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Thursday October 13, 2011Gators' Season Could Rest on Five Guys in Backcourt

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – They don’t have a catchy nickname and have yet to even play a game together, but if Florida’s Five Guys become as popular as the burger chain, Billy Donovan’s 16th season at UF could cause a few sore necks as fans at the O’Connell Center try to keep up with the action on the floor.

“We are going to be a lot of run-and-gun,’’ sophomore forward/center Patric Young said.

Florida’s Five Guys are really a quintuplet of guards who will be at the center of everything the Gators do.

Two of them are returning starters – Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton. Scottie Wilbekin is a sophomore who played behind Walker and Boynton a year ago. The other two are newcomers, junior transfer Mike Rosario and freshman Bradley Beal.

They will have the ball in their hands often. Some wonder if there will be enough balls to go around.

“We’ve got to be a very unselfish group,’’ Donovan said. “Our chemistry on the court has got to be something that gets developed very, very quickly” due to a tough early season schedule.

Donovan has already delivered that message to his new-look Gators. They don’t have last year’s frontcourt trio of Alex Tyus, Chandler Parsons and Vernon Macklin to toss the ball into for dunks and layups.

To adjust, Donovan is tinkering with a guard-heavy, up-tempo lineup similar to the one he used earlier in his career at Florida when the Gators made it to the 2000 national title game. There could be times this season when it’s Young or 6-foot-10 forward Erik Murphy and four guards racing up and down the court.

Donovan is known for his ability to adjust and there have been few times during his career that he’s had to adapt this much. He has three new assistants – although John Pelphrey is an old one, too -- a new strength-and-condition coach, a new contract in the works and new potential star in Beal, considered one of the top recruits in the country last year.

Beal has a shooting stroke that tickles nets, but don’t expect him to toss up 25 shots in his first game.

Donovan calls Beal one of the most mature freshmen he has signed at UF. You believe him when you hear Beal talk about his role and how he wants to fit in without causing a stir.

“There’s a lot of experience already on the team and a lot of good chemistry,’’ Beal said. “I don’t want to come in and ruin the chemistry.’’

Instead, he plans to put defense first and let the shots come to him instead of chasing them.

While it’s uncertain how all this is going to play out on the court, all five of Florida’s guards offer something different.

Walker is the quickest and has shown an ability to score during clutch moments late in games. Donovan wants to see Walker – the closest the Gators have to a pure point guard – set a goal of leading the SEC in assists.

If that’s what the Gators need Walker to do, Florida’s only senior sounded ready on Wednesday.

“I look it as another challenge,’’ Walker said. “I trust Coach Donovan with all my heart. All of those guys can make shots. The defense can’t key in on any one person.’’

Meanwhile, Boynton is a clutch defender, helping force BYU sharpshooter Jimmer Fredette into a lot of tough shots in Florida’s win over the Cougars in the Sweet 16 last season. Boynton can also score and likes to take 3s when open.

He said the group’s closeness off the court can only help on the court. They already go to movies and out to eat together regularly, so working together to force turnovers and sharing shots shouldn’t be an issue.

“We’ve got a lot of scorers,’’ Boynton said. “We all just want to win. We know we’ve got to sacrifice for each other to win.’’

Rosario was around last season but had to sit out the season after transferring from Rutgers, where he averaged 16 points a game as a sophomore two seasons ago. Rosario offers a nice mixture of size and athleticism and a scorer’s touch.

Wilbekin improved his outside shot as his freshman season went on a year ago, but he could play defense the moment he laced up his sneakers. With the Gators expected to become more of a full-court pressure defensive team than in recent years, Wilbekin should have plenty of opportunities to create havoc.

“If we push the tempo and fast break, there will be lots of shot opportunities for everybody,’’ Wilbekin said. “Even if we don’t, I think all of our guards are mature enough to find their role and facilitate when they need to facilitate and shoot when they need to shoot.’’

While the Five Guys will be the centerpiece of this year’s team, the 6-foot-9 Young will be at center most often.

With very little experience down low following the departure of Tyus, Parsons and Macklin, Young is being counted on to provide more production and leadership.

Donovan wants the upbeat and active Young to do it by being himself – going after rebounds, loose balls, battling for good position underneath the basket – in other words by picking up a lot of points off his energy and hustle.

“A lot of people keep talking about his offense,’’ Donovan said. “He needs to keep it very, very simple.’’

All five starters returned a year ago and Florida made it all the way to the Elite Eight. Only two return this season, leaving a lot of questions. With so many players trying to fill so many new roles, Donovan and his staff are working to make all the pieces fit.

“We’ve got to be a very unselfish group,’’ he said.

That could be the most important trait of these Five Guys.

 

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