasn’t what Coach Mike White and his staff were looking for and a meeting early in the week with the UF coaches prompted an encouraging response this week from the 6-foot-9 forward.

Robinson (right) answered with some of his best practices of the preseason this week.

“It feels good,” Robinson said Thursday afternoon. “I’ve been practicing [my shot] all summer and just to see the ball go in, just makes me feel more confident. I know I can shoot it, so I’m just going to keep shooting.”

And that’s exactly what Robinson did a couple hours later during the team’s second scrimmage of the preseason. Not only did he shoot with confidence, he took good shots with rhythm and solid form.

Robinson scored 14 points on 5-for-8 shooting, knocking down both 3-point attempts to pace his Orange team past the Blue 48-37 in 28 minutes of live action with officials. Senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith added 12 points on 5-for-10 shooting, plus nine rebounds and sophomore center Schuyler Rimmer, the transfer from Stanford, had eight points.

Finney-Smith had the offensive and defensive highlights of the action, throwing down a monstrous one-handed dunk (and getting fouled) on a drive down the lane where he had to finish from about five feet from the basket. He later chased down a fastbreak that 6-foot-11 center John Egbunu was going to finish until Finney-Smith came from behind and swatted the ball hard off the backboard.

As a team, the Orange shot 43.5 percent from the floor, while the Blue struggled at just 37.5. Senior forward Alex Murphy and freshman guard Brandone Francis-Ramirez were good for 10 points each, while Egbunu scored eight points and grabbed five rebounds.

White told his team afterward he was pleased with the way it bounced back from Wednesday’s practice; one that represented the worst of the season. He liked the energy and effort in the scrimmage, but still wants better communication from all his players -- especially on defense -- and a much better mentality when it comes to moving on from bad plays and missed shots.

Earlier, White praised Finney-Smith for stepping up as a more vocal leader, but said he wants more from point guards Kasey Hill and Chris Chiozza when it comes to communicating because they’re the guys who will be running the UF offensive show.

“Dorian, as a fifth-year senior, has challenged himself to become more vocal and not only lead by example but to call guys out who need to be called out and get guys in the right positions at the right times,” White said. “We’ve challenged the point guards. Both of those guys aren’t extremely extroverted, in Kasey and Chris, but they both know the game and they need to direct traffic at a high level. Overall, we need to do it by committee [and] communicate at a high level.”

Saturday October 10, 2015 Finney-Smith stars at first live scrimmage

Updated: 7:19pm, October 10

Doe mugGAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The first intrasquad scrimmage of the Florida basketball season was a Doe-Doe Show.

No surprise there.

Senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith went 7-for-7 from the floor, scored 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds during a 20-minute live scrimmage -- with officials -- Friday to lead his Blue team to a 39-37 win over the Orange squad.

The game was tied at 37 when Finney-Smith blocked John Egbunu's shot in the post inside a minute to play. The Blue team set up a play in its halfcourt, with center Schuyler Rimmer setting a high screen for Chris Chiozza and rolling to the basket as the defense collapsed on the point guard.

Chiozza fed Rimmer for an open layup with four seconds left.

Kasey Hill's 3-point attempt at the buzzer spun out of the rim.

Finney-Smith was the lone player in double-figures for either team. He was aided by eight points each from Rimmer and guard Brandone Francis-Ramirez. For the Orange team, DeVon Walker had nine points, Hill tossed in eight and Egbunu and Alex Murphy added six each. 

Thursday October 8, 2015 White, Gators talk progress through Week 1

Updated: 7:29pm, October 8


Gators coach Mike White credits center John Egbunu (above), the transfer from USF, for setting the tone for his defense during the early stages of the preseason.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Nearly one week in, Mike White likes what he’s seen from his Florida basketball team.

“High intensity, high level of communication,” White said Thursday. “I couldn’t be much more pleased than I am, really, from a mental and physical standpoint and with the way our guys have come to work. We’ve gotten better.”

The start of preseason was not without its setbacks, though, as freshman guard KeVaughn Allen sustained a concussion last Friday -- in his very first collegiate practice.

Allen, who figures prominently in the team’s plans, banged his head into the knee of classmate Keith Stone. The Gators’ health staff followed concussion protocol, with Allen sitting out the ensuing five days. He returned to practice Thursday, though only in a non-contact capacity.

Besides Allen, the Gators have remained healthy and been able to concentrate on White’s offensive rollout, which has been gradual, and the staff’s emphasis on defense, which is anything but gradual.

The team will stage a intrasquad scrimmage Friday (with officials) to get a first real in-game look at what the Gators have just over a month out from the 2015-15 opener Nov. 13 at Navy.

“Very physical practices – high intensity,” junior guard/forward DeVon Walker said. “I would say that [Coach White is] sustaining the culture that ‘Coach D’ left and he’s also putting his own stamp on it as well, so it’s been great.”

Under Billy Donovan, the Gators were a very good defensive team the last three seasons, and White hopes not only to continue that trend but take it to another level, much the way his teams at Louisiana Tech did. He needs great defense to make his up-tempo offense complete. To get there, the Gators must communicate and do it a lot better than last season when defensive possessions often sounded like a visit to the library.

That’s not the case now.

In fact, White has a specific drill -- minus the ball, if necessary -- that is catered to nothing but players talking to one another in the defensive halfcourt.

And it’s really, really loud.  

“We watch film of practices from the summer, and it’s kind of dead. Nobody talks,” junior forward Justin Leon said. “[But] compared to now, it’s a lot more vocal, so we’re improving.”:

Credit sophomore center John Egbunu for setting the tone. Where the Gators were absent a dominant inside presence last year -- the loss of Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year Patric Young was a cavernous void -- the 6-foot-11, 245-pound Egbunu, who transferred from South Florida, is constantly traffic-copping the paint with his loud, booming voice. He loves to play that end of the floor. 

“John has been tremendous,” White said. “Defensively, we started calling him ‘Johnny Clinic’ the other day. That’s his new nickname. Through our defensive drills, he’s really put on a clinic the last couple days. Monday and Tuesday he was phenomenal. We appreciate the way he has embraced his role in that regard, especially with his level of communication, his decibel level. You'll hear it in the O'Dome not too far down the road.”

Come stand outside the UF basketball facility and you’ll hear it, too.

Friday October 2, 2015 Freshman Hayes wins slam-dunk contest at Gators Madness

Updated: 11:35pm, October 2

White at Madness

UF men's coach Mike White gets a nice ovation when introduced at Friday night's Gators Madness pep rally at the O'Connell Center.


CarlieGAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Freshman forward Kevarrius Hayes got a nice round of applause for winning the slam-dunk contest at Friday night's Gator Madness.

He got an even better reward when pro wrestling star Titus O'Neal wrapped a WWE championship belt around his waist.

"I got a nice shelf for it somewhere at home," Hayes said.

The dunk contest, which featured about five times more misses than makes, capped the festivities at the O'Connell Center, where a crowd of 4,000 filed in to help usher in the start of Florida's men's and women's basketball seasons (that's senior guard Carlie Needles, left).

Both teams were introduced, with O'Neal (once known as defensive tackle Thaddeus Bullard during his UF football days in the 1990s) and NFL Network personality Jenn Brown tag-teamming the emcee duties.

The biggest hand of the night went to new men's coach Mike White, who staged his first official practice of the 2015-16 season about six hours earlier. It was a 2 1/2-hour, high-energy workout -- "I really liked how they competed and stayed with it," he said -- but the Madness portion of the day was about having fun with the fans, including a hefty helping of Rowdy Reptiles.

BFRRedshirt freshman guard Brandone Francis-Ramirez won the 3-point shooting contest, beating former Gators standout and record long-range bomber Lee Humphrey in the finals (after those two eliminated senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith and former UF and NBA star Jason Williams).

Francis-Ramirez (right) hit his last five 3-balls, all from the corner, to finish with 18 points as his teammates cheered him on.

"Should've had at least 20," Francis-Ramirez said.

Then came the dunk contest, with the 6-9 Hayes, who starred at the same high school -- Live Oak Suwannee that Bullard attended 20 years ago -- beating sophomore Devin Robinson by tossing a ball off the backboard and cramming with two hands after a series of misses.

"I've always been told I have a lot of energy," Hayes said. "Hopefully, I can show it with actions as well as words."


Titus and Hayes

WWE star Titus O'Neil celebrates dunk champion Kevarrius Hayes by presenting the freshman with a championship belt.

Wednesday September 30, 2015 A 50-year timeline of Gatorade's history

Updated: 10:31am, October 1

Gatorade bottlesThe University of Florida is commemorating the 50th birthday of Gatorade all this week, culminating with a presentation at Saturday night's football game between the unbeaten 25th-ranked ranked Gators (4-0, 2-0) and unbeaten and third-ranked Ole Miss (4-0, 2-0).

Here’s a look at some historic milestones for Dr. Robert Cade’s innovative thirst-quencher en route to its golden anniversary.

[Not included, but from my personal Gatorade timeline: As a high school football player in Arlington, Va., I used to grab the starting quarterback and dash to the locker room, where I had one of those classic 32-ounce glass jugs of Gatorade -- usually orange -- packed in ice. I shared it with him in hopes of getting more passes thrown my way. OK, so it didn't work, but we felt a lot better going back out into the August heat.]



Robert Cade

1965: Dr. Robert Cade (above right) and a group of UF scientists develop Gatorade, operating in conjunction with the UF football team.

1967: Stokely-Van Camp acquires the rights to produce and sell Gatorade throughout the United States. Gatorade's debut commercial is below (disregard the Dutch Master's cigar ad on the back end -- or enjoy it for the period piece it is).


Stram1969: Gatorade’s second flavor -- orange -- debuts.

1970: The Kansas City Chiefs, led by Coach Hank Stram (right) and with Gatorade on their sidelines, upset the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV.

1973: The long-standing Gatorade logo, with the stylized bolt, is introduced.

1982: Gatorade expands to international markets.

1983: Quaker Oats Company purchases Stokely-Van Camp and Gatorade. One of its first moves is to introduce a third flavor: fruit punch.

1984: New York Giants coach Bill Parcells is the recipient of the first Gatorade dunk in a 37-13 beating of the Washington Redskins (below). ... The Gatorade Exercise Physiology Lab (what would become the Gatorade Sports Science Institute) is founded.

1991: Michael Jordan, en route to the first of his six NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls, becomes the first Gatorade spokesman.


1995: The sports bottle launches, alongside the first of many new flavors.

1999: Soccer superstar Mia Hamm (below) becomes the brand’s first spokeswoman.


Mia Hamm

2001: PepsiCo acquires Quaker Oats and Gatorade.

2004: The Gatorade Endurance Formula launches.

G2 Series

2007: The low-calorie G2 line debuts (right).

2010: The G Series launches.

2014: Gator introduces the Recover Whey Protein Bar.

2015: Gatorade celebrates 50 years of fueling athletic performance.


Gatorade's Birthplace sign


[Source: From the book, "Gatorade: Fifty Years of Fueling Athletic Performance

Tuesday September 29, 2015 UF basketball adds high-jumper as walk-on

Updated: 10:01am, September 30

Big Jhonny GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Mike White’s first basketball roster has grown by one.

Florida has added 6-foot-4 sophomore wing Jhonny Victor, a high-jumper and triple-jumper on the UF track team, to its roster as a walk-on for the 2015-16 season.

Victor, out of Celebration (Fla.) High, averaged 12 points and six rebounds over his three-year career and was a first-team, All-Osceola County basketball selection by The Orlando Sentinel in both 2013 and ’14. He was a district and regional champion in the high jump, long jump and triple jump.

Gateway High no doubt remembers him, as below video suggests. Yes, his first name is spelled wrong.

As a UF freshman in the spring of 2015, Victor competed in 10 track meets for the Gators, focusing primarily on the high jump, with a career-best of 6 feet, 10 inches. He also went 45-2.75 in the triple jump.

With the basketball team, Victor will join sophomore center Schulyler Rimmer, along with guards Lexx Edwards and Zach Hodskins as walk-ons. Rimmer, the 6-10 transfer from Stanford, will be eligible after the end of the fall semester.

Rhonda w/kennedyGAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Rhonda Faehn’s schedule is pretty tight these days, but that didn’t prevent the former Florida gymnastics coach and three-time NCAA champion from heading back to see her Gators family to pick up some jewelry this weekend.

Faehn, now senior vice president of USA Gymnastics, joined her former team -- and new Coach Jenny Rowland -- Friday night when the Gators received their national championship rings.

Once again.

A crowd of around 100 attended the ceremony, with athletes, coaches and support staff (current and some former), along with family members, plus UF athletic directory Jeremy Foley and executive associate AD Lynda Tealer.

“It was really, really special,” said Faehn (pictured far right, along with sophomore Kennedy Baker, middle, and assistant to the head coach Ashley Kerr, left). “It was a wonderful homecoming and just so amazing to be back to see the girls and to be in the gym [studio] on Friday and see all the people that helped us along the way. It was just incredibly heartfelt all the way around.”

That included taking a bow, along with her former team, before 90,000-plus during the first quarter of the football team’s eventual 28-27 victory over Tennessee at The Swamp.



Ringbearers: Former UF gymnastics star Kytra Hunter (left) and senior Bridget Sloan (right) pose with their three championship rings and three NCAA championship trophies during Friday night's ceremony.

Unfortunately, Faehn couldn’t stick around to see the thrilling end and wild post-game -- “The atmosphere in there reminded me of that [2006 South Carolina] game where we blocked the field goal,” she said -- because she’s got a few things on her plate.

Like selection camp this week in Houston, where she’ll help peg the squad that will represent Team USA at the World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland later this month.

Jenny & Rhonda It’s a critical time for the sport, what with the 2016 Olympics just 10 months away in Rio Di Janeiro. The USA championships are in June, then the Olympic trials a couple weeks later.

So a lot going on.

Not enough to bypass a chance to reunite with the Gators and celebrate her place in UF history.

“Jenny and I have a tremendous amount of respect for another,” Faehn said of Rowland (right), who came to UF by way of Auburn after leading the Tigers to the Super Six last season. “The part that was touching for me was having the athletes come up and tell me how happy they were to see me. They’re the ones I’ve always coached for.”

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