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

Updated: 9:50am, December 27

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

Perfect time to throw another player into the mix.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday December 10, 2014 Carter returns to practice

Updated: 11:01pm, December 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Phog

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

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

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

That is a fact.

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

Some background.

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

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

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

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

No, it wasn’t.

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

Yes, 80 points in the first 20 minutes.

And it got worse from there.

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

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

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

“Where you going?” Pitino asked.

“Coming with you, Coach,” Pelphrey said,

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

Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk!

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

Updated: 3:29pm, December 5

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

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

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

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

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

Monday December 1, 2014 Moving on from Atlantis

Updated: 9:06am, December 2

Frazier drives UNC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No. They knew they’d be good.

Now, they know they're not.

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

Cue Horford (picture right).

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

Then came this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eli Elsewhere:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, they’re not now.

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

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

Thursday November 27, 2014 Searching for their identity

Updated: 6:26pm, November 27

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what are these Gators going to be?

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

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

Eli, also.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Imperial Ballroom

Which brings us to the tournament.

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


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

Harvard won the tournament.

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

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

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

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

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

Three practices Saturday.

Two more Sunday.

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

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

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

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

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

Or defined roles, either.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Updated: 9:17pm, November 23

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

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

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

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

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

Eli Carter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now this.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donovan praised Graham for his honesty.

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

Basketball at this level, that is.

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

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

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

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

Updated: 1:13pm, November 21

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

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

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

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

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

He used his 4-8 team as an example.

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

That told Donovan the guy could coach.

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

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

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

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

Sunday November 16, 2014 Dillon Graham opts to transfer

Updated: 5:21pm, November 16


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday November 5, 2014 Charting the Gators (and Taylors): Kelvin vs Fred in Jacksonville

Updated: 9:09am, November 6

Kelvin Taylor vs Georgia GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There was Florida tailback Kelvin Taylor rushing for 197 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries in a 38-20 rout of the rival Georgia Bulldogs last weekend. On a night when his running mate, Matt Jones, piled on another 192 yards on 25 carries and two scores, the Gators’ unstoppable rushing attack told the story of the game.

But another thought popped into my head (as well as other heads in the press box and throughout the UF populace).

How did Taylor’s night compare to anything his father, former Gators All-American Fred Taylor, accomplished in a UF uniform against the Bulldogs? Or for that matter, in the very stadium where he starred as a first-round draft pick and Pro-Bowler for the Jacksonville Jaguars?

Answer: Very favorably, obviously.

"It means a whole lot just to be here,” the kid known as “KT” said after the game. 
“I remember, I used to be a little boy walking around this stadium. Right here, just playing with my toys and doing all types of stuff around this stadium. Now I'm playing. It's just unreal. I'm very blessed, very humble. It means a whole lot."

Good for him.

So I did some research this week.

Fred Taylor played four fabulous seasons for the Gators (1994-97), winning three Southeastern Conference titles, scoring a touchdown in UF’s national-championship game defeat of Florida State, and in 1997 amassed the fourth-greatest rushing season in Florida history with 1,292 yards.

In four games against the Bulldogs, Fred tallied 49 carries, 218 yards, two TDs and never went over 100 yards in a game. In fact, two of those games weren’t even played in Jacksonville, as the stadium then known as the Gator Bowl was undergoing renovation for the start of the expansion Jags during Fred's freshman and sophomore seasons. See below.

Year     Site                    Statistics                                    Outcome
1994    Gainesville         17 carries, 78 yards, 1 TD           W 52-14
1995    Athens                7 carries, 16 yards                      W 52-17
1996    Jacksonville        7 carries, 39 yards, 1 TD            W 47-7
1997    Jacksonville       18 carries, 85 yards, 1 TD           L 37-17

In Jacksonville        25 carries, 124 yards 1 TD
Overall                    49 carries, 218 yards, 2 TDs

Interestingly enough, it was two weeks after that loss in ’97 to the Dawgs -- the only defeat in the series during Coach Steve Spurrier’s 12 seasons at UF -- that the Gators completely revamped their offensive approach. Florida struggled to move the ball in a 20-7 tooth-ache victory at home against Vanderbilt. Spurrier, of course, loved to throw the ball, but he did not have a quarterback (be it Doug Johnson, Noah Brindise or Jesse Palmer) he had enough confidence in to lean on.

So he leaned on Fred Taylor.

Check out Taylor’s numbers in the final three games of that season:

* 24 carries, 170 yards, 3 TDs in a 48-21 win at South Carolina.
* 22 carries, 164 yards, 4 TDs against the nation’s top-ranked defense in a 32-29 upset of No. 1 Florida State.
* 43 carries, career-high 234 yards in a 20-6 defeat of No. 11 Penn State in Citrus Bowl.

Fred So 568 yards in the last three games of his career.

There was a reason Taylor (pictured right) was drafted ninth overall by the Jags, with whom he played 11 of his 13 seasons (1998-2008) and went on to become one of 29 players in NFL history to surpass 10,000 career yards. Right now, he sits 15th all time with 11,695 yards.

Which brings me back to Kelvin.

So how did KT’s eruption at Jacksonville stack up against Dad’s greatest days at the same venue? Let the record show, Fred Taylor’s finest day as a pro came Nov. 19, 2000 when he went for 234 yards and scored four TDs in a 34-24 win at Pittsburgh.

But his finest NFL days in Jacksonville came up shy of the 197 his son cranked Saturday (see below).

Something tells me that’s just fine with Dad.

Yards     Opponent          Outcome      Date
194        New Orleans       W 20-19       Dec. 21, 2003
183        Detroit                   W 37-22       Dec. 6, 1998
181        Cleveland           W 48-0          Dec. 3, 2000
163        Houston              W 27-0          Dec. 7, 2003
152        Indianapolis        W 28-23        Nov. 9, 2003

Billy D GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Two drills into Thursday’s practice, Billy Donovan stopped the proceedings and ordered them restarted.

From the beginning.

Stretching, warm-ups and all.

In admonishing the way his players had begun the workout, Donovan used a couple words -- “conviction” and “commitment”  -- which now must be considered the early favorites for buzz phrases during Florida’s 2014-15 season. He wanted more of both and wanted them immediately.

"If I don’t see some commitment to what we’re doing and some conviction in how we’re doing it, we’re going to be back here again later tonight,” Donovan yelled as strength and conditioning coordinator Preston Greene led the team through pre-practice Stretch No. 2.  “And we may be back tonight, anway.”

And they were ... for another 90-minute practice.

Early in the afternoon, Donovan invoked the “conviction” and “commitment” references several times during a media briefing that focused on the Gators’ preseason progress to date, a brushstroke that included the team’s first intrasquad scrimmage Sunday.

Players were rotated between the blue first-teamers and orange seconds, so who won are lost was inconsequential. What concerned Donovan and his staff was the high score -- 89-81 after just 35 minutes -- and the overall defensive play.

“We’ve got pretty good chemistry and I think we’re unselfish as a team, but right now, we’re not convicted or committed to anything -- and that’s not a good recipe right now,” Donovan said. “They’re attitude has been good. They work, but we are not good at anything. The only thing I’d say we’re good at right now is we’re unselfish, but a lot of it is going to be their conviction and their commitment to what goes into winning. That’s going to be something that they don’t understand. Their idea of playing well is, ‘When I shoot, score and make shots.’ That’s probably about 5 percent of the game.”

Devin vs Eli So the Gators spent more than two hours on the other 95 percent Thursday in what was one of the better practices of their first two weeks, relative to strides in the defense and hustle categories.

Center Jon Horford had a particularly solid outing on the defensive end, something the Gators absolutely need from the fifth-year senior and transfer from Michigan. Guard Eli Carter (right, with ball), who sat out last season to let his surgically repair broken leg further heal after transferring from Rutgers, is going to be a factor both on and off the ball, especially once he regains his in-game conditioning.

Junior forward Alex Murphy, a transfer from Duke who arrived at UF last December, flashes his athleticism, but not with the kind of consistency Donovan and the staff are after. They want him to find his game, which neither his father's (early '80s Boston College standout Jay) or older brother's (former UF stretch power forward Erik). Murphy doesn't have to look for offense to be effective. If he just plays, offense will find him.

Freshman forward Devin Robinson (above, guarding Carter) still gets lost on defense, but he also knows he has a long way to go there and takes the coaching -- and criticism -- to heart. For a college rookie, that's half the battle.

Hill After taking Tuesday and Wednesday off, the Gators worked a bunch of man-to-man defense (especially close-outs at the 3-point line and rotations), as well as defending in full-court man coverage. There was also an emphasis on just plain, playing hard.

"The first week was about installing and giving them the basics about what we do," Donovan said. "Now, it's about accountability and being where they're supposed to be and doing their jobs. The commitment and conviction of what our identity should be as a team, right now, just is not there."

The lack of it has shown up in not getting up the floor on the break or back on defense or crashing the glass for rebounds. Those flaws (and others) showed up on the tape from Sunday’s scrimmage.

Here are some other things that showed up in the scrimmage:

* Junior guard Michael Frazier, the lone starter back from last season’s Final Four and Southeastern Conference championship team, went 9-for-19 from the floor, including five of 12 from the arc, plus 11 of 14 from the free-throw line to lead all scorers with 34 points. Junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith, the reigning SEC Sixth Man of the Year, had 23 points, eight rebounds, four assists, four steals and four turnovers.

* Carter made seven of his 16 shots, and five of 12 from distance, to finish with 21 points. He also had four assists.

* Sophomore Kasey Hill (above left driving to basket) and freshman Chris Chiozza are the only true point guards on the roster and usually are matched against one another in live drills. Both put up nice play-making numbers; Hill with seven assists and one turnover, Chiozza with nine assists and one turnover. In fact, throw Carter into the equation and the Gators on-ball guards combined for 20 assists and just three turnovers.

* Robinson scored 17 points and was 4-for-8 from the 3-point line, but turned it over five times. Horford had 14 points and three rebounds, but made good on four of six from deep.

Chris Walker * In the paint, Chris Walker (left) had 12 points, nine rebounds and one really good dunk on a lob from Carter. Murphy had 10 points and eight rebounds. And while he won’t play this season per NCAA transfer rules, center John Egbunu, by way of South Florida, had 12 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks (and is going to be sensational come next season).

* Junior guard Dillon Graham did not participate in the scrimmage after taking an elbow to the side of the head during practice last week. The blow punctured Graham's ear drum, but he was cleared to return to practice Thursday. The Orlando product missed all last season recovering from hip surgery and has mega-catching up to do even to sniff the rotation come the regular season.

* Walk-on guard Zach Hodskins made his lone shot of the game, a 3-pointer, and scored four points. Donovan on Thursday praised Hodskins enthusiasm and love for the game, but hinted it could be very difficult for him to see the floor. “He’s got a great platform in terms of his persistence every single day to try and come out there and battle and compete to the best of his ability,” Donovan said. “Talent wise, I think he’s over his head. But I think he can bring some value to our team and help our team get better.”

* The Gators, who debuted at No. 7 in the Associated Press preseason poll announced Friday, have an exhibition game against Barry University set for Thursday night at the O'Connell Center. While the game will mark the live-action UF debut of several players, neither Murphy (who must sit out the first nine games of the fall semester) or Walker (three-game suspension) will play. Without those players in the front court, look for the Gators to go small in size but big on experience with the three-guard alignment Donovan likes -- Hill, Carter and Frazier -- with Finney-Smith and Horford up front. The first guy off the bench? Robinson at the small forward.

Friday October 24, 2014 By the numbers: See how much bigger, stronger Billy D's boys are this season

Updated: 8:50am, October 24

preston GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Florida basketball team started practice a week ago, but getting the Gators in the best shape possible was a process that started almost the moment last season ended.

Actually, from the time each player set foot on campus.

We all know how Billy Donovan loves the process. Preston Greene lives the process.

Greene (pictured right) is UF’s strength and conditioning coordinator, which means he’s charged with putting individual players on training programs and diets that will ferry them to their peaks. Patric Young looked awfully good when he arrived on UF’s campus in 2010, but Greene chiseled that mad frame even more when he came from Clemson in time for Young’s sophomore year.

Remember what Greene did to Casey Prather’s body? How he added all that muscle without sacrificing any of Prather's breathtaking athleticism?

Think about that the next time you see junior Michael Frazier II in uniform when the Gators make their 2014-15 public debut Nov. 6 in an exhibition game against Barry University. Frazier is nearly the identical weight he was when he arrived in July 2012 -- he weighed 199 then, he's 200 now -- but he’s up 6 pounds in muscle and down 4.3 percent in body fat.

Preston and ShawnHe looks like a strong safety ... but still shoots it like a 3-point assassin.

Here’s a look at how each UF basketball player was sized up when they first checked in compared to where they were for the first day of practice last Friday after an offseason working with Greene and assistant strength coach Sean Ferguson (pictured left, alongside Greene, standing on a tire during the car-pull portion of "Strongman Friday" workouts over the summer). The before-after photos are especially telling.

PLAYER (starting date)                         THEN      NOW (lean mass change / body fat change)
Eli Carter (July 8, 2013)                           214         200 (minus 5 pounds / minus-3.9 percent)

Chris Chiozza (July 7, 2014)                    160        166 (plus 7.1 pounds / minus 1.3 percent)

Lexx Edwards (July 7, 2012)                    238        222 (minus 5.7 pounds / minus 2.3 percent)

John Egbunu (July 7, 2014)                     266        258 (minus-.8 pounds / minus 3.7 percent)

Michael Frazier II (July 1, 2012)               200        199 (plus 6 pounds / minus 4.3 percent)    

Dillon Graham (July 1, 2012)                   179        175 (plus 6.5 pounds / plus 6.5 pounds / minus 4.3 percent)

Zach Hodskins (July 7, 2014)                  203        200 (minus .5 pounds / minus 1.2 percent)

Jon Horford (May 5, 2014)                       238        242 (plus 11 bounds / minus 3 percent)

Kasey Hill (July 12, 2013)                        181        175 (plus 2 pounds / minus 4.7 percent)

Jacob Kurtz (May 5, 2012)                       179        189 (plus 10 pounds / minus 2.2 percent)

Alex Murphy (Dec. 5, 2013)                      229        228 (plus 8 pounds / minus 3.8 percent)

Devin Robinson (July 7, 2012)                 178        186 (plus 8.8 pounds / minus 1.2 percent)

Dorian Finney Smith (July 10, 2012)        200        215 (plus 14 pounds / minus 3.8 percent)

Chris Walker (Dec. 16, 2013)                   203        217 (plus 17.5 pounds / minus 2.2 percent)

DeVon Walker (July 1, 2012)                   189        204 (plus 17.6 pounds / minus 2.2 percent)

(Below: Kasey Hill then)

Kasey before









(Kasey Hill now)

kasey after










(Below: Murphy then)

Alex before  








(Murphy now)

Alex after










(Below: Finney-Smith then)

Doe before








(Finney-Smith now)

Doe-Doe now










(Below: Chris Walker then, with the side view to show upper body thickness)

Chris then












(Chris Walker now)

Chris now










Thursday October 16, 2014 Westbrook moving on from a bad play and memory

Updated: 11:24am, October 16

Westbrook drop GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Senior tight end Tevin Westbrook had the ball -- who knows, maybe even the game -- in his hands late Saturday night against LSU. It was a well-thrown pass from Jeff Driskel under duress. It was a touchdown.

And it fell to the Florida Field turf.

“I saw the ball coming. Driskel put it in a great spot,” Westbrook said earlier this week of his infamous drop against the Tigers, admitting he took the concentration part of the catch for granted because it was going to be such an easy play. “I just didn’t focus hard enough on the ball; had too much emotions in it. If I could go back, I’d just focus more on the ball and not too much on the emotions of the game.”

The play in question, of course, was the third-and-goal with 1:58 to play and UF trailing by three points. After two failed attempts to smash the ball in from the 2, Driskel play-faked and rolled to his right. With a Tiger defender bearing down, Driskel dumped a pass to Westbrook, wide open in the end zone. It hit him right in the arms then squirmed out.

The Gators settled for a game-tying field goal with 1:49 to go. They actually got the ball back, but Driskel’s interception led to the game-winning LSU field goal with three seconds left.

If only ...  

“I wasn’t nervous,” said Westbrook, who has four catches for 38 yards and a TD this season. “It was just a roller coaster the whole game and so when it happened, I just wasn’t locked in on the ball. More just focused on scoring the touchdown, not really securing the ball before I had it.”

In a season mired by dropped passes (17 and counting), it was the biggest of them all. And, yes, Westbrook has seen the criticism (some of it brutal) on social media, but now it’s important to focus on what he and the Gators can control. Not what’s in the past.

Westbrook will move on.

“Everyone has tried to be supportive; teammates, coaches,” he said. “We’re a family and we try not to listen to anyone outside of football.”

[Photo by Phil Sandlin, Associated Press]

Chris WalkerGAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Sophomore center Chris Walker has been suspended for three games due to a violation of team rules, Florida coach Billy Donovan announced during Wednesday's media gathering to preview the 2014-15 season.

The 6-foot-10, 220-pound Walker will miss the team's exhibition game against Barry University on Nov. 6, plus the season opener against William & Mary on Nov. 14 and a home date with Miami on Nov. 17.

"It'll be tough, but I'll get through it," Walker said.

The Gators are counting on Walker to play a big role in the post this season, given the loss of senior center Patric Young. A McDonald's All-American out of Bonifay, Fla., Walker signed with UF in 2012, but did not qualify academically to enter school as a freshman last fall. Instead, he rallied his transcript by taking on-line classes and gained enrollment for the second semester.

Though he joined UF on Dec. 14, Walker was not cleared to play by the NCAA until Feb. 4 against Missouri -- a 12-game suspension, as it turned out -- and he went on to average 1.9 points and 1.3 rebounds in less than five minutes per game. 

Those numbers are going up significantly this year -- starting Nov. 21 against Louisiana-Monroe.

Gators coach Billy Donovan said Walker (and UF fans) need to manage expectations for his performance this season.

"I don't know what kind of impact he's going to make," Donovan said. "He's going to have to really be able to handle where he's got maybe his own personal expectation of where he thinks he should be. If he's not at that [high performance] level, how is he going to handle that? One of the most difficult things to deal with as a coach is when you have players with individual expectations that don't get met with how they're performing. He's got to have a realistic expectation. He's got a long way to go."

Meanwhile, freshman guard Brandone Francis will sit out the entire season due to academic reasons. The 6-5, 205-pound Francis starred at Jacksonville Arlington Country Day, but the Dominican Republic native did not qualify to participate in games this season, though it's possible he could hit the acadmic baselines to join the team for practice in the second semester.


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