KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Ask anyone associated with the Florida basketball team (coaches, players, trainers, managers, whomever) to name the one thing -- other than a victory, of course -- they’d like to see occur Saturday night in the Sprint Center and the answer would be unanimous.
That's for Kenny Boynton to shoot the ball well against Kansas State.
If the Gators are going to be great this season, at the very least, they need Boynton to be good. That encompasses his duties as a point guard, where he’s done pretty much what the coaches have asked of him, but they’ve come at the expense of his scoring.
UF coach Billy Donovan, though, wondered earlier this week if Boynton’s shooting woes weren’t -- in a warped way -- going to work to his advantage.
“You never want to see someone struggle, but I think if you go through those difficulties it forces you to persevere and forces you to get out of yourself and get into a place where [you] realize there are a lot other things to the game of basketball besides making shots,” Donovan said. “For Kenny, a lot of his identity as a player was built around him making shots. Now that the shots aren’t going in, he's still a point guard.”
The No. 5 scorer in school history with more than 1,700 points, Boynton is in the middle of the worst shooting slumps of his career. Over the last three games, the 6-foot-2 senior has made just shot 22.4 percent from the floor (on 9-for-90 shooting) and 11.1 percent from 3-point range (3-for-27).
To Boynton’s credit, he has continued to do a solid job of getting the Gators into their offense, maintained a good assist-turnover ratio (25 to 16), is grabbing more than twice as many rebounds than his (4.2 this season to 2.2 his previous three) and is playing well on defense.
All this in his first season playing the point.
“He’s tried to stay positive,” Donovan said, adding Boynton has been in the gym for extra shots, too. “But I look at it this way: How many minutes did he play [last game vs. Southeastern Louisiana]?”
The answer: 24 minutes.
“Well, he took seven shots, and it takes about a second to shoot the ball, so for the other 23 minutesa and 53 seconds on the floor that he hasn’t shot the ball, ‘What are you doing?’ “ the coach continued. “There’s so much more to the game than shooting the basketball.”
But it sure would make things easier -- and the Gators better -- if some of those shots would fall.
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Junior guard Scottie Wilbekin has a fractured ring finger on his right hand, but the injury won’t keep him out Saturday night’s ESPN showdown between the No. 5 Florida Gators (7-0) and No. 8 Arizona (7-0) at the McKale Center.
Wilbekin, UF’s best on-ball defender, suffered the injury at practice Thursday while playing defense and reaching to deflect a pass. The broken finger is on his shooting hand, but he’ll wear a splint that binds the middle and ring fingers together.
When trainer David “Duke” Werner examined the finger Thursday and told Wilbekin it was broken, these were the words out of Wilbekin’s mouth:
“I don’t care. I’m playing.”
Wilbekin started UF’s last two games, but he’ll come off the bench against the Wildcats, as the Gators will open with their big lineup of Patric Young at center, Erik Murphy and Will Yeguete at forward, with Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario at the guard spots.
Since being suspended the first three games of the season for violating team rules, Wilbekin is averaging 7.6 points, three rebounds and 4.4 assists per game, and in UF’s last game -- a 72-47 win at Florida State -- he finished with a career-high five steals.
When he’s in the game against Arizona, look for him to be matched in man-to-man defense against point guard Mark Lyons, who’s averaging 13.4 points and 2.6 assists.
When fifth-ranked Florida (7-0) and eighth-ranked Arizona (7-0) clash Saturday night in Tucson at McKale Center the game will be just the 11th time in this 2012-13 college basketball season that a pair of ranked teams have squared off -- and just the fourth time a pair of top 10 teams have played.
Of those previous three top-10 games, only one -- Duke vs. Ohio State -- was played as a home game. The other two were at neutral-site tournaments.
Here's the list of ranked games to date.
Date Opponents Site
Nov. 11 (9) Syracuse 62, (20) San Diego State 49 Carrier Classic, San Diego
Nov. 13 (9) Duke 75, (3) Kentucky 68 State Farm Classic, Atlanta
(21) Michigan State 67, (7) Kansas 64 State Farm Classic, Atlanta
Nov. 14 (10) Florida 74, (22) Wisconsin 54 Gainesville, Fla.
Nov. 23 (2) Louisville 84, (13) Missouri 61 Battle 4 Atlantis, Nassau, Bahamas
Nov. 24 (5) Duke 76, (2) Louisville 71 Battle 4 Atlantis, Nassau, Bahamas
Nov. 27 (3) Michigan 79, (18) North Carolina State 72 Ann Arbor, Mich.
(1) Indiana 83, (14) North Carolina 59 Bloomington, Ind.
Nov. 28 (2) Duke 73, (4) Ohio State 68 Durham, N.C.
Dec. 8 (13) Illinois 85, (10) Gonzaga 74 Spokane, Wash.
When fifth-ranked Florida (7-0) takes on eighth-ranked Arizona (7-0) Saturday night at the McKale Center, the game will mark the 19th time the Gators have faced an opponent from the Pac-12 Conference.
Or Pac-10 -- or Pac-8 -- depending on what era we’re talking about.
UF is 10-8 all-time against Pac-12 foes and is riding an eight-game winning streak, dating to a Nov. 28, 2003 defeat of Andre Iguodala and the Wildcats in the Tip-Off Classic at Springfield, Mass.
Before that, the Gators lost four straight versus Pac teams dating into the late-1980s.
Here’s a look at UF’s history against foes from that left coast league, which began with a weirdo double-header -- on back-to-back days -- 47 years ago in Seattle. Back then, if you were going to fly 3,000 miles for a game, might as well play two (even against the same team).
Some familiar Pac players -- and eventual NBA stars -- the Gators faced along the way: Kevin Johnson (Cal); Adam Keefe (Stanford); Channing Frye and Luke Walton (Arizona); Jordan Farmar, Arron Afflalo, Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook (UCLA); James Harden (Arizona State).
Date Opponent Outcome
Dec. 21, 1965 at Washington W 66-60
Dec. 22, 1965 at Washington L 78-69
Dec. 23, 1974 at Stanford L 80-70
Dec. 29, 1984 vs Arizona State W 87-73 (Hoosier Classic)
Dec. 27, 1986 vs California L 83-80 (Rainbow Classic)
Nov. 25, 1988 vs California L 73-58 (Great Alaska Shootout)
Feb. 4, 1989 vs Stanford L 84-69 (at Orlando)
Dec. 21, 1990 at Stanford L 86-74
Nov. 9, 2001 vs Arizona L 75-71 (Coaches vs Cancer-New York)
Nov. 27, 2002 vs Stanford L 69-65 (Preseason NIT-New York)
Nov. 28, 2003 vs Arizona W 78-77 (Tip-Off Classic-Springfield, Mass)
April 3, 2006 vs UCLA W 73-57 (NCAA Final-Indianapolis)
March 25, 2007 vs Oregon W 85-77 (Midwest Region Final-St. Louis)
March 31, 2007 vs UCLA W 76-66 (Final Four-Atlanta)
March 25, 2008 at Arizona State W 70-57 (NIT)
Nov. 25, 2008 vs Washington W 86-84 (Guardians Classic-Kansas City)
March 19, 2011 UCLA W 73-65 (NCAA 2nd round-Tampa)
Dec. 7, 2011 Arizona W 78-72 (OT)
Note: The Gators twice have faced current Pac-12 member Utah (winning 77-68 in the ’88 Great Alaska Shootout and losing in the ’92 NIT consolation game at Madison Square Garden), but the Utes were members of the Western Athletic Conference at the time.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Billy Donovan huddled his basketball team before practice Thursday night and asked his players to give 30 hard minutes -- that’s all -- in exchange for the next two days off heading into exam week.
The next half-hour (plus 10 minutes or so to clean some things up) was enthusiastic, energetic and about what the coach wanted.
These are delicate times for the sixth-ranked Gators, who improved to 7-0 after Wednesday night’s 72-47 battering of rival Florida State at Tallahassee. The win was UF’s sixth by at least 18 points and the fifth time the Gators have held an opponent to under 50 points.
Florida is playing very, very well, especially on defense, and is universally being praised by analysts and experts from around the nation.
“Based on our performance up to this point, yeah, I can see that,” Donovan allowed.
Which is why the UF coaching staff is paying particular attention to some of the things the Gators haven’t done particularly well as they head into a week crammed with distractions -- from study halls to Christmas shopping to finals -- that will culminate next Saturday night with a cross-country trip to No. 8 Arizona (6-0).
We’ll know a lot more about the Gators after that game.
For now, though, Donovan wants their attention turned strictly toward themselves.
“The more you win, the more difficult it becomes to win,” Donovan said. “Our guys need to understand that every day that goes by there has to be a little bit more focus, more effort and more of everything. We don’t need to get better by a whole bunch, but we need to continue to improve and not get stagnant in our preparation. ... They need to come with the mindset, ‘I’m coming to get better. What can I learn from and grow from today?’ I want them focused on where they can improve.”
As far as the coaches are concerned, there’s plenty of areas to lock in on.
* Turnovers -- UF has 96 assists, but 87 turnovers. That’s barely a break-even ratio and simply not good enough.
* Free-throw shooting -- The Gators are shooting a collective 70.5 percent, but center Patric Young, who leads the team with 34 free-throw attempts, is making just 52.9 percent and and forward Will Yeguete, who is third with 29 attempts, is at 55.2 percent. [Worth noting: Young stayed after practice Thursday and shot 220 free throws.]
* Transition defense -- It may not have been an issue against the Seminoles, who were loose with the ball (22 turnovers) and shot poorly (34.8 percent), but Marquette and UCF got some quick baskets off long UF misses, and a couple after UF makes.
Lapses in any of those three areas next weekend at Tucson will be costly against a Wildcats squad that is always tough at home and this year is armed with one of the nation’s best freshmen classes.
And, of course, there’s no guarantee some of areas where the Gators are playing their best -- like defense, ball movement and shot selection -- will be as sound in a venue as hostile as the McKale Center. Remember, for example, what UCF did in shredding UF from the 3-point Thanksgiving weekend.
“We have to keep improving,” Young said. “We are playing pretty good, but we also know we can play a lot better.”
Realizing as much, especially as dominant as the Gators have looked at times, is half the battle.
The other half, Donovan said, is getting his players to come to practice armed with three intangible traits every day.
* Effort -- Be prepared to spend it all, leaving nothing behind, thus getting used to doing it on game day.
* Mental focus -- Know your assignment, your role and what where you’re supposed to be. This is one of the hardest transitions for young players, which is why only one freshman (Michael Frazier) is in the rotation. It’s also a trait that can keep veteran players on the sidelines, which is why Mike Rosario (too distracted last year) is second only to Kenny Boynton on the team in minutes with 209 thus far. Rosario has bought in and is being rewarded.
* Be in check of emotions always -- Donovan believes it’s his job to stress his players to the max at practice, so that when confronted with adversity in the game -- when shots aren’t falling, refs aren’t calling falls, fatigue is setting, etc. -- there are reference points to push through it all.
“It’s a constant rehearsal every day to get to a place where you understand how to conduct and handle yourself on a day to day basis,” Donovan said. “It’s my job to put them in that place.”
Friday November 30, 2012From the other side: Yeah, Marquette was impressed by Gators
Updated: 10:02am, November 30
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Sometimes, it’s interesting to view things from the other perspective.
In this case, the opposing team’s.
More specifically, the writer that covers the opposing team.
Below is the game story filed by Michael Hunt, of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, following Thursday night’s trouncing of Marquette at the O’Dome, which came under the headline, "Golden Eagles Turned into Gator Bait."
Worth noting: Golden Eagles guard Vander Blue led all scorers with 20 points in the Big East/SEC Challenge game and rematch of last year’s NCAA West Region and Sweet 16 showdown. The Gators went after Blue, a Madison, Wis., hard on the recruiting trail three years ago when combing the country for guards. Seems they did OK winding up with Scottie Wilbekin and Casey Prather.
Gainesville, Fla. - Whether Marquette is good enough to compete in the Big East, we'll see.
But for now, the Golden Eagles aren't even in the same league with Southeastern Conference beast Florida.
Other than the 82-49 beat down Thursday night at the raucous O'Connell Center that became even more eardrum-bleeding loud with each of the three-pointers the No. 7 Gators made or the shots they blocked into the student section, let's count the ways.
It was the worst loss for Marquette (5-2) in Buzz Williams' four-plus seasons. It was the fewest points the team has scored in almost three years. And it was the biggest overall wood-shedding the Golden Eagles have taken since Louisville ran them out of Freedom Hall by 47 in 2005.
"We were just bad, very bad in every way," Williams said.
But there was more numerical evidence of the gap that has grown substantially larger since the Gators (6-0) grinded Marquette down to a nub in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 last season.
"That was the least amount of free throws since I've been employed at Marquette," Williams said.
That would have been nine. But the Gators were so voracious on defense - Davante Gardner got off all of four shots in 19 minutes - that Marquette had no chance to get the ball inside in order to get fouled in the first place.
"I'm not exactly sure of what their winning percentage is here since coach (Billy) Donovan has been here," Williams said.
He was told it was 126-9 at home out of the SEC.
"That's better than Bo Ryan at the Kohl Center in non-conference, I think," Williams said.
Had Vander Blue (20 points, four rebounds) not returned from a one-game absence with a sprained knee, it could have been nine more shades of grim.
Maybe the Golden Eagles can take some consolation in the fact that they might have a go-to guy against the likes of a Florida.
"I thought he was the only one who showed up and gave us any production," Williams said. "He had energy. I thought he had a great spirit. His numbers were really good.
"You can look at all the other numbers and they were subpar at best from a scoring standpoint. He's the only one who got what he has been getting."
Gardner and Chris Otule got off exactly five shots between them. Jamil Wilson was 1 of 8.
"They played harder than we did and deserved to win," said Blue, who added his knee was sore but OK. "That is Florida basketball. It's what happens in big-time basketball when you don't come to play. All praise to Florida. They were better."
How much better is the question for Marquette going forward. If the Golden Eagles needed some kind of early season measuring stick, they got one upside the head.
It was humbling in every conceivable manner as Marquette seemed intimidated at times by Florida's superior athleticism.
Marquette committed a shot-clock violation on its first possession and took almost five minutes to score to begin the second half. Florida lit it up with 9 three-point shots and crushed the Golden Eagles on the offensive boards.
"I think they are this good," Williams said. "I was saying that before we left Milwaukee. I think they're good enough to win the whole thing."
Said Donovan, "I'm not so sure we're 30 points better than Marquette. I really like Marquette's team. This is their first road game and they have some guys in new roles, new positions. Marquette's a good team. It's still November and there's time to grow and develop."
Maybe this was an aberration as the coach of the two-time NCAA champs mentioned. Maybe this is the wake-up call Marquette needed in an isolated circumstance. Maybe it is not all that good. Maybe it is somewhere in the middle.
We'll find out soon enough.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Junior guard Scottie Wilbekin is back in the Florida starting lineup and will replace Patric Young when the seventh-ranked Gators (5-0) face Marquette (5-1) Thursday night at the O’Connell Center.
Young, the junior center, was demoted to second team during practice Wednesday.
“Pat needs to improve his attitude at practice,” UF coach Billy Donovan told GatorZone.com. “It hasn’t been what we expect it to be.”
Moving Wilbekin into the starting lineup means 6-7 junior Will Yeguete (6.8 points, 7.8 rebounds per game) will slide from the small forward spot, where he’s started every game this season, to his natural power forward position on defense. Erik Murphy (12.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg), the 6-10 senior, will drop down from power forward to play center.
The 6-9, 260-pound Young is averaging 10.4 points on 52.8-percent shooting from the floor and ranks second on the team with 7.4 rebounds per game. Young also leads the Gators with 12 blocked shots.
Since returning from a three-game suspension for violating team rules, Wilbekin is averaging 9.7 points and 4.3 assists over three games and is coming off a career performance (17 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists) in Friday’s 79-66 defeat of UCF.
Wednesday November 28, 2012Hoyas nix propsoal to finish cancelled game against Gators
Updated: 9:28pm, November 28
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Florida-Georgetown game on the USS Bataan will remain a great memory and mere footnote in the record books.
The Nov. 9 game between the Gators and Hoyas on the deck of USS Bataan that was cancelled at halftime due to condensation on the floor will not be resumed, UF officials learned Wednesday courtesy of ESPN.
The Gators led 27-23 when the game was called.
The City of Jacksonville, which staged the Navy Marines Corps Classic at Naval Station Mayport, pitched for the game to be resumed -- or possibly restarted, pending NCAA approval -- on Jan. 2 at 5 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Arena, but that date apparently did not suit the Hoyas, who open their Big East schedule Jan. 5.
A spokesman for Georgetown coach John Thompson III (pictured right) told ESPN the Hoyas could not pinpoint an “appropriate date” to finish the game and, according to the story, and then passed word on to officials at UF and in Jacksonville.
Executive associate athletics director Mike Hill, who oversees men’s basketball, said the school learned of the Georgetown’s decision when the ESPN story moved.
“We’re surprised and disappointed to learn from the ESPN report about Georgetown’s decision,” Hill said Wednesday night. “The City of Jacksonville was gracious to host us on the USS Bataan, and we appreciate them inviting us back to complete the game. We are focusing now on our upcoming game against Marquette.”
The seventh-ranked Gators (5-0) face Marquette (5-1) in on ESPN2 Thursday night as part of the Big East/SEC Challenge. The game will be a rematch of their Sweet 16 showdown in the NCAA West Region at Phoenix last March.
As far as records and statistics go, the UF-Georgetown game (or half a game) will remain as if it was never played.
Tuesday November 27, 2012Rosario still confident as he looks to turn over his game
Updated: 12:24pm, November 27
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- A couple hours after Friday night’s 79-66 win over UCF, Billy Donovan’s cell phone buzzed with a text message from Mike Rosario.
Sorry I played so terrible coach
Donovan wasn’t about to argue. In his post-game news conference, the Florida coach was asked why Rosario played just four minutes in the second half. Donovan proceeded to drive a bus over the senior shooting guard.
“I’m at the point right now where I can’t deal with the turnovers, I just can’t,” Donovan said. “There are turnovers where you’re trying to make the right play and for whatever reason you don’t quite execute the pass. Then you have what I would consider the high-stepping, one knee up, looking-away, up in the air and ball into the third row pass that we’re not going to tolerate.”
Through five games, Rosario has 13 turnovers, which is tied for the most on the team with forward Will Yeguete. Center Patric Young is right behind them with 12. Make not mistake, Donovan is not happy with Yeguete and Young’s generosity with the ball -- the two combined for no assists and nine turnovers in one game -- but Rosario is a guard, so his giveaways stand out.
“I’m a fifth-year senior. I can’t have three turnovers in a game,” Rosario said after practice Monday night. “I have to take care of the rock better than that. I have to play smarter than that.”
But there’s more.
Rosario is shooting just 41.3 percent from the floor and is really struggling from the 3-point lin: four of 18 for 22.2 percent. Factor in the statistics from the exhibition game against Nebraska-Kearney and the first half of the battleship game against Georgetown that was cancelled -- trust me, the UF coachs do -- and those numbers dip to 39.2 percent from the floor and 17.3 from the arc.
A lot of Donovan’s frustrations with Rosario are wrapped in those numbers. The coach, however, is not at the point of making a statement to the former Rutgers star relative to his playing time. Or starting backcourt spot.
Not yet, at least.
In fact, the morning after the game, Rosario and Donovan had a sit-down.
“He told me not to press so much and not beat myself up about my performance,” Rosario said. “I hate when I don’t perform for my teammates. That’s what bothers me more than anything else; when I can’t go out there and do the things my teammates expect me to do. But you have to have confidence.”
Confidence has never been a problem for the former McDonald’s All-American from Jersey City, N.J. And while Rosario often does things on the floor that bewilder -- shot selection and passes being the most pronounced -- his coaches believe his heart is in the right place, especially when it comes to being a good teammate.
Now his head just needs to join him there.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do to conform,” UF assistant coach John Pelphrey said. “Now we’re asking him to play better.”
With Scottie Wilbekin back from his three-game suspension and coming off a career game (17 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists) and wing forward Casey Prather back in the mix after missing four games with a concussion, there now are options if Rosario’s decision-making and lack of production on the floor continue.
“I love Mike. He’s made some great strides. He’s a great kid,” Donovan said. “But he’s not shot the ball well this year. He’s not. He comes out of high school and Rutgers with this huge reputation for scoring and a shooter, but it’s been game after game where he hasn’t shot it well.”
On Monday night, Rosario stayed after practice and worked with Erik Murphy (4-for-14 from 3-point range his lats three games) on some individual shooting drills as the seventh-ranked Gators (5-0) prepared for Thursday night's ESPN2 game against Marquette (5-1), a rematch of their Sweet 16 game in the NCAA Tournament last March.
“I’m not at the point where I’m frustrated yet,” Rosario said of his shot. “I just feel my offense is going to come around. Shooters get in slumps, but you can work your way out of them by finding your rhythm and maybe getting some easy buckets. Once I get that going, I can be a more complete player for my team.”
Wednesday November 21, 2012Boynton sits out practice, but Gators expect him back Friday vs. UCF
Updated: 5:15pm, November 21
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It took more than three years, but Kenny Boynton finally missed a Florida basketball practice.
The Gators senior guard is not expected to miss the next game, though.
Boynton left Tuesday night’s 58-40 win over Savannah State in the second half with a sprained left ankle and did not return. On Wednesday, he dressed out but did not participate in practice as the seventh-ranked Gators (4-0) prepared for Friday afternoon’s visit from UCF (3-1).
“I think he’ll be OK for the next game,” Coach Billy Donovan said.
Boynton, the No. 6 scorer in school history, has been the starting point guard for each of UF’s games this season, taking over the spot after junior Scottie Wilbekin was hit with a three-game suspension to start the year for violating team rules. Wilbekin returned two games ago, but Boynton has remained at the point and leads the team in scoring at 14.3 points per game to go with 4.3 rebounds.
UF trainer David “Duke” Werner said the swelling in Boynton’s ankle went down overnight. Whether Boynton will participate when the Gators practice Thursday will be determined then.
While the Gators were practicing Wednesday, @K_Boynton was getting treatment -- and tweeting.
Gettin a lil rehab in
“I’ve done this [to the ankle] about six times, and this time actually was the best its felt afterward,” said Boynton, who did some light jogging Wednesday morning. “It was stiff this morning, but it wasn’t that bad at all.”
Meanwhile, junior forward Casey Prather was back and cleared for full-contact practice for the first time since suffering a concussion Nov. 5 courtesy of an unintended Patric Young forearm. It was Prather’s second concussion in nine days, so the UF medical staff proceeded with extreme caution before clearing Prather’s return.
Tuesday November 20, 2012Gators want to finish game against Georgetown
Updated: 12:47pm, November 21
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There could still be a half of basketball to play with the Georgetown Hoyas.
University of Florida officials have reached out to Georgetown’s administrators to explore the possibility of finishing the the game played Nov. 9 between the Gators and Hoyas on the deck of the USS Bataan at Naval Station Mayport. The game was cancelled at halftime due to condensation on the floor.
Florida led 27-23 at the time.
“We would love to complete the game if Georgetown is willing,” said Mike Hill, UF’s executive associate athletics director for external affairs. “Their initial reaction was positive. The City of Jacksonville has been terrific in trying to put this together. We hope to know something soon.”
According to NCAA rules, the game would be completed -- not restarted -- and pick where it left off. If Hill can pull this off, the game’s second half likely would be staged at the Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville on Jan. 2, before either team tips off its conference schedule.
UF officials have offered to work with the Jacksonville officials regarding financial arrangements.
“Our feeling is the game was scheduled to be played and from what I gather from our administration, it’s almost as if the game didn’t occur. It’s a meaningless thing,” UF coach Billy Donovan said Tuesday night after the seventh-ranked Gators defeated Savannah State 58-40 at the O’Connell Center to improve to 4-0. “I think since both teams agreed to play before the year started, the feeling was, ‘Let’s just play the game,' help each other out and it'll be good for both programs at the end of the day.”
The Hoyas had a 3-0 record, including a win over No. 11 UCLA Monday night, heading into Tuesday’s showdown with No. 1-ranked Indiana in the Progressive Legends Classic at the Barclays Center in New York.
Tuesday November 20, 2012Prather back at practice; will return Friday vs. UCF
Updated: 3:43pm, November 20
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Finally, a full roster.
Florida junior forward Casey Prather was cleared Monday night to return to the UF basketball team after passing the last in a series of baseline tests more than two weeks since he suffered a second concussion during the preseason.
Prather practiced with the seventh-ranked Gators (3-0) during their Tuesday walk-through in advance of their game against Savannah State (3-2) tonight at the O’Connell Center, but won't make his season debut until Friday’s home date against UCF.
The 6-foot-6, 208-pound Prather averaged just two points and 1.8 rebounds per game last season, but he had a breakout game in an NCAA Tournament first-round win over Virginia (14 points, 6-for-7 from the field) and is slated for a major role in Florida’s rotation and had this highlight-reel alley-oop dunk (right) in the Sweet 16 win over Marquette.o
Prather’s return Friday -- assumming no setbacks -- will come five days after the Gators welcomed back junior guard Scottie Wilbekin from a three-game suspension for violating team rules. Wilbekin scored eight points, grabbed three rebounds and carded three assists Sunday’s win over Middle Tennessee in Tampa.
Depending on the situation, Coach Billy Donovan now will have the main rotation and floor options, starting Friday, he figured on heading into the season.
That means Prather and freshmen Mike Frazier off the bench, along with either Wilbekin and/or junior forward Will Yeguete, depending on whether the Gators want to go big up front to start or return to their three-guard first unit.
Friday November 16, 2012Humbled, contrite Wilbekin thankful to be back with Gators
Updated: 10:17pm, November 16
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Scottie Wilbekin watched the NBC talking heads last Friday lay out the pre-game storylines as the Florida Gators were set to face Georgetown on the USS Bataan in the much-anticipate Navy/Marines Corps classic outside Jacksonville.
Ninety miles from his teammates, Wilbekin sat in his dormitory room as the announcing crew broke down how Wilbekin’s suspension for violating team rules would impact the game.
“Just hearing the word ‘suspended’ and my name, that’s when it all really sunk in,” Wilbekin said. “It was like the whole world knew ... and it really, really hurt.”
Being away from the Gators for a week hurt even more and gave Wilbekin plenty of time to reflect on his decision-making.
That's why the junior point guard from Gainesville was so happy to be back with his team Friday after meeting with Coach Billy Donovan early in the morning and having his three-game ban officially lifted.
“I’m sorry for what I did to my family, my teammates and my church family over at the Rock School for putting them through a situation and embarrassing them like this,” a contrite Wilbekin told GatorZone.com after the team's workout Friday night. “I’m a product of them, so it hurt that I would put them through all that and let so many people I care about down.”
Wilbekin returned to the team with a clean slate, but minus the starting position won in the preseason. He’ll play Sunday when No. 10 UF (2-0) faces Middle Tennessee State (2-0) in Tampa.
“I don’t believe in having a doghouse,” Donovan said.
The Florida coach does believe in teaching moments and Wilbekin, who was forbidden from participating in team activities, obviously learned a powerful lesson in watching the Gators play so well and win so convincingly (by 39 against Alabama State and 18 versus Wisconsin) without him.
“It just proves that we have a lot of great players, and that no one player is bigger than the team,” said Wilbekin, who averaged 2.5 points per game as a 16-minute reserve the last two seasons. “At the end of the day, it’s not about one person. It’s about the team.”
Those are the kinds of words his coach expected to hear from one of the most respected players in the UF locker room.
“Right now, he wants to do nothing more than try to create chemistry for our team,” Donovan said. “I don’t see him coming in with an attitude like, ‘I deserve more minutes. I deserve to start.’ He has to earn that.”
Wilbekin took his first steps toward that goal during practice with the unanimous backing of his teammates, including senior guard Kenny Boynton, who filled in at point guard after moving from his accustomed shooting guard spot.
“With Scottie back, we can go back to looking more like the team we came into the season with,” Boynton said.
That means Wilbekin sliding back into his point spot and matching up defensively with the opponent’s best guard.
Just not right away.
Like Donovan said, he has to earn it.
“That’s fair, definitely fair,” Wilbekin said. “I’m back at square one and looking forward to going out and working my way back into my spot on this team and proving my worth to my teammates.”
He was pumped up for practice, that’s for sure. Played like it, too.
And he should be twice as pumped come Sunday.
“Now, I can’t wait for that first game,” Wilbekin said. "Can't wait."
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Scottie Wilbekin is back on the Florida basketball team, but his spot as starting point guard is something he’ll have to earn all over again.
That won’t happen before the 10th-ranked Gators (2-0) face Middle Tennessee State (2-0) Sunday in Tampa, UF coach Billy Donovan said Friday morning.
“He’ll be at practice today and he’ll play in the game this weekend -- but I’m definitely not starting him,” Donovan told GatorZone.com. “Obviously, he made some bad decisions that he’s paid for, but as far as I’m concerned that’s all over and done with.”
Wilbekin, the junior from Gainesville, was suspended Nov. 8 for violating team rules. In his absence, the Gators played well with senior Kenny Boynton switching to the point in their one-half of suspended action against Georgetown and in ensuing victories over Alabama State and 22nd-ranked Wisconsin.
Donovan made the decision to suspend Wilbekin mere minutes before the Gators were to board a bus to Jacksonville for the Navy/Marines Corps Classic to face the Hoyas on a battleship at Naval Station Mayport.
He has not been allowed to take part in team functions since, instead working out on his own.
“Scottie’s missed a whole week, basically,” Donovan said. “Now he has to come back to practice and earn his way like everybody else.”
Wilbekin’s return, though, certainly bolsters UF’s depth after all five starters played at least 29 minutes Wednesday against Wisconsin and the backcourt of Boynton and Mike Rosario logged 37 and 39, respectively.
Wilbekin has averaged just 2.5 points and 16 minutes per game for his career, but this season figures to be on the floor as much as any player as the heir apparent to Erving Walker and the team’s best on-ball defender.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- About the same time the Florida basketball team was wrapping up its game-day shoot-around in advance of Wednesday night’s big game against Wisconsin, a future UF player was answering his cell phone.
“It feels great that it’s actually over and I can just start working on the things I need to do better by the time I get there,” said Kasey Hill (pictured far right). “Man, I’m so excited, I wish I could play in that game tonight.”
Hill, the highly ranked point guard out of Montverde (Fla.) Academy, and Chris Walker, the Panhandle power forward from Bonifay who rates among the best at his position in the country, signed national letters of intent Wednesday to attend UF and play for the Gators starting in 2013-14.
“It feels good to officially be part of the family and be able to call myself a Gator,” said Walker (pictured far left).
With a class of two players both of whom carry consensus top-10 ratings, the Gators checked with with one of the best signing classes in the nation. Depending on what service, Florida was among all the top five classes trailing only Kentucky, Indiana, Kansas and Memphis, with the Gators still working on some prospects from the spring signing period.
Coach Billy Donovan and his staff not only plucked the two best prospects in the state, but also two guys who played together on one of the nation’s best AAU teams -- the Florida Rams (see crazy video below, courtesy of Home Team Hoops -- and figure to thrive in the Gators’ up-tempo style as much as UF's half-court pick-and-roll system.
“It’s perfect for us,” Walker said.
Picture Hill (6-foot-1, 170) and Walker (6-9, 220) working ball-screens in the halfcourt, ala Taurean Green and Al Horford, or Hill's blazing ball speed getting the Gators out in transition and feeding Walker for a finish off the wing.
“I feel like I’m a pure point guard,” Hill said. “I like to show that I can actually run the halfcourt offense, but most of the time I’d probably say I like to get out and go and do my thing.”
Both guys know the games of -- and in some cases have played with -- current UF players such as Will Yeguete, Patric Young, Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier, along with red-shirting transfers Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris. Collectively the UF team that takes the court next October could be one of the most athletic teams Donovan has ever had.
But that’s a whole year away.
The Gators off to a nice little start following Wednesday’s wipeout of the No. 22 Badgers, and both Hill and Walker have high school senior seasons to enjoy.
We'll hear much, much more from both of them in about 11 months.
“It doesn’t seem that far away to me, at all,” Hill said. “From the time I committed (last winter) to signing period felt like it flew by, so I’ll probably be a Gator before I even know it.”
Tuesday November 13, 2012Amanda Butler focusing on No. 101 ... and the Seminoles
Updated: 1:27pm, November 13
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Amanda Butler was touched by all the well-wishes that came here way Sunday after her Florida women’s basketball team dispatched of Georgia State 84-65 at the O’Connell Center.
The win gave Butler her 100th victory since returning to coach her alma mater in 2007.
“It was nice and it was humbling to get so many messages and texts and Facebook posts,” Butler allowed Monday after her team improved to 2-0. “But the reality is No. 101 is what’s important.”
No surprise that Butler would choose to divert attention from a personal milestone to the mission of her team. And let’s face, the next one is always what coaches are thinking about, and that would be the case for Butler even if her Gators were facing an Under-8 squad from the 34th Street YMCA.
But in UF’s case, the next one happens to be Florida State on the road Thursday night.
Butler is 4-5 all-time against the Seminoles; 2-2 as a player (with both losses in overtime) and 2-3 in her five seasons as coach.
To understand what the rivalry means to her, let’s rewind to 1993, Butler’s junior year, when she suffered a broken nose and black eye taking a charge in a win at LSU on Jan. 30 and the team's doctor ruled her out of the next game.
“No way,” Butler declared. “It’s Florida State. I’m playing.”
Three days later, the UF medical staff gave Butler 10 numbing shots to reset her nose, and 24 hours later she was on the court wearing a Bill Laimbeer-like polyester mask seen in these photos. Butler was only supposed to play in an emergency -- and the fact the game was close at halftime qualified as such.
She came off the bench to start the second half, played all 20 minutes and finished with six points (on 3-for-3 shooting) and three assists in a 81-78 victory over the Seminoles.
“Toughest player I’ve ever coached,” then-UF coach Carol Ross said.
Butler wants that toughness to be a trait of her teams, with the 2012-13 squad in the process of forging that identity behind senior forward Jennifer George, junior point guard Jaterra Bond and six scrappy freshmen learning on the fly.
Their next lesson comes in Tallahassee against a veteran FSU squad, led by forward Chastity Clayton and point guard Morgan Toles, a transfer from Auburn.
“This will be a really unique experience for our freshmen. Not just to play a real game on the road, but in that environment and with the pressure and intensity the rivalry brings,” Butler said. “Our returners know what it feels like, know what to expect. ... We can’t have a more experienced team against our less experienced team be a factor. We have to play Florida basketball.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The vow from several years ago to schedule more competitively on the basketball front went next level this season when the Gators -- specifically, Executive Associate AD Mike Hill in conjunction with Coach Billy Donovan -- pieced together the most competitive slate in program history.
ESPN rated Florida’s 2012-13 schedule the toughest in the Southeastern Conference and fifth-toughest in the nation.
But the Gators lost one of those games -- and its accompanying RPI points -- Friday night when the Navy/Marine Corps Classic was cancelled at halftime due to condensation on the floor. UF was winning 27-23 at the time, with Donovan and his staff pleased with how the game was going and their players competing.
With both the UF-Georgetown game on the USS Bataan at Mayport, Fla., and the Ohio State-Marquette game on the USS Yorktown at Charleston, S.C., both nixed due to conditions, ESPN senior basketball writer Andy Katz pinned down NCAA selection committee chair Mike Bobinski on the impact the missing games could have next March.
“There’s no practical way to factor in good intentions and we can’t evaluate games that weren’t played/completed,” Bobinski said. “The reality is that in this case all involved teams will have numerous opportunities as the season progresses to demonstrate their relative strength.”
That statement certainly applies to the Gators.
Immediately, in fact.
UF faces No. 23 Wisconsin (1-0) Wednesday night on ESPNU, followed by a date against Middle Tennessee State (1-0) at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Sunday. If the latter game doesn’t interest you, consider the Blue Raiders went 27-7 last season (beating UCLA, Ole Miss and Tennessee along the way) en route to the NIT, and Friday night pummeled Alabama State by 36, a comparable margin to the 84-35 the Gators enjoyed Sunday against the outmanned Hornets at the O’Connell Center.
In the weeks to come, UF plays UCF and Marquette at home, Florida State and Arizona on the road, and Kansas State on a so-called “neutral” site in Kansas City.
Still one of the toughest schedules in the country ... even without the Hoyas.
MAYPORT, Fla. -- Any Florida basketball fan out there recall the last time the Gators faced the Georgetown Hoyas.
Let me put it another way: Are there any out there who don’t?
Hoyas coach John Thompson III certainly does.
“As you advance further and further you realize how hard it is to get to that point,” Thompson said during Thursday’s press opportunity for tonight’s the Naval/Marine Corps Classic on the USS Bataan. “And every year, the last game is the one that sticks with you the most.”
Georgetown’s last game of the 2005-06 season was in Minneapolis, where Corey Brewer threw in a turn-around baseline prayer, was fouled on the play, hit the free throw with 27.5 seconds to go and the Gators held on to defeat the Hoyas 57-53 in the NCAA Tournament round of 16.
UF, of course, went on to win the first national championship in school history, then chased it with a second crown in 2007 to secure a certain group of Gators a place in college basketball immortality.
Thompson was one of the 12 victims in that remarkable two-year run, but was quick to praise the job Coach Billy Donovan did with those title-winning teams, both of which began seasons with entirely different circumstances yet finished with the same end result.
“That first year, I believe they started off unranked and no one expected anything out of them,” Thompson said out of group that was rebuilding after the loss of big-time scorers David Lee, Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh. “The following year, they came in ranked No. 1 in the country -- the totally opposite end of the spectrum -- and still had the intestinal fortitude to win another championship. So not just winning back to back, which we all know does not happen often, but the same group, totally different [scenarios]. That was special.”
MAYPORT, Fla. -- The shoot-around at sunset Thursday night was something to behold.
Billy Donovan and his Florida basketball team took to the floor on the deck of the USS Bataan and went through a short workout of layup lines and jumpshots to get a feel for what the environment will be like when the No. 10 Gators face Georgetown tonight in the intimate makeshift arena before about 3,500 fans in the Navy/Marine Corps Classic at Naval Station Mayport.
The scenery was stunning and spectacular.
And so was this afternoon's mid-day walk-through on the sun-splashed court, but in a different way.
Unlike last night's workout, which was open to the media, this was an actual practice in blinding conditions. Coaches and players easily could have been issued sunglasses and sun screen for the hour-long practice when Donovan and his staff toyed with a variety of lineups as the team attempts to adjust to the unexpected roster changes -- Casey Prather's concusssion and Scottie Wilbekin's suspension -- of the last few days.
I sent out most of these photos on my Twitter account -- @GatorZoneChris -- but in case you missed them, here's some images from the shoot-around under the scene.
Gators arrive at the base. That's freshman Michael Frazier just off the bus.
Managers take practice equipment onto the ship. Those are bleachers at the top of the photo, about 8 stories high.
Assistant coach John Pelphrey and his father survey the base from the deck.
No choppers (or Harrier jets, either) landed during the walk-through, in case anyone was wondering.
This should give you an idea of what the wind is like on deck. Take note, Kenny Boynton and Erik Murphy.
Layup lines. Check out those shadows.
Coach surveying his troops.
From the top seat of the bleachers. Windier up there than on the floor. Way windier.
Closest thing to a lounge chair.
Working on sets.
Pat Young was sweating profusely. Tonight with temperatures perhaps dipping into the 40s? We'll see.
I told Billy to run the "picket fence."
Get up, Pat!
Post-practice prayer (done after each without fail).
DeVon Walker and Michael Frazier say "thank you."
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Patric Young grew up in Jacksonville and was a high school basketball star here.
Since signing with Florida, he’s played against Jacksonville (the university, and lost), and played in Jacksonville (the city, against Rider, and won). Plus, UF is only 90 minutes away from his home and family, so what’s another homecoming, right?
“Yeah, but this one’s a battleship,” Young said. “That’ll be pretty cool.”
That was Young’s initial thoughts when the Navy/Marine Corps Classic against Georgetown was announced in July. He was excited then and got even more fired up to find the 10th-ranked Gators will have their off-site practice for the game at Providence Christian, where Young starred in high school and was a McDonald’s All-American (photo below).
“Yeah, that’s cool, too,” he said.
Good stuff, yes, but you know what Billy Donovan and his coaching staff would think is cool? Really cool? Young taking the next logical step in his development and upping his rebound productivity.
Last season, the 6-foot-9, 260-pounder averaged 6.4 rebounds per game. That was second on the team behind 6-3 guard Bradley Beal (6.6 rg), the third overall pick in the NBA draft, and just ahead of 6-7 backup forward Will Yeguete (6.3 pg).
Every NBA scout that looks at Young -- and that body -- thinks a Dwight Howard Lite (though not that lite), but this is the year Young needs to use that remarkable physique to carve out space in the low post, clear out bodies, chase sky rebounds, and score more than 10.5 points per game.
And he needs to do it night in, night out -- and that includes at practice every day.
“It was probably easier for a guy like Brad last year to get rebounds, cause most [teams] aren’t trying to block out [wing players] -- and I’m getting killed down there on box outs, and so it’s hard sometimes to squeeze one or two out,” Young said. “But it’s all about willpower and not giving up. I just need to want the ball more than the other guy.”
Friday against the Hoyas, a program for years renowned for its relentlessness and toughness around the basket, would be a good time to start.
Right up the road from home.
“The people in Jacksonville who really know Patric have incredible respect for the kind of kid he is,” Donovan said. “This is great for Patric, to play on this ship in such a unqiue and prestigious game.”
Young, probably more than any Florida player, holds the key to the team getting off to a great start, especially with forward Casey Prather out with a concussion and Scottie Wilbekin, a heady, smart player who is very good at boxing out, suspended for the Georgetown game and maybe more.
Ideal venue, unique stage and fitting locale to make a statement to himself, his teammates and college basketball.