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Saturday December 21, 2013 Billy D talks Alex Murphy

Alex Murphy SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida practices got a lot more interesting last week with the addition of freshman forward Chris Walker, who the Gators hope will help the team later this season.

They’ll get even more interesting -- and competitive -- next week with the arrival of Duke transfer Alex Murphy, who will help the team next season.

The transfer of Murphy, the 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward and younger brother of former UF standout Erik Murphy, became official late Thursday afternoon. He’ll join the team when the Gators return from Christmas break and start practicing Dec. 27.

Murphy will be eligible to play for UF next December, once the 2014 fall semester ends.

“I’m anxious to see him here,” Florida coach Billy Donovan told GatorZone. “He’s probably a different player than when we recruited him coming of high school. He’s had two years of college to grow and mature. Obviously, he didn’t get to play a lot [at Duke], but he’s been around a great program and great players for two years.”

Murphy was a top-20 national prospect when he signed with Duke out of South Kingstown (R.I.) High, where he averaged 21 points, 7.2 rebounds and four assists per game.

After red-shirting for the 2011-12 season, Murphy played very little for the Blue Devils the last two seasons. He averaged 2.1 points and one rebound a game during ’12-13. He appeared in five of Duke’s 11 games this season and averaged one point and one rebound in 33 minutes.

He’s looking forward to fresh start.

“At the end of the day, it was just my comfort level with the program and the coaches,” Murphy told The Gainesville Sun. “It was a gut feeling. It was where I wanted to be.”

Though his experience at Duke was not what Murphy hoped it would be, Donovan believes the player’s time in Durham -- and in the Mike Krzyzewski culture -- prepared him for what awaits in Gainesville.

“At Duke, like us, they’re competing for championships, so he’s been in that kind of environment and he’s not going to walk in here and say, ‘Wow, this is foreign to me,’ ” Donovan said. “I don’t know why he didn’t play there, but what I admire about Alex is that he’s never said a negative thing about Duke or Coach Krzyzewski or the players there. I think in a lot of ways he put it on himself.”

Alex mugSo when Murphy went looking for a change in scenery, he found one he was already somewhat familiar with.

Obviously, Murphy’s older brother was an advocate for the Gators after Donovan and his UF staff developed Erik Murphy, now with with the Chicago Bulls, into one of the nation’s best “stretch-4” forwards.

Alex Murphy, though, has a different skill set than Erik. He’s more of a face-up small forward and power forward who can drive and finish at the basket; much more athletic off the bounce. He’s a decent perimeter shooter, but nothing like the 3-point marksman Erik became.

“That’s something he’s going to have to work on when he gets here,” Donovan said.

Murphy hopes to join the growing list of players who have transferred to UF and enjoyed success, ala Vernon Macklin, Mike Rosario and Dorian Finney-Smith.

“I don't expect anything to be handed to me,” Murphy told The Sun. “I want to earn what I get. That's why I wanted to come to a big-time program like Florida. I want to come in, play my role and show the coaches what I'm capable of doing and how I can contribute to the team.”

Saturday December 21, 2013 Damontre Harris dismissed from team

Updated: 11:18am, December 21

Damontre SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida basketball career of Damontre Harris is over before it began.

Harris, the 6-foot-10 center/forward who transferred to UF from South Carolina two summers ago, was officially dismissed from the team Friday after meeting with Coach Billy Donovan.

The parting, Donovan told, was an amiable one. Also a necessary one.

“He was never disrespectful as far as his attitude. He was a nice kid and never blamed anybody for what was happening,” Donovan said of Harris (pictured right during UF's media day in October). “We tried to help him off the court and help him with some of the challenges he was dealing with. But there was never this reciprocation of wanting to be helped or wanting to to do the things necessary.”

Harris will leave UF in good academic standing, after completing his fall semester work, and with a release to transfer anywhere that might take him. He may look for a school closer to his home in Fayetteville, N.C.

“It may mean him getting to a place where he can play the game on his terms,” Donovan said. “Someone may let him to do that. Here, it’s not our philosophy or belief.”

The Gators were banking on Harris to be a contributing player in their front-court rotation this season, but the relationship between Harris and the program went sideways just before the start of the season and never got back on track.

Harris was one of three players who began the season suspended for violating team rules. Two of them, sophomore transfer forward Dorian Finney-Smith and senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, worked their way back into Donovan’s good graces. Harris did not.

“The things we were asking him to do weren’t anything out of the norm,” Donovan said. “But we’d go a week without hearing from him. He wouldn’t return our phone calls or text messages. His teammates didn’t know where he was.”

Around Thanksgiving, Harris reached out to Donovan, who agreed to meet with the player, but 10 days went by before he heard from him again.

“By then, we were at the end of the semester and I think he realized it was just too far gone,” Donovan said.

During his 2011-12 sophomore season at South Carolina, Harris averaged 6.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocked shots per game for the Gamecocks and was named to the Southeastern Conference All-Defensive team. But Harris opted to leave USC after a coaching change and transferred to UF.

Along with Finney-Smith, Harris sat out the entire ’12-13 season under NCAA transfer rules, but was allowed to practice -- when healthy. Harris suffered a torn labrum a week into preseason practices and was sidelined for nearly five months. When he returned in March, Harris sustained an ankle injury. All told, he may have been healthy for 10 practices last year.

When the Gators opened practice this season, Harris missed more time due to sore hamstrings and was relegated to the training table and strength and conditioning sessions. Then, without warning, eventually stopped coming to the practice facility.

It was downhill from there.

“I think he realizes that a big opportunity for him is now gone,” Donovan said. “The thing I tried to get across to him, if he has any aspirations of playing professional basketball there is not one team in this country or overseas that is going to tolerate this type of behavior, and I’d be doing him a disservice if I didn’t hold him accountable for these things.”

Wednesday December 18, 2013 Media lights beam brightly, kindly on Gators in Manhattan

Updated: 6:53pm, December 18

Times Square

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- They didn’t exactly take Broadway by storm, needing a big defensive stop on the game’s final play to hold on for a tooth-and-nail victory.

But the show 16th-ranked Florida put on Tuesday night in holding off feisty and lightning-fast Memphis in a wildly entertaining 77-75 UF win in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden definitely earned the Gators some respect from the national media.

Or as’s Dana O’Neil called it, perhaps UF’s “most complete team since Billy Donovan won back-to-back championships.”

Gators at GardenThe Garden was awash in basketball writers who go to a lot of games across the country. In glancing over some of the coverage Wednesday, seeing the Gators in person for the first time -- Patric Young playing feverishly on both ends; the athleticism of Casey Prather; Dorian Finney-Smith’s inside-out versatility; the old-young backcourt of Scottie Wilbekin; the shooter’s eye of Michael Frazier -- sent them away impressed.

Even after those 17 turnovers.

I’m not at all surprised. You see, in a college game riddled with the one-and-done mentality, Donovan and his veteran squad of four seniors -- really good seniors, but seniors nonetheless -- provide a different, understated and in some cases refreshing narrative to the NBA instant-lottery madness.  

Some samples:

First, from O’Neil, who also saw the Gators two weeks in their one-point escape act against Florida State.

What makes Florida all the more intriguing, though, is that which you can’t quantify.

The Gators have scars, which Donovan talked about after the Gators' win Tuesday night.

He didn't speak as if his team is hung up on what it hasn’t accomplished, but it knows what it means to have scars.

Nobody has those anymore. Teams don’t cart painful memories around because players don’t last long enough to build up memories together. What you did lately has the shelf life of maybe six months. It’s all about muscle memory, not collective memories.

But the Gators have four seniors, which essentially qualifies them for AARP benefits. These are guys who remember the successes of three consecutive Elite Eight runs but also the flip side of three could-be Final Fours that ended short of the doorway.

“They’ve got a lot of scars on them; they’ve been through a lot," Donovan said. “And maybe it’s because they’ve been scarred enough and wounded enough, they understand that this is a journey."

The journey, however, could be another awfully good one for Donovan.

Pat vs MemphisLuke Winn, of, used the game profile Prather. Why not? All he did was score UF’s last eight points, including two clutch free throws with 27 seconds to play.

Prather is a testament to Donovan and a program that puts a premium on developing players and grooming them to meeting their potential in the framework of the system.

That’s why a guy who averaged 3.1 points per game over his first three seasons can now lead the team in scoring at 18.3 per game after pouring 22 against the Tigers.

Or as Winn put it:

By Prather’s age, a player typically is what he is as a collegian.

But when you stick around long enough and work hard enough, opportunity finds you. When the Gators had their run of suspensions and injuries, he answered the call.

Tuesday night, clearly noticed.

Even as the Gators crawled back to near full strength -- with Wilbekin, Finney-Smith and Frazier now in the rotation, and recent wins over Kansas and Memphis -- Prather has remained the focal point. And a very efficient focal point at that: He's scoring 1.23 points per possession while using a team-high 28.6 percent of possessions.

The secret to Prather's late-stage evolution, according to coach Billy Donovan, is self-awareness. "[Prather] is playing to his strengths now instead of trying to prove he can overcome his weaknesses," he said following Tuesday's game. "And I think it's the first time I think he's been playing with a clear head, a clear mind and [knowing], here's who I am as a player, here's now I need to take advantage of it."

Namely, for Prather, it's knowing that he is not a jump-shooter from anywhere far outside the paint, and that if he attacks the basket intelligently (in isolation situations with matchup advantages), he will either score or get to the free-throw line. He's generating 9.7 free-throw attempts per 40 minutes this season and converting at a 75.7 percent clip, compared to 3.7 and 58.3 percent as a junior.

Doe-Doe & Frazier’s Jeff Borzello used the forum to praise both the Gators and the Tigers, suggesting both have the pieces to go to the Final Four.

On UF:

When Florida is healthy and has its full allotment of players, the Gators are going to be as talented and versatile as any team in the country. They have weapons at every position, and players like freshman Kasey Hill and transfer Dorian Finney-Smith are only getting better. Moreoever, Prather continues to surprise with his breakout season. No one saw it coming --and only Andrew Wiggins has been able to stop him this season.

"Guys being out has sort of freed him up," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. "It was good, as a senior, to see him bounce back."

Plus, future first-round pick Chris Walker isn't even eligible yet.

Florida has only been healthy and suspension-free for a couple of games this season, but the Gators have shown the ability to match up with different lineups, going with two point guards, zone defenses, multiple big men -- Donovan has a variety of ways to use his players.

"We've had a lot of different experiences," he said. "Guys have grown and gotten better. There's a ceiling for us to really get better."

The headline to the USA Today piece, courtesy of Nicole Auerbach, played off the experience factor. As in, “For Florida, age could lead to basketball beauty.”

Auerbach pinned Billy D down after his interview session with the media.

"When we walk on the court to play, it's not like our guys are overwhelmed. They've seen just about everything," Donovan said. "Kansas and those teams have great potential, great upside because of their youth. I don't know how many older teams there are. For our eight guys we're playing, four are seniors. … I think there's something to be said for that, having experienced guys."

Scottie vs MemphisTechnically, there are 77 teams in college basketball with more experience on their roster than Florida, according to But very few of these older teams have the potential for a deep postseason run quite like the Gators do.

Finally, on the website Sports On Earth, Howard Megdal took a good, long look at the 48-year-old Donovan and, like O’Neil, pointed out how the Florida coach -- after his infamous about-face with the Orlando Magic -- had to navigate the difficult challenge of rebuilding a two-time national championship program (Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski are the only coaches to win back-to-back titles since John Wooden) into a serious challenger for another title.

At Florida, no less. 

As for the man himself, Donovan may well exceed what he's done the past three seasons. He's much younger than Krzyzewski, or even his mentor from all those years ago at Providence, Rick Pitino. He spoke about the seniors he has, and how they are able to block out their past accomplishments in pursuit of a new goal. It certainly sounded like a blueprint he follows himself.

"I don't get a sense from them like it's 'we want more,'" Donovan explained. "Like I said earlier, I think they're smart enough to know that this is an entirely different year. And that, although they went to three Elite Eights, it's not like, OK, we're just gonna get back there again. I think that they understand, they've been scarred enough, they've been wounded enough through competition, that I don't get that sense from them.

"I think one of the things we've had to battle -- when you're a senior, there's a monotony sometimes, with practice. There's no more new drills. I may come up with some new ideas, or some different things, but the bottom line is, we've gotta play defense. They've got to guard pick-and-rolls every single day. There's things they've got to do that are tedious. And can you crank yourself up every single day, to really start all over, at the ground floor, and start the process over, every single day?"

Donovan has. He, too, has been forced to make the new year the challenge, or even building his program all over again, after nearly leaving it, the challenge. There's no other Donovan out there for him to try and match. In that context, his difficulty deciding back in 2007 makes all the sense in the world. It's got to be awfully difficult to figure out what to do next when the only one you're competing against is yourself.

Will and Pat

Tuesday December 17, 2013 Walk-on "Big Z" meets Big Apple -- in uniform, no less

Updated: 3:49pm, December 17

Big Z NEW YORK -- He was invited into the Florida basketball program as a walk-on in October. At 6-foot-10, 236 pounds, Zachary Pindar certainly serves a purpose in practice, working in the post as a member of the Gators scout team.

Pindar played at Dr. Phillips (alongside former University of Miami All-American Shane Larkin), but grew up in Stony Point, N.Y. So it probably was no surprise when Pindar told the UF staff his family was traveling to New York City for the holidays and asked if he could attend to the Gators’ game Tuesday night against Memphis in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.

Coach Billy Donovan did one better.

“Put him on the traveling squad,” Donovan ordered.

Joe KleinSo Pindar is living the dream -- if only for 30-some hours and a one-shot deal -- of donning Gators gear, hopping on the chartered flight, staying in the team’s Manhattan hotel and, tonight, suiting up for Florida at the world’s most famous sports arena.

“I’m so humbled,” said Pindar, who posed for this photo (right) during Tuesday afternoon's shoot-around at the Garden. “And so appreciative.” 

If you see a big redhead wearing No. 21 on the UF bench, that’s the kid they call “Big Z” or sometimes even “Joe Kleine," due to a slight resemblance to the former Arkansas star, 1984 Olympic gold-medalist and 15-year NBA journeyman (pictured right).

Saturday December 14, 2013 The kid they call 'Sky' Walker finally where he wants to be

Updated: 10:26am, December 15

Chris mug shot GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The kid leaned over toward the laptop resting on the scorer’s table. The screen was opened to a story on The headline was worth reading out loud.

Chris Walker officially joins Gators

“I like that,” Chris Walker said.

So did a lot of people associated with the Gators, starting with everyone inside the University of Florida basketball complex Saturday after Walker, the 6-foot-10, 220-pound freshman forward, reported for his first day of practice.

Walker, a 2013 McDonald’s All-American and a consensus top-10 national prospect from his signing class, did not qualify academically for the fall semester, but spent the last several months completing his core requirements for admission to the university for the 2014 spring semester.

Sky and Billy“Basically, all of my time has been working on the [school] side of things, instead of the basketball side,” said Walker, who for now is eligible to practice, but not compete in games. “It means a lot to finally get where I wanted to be.”

That statement, right there, is why the UF coaching staff is so enthused about Walker coming into the fold; even nine games into the season. He signed with the Gators in November 2012, but did not let his off-court setbacks deter him from accomplishing his goal of putting on a Florida uniform.

“Think about it, you graduate from high school and all your friends and teammates go off to college. You’re a McDonald’s All-American and you can’t,” said UF assistant coach Matt McCall, who recruited Walker out of Bonifay (Fla.) Holmes County High, where he led his team to the Class 1A state title last spring. “Not once did he blame anyone else. He took ownership that he could have done a better job with his responsibilities and set out to fix his situation.”

For that, Gators coach Billy Donovan praised Walker’s resiliency and determination. Now, he and the rest of the UF staff will start implementing their plan of crash-coursing the new big man in the way things are done -- on and off the court -- in the UF program.

Sky shooting Translation: Even with a player as talented as Walker, expectations need to be tempered.

“He hasn’t been in anything structured or organized. He’s just been working out on his own and trying to stay in shape,” said Donovan, who introduced Walker to the basic concepts of the offense Saturday. “It would be unfair to expect this kid to come in and dominate and be unbelievable. That would be putting him in a bad situation. But clearly, he has great upside and potential.”

Walker averaged 32 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocked shots a game as a senior. He also won the slam-dunk contest at the McDonald’s All-America game.

In his own words, none of that matters now.

“That was high school,” Walker said.

True, but in Walker the Gators have a rare and extraordinarily gifted athlete for someone his size. Think Casey Prather plus five inches. For UF, off to a 7-2 start, that figures to mean a deeper front court and more options on defense, whether in man, zone or in full-court pressure.

Now, throw that unique energy element that garnered “Sky” Walker -- good nickname, eh? -- a reputation in high school and on the AAU circuit as going full-bore all game long.

“He’s not a polished player, but the one thing that makes front-court players really good is an incredible threshold to handle fatigue -- and he’s got that,” Donovan said. “He never stops. He just keeps playing. I’m not saying he’s in great shape now, but when I watched him play [as a recruit] he just kept coming and coming and never got tired.”

UF point guard Kasey Hill, an AAU teammate of Walker’s and the other half of Florida’s heralded two-man freshman class, knows that player better than anyone on the team.

“He’s going to make some crazy plays; rebounds, dunks, tip-backs, alley-oops, you’ll see," Hill said. "It’ll be fun.”

Walker was watching on television Tuesday when the Gators rolled out a 1-3-1 half-court zone defense and completely discombobulated Kansas with their length, quickness and athleticism. He thought about playing at the top of that defense. He thought about playing in the middle, too. Or on a wing.

Or anywhere, as long as it was in a UF uniform.

He wore a practice one Saturday. It's a start.  

“I just envisioned myself being in there, blocking shots, tipping balls and keep guys from going in the lane,” Walker said. “I thought about running the court and catching lobs from Kasey. You know, like old times.”

Like present times. Chris Walker is officially a Gator.

And he likes it.

Saturday December 14, 2013 Chris Walker officially joins Gators

Updated: 11:13am, December 14

Chris W GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- When the calendar flipped Friday -- and the University of Florida’s fall semester ended -- the Gators’ basketball roster flipped, too.

In a really big way.

Welcome, Chris Walker.

UF coach Billy Donovan and his team officially greeted Walker, the 6-foot-10, 220-pound freshman forward and reigning McDonald’s All-America Game dunk champion, to the program Saturday. Walker, who did not qualify academically for the fall semester, spent the last several months completing his academic entry requirements and last week was admitted and enrolled for the spring semester.

“Chris Walker has been admitted to UF and is eligible to practice, but is not yet eligible to compete,” the school announced in a statement around 10 a.m. “He will begin practicing with our team today.”

His timeline to play in games is uncertain, but Walker was quite the sight -- a very large one, donning No. 23 -- when he entered the gym Saturday after the first of two practices, much to the delight and excitement of his new teammates.

Because UF is between semesters, Donovan and his staff can use the holidays to bring Walker as up to speed as possible on the system, try to work him into basketball condition and prepare him to contribute whenever he is cleared to play.

Walker is believed to be the first scholarship basketball player to join the Gators in midseason; certainly the first in Donovan’s 18 seasons. He also figures to be worth the wait.

After averaging 32 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks a game and leading Bonifay (Fla.) Holmes County High to state championship last spring, Walker’s length and high-flying athleticism will make for a special addition to the frontcourt depth and a provide even more defensive options for the Gators. Florida has started the season 7-2 -- the lone defeats coming with depleted rosters at Wisconsin (now unbeaten and ranked fourth) and Connecticut (also unbeaten and ranked ninth) -- and only now is rounding into form relative to its health and regular rotation.

UF-KU photo GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The day after a game is usually an off day from practice, but Coach Billy Donovan sometimes brings his team in for a film session and that was the case Wednesday, the morning after the 19th-ranked Florida Gators defeated No. 13 Kansas 67-61 in a marquee matchup at the sold-out O’Connell Center.

The bulk of the highlight-reel plays that lathered up the Rowdy Reptiles weren’t included in the screening.

Instead, the Gators got a defensive horror flick.

“Disgusting,” UF assistant coach John Pelphrey said. “Despicable.”

Those were the words Pelphrey chose when asked about the final 3 minutes, 8 seconds Tuesday night. That’s when the Gators, after holding the Jayhawks to just 44 points over the game’s first 37 minutes, allowed KU to score 17 on its final 11 possessions.

That’s a DER (defensive efficiency rating) of 1.45 points per possession.

For context, Florida’s goal is .90.

That’s why Thursday’s practice was defensive loaded, with the blue team (the starting rotation) in the coaching staff’s crosshairs. There was no mention of Memphis, the nation’s 16th-ranked team and the next opponent on the UF schedule.

That game is Tuesday in New York. These next few days will be Gators focusing on Gators.

“We’re building for a different day when we’ve got to play two halves, like we did our first [against Kansas],” Pelphrey said. “We’re building for a day when we’re in the SEC or NCAA Tournament, or maybe trying to win an SEC championship. Hopefully, in the last three minutes we’ll have a chance to win the game. We won’t win it if we foul a bunch, let the other team score and hit 3s or if we miss free throws and turn the ball over.”

This is not just a reaction to Kansas, either. Consider the last three games.

* The Gators had an eight-up lead with three minutes to go, but needed a free throw (one of two) from forward Dorian Finney-Smith with 1.1 second left to defeat Florida State 67-66. The Seminoles, though, nearly threw in a halfcourt shot at the buzzer.

* UF had a 1-point lead with time expiring at Connecticut, when a Husky crashing the glass tipped Shabazz Napier’s badly missed shot back to Napier, who hit a 15-footer at the horn to hand the Gators a crushing 65-64 loss. If a Gator gets even a finger on the ball, Florida wins.
* Against Kansas, UF was leading 56-44 with just over three minutes to go, then let freshman phenom Andrew Wiggins get loose for a trio of 3-pointers to put some drama in the game. Fortunately for the Gators, they hit enough free throws to keep the margin from shrinking below four, but that was after building an 18-point first half lead.

UF-KU again During Thursday's practice, Donovan called for better communication, more aggression and even an element of violence in the way his players competed.

Yes, against one another.

Reminders about fundamental principles -- boxing out, securing loose balls and proper defensive positioning -- were a constant.

“Our defense? Yeah, it was bad,” senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said. “It’s gonna get better.”

Memphis will be an ideal measuring stick. The Tigers are explosive, especially on the perimeter, and have a pair of outstanding frontcourt players in sophomore Shaq Goodwin and freshman forward Austin Nichols.

Neither of those names, nor any other Tiger, was mentioned Thursday.

That’s one of the blessings rolled into the tedium of December, when the Gators play just five games the entire month (after playing seven in the last three weeks of November). There’s time to work on things, rather than prepare for opponents.

“We accomplished our main goal against Kansas, which was to win the game,” Pelphrey said. “But there’s something about learning lessons -- and it’s good to learn them in a win.”

Time to soak in the knowledge and apply it.

WigginsGAINESVILLE, Fla. -- On the recruiting trails and AAU circuit, Billy Donovan had seen  Andrew Wiggins live before, so the Florida coach didn’t need Tuesday night’s front-row viewing at the O’Connell Center to validate what he already knew.

The kid's a really, really good player.

“I’ve always appreciated and admired his disposition on the court,” Donovan said after the Kansas freshman phenom forward totaled career-bests of 26 points and 11 rebounds in 19th-ranked UF’s 67-61 defeat of the No. 13 Jayhawks. “For a guy so heralded, he’s always maintained his composure and handled himself great.”

The 6-foot-8 Wiggins already is being touted as a potential No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft next June. In fact, some analysts and scouts have labeled Wiggins as the next LeBron James. Before the season even started, he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated superimposed with images of -- get this -- Wilt Chamberlain and Danny Manning, arguably KU’s greatest hoops icons.

That’s where Donovan draws the line.

Wiggins maybe among a handful of young players who figure to make up the next generation of great pros, but let the guy get some games under his belt before any King James-like coronation.

“There’s a part of me that feels bad for him,” said Donovan, who knows a little bit about NBA pedigree, with 12 players currently in the league, including five lottery picks. “The minute you start getting comparisons to LeBron James and hearing things like that [and] you don’t get 30 points every single night and dominate and take over, guys walk away and say, ‘Geez, this guy is [not that].’ I just hope he’s enjoying his experience. He’s a very, very good player. He’s athletic and explosive. But he’s young.”

Against UF, Wiggins hit seven of his 15 shots, including four of nine from the 3-point line, and all eight free throws. In the first half, he split two Gators on a fast break with the kind of move that maybe one or two players in the country can make.

And made it look effortless.

“He looked like a four-year player to me,” UF senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said.

Yet Donovan thought the Gators did a decent job containing Wiggins for the better part of his game-high 37 minutes. Then came 11 points (including a trio of 3-pointers when he managed to get loose deep against the defense) in the final 2:23 when the Jayhawks cut UF’s 10-point lead to four.

“He scored a lot of his points late on us. He threw in some bombs,” Donovan said. “He’s got a chance to be a special player and a very, very good player. But I always get concerned when I see young kids compared to the greatest players of all time. Are people going to say when he scores 10 points, ‘Wow, he’s overrated.’ But he’s a good player and seems to be a good team player, unselfish and plays the right way.”


Tuesday December 10, 2013 Chris Walker is closer to coming

Sky Walker GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- When Kasey Hill returned to practice over the weekend, the Florida Gators welcomed back a much-needed body to their rotation.

Another one -- a really big one -- is expected Saturday.

Chris Walker, the 6-foot-11, 215-pound McDonald’s All-America forward, completed his academic requirements last week and is expected to be enrolled at UF for the 2014 spring semester. Walker, who signed with the Gators in November 2012 but did not qualify academically in time for the 2013 fall semester, can join the UF basketball team once the fall semester officially ends Friday, assumming the enrollment process is done. 

“His work is completed,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said Monday. “It’s out of my hands right now.”

That’s a fact.

Walker’s fate now rests with the NCAA and its Clearinghouse.

While some media reports and fan blog sites have suggested Walker could be in action as early as next week when UF plays Memphis in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden, that’s not happening.

Even if he was eligible to play as soon as next week, the notion that Donovan would throw a guy into a game with next-to-no knowledge of the system and having not played in a real game since last March, well, is absurd.

So now the Gators wait.

Walker, a consensus top-10 national prospect for the 2013 signing class, averaged 32 points, 15 rebounds and six blocked shots a game as a junior, and as a senior led Holmes County High to the Class 1A state championship with 30 points and 15 rebounds in the 2013 title game.

A month later, he won the slam-dunk contest at the McDonald’s All-America Game (pictured above).

If nothing else, Walker will be a big boon for the UF scout team for a few weeks and should get a crash course in collegiate post play going against Patric Young, Dorian Finney-Smith, Will Yeguete and Casey Prather every day in practice.

“He’s certainly got a lot to catch up on, a lot to make up, so to speak, with him missing as much time as he’s missed here,” Donovan said. “But I would be excited if that did work out.”

A lot of Gators will.

Scottie ankleGAINESVILLE, Fla. -- One point guard back, still one to go.

Florida senior Scottie Wilbekin returned to practice Saturday and will be in the lineup when the 15th-ranked Gators (6-2) face sixth-ranked Kansas (6-2) Tuesday night at the C’Connell Center. Wilbekin suffered an ankle sprain in Monday night’s loss at Connecticut and did not return to the game.

“We held him out the last couple days,” UF coach Billy Donovan said. “He’s fine now.”

Wilbekin injured his right ankle grabbing a rebound late in UConn’s buzzer-beating 65-64 win. In three games since returning from a suspension, he’s averaging 11.3 points on 37-percent shooting, plus 3.3 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game. He’s turned the ball over just seven times.

After a team day off Tuesday, UF’s training staff held Wilbekin out of Wednesday and Thursday practice, but cleared him for full-go work Saturday.

Meanwhile, freshman point guard Kasey Hill participated in some non-contact work, but was relegated to the training room for treatment while the Gators practiced. His status for the KU game remains questionable.

The Jayhawks lost Saturday at Colorado on a 30-foot shot shot at the buzzer. 

Hill averaged 10.3 points and 4.2 assists in starting the season’s first four games, then suffered a high ankle sprain Nov. 17 against Southern. He was cleared for running and lower-body conditioning a week ago.

Tuesday December 3, 2013 Delta Air Lines releases statement regarding canceled flight

Updated: 2:38pm, December 3

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Delta Air Lines released a statement Tuesday explaining its decision to delay a commercial flight to Atlanta and use the aircraft to take the University of Florida basketball team on its Sunday chartered flight to Connecticut. 

“An internal review is underway to understand the specific circumstances around this aircraft substitution,” the airline said, “but it is clear that the University of Florida in no way participated in the decision-making process.”

The UF team flight was scheduled to depart around 3 p.m., but according to Delta was grounded due to mechanical problems. The flight from Gainesville to Atlanta was scheduled for a 3:26 p.m. departure. According to the airline, it was Delta’s intention to try and accommodate both groups, first having Florida take off as close to its scheduled departure time as possible, then fix the mechanical issue with the other plane to allow the Atlanta-bound passengers take off with as limited a delay as possible.

The airline indicated it gave no priority to the University of Florida. Its intention was to get both flights off the ground as close to on schedule as possible. Unfortunately, flight 5059 ended up being cancelled.    

The circumstances reportedly inconvenienced travelers trying to reach their destinations on the last day of the Thanksgiving weekend, one of the most traveled days of the year. 

“Delta Connection partner ExpressJet, which operated both the charter as well as the regularly scheduled flight, made the operational decision to swap aircraft as the maintenance work was expected to be done quickly,” the airline said. “Unfortunately, it was not and Delta flight 5059 was cancelled. Delta made every effort to re-accommodate those customers on alternate flights and we apologize to the 50 customers who were inconvenienced.

“Our efforts to better serve our customers are constant and a well-intentioned operational decision unfortunately did not work as planned,” the airline said. “We continually look for ways to improve the customer experience and again, we apologize to those customers who were inconvenienced.”

Donyell Marshall STORRS, Conn. -- The Florida-Connecticut game tonight will represent an attractive cross-regional matchup for ESPN, not to mention what figures to be some nice RIP points for both teams down the line.

A rare matchup, too.

The Gators and Huskies have played just once before and longtime UF basketball followers surely remember; just as longtime UConn fans -- not to mention a certain first-team All-American named Donyell Marshall -- surely would like to forget.

Take Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie, who wore a Huskies uniform that game, for example.

“They played well, they had the crowd behind them and got the momentum,” Ollie told UConn reporters this week. “We thought Donyell would make one of those free throws. He didn’t and they took it to us. It happens.”

Rewind to March 25, 1994.

[Note: I was in Miami that night as UF’s beat writer for The Tampa Tribune in what, without question, was one of my all-time writing deadline nightmares, given the tip-off time (10:05 p.m., if memory serves), circumstances (overtime) and historical significance (Florida basketball like never before).] 

The Gators and Huskies met in the NCAA East Region semifinals at Miami Arena. UF, the region’s No. 3 seed and ranked 14th in the country, was in the Sweet 16 for only the second time in school history. UConn was not only the No. 2 seed and conference regular-season champ, but the nation’s third-ranked team and armed with Marshall, the 6-foot-9 forward and Big East Player of the Year, who came in averaging 25.4 points per game.

UF shot just 37 percent for the game and trailed by 10 in the second half when UConn went uncharacteristically cold -- 10 minutes without a field goal.

Meanwhile, the Gators, behind the backcourt of Craig Brown and Dan Cross chipped away at the Huskies’ lead and tied the game at 57-all on a pair of pressure-packed free throws from Cross with 31 seconds remaining.

Florida followed with what seemed to be a great defensive possession until forward Andrew DeClercq fouled Marshall underneath with three seconds remaining.

Marshall, a 76-percent shooter from the line for his career, stepped to the line and promptly bounced the first off the rim. UF coach Lon Kruger called a timeout after that fist attempt to give the Huskies star a little more time to think about the second.

He missed that one, too.

The Gators ran UConn out of the building in overtime, winning 69-60 to advance to the first Elite Eight in program history, and eventually to the Final Four after defeating Boston College for the regional title.

For Florida to accomplish such a feat in its home state was a big deal. Really big. Conversely, you can imagine the blowback in New England directed at Marshall, who finished with 16 points, 13 rebounds and four blocked shots, but went scoreless the final 12:25 of the game and had the two ill-timed boinks.

"If there is one thing that is unfortunate about this game, it is that Donyell Marshall had to go through something like that at the end, but we obviously benefited from that,” Kruger said after the game. “This is a big-time win and it is very important to us."

Marshall’s coach defended his standout.

"Donyell Marshall is a large, large percentage of why we're here playing in the Sweet 16," Calhoun said. "Donyell Marshall is a large reason we won 21 basketball games. Donyell Marshall is a giant, giant reason why we won the Big East by three basketball games. Donyell Marshall has made a lot of shots for us, and before it's over, he'll make a lot more."

Actually, he made no more shots for UConn. Marshall entered the 1994 NBA Draft and was the fourth overall choice by the Minnesota Timberwolves. He went on to play 15 seasons and still holds the NBA single-game record (along with Kobe Bryant) for 3-pointers in one game with 12.

Tre GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It’s sounding less and less likely that Damontre Harris ever will suit up for the Florida Gators.

“I have not spoken to Damontre,” UF coach Billy Donovan said Wednesday when asked about the status of the suspended center/forward who transferred last year from South Carolina. “I know he’s going to class and those kinds of things.”

Asked if Harris was still in Gainesville, Donovan gave this cryptic response.

“From what I gather.”

From what everyone gathered from this conversation, the 6-foot-10, 230-pound Harris is not only worlds away from taking the court for the Gators, but on the verge of looking for this third basketball program in three years -- if he wants to play the game at all.

Sightings of Harris are like Bigfoot these days. Some players and coaches have not seen or spoken to him in days. Donovan says Harris oftentimes doesn’t even return his text messages.

“He has a lot of work to do inside of his team; a lot of work,” Donovan said. “I think our guys like Damontre and want to help Damontre, but they’d also like to see Damontre help Damontre. That is what’s so difficult as a coach. When you have all the resources here at Florida to really help someone in every possible area -- on the court, off the court, academically, weight room, film -- and you’re not taking advantage of it, at some point he’s the one responsible."

What’s frustrating for the people in the program is that two other players, senior guard Scottie Wilbekin and sophomore transfer Dorian Finney-Smith, also started the season on the suspended list. Both paid their dues, served their time and are back in good standing and playing for the team.

And the road Harris had to take to come back, by the way, in no way resembled Wilbekin’s.

“That’s kind of some stuff that’s in the team,” Wilbekin said Wednesday, two days after playing his first game of the season after completing a challenging six-month to-do list laid out by his coach after a second suspended in seven months. “I don’t really want to talk about that.”

Donovan had no problem talking about it.

UF, the coach said, has a bevy of resources to help student-athletes, from the Office of Student Life, to the support staff, to various facets of counseling.

All have been made available to Harris, yet the last few weeks the coaching staff has gone days without hearing from him (much less seeing him).

Two weeks ago, Harris was on track to making his way back to the team; attending twice-day conditioning sessions with the strength staff and individual skills sessions with coaches. They were encouraged. At South Carolina, he averaged 6.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and finished second in the league with 2.3 blocked shots per game. Harris was a terrific defensive player who figured to provided instant impact and depth to a deep Gators front court.

Then he stopped coming.


“At a certain point, he's got to want to say, ‘This is what I want and this is what I'm prepared to do.’ He has not done that. He has said, ‘This is what I'd like. I want to play on the team.’ Well, this is what you have to do,” Donovan explained. “What he wants and what he has to do are not matching up. I'm now at a crossroads in the dilemma. Does he want to play? There’s going to be some things he’s going to have to go through to get back on our team. He’s not going to just come in here and say, 'I want back on the team.' Great, come on down to practice, we’ll throw you on and give you a uniform. He has got a lot of work to do.”

For Harris, each day that passes is a day wasted.

And another step further away from this team.

Wednesday November 27, 2013 DeVon Walker has a foot sprain, status is day to day

Updated: 6:38pm, November 27

DeVo GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- DeVon Walker sat on the sidelines during Wednesday practice.

And he was OK with that.

“I was afraid it was a fracture,” Walker said.

Instead, X-rays on the right foot the 6-foot-5 sophomore guard injured less than two minutes into Monday night’s win at Jacksonville came back negative. Walker, who started the season’s first six games and averaged four points and 1.5 rebounds, suffered a foot sprain and now is listed day-to-day, which means he could practice as early as Thursday as the 15th-ranked Gators (5-1) get ready for Friday night’s game against Florida State (5-1) at the O’Connell Center.

“I’m not really sure where he is,” UF coach Billy Donovan said. “It could take 10 days, it could take a couple days. A lot depends on how he responds. I think the biggest thing [was] just making sure it wasn’t a break or a tear and they’ve eliminated all those things, so that’s a positive sign.”

The loss of Walker from the Florida rotation -- he averaged 25.4 minutes through the first five games -- was softened by the return of senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who made his season debut in the 86-60 defeat of the Dolphins and scored 12 points, grabbed five rebounds and carded seven assists Monday. The Gators are still without freshman Kasey Hill, their starting point guard in the first four games. Hill is currently sidelined with a right ankle sprain suffered Nov. 18 in a win over Southern.

But there was good news on the Hill (10.3 points, 4.2 assists per game) front Wednesday. After watching practive and another session of treat, the training staff cleared him to go without his walking boot. No, he will not play against FSU and is an extreme longshot for Monday night's date at Connecticut. The Gators are holding out hope Hill could return for their monstrous Dec. 10 showdown against currently No. 2 Kansas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge at the O'Dome.

Tuesday November 26, 2013 Tickets for Friday night basketball vs. FSU remain

Updated: 8:21am, November 27

FSU tix GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- They didn’t quite make it into this week’s Associated Press Top 25, but make no mistake about the Florida State Seminoles.

They’re a very a good basketball team.

And they’re coming to the O’Connell Center Friday night.

The 15th-ranked Florida Gators (5-1) will butt heads with the Seminoles (5-1) in a 7:30 game on ESPN2. With a basketball game on the eve of the two schools’ annual football showdown, the atmosphere inside the O'Dome is expected to be a electric for what figures to be a sellout by tip-off.

As of Tuesday, about 600 tickets remained and available here on

UF has won four straight, after Monday night’s 86-60 road victory at Jacksonville, a game that marked the return of senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin.

Though two of Florida three players who began the season on the suspended list are back, the Gators are still dealing with some roster issues; an ankle sprain that has sidelined freshman point guard Kasey Hill since Nov. 18, and the loss of sophomore swingman DeVon Walker to a foot injury Monday night.

Hill is not expected to play against FSU, while the UF medical staff was scheduled to re-evaluate Walker's status Tuesday.

The Seminoles shocked then-No. 10 VCU last week with an 85-67 rout in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. FSU, which led that game by as many as 30, then lost 82-80 to reigning NCAA runner-up Michigan in overtime, and defeated Northeastern 62-60 in the tournament consolation game.

After their nice week in Puerto Rico, the Seminoles finished three spots out of the top 25  (and one place behind VCU).

FSU has a couple really good guards in senior Ian Miller (15.5 points per game) and sophomore Devon Bookert (13 points per game, 47 percent from 3-point range), but also a formidable frontcourt led by 6-foot-8 forward Okaro White (14.3 points, 7.5 rebounds).

For the Gators, the game will be a springboard into an absolutely brutal four-game stretch in their non-conference schedule: FSU; at 13th-ranked Connecticut (currently 6-0) on Monday night; home against No. 2 Kansas (4-0) on Dec. 10; then a neutral-site date against 21st-ranked Memphis (2-1) at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 17.

Florida leads its all-time series with Florida State 42-22, including four straight victories. The Gators defeated the Seminoles 72-47 at Tallahassee on Dec. 5, 2012.

Monday November 25, 2013 Gators signee Brandone Francis in house tonight for UF-JU

Updated: 12:25am, November 26

Francis off webJACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- At first glance, Brandone Francis looks like a big, happy kid -- maybe even a football player -- who just might enjoy a good meal.

And that’s exactly what Francis wants you to think.

“When you see me, you probably don’t think I’d be very quick with the ball,” he said. “I like that.”

So does Florida coach Billy Donovan, who made Francis, the 6-foot-5, 215-pound guard from Arlington (Fla.) Country Day, one of three recruits signed to national letters of intent last week.

The future Gator checked in with his future squad Monday night when Florida took on Jacksonville University at the Veterans Memorial Arena.

Francis chose UF after being romanced by the likes of Louisville, Kansas, Indiana, Oklahoma State, Washington ... you get the picture. He did not, however, take his allotted number of visits. He didn’t see the necessity. His dreams, Francis said, “were bigger than a couple days at those places.”

Besides, the place he felt best fit him turned out to be the one closest to home and closest to his heart.

Francis grew up rooting for the Gators, hopping on the bandwagon for those back-to-back national titles. As native of the Dominican Republic, Francis rooted hard for fellow countryman Al Horford.

Not that their games are at all similar.

Ask any of the UF coaches and they’ll tell you (with a straight face) that Francis has the speed, acceleration and explosiveness of -- get this -- freshman point guard Kasey Hill.

Now you know why the Gators are so intrigued by Francis, the prospect, who averaged 16 points, six rebounds a five assists per game last season at the private high school near Jacksonville that plays under independent status and takes on some of the best teams in the country.

“He looks like a linebacker and has that football mentality; an unbelievable will to try and dominate every single possession,” UF assistant coach Rashon Burno said. “But he gets end to end like a 5-10 point guard.’

Francis, whose father Bobby played at Boston College in the 1980s, doesn’t necessarily agree with the Hill comparisons. But he won’t disagree, either.

“We’re different players,” Francis explained through his accent. “He’s super quick, stupid quick, but I feel I can get there if I get myself in better shape and lose some weight. I may not be as fast as him, but I will have my own speed and it’ll be better than people think.”

Along with that speed, Francis also has some impressive ball-handling skills and a shooting touch that already is good and figures to get better once UF’s coaches get him in the program.

Here’s how Francis’ prep coach, former JU star Rex Morgan, broke down Francis, a four-star and top-30 overall prospect, according to Rivals and ESPN recruiting analysts.

“He’s got the whole package,” Morgan told The Florida Times-Union. “When you’re 6-5 and can shoot and make the 3, when you can take it to the hole and finish above people ,and when he passes the ball like he does, you’re at an elite level. He reminds me of [Brooklyn Nets guard] Deron Williams. Brandone definitely has pro potential. I don’t know if he’s one-and-done in college — I wouldn’t want to put that kind of pressure on him — but he is really, really talented.”

And he’ll join a UF signing class along with Devin Robinson, a 6-8 forward and top-20 overall prospect from Chesterfield, Va., and Chris Chiozza, a 5-11 point guard from Memphis, Tenn.

Francis talks or texts his incoming classmates a couple times a week. In fact, Arlington Country Day, currently 5-0 and beating teams like drums, is scheduled to play Chiozza’s White Station High in a holiday tournament next month.

They’ll be in Gainesville before they know.

“Billy Donovan has me really excited about what the future holds,” Francis said. “Florida just felt like where I belonged, so I followed my heart.”

Scottie vs Michigan GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Scottie Wilbekin has been reinstated to the Florida basketball team and will be with the 16th-ranked Gators (4-1) when they face Jacksonville (2-3) on the road Monday night.

UF coach Billy Donovan announced Wilbekin’s return Sunday. The senior point guard and team’s best on-ball defender was suspended for violating team rules in June. It was Wilbekin’s second such suspension in seven months.

“He’s back on the team and available to play,” Donovan said Sunday, adding that Wilbekin’s place in the lineup would be a game-day decision. “He’s done everything I’ve asked of him since basically last spring. And like I’ve been saying, I think he’s made some good strides and growth as a player and person.”

Meanwhile, the status of suspended center/forward Damontre Harris, the 6-foot-10 transfer from South Carolina, remains unchanged. Harris has not practiced with the team in several weeks.

After a summer of off-court punishment, Donovan allowed Wilbekin to join the team for the start of practice Oct. 11. He’d worked exclusively with the scout team while missing the first six games (one exhibition, five regular-season).

On Saturday, Wilbekin took the ball with the regulars and lived up to his billing as the team’s best all-around player. He’ll instantly fill the void left by the loss of freshman point guard Kasey Hill, who was averaging 11.1 points and 4.2 assists when he suffered a high ankle sprain in last Monday’s home win against Southern. Hill could be out several more weeks, but is rehabbing daily in hopes of accelerating his recovery.

Wilbekin was suspended for the first three games of the 2012-13 season. Upon his return, the 6-2, 180-pounder started 29 games, averaged 9.1 points on 45.3-percent shooting and nearly five assists per game, all the while guarding the opponent’s best perimeter player.

The five weeks since practice began have been about proving to Donovan he deserved another chance.

“He made a commitment and investment to get back on the team," Donovan said.

Wilbekin is the second UF player to be reinstated to the team since the season started. After sitting out the first two regular-season games, forward Dorian Finney-Smith, the transfer from Virginia Tech, made his debut against Arkansas-Little Rock and is averaging 13 points and 7.3 rebounds in three games.

As for Harris, the third of UF’s preseason suspended players, Donovan had no timetable regarding his reinstatement. Two seasons ago at South Carolina, Harris averaged 6.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and was second in the Southeastern Conference in blocked shots at 2.3 per game.

Said Donovan: “Based on the decisions and choices he’s made, he’s still not here.”

Thursday November 21, 2013 Kasey Hill dives into rehab

Kasey GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Toward the end of Thursday’s shoot-around, Billy Donovan called his players into a huddle. The Florida coach wasn’t particularly pleased with a couple of the things he was seeing and took the moment to remind his team about the dogfight he expected tonight against a tough Middle Tennessee State squad.

Back to work they went.

The coach walked to the sidelines and assumed his pose. About six feet to Donovan’s right -- on the bench, left leg propped on a chair, crutches by his side -- sat freshman point guard Kasey Hill. He turned in Hill’s direction.

“This is all your fault,” Donovan said.

The two smiled.

Hill was playing very well (10.3 points, 4.2 assists, 2.2 steals) through three games. He was executing offense, dictating the uptempo pace Donovan craves and taking care of the ball (just four turnovers total).

Then came that drive in transition through the teeth of the Southern defense Monday night. Hill stepped on a defender’s foot in traffic, the ankle rolled, Hill screamed and the Gators are expected to be without their gifted rookie playmaker for the next few weeks; maybe as long as a month.

“It was the worst pain I’d ever had spraining my ankle -- and I’ve been playing basketball a long time,” Hill said while watching the UF shoot-around. “I was thinking it was really, really bad.”

It could have been really, really worse. X-rays, however, were negative. Hill went right from the O’Connell Center to the training room at the team's hoops complex that night and commenced icing the injury. The swelling was down considerably the very next morning.

“They’ve got a good grasp on how to treat it and they’re doing that right now,” Donovan said.

UF trainer David “Duke” Werner praised Hill’s commitment and diligence to the rehab process. Werner said Hill has reported for treatment each morning, then gone to class and returned for more treatment; gone to lunch, then back for treatment; gone to class, back for treatment while his teammates practiced.

"I want to be back as soon as I can," he said.

Hill even got an upper-body lift in with strength coach Preston Greene.

“He’s been great,” Werner said.

The health staff knows it has to be careful with Hill. His greatest assets are speed, acceleration and quickness. No need to get him out on the court until the ankle can support the explosiveness that makes Hill the player he is.

“The one thing you don’t want to do is have him come back where he’s not fully healed or he’s hobbled and he can’t play to his strengths,” Donovan said. “His game is a game that’s played in the open floor with speed, going to the rim and finishing. If we’ve got him out there and he’s not fully healed and can’t explode like he once did, then that’s not going to help him as a player.”

Hill and Werner, together, will is do everything they can to accelerate the process.

Much can happen in a month. Some bodies heal faster than others.

“And if he gets back before a month, the trainer looks great,” Donovan said.

The Gators will look better, too.

Thursday November 21, 2013 Upgrades to stadium wireless system means better cellular service on game days

Updated: 4:29pm, November 21

StadiumGAINESVILLE, Fla. -- If you’ve been to a University of Florida home football game the last few years, you’ve likely experienced frustration with your cellular phone service. No one likes to be disconnected from the world for three hours.

But to borrow and paraphrase from the Florida Gators’ Official Wireless Partner Verizon’s recent marketing campaign, chances are, “They can hear you now.”

More than 300 new antennas were installed throughout Ben Hill Griffin Stadium last year by AT&T, and with Verizon having installed additional equipment to use those antennas this season, both Verizon and AT&T customers now enjoy vastly improved service in the heavily trafficked ballpark.

The union made its debut for the Nov. 9 homecoming game against Vanderbilt and fans overwhelmingly experienced boosted service.

“Astronomically boosted,” said Chip Howard, UF’s executive associate athletics director for internal affairs. “It’s important to provide a level of service that keeps our fans connected at the stadium when they’re here for games. This is just another step in dealing with that issue.”

The first step came in the summer of 2012 when AT&T installed its new Distributed Antenna System in the stadium. Last season, those new antennas serviced only AT&T customers. Together with Verizon, the two companies provide clear, crisp service to an estimated 80 percent of the fans in the stadium.

“Obviously, it’s a lot better than when we had one loan cell tower on top of the press box,” Howard said.

The stadium improvements are part of a bigger picture goal for the UF campus and part of a three-year investment to expand and broaden its IP broadband networks with more high-speed internet access and new mobile app and cloud-based services.

“We will continue to explore all options to increase connectivity for fans in our stadium,” Howard said. “The needs of our fans change over time. That means we need to change with them.”

Tuesday November 19, 2013 With no point guard, Billy D must unleash his inner-mad scientist

Updated: 6:33pm, November 19

Mad scientistGAINESVILLE, Fla. -- His mood was upbeat, especially given the situation. Then again, Billy Donovan’s mood is rarely anything but.

He’d just lost his talented and blossoming young point guard, freshman Kasey Hill, to a high ankle sprain in Monday night’s win against Southern. With senior Scottie Wilbekin still suspended, the 16th-ranked Gators suddenly were without a bonafide point guard on the roster.

What now?

“I may just go totally nuts and throw some crazy lineup out there,” Donovan said.

The UF coach and his staff headed back to the proverbial “lab” Tuesday to figure this all out. Given that previous quote, we may see the workings of Billy Donovan, the mad scientist, when the Gators (3-1) take on Middle Tennessee State (4-0) Thursday night at the O’Connell Center.

He indicated as much Monday after Florida’s 67-53 win, hinting he needs to test some really unconventional combinations against the Blue Raiders or else run the risk of having unproven non-point guards under full-court pressure for long stretches of the game.

BillyWhen Hill went down about two minutes into the second half, the Gators had to scramble for a guy to run the offense, scratching possessions from off-guards Michael Frazier (a pure shooter), DeVon Walker (an average ball-handler on the wing), power forward Dorian Finney-Smith (a rangy, 6-foot-8 post player who’s fairly comfortable with the ball in his hands) or swing forward Casey Prather (the best athlete on the team).

The skills are one thing.

But there’s also the matter of knowing the offense from that “1” position.

“For guys like DeVon and Michael Frazier, [playing] the ‘2’ and the ‘3’ and the point, their heads will explode,” Donovan said. “It’s not fair to them.”

Maybe not, but these are drastic times -- at least until Wilbekin gets back -- so look for drastic measures. How ‘bout a 1-3-1 press of all big guys? Finney-Smith at the point, with Prather, Jake Kurtz and Will Yeguete on the second line, and Pat Young manning the back?

When those five guys (the shortest of whom is 6-6) lining up full court, opponents likely will choose to back out of the pressure versus facing a very large UF unit that can throw it over their heads, with a couple really strong finishers in Prather and Finney-Smith on the other end. The alternative for the Gators will be to play more conventionally, which means having no true ball-handler and penetrator to space the floor in halfcourt sets. They'll have to live some with that, too.

“We’re going to have to do some things and run some different actions,” Donovan said.

Frazier and Walker (who at 6-4 and 6-5 aren't exactly small) could plug into spots in the middle of the press, with Yeguete and Prather spelling Finney-Smith at the top of it. When pressing, it’s good to have two or three guys who can hawk the in-bounder at the top on the ball. The Gators have that. And none of them are injured or suspended.

So there’s that.

“Coach Donovan is going to do a good job of preparing us,” Young said. “But not having Kasey out there is going to change us.”

More like drastically alter. Let the experiments begin.

And end fairly soon, hopefully.


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