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Wednesday January 7, 2015 Stanford transfer cleared to join Gators

Updated: 11:16am, January 7

Rimmer COLUMBIA, S.C. -- As the Florida basketball team left town Tuesday for its league opener at South Carolina, back home the roster was growing by one big body.

The transfer of Schuyler Rimmer, a 6-foot-10, 255-pound sophomore forward by way of Stanford, became official this week when the former Orlando Boone High standout was academically cleared and enrolled at UF for second semester.

Rimmer, who played sparingly in his season and a half with the Cardinal, enters the Florida fold as a walk-on and can begin participating in practice Thursday. He’ll be eligible to play for the Gators at the conclusion of the 2015 fall semester.

UF recruited Rimmer while he was at Boone, where he averaged 15 points, 13.5 rebounds and four blocks a game on his way to amassing more than 1,500 points and 1,100 rebounds for his career. He was rated among the top 20 power forwards in the 2013 recruiting class. He verbally commited to play at Florida as a walk-on during his senior year, but reconsidered during the recruiting process and signed with the Cardinal, instead.

At Stanford, though, Rimmer appeared in just 14 games the last two seasons, totaling eight points and 11 rebounds in 75 minutes. He played just six minutes in two games this season when he made the decision to look elsewhere to play.

So Rimmer came home.

His immediate role for the Gators will be as a post player to line up alongside another transfer, 6-10, 250-pound Jon Egbunu by way of USF, who will be eligible for the ’15-16 season, to bang against Chris Walker, Alex Murphy and the rest of UF’s front court players during practice the next several months.

Jake GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Back in the late-1980s, then Florida-basketball coach Norm Sloan was at Southeastern Conference Media Days and going on about the lack of exposure for basketball in the football-dominated league.

Asked what it might take for the game he loved to start making some headway with reporters in the region, Sloan famously scanned a group grizzled, gridiron-crazed columnists and said this.

“A few timely funerals would be a good start.”

Yikes. While I won’t go to that extreme, there’s no question basketball gets buried in the state of Florida by both the NFL and college football. Seeing a newspaper columnist at a Florida basketball game that either isn’t against Kentucky or not being played in March is akin to seeing Bigfoot. 

David W That said, David Whitley (left) of The Orlando Sentinel stepped out of the box over the weekend, actually reaching out to the UF Communications Department the day after the Gators’ crushing, bad-bounce loss at Florida State last week with a request to speak with walk-on forward and hometown boy Jake Kurtz.

[Normally, I’d provide a link-out to the item, but The Sentinel’s pay wall might swat the reader away.]

Kurtz, of course, was on the wrong end of some of the worst luck in UF basketball history, when he jumped to rebound FSU’s desperation shot at the horn, only to have the ball tip off his hands and roll into the basket. Whitley watched and like everybody else who knows anything about the Gators wanted to hear from the guy known to his teammates as “Snake.” Kurtz agreed, but on one condition.

No pity party.

Below is the column, which Whitley wrote after Saturday’s loss -- another back-breaker, by the way -- to Connecticut. A varied version of the piece actually was ready for print two days earlier, but was held for space reasons.

It was bumped for football.  

Jake's tip

GAINESVILLE — Jacob Kurtz had a message for anyone who showed up at the O'Connell Center on Saturday wanting to give him a hug.

"I don't want any sympathy," he said.

The UConn game was Kurtz's first public appearance since temporarily becoming the world's most famous basketball player. If you don't know why, you must have been renting the Unabomber's old cabin for the holidays.

The Hagerty High grad tipped in the winning basketball during FSU's last-second win last Tuesday. Problem was, Kurtz plays for Florida.

Gators' Jacob Kurtz tips ball into own basket to win game for FSU

The good news Saturday was Kurtz didn't tip in the winning basket for UConn. The bad news for UF was Kurtz was its second-leading scorer in the second half.

He had three points, which helps explain how UF lost 63-59 in a rematch of last year's Final Four semifinal game. As they frittered away a 13-point lead, it again became apparent that these Gators are a weak-kneed imitation of those Gators.

"We don't have enough competitive substance inside us," Billy Donovan said.

He said Kasey Hill and Dorian Finney-Smith do. Then one other player occurred to him.

And Jake," Donovan said. "I hate to using the reference he was a walk-on . . . "

But he was, which shows Kurtz's strength and the Florida's weakness. Walk-ons are supposed to be lovable lunks the crowd cheers to get in when the game is won.

Before he even got a tryout, Kurtz spent a season as a manager, doing laundry and fetching water for some of the guys he now calls teammates. The senior forward is basically a basketball version of Rudy, which makes what happened against FSU a movie script gone terribly wrong.

The Seminoles had the ball with the score tied at 63. They got off a jumper that looked like an airball.

Kurtz went up to grab it, but the ball grazed off the rim. It bounced off his hand and into the basket with 0.4 seconds left. Back in Oviedo, Asa Kohn spoke on behalf of the entire community.

"That shouldn't have counted!" he screamed.

Then he started to cry.

Asa is 7, and the son of Hagerty coach Josh Kohn. As sorry as he felt for Kurtz, millions more got a good laugh.

If a fluke play had turned Jameis Winston into an international goat, OK. But Kurtz?

It just didn't seem fair, right Jake?

"That stuff happens in sports. It does no good to sulk about it," he said. "I'm not going to lay down and have a pity party."

That's the attitude that made "Jake da Snake" a crowd favorite at the O'Connell Center the past couple of seasons. It's also turned him into more than a lovable lunk.

Kurtz is playing almost 22 minutes a game this season. He's the 6-foot-5 guy with the crewcut and intense look, setting picks, getting floor burns and doing everything except the laundry. If Donovan could transplant Kurtz's heart into the bodies of his more talented players, the Gators might again be Final Four material.

"He is one of the mentally toughest guys on our team," Donovan said. "I wish our guys responded more like he does when things don't go well."

Things could not have gone worse for Kurtz than they did against FSU. If there were karmic justice in this world, he would have tipped in the winning shot Saturday — into the Gators' basket.

But life isn't "Rudy," especially not when you make only 2 of 8 free throws in the second half. Back to Billy D:

"There is a mental, competitive spirit that you must have," he said, "and our team does not have it."

So don't cry for Kurtz.

It's the rest of the Gators you should be worried about.

Chris and Billy

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Here we go again, with another lineup change.

Sophomore center Chris Walker and freshman guard Chris Chiozza will be on the floor first -- alongside forward Dorian Finney-Smith, wing Michael Frazier and point guard Kasey Hill -- as the Gators (7-5) alter their starting lineup yet again for Saturday’s showdown with defending national champion Connecticut (6-5).

The unit will mark the ninth different starting combination for Coach Billy Donovan in his team’s 13 games this season.

Meanwhile, junior guard Eli Carter, in and out of the lineup due to a sprained foot and strep throat for the last six weeks, is cleared to play against the Huskies after aggravating his foot injury after just 30 seconds and leaving Tuesday’s game at Florida State for good.

The tweak to the starting unit comes after starting combo No. 8, with transfer Alex Murphy at forward, was rolled out Tuesday night at Tallahassee, but the Gators got off to a poor start as both Murphy and center Jon Horford were ineffective against the Seminoles’ enormous frontcourt in a 65-63 loss.

Chiozza Now this.

Walker, who is averaging 6.4 points, 4.0 rebounds and has blocked 12 shots, will replace Horford in the starting five and make just the second start of his career. For Walker (pictured above with Donovan), playing end to end is a key, but his stamina -- just 15.8 minutes per game -- and some poor shot-selection have kept him from playing more this season.  

Chiozza, the rookie out of Memphis, Tenn., started against Jacksonville last month when Kasey Hill was coming off the stomach flu. He’s averaging 4.9 points and just over two assists per game, but his 3-point shooting has improved since earlier in the season.

Thursday January 1, 2015 Eli out, Eli in

Updated: 10:13pm, January 1

Eli hurt GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- At around 1:10 p.m. Thursday, Florida coach Billy Donovan said junior guard Eli Carter, who aggravated a sprain in his left foot during Tuesday's loss at Florida State, would not practice for the second straight day and was doubtful for Saturday’s home game against defending national champion Connecticut.

At about 3:10, Carter was racing up and down the practice floor and swishing 3-pointers.

“He came to me and said he wanted to go,” UF trainer David “Duke” Werner said. “So we let him go.”

What Friday or even Saturday brings is anyone’s guess, but what’s clear is that Carter’s health is nowhere near as bad as it looked when against the Seminoles -- 30 seconds into his first game since Dec. 14 -- the combo guard collapsed in pain (above), was carried off the floor and did not return.

He may be able to play against the Huskies.

“These decisions, once the doctor and trainers clear him to go, it's kind of on him how he feels," Donovan said before practice. "When he was cleared to play [in some practice and games last month], he elected not to. He didn't think he could. He felt like it was still bothering him. From our standpoint right now, whenever the doctors clear him to play, he's going to be cleared. ... [Whether to play], that's a decision Eli's got to make.”

Three days after scoring 21 points on 8-for-9 shooting in a loss to Miami, Carter suffered a sprained left foot at practice and the next few weeks bounced in and out of the lineup. When he was set to return, Carter came down with strep throat, which set him back again and cost him another game.

Carter, averaging 7.8 points and 2.2 rebounds at the start of the week, appeared good to go at FSU, but no sooner was he on the court, he was back in the locker room with Werner.

Against his Gators teammates at practice Thursday, he looked pretty darn good.

Tuesday December 30, 2014 Murphy to start vs. FSU

Alex Murphy on the break TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It didn’t take long for Alex Murphy’s eligibility to impact the Florida first unit.

Murphy, the 6-foot-8, 225-pound transfer forward from Duke who made his UF debut 10 days ago, will be in the starting lineup Tuesday night when the Gators (7-4) take on rival Florida State (7-5) at the Tucker Center.

A midseason transfer last season, Murphy had to wait for the fall semester to end and his grades to be cleared before seeing the the court. Once that happened, the younger brother of former Florida star Erik Murphy scored nine points, grabbed four rebounds, blocked a pair of shots and came up with two steals in UF’s last outing, a 63-50 defeat of Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl Classic at Sunrise, Fla.

Now with all UF players available for the first time this season, Gators coach Billy Donovan has opted to insert Murphy -- with his size, athleticism, ability to run the floor and high basketball IQ -- into the starting unit alongside forward Dorian Finney-Smith, center Jon Horford and guards Kasey Hill and Michael Frazier.

Make that 10 different players figuring into eight different starting lineups through Florida’s first 12 games.  

Here's a look at UF's starting lineups to date and how each fared:

Starting Five                                                                        Record (opponents)
Hill, Eli Carter, Frazier, Finney-Smith, Horford                      1-0 (William & Mary)
Hill, Carter, Frazier, Jacob Kurtz, Horford                              0-1 (Miami)
Hill, Frazier, Devin Robinson, Kurtz, Horford                        1-0 (Louisiana-Monroe)
Hill, Frazier, Robinson, Horford, Walker                                0-1 (Georgetown)
Hill, Frazier, Kurtz, Finney-Smith, Horford                            1-1 (UAB, North Carolina)
Hill, Frazier, Robinson, Finney-Smith, Horford                     3-1 (Kansas, Yale, Texas Southern, Wake Forest)
Chris Chiozza, Frazier, Robinson, Finney-Smith, Horford    1-0 (Jacksonville)
Hill, Frazier, Murphy, Finney-Smith, Horford                            ? (Florida State)

Friday December 26, 2014 Freshman Francis enters fold, as Gators get back to work

Updated: 9:50am, December 27

Francis mugshot GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- After a longer-than-usual Christmas break, the Florida Gators have some catching up to do before their next game and will jam a few a extra practices in along the way.

Perfect time to throw another player into the mix.

Freshman guard Brandone Francis (right), ruled academically ineligible to play during the 2014-15 season, was cleared by the NCAA to join the Gators for the second semester and take part in all team activities, including practice. Francis will not be eligible to compete in games until the 2015-16 season.

His first collegiate practice Friday night was eventful, with a couple made shots, a few missed defensive assignments and three trips to the sidelines to throw up after a brutal team-wide conditioning session welcomed everyone back.

Let the record show Francis wasn't the only Gator heaving from the holidays.

“It was really hard, but I knew it would be hard,” said Francis, who hails from the Dominican Republic, but starred at Jacksonville Arlington Country Day. “I was down and I was tired, but I just got it in my mind to push through. I have to earn these guys’ respect, so I had to fight through it and show some toughness.”

FrancisThe 6-foot-5, 205-pound Francis signed with UF in the fall of 2013, but his transcript was flagged by the NCAA Clearinghouse. Eventually, the NCAA ruled Francis could enroll at Florida, but not be a part of the team for the first semester -- and could only join the squad if he reached a 2.5 grade-point average for the fall.

That meant a lonely basketball existence of shooting by himself, lifting by himself and being relegated to watching practices from the second-floor mezzanine, if at all. It was only after he hit the targeted academic marks two weeks ago that UF’s coaches were allowed to get with him and go over their basic actions in anticipation of Francis joining practice.

“It’s all worked out,” Coach Billy Donovan said. “The fact he’s out there and can be a part of the team is really big for him. The first semester was hard for him, not being able to be at practice or in film or in meetings. Now, it’s just good to have him in the locker room and ready to be a part of what we’re doing every day.”

Francis is a combo guard who can handle any of the three perimeter spots in the UF system. With his size, comes a willingness to defend and rebound, plus a nice feel and IQ for how to play. Pretty good shooter, too.

“I haven’t really practiced since like April,” Francis said. “So just being out here with these guys is a blessing.”

With so much making up to do, Friday night’s workout -- which came after a five-day layoff, following last Saturday’s win over Wake Forest at Sunrise, Fla. -- was the first of seven practices the Gators (7-4) will hold before playing Tuesday night at Florida State (7-5).

Junior guard Eli Carter, who's missed five of the previous nine games dealing with a sprained foot and strep throat, was back on the court for the first time in two weeks and figures to be ready to play against the Seminoles.

Because it’s the holidays, there are no restrictions on how much time coaches can work with players, so that means 8 a.m. individual instruction sessions (starting Saturday), afternoon practices, plus some meetings and video sessions.

“The first day back [from Christmas] always reminds me a little of the first practice of the season, with guys having been away and excited to be back,” Donovan said. “But with so much time off, they need to get their wind back -- and first-day conditioning is part of it. They’ll get it back quickly, believe me.”

Wednesday December 10, 2014 Carter returns to practice

Updated: 11:01pm, December 10

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Eli Carter was back on the practice floor Wednesday night and is expected to play Friday when Florida (4-4) takes on Texas Southern (1-6) at the O'Connell Center.

Carter, the junior combo guard, missed the team's loss at Kansas last Friday and Monday's home win over Yale due to soreness in a sprained left foot he suffered back on Nov. 20. He played in two games after the injury -- losses to Georgetown and North Carolina at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas over Thanksgiving week -- but came out of that tournament hobbled after playing 36 minutes against the Hoyas, taking the next game off against Alabama-Birmingham, and going just 12 minutes against the Tar Heels. Along the way, he shot a combined 2-for-18 from the floor.

Though he's still in some pain, taking nearly two weeks off from all contact activities has him on the right track.

Eli vs UM "It's getting there," Carter said after practice. "When I run and curl, and on certain cuts, that's where most of the pain comes from. We're working through it, though."

Carter, who transfered from Rutgers in the summer of 2013, is averaging 9.0 points on 35-percent shooting, but was only healthy for the first two games of the season. In the second, a last-second home loss against Miami, he went 8-for-9 from the floor and finished with 29 points before fouling out.

Coach Billy Donovan has left it up to Carter and team trainer David "Duke" Werner to manage the rehab.

“I know he’s having some discomfort and he doesn’t feel comfortable moving laterally," Donovan said earlier this week. "I think Eli would like to play, obviously. I’m sure he might be a little frustrated with it, as well. ... But I deal with the trainer before every practice and just kind of go with the guys who are available.”

After breaking his right leg his final season at Rutgers, then dealing with a lengthy setback last year that got him a medical redshirt season, Carter just as soon be safe than sorry.

With that said, though, he was out there Wednesday running drills, scrimmaging and paying for his mistakes during practice with "burpies" on the sidelines while his teammates ran sprints.

"Injuries come with the game. At any given moment, you can get hurt. You want to be back out there, but sometimes that takes time," he said. "But I'll try and do whatever I can to help the team."

The Phog

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- The shoot-around Friday afternoon was Billy Donovan’s first trip to iconic Phog Allen Fieldhouse in 25 years. The place is an absolute shrine to the game and the Kansas fans arguably the best in all of college.

Pitino and UK staff Earlier this week, Donovan was asked if he’d ever been to this basketball sanctuary, which he acknowledged with a simple, “yes,” and got a follow-up question about his memories of that trip.

“Not good. Not good,” he deadpanned. “I was there with Kentucky. We lost by 55.”

That is a fact.

The date was Dec. 9, 1989 and the Wildcats were annihilated 150-95 by the Jayhawks, making for the second-worst loss in UK’s storied history, dating to an 87-17 drubbing against Central College (Iowa) in 1910.

Some background.

Donovan was a first-year assistant coach for Rick Pitino (his staff pictured above) after the coach left the New York Knicks to take over a Kentucky program torpedoed by major NCAA violations under predecessor Eddie Sutton. The Wildcats had six scholarship players, one of which was third-year sophomore John Pelphrey, now an assistant for Donovan at UF.

Pelphrey recalled going into the game feeling pretty good about his team. The Wildcats were 3-1, with the lone loss a tight 71-69 setback against top-10 Indiana in front of 50,000-plus at the Hoosier Dome one week earlier.

So the Cats took the court for pre-game warm-ups. He was singled out by an old man decked in Jayhawks garb.

Pelphrey mug “Hey Pelphrey,” the gentleman said. “This ain’t Indiana.”

No, it wasn’t.

The game was fairly close, a margin of just five or six, with about five minutes to go in the first half when KU went on one of those runs the blew the roof off the "Phog" and pushed the Jayhawks out in front 80-61 at halftime.

Yes, 80 points in the first 20 minutes.

And it got worse from there.

“I started the game at the small forward spot and finished at the center spot because we were fouling guys out left and right -- and Coach Pitino would not stop pressing,” Pelphrey said. “I was in the back of the press, so by the time I’d get to halfcourt [Kansas] was dunking and by the time I’d get back to the top of the key on offense we’d be shooting a 3.”

Pelphrey finished with 20 points, 5-for-10 from the 3-point line and grabbed six rebounds. The Wildcats, who took 40 shots from the arc, got 32 from Derrick Miller, while KU -- remember Mark Randall, Kevin Prichard, Terry Brown and Rick Calloway -- had seven players in double-figures.

The Kentucky charter got home around 3 a.m., and Pitino made his players watch the entire game film, then took forward Daron Feldhaus out to the court for some individual instruction. Pelphrey, trying to be a good teammate to his good friend, went with them.

“Where you going?” Pitino asked.

“Coming with you, Coach,” Pelphrey said,

“Get out of here,” Pitino shot back. “I don’t want to see anymore of you tonight.”

Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk!

Friday December 5, 2014 Carter not on Kansas trip due to sore foot

Updated: 3:29pm, December 5

Eli shooting LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Junior guard Eli Carter will not play Friday night when Florida (3-3) takes on 11th-ranked Kansas (5-1) at Phog Allen Fieldhouse in one of the marquee match-ups of ESPN’s Big 12/SEC Challenge.

Still hampered by a left foot sprain he suffered in practice on Nov. 20, Carter did not accompany the Gators on their road trip, but instead remained back in Gainesville to rehab with the training staff and tend to academics.

Carter, who is averaging 9.0 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists, played in two of UF’s three games during last week’s tournament in the Bahamas, but discomfort in the foot kept him out of practice all this week. Players that don’t practice, don’t play for Coach Billy Donovan.

Just three days after going 8-for-9 from the floor in a loss to Miami, Carter suffered his foot injury and missed UF’s win over Louisiana-Monroe on Nov. 21. Carter returned to Action at the Battle 4 Atlantis -- playing against Georgetown, sitting out against Alabama-Birmingham, then playing sparingly against North Carolina -- but made just two of 18 shots in the tournament.

UF has basically been short-handed the entire season, with Carter's injury keeping him in and out of the lineup, plus junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith hampered by the two fractures he suffered in his left hand in the season opener and sophomore center Chris Walker suspended for the season's first two games. The Gators still several weeks from the eligibility of junior forward Alex Murphy, who transfered from Duke last December and will be eligible once the fall semester grades are posted.

Monday December 1, 2014 Moving on from Atlantis

Updated: 9:06am, December 2

Frazier drives UNC

UF junior guard Michael Frazier II drives to the basket in Friday night's loss to North Carolina at the Battle 4 Atlantis in Paradise Island, Bahams. [Photos by Bobby Metelus / Atlantis]

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Friday night, maybe 20 minutes after his team had been mauled by North Carolina for a second loss at the Battle 4 Atlantis in less than 72 hours, I asked Florida coach Billy Donovan if coming to the Bahamas and having a real-life lesson tomahawk-dunked in his players' faces was worth the trip.

After speaking a few sentences about making too many “losing plays” at pivotal parts of the game, Donovan got to some real talk.

“I do think this, which I like ... these guys don’t live in reality, and I don’t think it’s their fault,” he said. “Right now, the truth is slammed in our face, which I think is great. A lot of times, in your non-conference scheduling, you’re not playing against high-level competition, it’s hard to get to the truth. For these guys, what they’ve been exposed to with our schedule and how difficult it’s been, it’s bringing them close to the truth of finding out who they are and who we are. That’s a good thing. That’s a positive.”

Immediately to Donovan’s right, sat senior center Jon Horford, who transferred to UF from Michigan and was eligible immediately because he got his degree at UM and was enrolling in graduate school. He's a smart guy.

He was about to sound like he'd gotten smarter.

Horford came to a program coming off a stellar season of Southeastern Conference championships and a Final Four run. He, like his new teammates coming back, were told repeatedly how different it all would be -- the Florida basketball experience in 2014-15, that is, versus the ones of the previous few years that featured teams loaded with veterans -- and probably brushed it off as coach-speak.

No. They knew they’d be good.

Now, they know they're not.

If they didn’t understand that before going international, losing on a near-buzzer beater to Georgetown, rallying in the final minutes to defeat UAB and getting trampled from the opening tip by Carolina provided the dose of reality they needed.

Cue Horford (picture right).

Jon Horford “Results speak for themselves," Horford said. "We honestly thought we were better than we are. The coaches have done a great job of laying it out for us and coaching us. As a team, we have to accept it and completely buy in and put everything we have into it. If we do that, whatever happens, we can walk around with our heads held high.”

Then came this.

“But if we keep living in that illusion that coach is talking about -- and I’m as stubborn as anyone -- but coach is right. He’s absolutely right. It’s not working. If it doesn’t change, then nothing is going to change going forward.”

Donovan loved hearing that because, one, he definitely knows how stubborn Horford can be. But, two, there was a sincerity in Horford’s acceptance of the situation. If the rest of the Gators take the same tact -- and they had better -- than UF will be in a better place mentally and with a better sense of who they are.

That would make for a good baseline, considering UF’s next time on the floor comes Friday night against No. 11 Kansas (5-1) at Phog Allen Fieldhouse in the ESPN Big 12/SEC Challenge. The Gators, who fell out of this week's Associated Press rankings, need a win to avoid putting Donovan below the .500 mark for the first time since the final game of the ’97-98 season, but rest assured the coach does not care about that statistic.

He wants to see more fight in his team from the opening tip, more desperation throughout, and more made baskets.

"Eventually, you have to put the ball in the basket," he said.

And he wants this group of players to quit worrying about what they're doing individually (how well they're shooting; lack of playing time; turnovers) and focus more on the things that go into winning.

Upon returning from Paradise Island Saturday afternoon, the players had the balance of the day off, but returned to work Sunday. The Gators did not practice, but lifted weights, went through individual instruction drills (with tight focus on fundamentals, technique and executing good reps with their shots) and then met privately in small groups with Donovan for film review.

On Monday, it was back to work -- a full-blown, full contact practice -- with emphasis on the details.

Donovan wants more from players, no question, but he’s also turned a finger on himself the UF staff. A lot of things aren’t working on a lot of different levels.

The upside? There is a lot of time to fix things. One big step may have happened at Atlantis.

Without question, sophomore point guard Kasey Hill was floundering through the season’s first six games, but may have righted himself in the tournament. He competed ferociously against UNC in finishing with a career-high 20 points, as he attacked the Tar Heels constant double teams. If it took some rock-bottom moments (and maybe watching freshman backup Chris Chiozza torch UAB the night before) to light a fire within Hill, maybe his struggles of the first two weeks were worth it.

Eli Elsewhere:

* Shooting guard Michael Frazier went 4-for-10 from the 3-point line against the Tar Heels, but he’s still at 35.9 percent for the season. Some of his misses have been wide-open looks, the likes of which he hit like free throws the last two seasons. He's not a good shooter, but a great one. He can be again.

* Forward Dorian Finney-Smith has been dealing with two fractured bones in his hand since the season opener, yet his body language and inability to move to the next play after a bad one (a Frazier trait this season, as well) has disappointed the coaches. They're demanding more consistency from him.

* Guard Eli Carter (pictured left) clearly was hampered by a sprained foot in the Bahamas. In his two games, Carter was 2-for-18 from the floor. Still, against Georgetown, his ability to get in the lane drew help defenders and led to offensive rebounds, but Donovan wants to see more dribble-drive kickout passes from Carter and better use of a basketball IQ and savvy court sense that is among the best on the team.

* Sophomore center Chris Walker came to UF with the expectations of an NBA lottery pick, yet how many of those “experts” putting together mock drafts actually saw Walker play Class 1A games in Bonifay, Fla.? Now that the 6-foot-10 center is playing, where he is and what he is as a player -- an inexperienced and raw prospect blessed with phenomenal athleticism -- is out there for everyone to see. And it’s the same player Donovan warned everyone not to expect so much from, both last year when he joined the team in midseason, and again this year when his role was set to increase. The coaching staff, Donovan admits, needs to do a better job with him.

There were some rolled eyes when Donovan insisted in the preseason this wasn’t the No. 7 team in the country?

Maybe a few of his players did some eye-rolling.

Well, they’re not now.

Maybe that's exactly where this team needs to be.

Gator Logo GATORZONE INTERN – 2015 Spring Semester
DEPARTMENT: University Athletic Association - Communications
MINIMUM QUALIFICATIONS: Junior class standing with some applicable sportswriting background (such as The Alligator, as a newspaper or website correspondent, freelancer, etc.). Knowledge of AP style and Gators general sports are a must. Applicant must possess the ability to work under strict deadline and represent the UAA in a responsible and professional manner.
POSITION RESPONSIBILITIES: The GatorZone intern will work closely with the the site’s supervisor and two senior writers on the creation of written content, such as event coverage, feature stories and assisting the GatorZone staff. Must be flexible and willing to work a non-traditional work schedule.
COLLEGE CREDIT: 1 credit hour
TO APPLY: Qualified candidates please submit resume or application with cover letter indicating position of interest to:
Chris Harry Senior Writer
Scott Carter Senior Writer

Thursday November 27, 2014 Searching for their identity

Updated: 6:26pm, November 27

Frazier on BowenPARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas -- The most obvious takeaway from Florida’s 66-65 overtime loss to Georgetown was the dramatic -- and crushing -- manner the Gators lost their opening-round game in the Battle 4 Atlantis.

Hoyas guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera swished a 21-foot jumper from the top of the key with 3.5 seconds left for the win, just eight seconds after UF point guard Kasey Hill’s driving, old-fashion 3-point play had given Florida a one-point lead.


But as far as Billy Donovan was concerned, the Gators (2-2) did not lose the game on that play.

“I look at it differently,” he said. “There probably were combined, for both teams, more than 100 plays in the game. We probably played our 100 plays, in all honesty, about 50 of them -- maybe less -- at a level I’d like to see us play. You can focus on the last play, but I wouldn’t have felt great even if Rivera’s shot was off. It would have felt good [to win], but sometimes winning is delusional because sometimes it does away with what is actually real.”

So Thursday morning, Dononvan and his staff met with the team and had some real talk about playing the right way and about playing to identities -- both individually and team-wise. Tonight’s loser-bracket game against Alabama-Birmingham (2-3), which was smashed by No. 3 Wisconsin 72-43 in its first-round game, would be an ideal place to start.

As a sample case, take junior shooting guard Michael Frazier (pictured above).

Last year, Frazier was a second-team All-Southeastern Conference selection and one of the most deadly 3-point shooters in the country. Now in a new role, Frazier has tried to take on more leadership, improve his dribble-drive skills and become a more well-rounded player. All that is admirable, all that is good.

Except, what he's doing now is not working for this team.

Frazier leads the Gators in scoring at 15 points per game, but he’s shooting 43.5 percent from the floor (down from 46.1 last season) and has made just seven of his 22 shots from the arc for 31.8 percent (down from 44.7).

Granted, the Gators’ lack of low-post presence -- Patric Young was on another plame compared to what Jon Horford and Chris Walker are providing the team -- has allowed defenses to extend and pay more attention to Frazier, but a little more of staying in last year’s character (freeing his mind, focusing on that deadly jumper we'd come to know the last two seasons) may do Frazier and the Gators a lot good.

Same goes for Kasey Hill, the sophomore point guard who has taken over the role as playmaker, but may too often be forcing things versus finishing plays and locking in on running the offense.

As Donovan likes to say, what happens between the lines ultimately defines you.

So what are these Gators going to be?

“That one is over. We’re not getting it back, we’re moving on from it,” Donovan told his team before Thursday afternoon’s shoot-around at the Imperial Grand Ballroom, as Georgetown and Wisconsin were preparing to play in a winner's bracket game at the arena across the hall. “It’s not about what we were [Wednesday]. It’s about what we are today. And you guys should be excited as hell to be playing tonight.”

Doe-Doe PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas -- “Doe-Doe” is a go-go tonight.

Eli, also.

Florida forward Dorian Finney-Smith, out the last two games with hairline fractures in his left non-shooting hand, and guard Eli Carter, who sprained his left foot in practice last week, will play Wednesday night when the 18th-ranked Gators (2-1) face Georgetown (3-0) in opening-round play of the Battle 4 Atlantis at 9:30.

Both Finney-Smith and Carter took part in the team’s shoot-around Wednesday afternoon, with the former doing more than the later.

“They’re going to try and go,” Coach Billy Donovan said after the one-hour workout. “We don’t know how much they can play, but we’ll find out.”

Eli Finney-Smith (above right), the 2014 Southeastern Conference Sixth Man of the Year, scored 15 points and grabbed five rebounds in the opener against William & Mary when he was injured in the early minutes, but returned to finish the game with his hand taped.

Carter (right) averaged 14.5 points in two games -- including a 21-point, 8-for-9 performance in UF’s loss at Miami last week -- before suffering his sprain in practice Thursday.

Both player’s missed Friday’s overtime win over Louisiana-Monroe, as the Gators struggled to score minus their offense.

Tuesday November 25, 2014 About Atlantis (the Resort and the Battle)


PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas -- To tell the story of the Battle 4 Atlantis, we probably need to visit the story of Atlantis itself.

Sol Kerzner In 1994, a South African hotel magnate named Sol Kerzner (right) bought a series of floundering resort properties along a two-mile stretch of Paradise Island from famed talk-show host and entrepreneur Merv Griffin. When that purchase went down, tourism in the Bahamas was at an ebb (as was unemployment), but Kerzner had a vision to reinvigorate the local economy by building a state-of-the-art resort the likes of which the world had never seen.

The blueprints, of course, used the mythical “Lost City of Atlantis” as its theme. It took four years and $800 million to make Atlantis a reality, highlighted by what brochures call “the world’s largest open-air marine environment” of 11 million gallons that are home to 50,000 sea creatures, representing 200 species, lagoons and waterfalls, plus the now-world famous Mayan Temple Waterslide complex.

[Note: Yes, I plan on partaking in the slides, including the ridiculously steep one and the one that takes you through a tube inside a shark tank (see video below).]


The Florida basketball team’s chartered flight arrived here Monday night around 7:20 and went through customs in Nassau (above). The team checked in at Atlantis around 8:30, but Coach Billy Donovan sent them to their rooms for the night after a team meal.

On Tuesday morning, Donovan turned his players loose for three hours to roam the grounds (or go back to bed, which some did) before an afternoon meal. Ninety minutes later, the team reported for its one-hour practice in the Imperial Arena followed by another one-hour practice in an adjacent ballroom.

Not much time to sight-see, but then again that's not why they're here.

Imperial Ballroom

Which brings us to the tournament.

The Imperial Arena is actually the resort’s Imperial Ballroom (see below). In 2010, local organizers and ESPN partnered to add the event to its schedule of sexy November non-conference, cross-sectional basketball games.


It costs about a half-million dollars to convert the ballroom -- and that means opening a bunch of temporary walls and removing the chandeliers that hang from the ceiling -- into an arena that seats 3,200. The inaugural event, in 2011, featured UCF, College of Charleston, Florida State, UMass, Connecticut, UNC-Ashville, Harvard and Utah.

Harvard won the tournament.

The tournament winners since have been Duke (2012) and Villanova (2013), but the 2014 field -- UF, Georgetown, Alabama-Birmingham, Wisconsin, North Carolina, UCLA, Oklahoma and Butler -- being touted as the event’s best yet.

The Badgers, ranked third nationally, loom as the tournament favorite.

[So far, I really like the concept. And why not? I'm in the Bahamas for Thanksgiving week. But some may roll their eyes at the notion of a tournament in such a tight place, but watching UCLA and North Carolina, for example (which could happen), throw it up in a ballroom? Yeah, that would be cool.]

Billy D and Kasey GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- When the schedule lines up with a game on a Friday or Saturday and the next one not for three or four days out, it’s been customary during Coach Billy Donovan’s basketball tenure at Florida to give his players a day off. Usually, the day after the game.

But Friday’s 61-56 overtime squeaker against Louisiana-Monroe -- both the performance of the players and the dire lack of bodies -- made the circumstances anything but customary. So Donovan tweaked his routine just a bit.

Three practices Saturday.

Two more Sunday.

“We’re not a very good team right now,” he said.

That team is about to play in a very, very good basketball tournament in a very unusual venue.

With top forward Dorian Finney-Smith (hand) and top guard Eli Carter (ankle) questionable with injuries, 18th-ranked Florida (2-1) will face Georgetown (3-0) in opening-round play Wednesday night of the Battle 4 Atlantis at Paradise Island, Bahamas. Should the Gators manage to get past the Hoyas, they’d likely on Thursday face No. 3 Wisconsin, which figures to be a big favorite over Alabama-Birmingham, with either North Carolina, UCLA, Oklahoma or Butler waiting on the other side of the bracket for the third-round game Friday.

Three games in three days with all kinds of uncertainty regarding manpower.

“It concerns me in terms of style of play,” Donovan said Monday, several hours before the team hopped its chartered flight, with a scheduled arrival around 8 p.m. “This [UF] team needs to press. I don’t think we can sustain that kind of intensity, never mind three games in a row, for 40 minutes. Not enough depth.”

Or defined roles, either.

Donovan and his staff holed up in the basketball complex between those five sessions over the weekend -- some were full-blown practices, some individual instruction sessions -- to try and scratch out ideas to improve on a bevy of elements, among them the Gators’ collective shooting percentages (43.9 percent on field goals, 34.7 from 3-point range), especially when it comes to sophomore point guard Kasey Hill (pictured above).

Hill is a combined 3-for-24 for the season. That’s 12.5 percent. Opponents are packing the defense on the block to take away the post, honoring shooting guard Michael Frazier on the perimeter, but playing completely off Hill, just daring him to make a shot.

So aside from watching Hill take oodles of shots in individual instruction, Donovan and his assistants are trying to find ways to help his battered confidence and put him in better position to be more effective offensively; both in attacking the defense to find teammates, but also with his pull-up jump shots and drives down the lane.

“Most of his shots have been in the lane and he’s got to finish better,” Donovan said. “He’s got to do a better job waiting on screening actions; he’s going off too quick. And I think he’s made some rough decisions, especially in transition where he’s trying to go one-on-four and use his speed when he probably needs to run our team a little bit.”

If that sounds like a lot to correct in a short period of time, well, hence the cram sessions over the weekend.

Plus, the games in Paradise are going to be played whether UF is ready or not.

Saturday November 22, 2014 Carter, Finney-Smith 'questionable' for Atlantis

Updated: 9:17pm, November 23

Carter on bench GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Guard Eli Carter has a sprain to his left foot and that's really good news for the Florida basketball team as it preps for next week's Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.

Carter, the junior guard averaging 14.5 points over two games, collapsed during Thursday's practice after planting and attempting a cut in the open floor. X-rays were negative, but the UF training staff waited for Saturday's MRI results before ballparking Carter's availability. Those results were encouraging.

After missing Friday night's 61-56 overtime win over Louisiana-Monroe, Carter is "questionable" for Wednesday night when the Gators (2-1) face Georgetown (3-0) in first-round Atlantis play at Paradise Island. After struggling for offense Friday, UF desperately needs the dribble-drive and perimeter shooting threat Carter (pictured left on bench wearing boot) can give them as a combo guard. In a two-point loss Monday night against Miami, Carter went 8-for-9 from the floor and scored a team-high 21 points.

Meanwhile, junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith, who has missed two games since suffering two hairline fractures to the left hand in the season-opening win over William & Mary, also is listed as questionable for the Bahamas tournament. But Finney-Smith, who went for 15 points and five rebounds in the opener,, has some academic issues to clear up, according to Coach Billy Donovan, who told the 6-foot-8 standout to stay away from the team -- except for rehab with the trainers -- until his classroom issues were taken care of.

Asked about the availability of Finney-Smith, the Southeastern Conference's Sixth Man of the Year last season, Donovan said only, "To be determined."

Eli Carter

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Make that two top scorers out for the Florida Gators.

Junior guard Eli Carter suffered a foot injury during practice Thursday and will be sidelined  when eighth-ranked UF (1-1) faces Louisiana-Monroe (2-0) Friday night at the O’Connell Center.

Carter collapsed at the team’s Thursday practice when his left foot gave out after planting to make a cut in the open floor.

“Weird,” team trainer David “Duke” Werner said. “Just a really freakish kind of play where no one even was around him.”

X-rays were negative, but the foot was swollen and Carter, who watched the team’s shoot around in a boot and on crutches, was in some pain Friday. He’ll undergo magnetic resonance imaging Saturday to determine the severity the injury.

The foot is not the one that Carter injured his sophomore year at Rutgers that was so slow to recover he took a medical redshirt last season.

The team’s No. 2 scorer, Carter was averaging 14.5 points per game after going 8-for-9 from the floor and erupting for 21 in Monday night’s home loss to Miami. Now, add him on an injury list that already includes forward Dorian Finney-Smith, the team’s best player and leading scorer after going for 15 points in the season-opening win against William & Mary. Finney-Smith suffered two hairline fractures in his left hand in that game.

Now this.  

“We’re dealing with pretty much the same thing as the other night,” UF coach Billy Donovan said after the team’s shoot-around Friday afternoon. “That game we were short-handed in the frontcourt. Now, we’re short-handed in the backcourt, too. We’ve just got to get six or seven guys focused and playing together.”

Devin Robinson driving It’ll help that 6-foot-10 sophomore center Chris Walker, suspended for the first two regular-season games, returns to active duty, but Carter’s spot in the starting unit will go to freshman forward Devin Robinson (5.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg). A 6-foot-8, product, Robinson (pictured left) make the first start of his young career as the Gators -- by necessity -- go away from the three-guard starting lineup to a more convention frontcourt set.

Carter’s availability for Thanksgiving week Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas -- where the Gators will play three games in as many nights, starting with a Wednesday night showdown against Georgetown -- won't be determined until after the MRI results and further examinations next week.

Dillon GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- A week ago, Billy Donovan looked down the Florida bench for Dillon Graham and told the third-year sophomore to go into the team’s opening game with just over three minutes left.

The next day, Graham looked at Donovan from across his office desk and told the Gators coach he was leaving.

A few minutes later, Graham left the UF basketball complex in tears.

“But they were peaceful tears,” Graham said when reached earlier this week. “Honestly, I just knew it was the right decision for me. I’ve been a Gator since I was a little boy, so there will always be a special spot in my heart for this place.”

Graham, after two-plus seasons mostly watching from the bench and rehabbing from hip surgery, announced Sunday that he was transferring from Florida effective at the end of the fall semester. The development was not unexpected given he’d played just 84 minutes in 25 career games and scored only 11 points on 5-for-22 shooting.

The 6-foot-4 former Orlando First Academy standout, though, said he already had received interest from some Division I schools, including Florida Gulf Coast, and also was looking at a number of Division II offers, with his preference to remain in the state and be close to his family.

Graham, in fact, has twin brothers, Austin and Collin, playing at First Academy. Austin is being recruited by some of the same D-II programs that have reached out to Dillon, including Embry-Riddle Aeronautical in Daytona Beach.  

“I would love to play a year or two with one or both of my brothers, if possible,” he said.

In speaking about his move, Graham was totally upbeat with no regrets whatsoever in giving Florida, his dream school, a shot.

“I’ve learned so much from Coach Donovan and all the other coaches,” Graham said. “Things in life don’t always work out like you plan. Sometimes when doors close, others open. That’s how I look at it. That’s what’s happened in my life.”

Donovan praised Graham for his honesty.

“I have a high level of respect for him,” Donovan said. “For the last few weeks, I could just see him a little bit unhappy. I dont think it had anything to do with the players or the coaches or the University of Florida. It just got to the point where he asked, ‘Is this really what I wanted to do?’ He got to a place where his heart wasn’t really into basketball.”

Basketball at this level, that is.

Getting on the court at a place like Florida takes an unbridled combination of skill, commitment and passion. All the time invested is difficult when games are spent on the bench.  

“Playing time was an issue,” Graham said. “As a player, you want to play. You put so much work into it and you want to play. When you don’t, you have to respect the coach’s decision. I respect Coach Donovan so much. In the back of your mind, though, you just want to play."

Now Graham will go somewhere with a realistic opportunity to do just that.

Thursday November 20, 2014 Billy D praises Muschamp, the man

Updated: 1:13pm, November 21

Billy D on Muschamp GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Billy Donovan is one of the most loyal friends and colleagues someone could ever have. As such, it came as no surprise the UF basketball coach had nothing but praise for outgoing Gators football coach Will Muschamp.

“I don’t know all the ins and outs of their team and what their challenges were or any of those other things,” Donovan said Thursday. “I do know this from a coaching standpoint: standing back and watching him handle [himself], I think the guy’s been an incredible man. He’s handled himself in an incredibly professional way in a very, very difficult circumstance.”

UF announced following Sunday, a day after a 23-20 overtime loss at South Carolina, that Muschamp -- 27-20 in four seasons and 17-15 against Southeastern Conference opponents -- would not return to coach the team in 2015.

Over the course of Muschamp’s time with the Gators, he and Donovan have often spoken, exchanged text messages and sometimes been guests at each other’s practices.

Will In fact, Muschamp (left) was invited by Donovan to address the UF basketball team over the summer. With the Gators saying goodbye to the winningest class in school history and coming off am SEC championship and Final Four season, Muschamp message to the 2014-15 players was that nothing was automatic just because they wore the Florida uniform.

He used his 4-8 team as an example.

The last couple years, when the subject turned to football, Donovan often spoke of how impressed he was that Muschamp took a 7-6 team from his first season -- one that he flatly called “soft” in a fiery news conference after a loss to Florida State -- and turned it into an 11-2 team that contended for a championship.

That told Donovan the guy could coach.

What also impressed Billy D about his football friend was that Muschamp always was not only true to his principles, but also true to himself as a person away from the football field.

“I get the bottom line is people want to see more games won on every level,” Donovan said, speaking as a coach about coaches. “But what we do is not who we are. To me, as a man, Will has been able to separate that and I think that’s been really, really impressive. ... I think who he was really showed up under some adverse pressure situations.”

Muschamp’s willingness to point a finger at himself -- after games and certainly at his news conference Monday -- was proof of that.

“He’ll be missed here ... as a person,” Donovan said.

Sunday November 16, 2014 Dillon Graham opts to transfer

Updated: 5:21pm, November 16


Graham GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Sophomore guard Dillon Graham has left the Florida basketball team and will transfer to a yet-determined school.

After playing the final three minutes of Friday night’s 68-45 season-opening defeat of William & Mary, Graham met with Billy Donovan early Saturday before practice and informed the Gators coach of his decision.

It was clear, through preseason practices and the way the first game played out, that Graham did not figure in the team’s rotation -- even with suspended center Chris Walker and transfer forward Alex Murphy unavailable. The bulk of Graham's practice time was relegated to the scout team, he played just four minutes in the exhibition against Division II Barry on Nov. 6 and did not enter Friday night's game until 3:06 remained and the Gators leading by 26.

“I want to thank my teammates, coaches and everyone else at UF for a great experience during my time here,” Graham said in a statement. “Even though I am moving on to the next chapter in my life and my basketball career, I will always have positive memories from my years with the Gators.”

Graham intends to complete his first-semester academic work, then transfer to another program for the spring. Where he winds up -- Division I or Division II -- will determine how soon he’ll be eligible to play.

"I have a high level of respect for him," Donovan said Sunday in meeting with the media to discuss UF's home game Monday night against state foe Miami. "For the last few weeks, I could just see him a little bit unhappy. I don't think it had anything to do with the players or coaches or the University of Florida. I think it just got to the point, 'Is this really what I want to do?' I think he got to a place where his wasn't really into basketball."

The 6-foot-4, 185-pound standout out of Orlando First Academy, Graham played just 84 minutes in 25 career games at UF and averaged only 0.4 points over his three-plus seasons. Nearly all those minutes came during his 2012-13 freshman year when he checked into 23 games and went 5-for-19 from the floor, including 1-for-10 from the 3-point line.

Graham missed all but the first game of UF’s 2013-14 campaign and run to the Final Four with bone spurs in his hip that required season-ending surgery and was granted a medical redshirt by the NCAA. He missed the only shot he attempted in Friday’s game.

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