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Tuesday March 20, 2012The Complete Package: Bradley Beal at the Forefront of the Gators' March to the Sweet 16

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Freshman guard Bradley Beal’s indoctrination to Southeastern Conference play was a 4-for-12 struggle, with just one make in five attempts from 3-point range, in an ugly and one-sided loss at Tennessee. He also had five turnovers.

That game was barely a week after Beal had identical numbers from the floor (though actually 1-for-6 from the arc) and seven turnovers in a nationally televised upset loss in double-overtime at Rutgers.

“It was a pretty frustrating time,” the former McDonald’s All-American and 2011 Gatorade National Player of the Year said. “It’s not like I’d been through phases like that before.”

Beal’s body language then, especially during games in the midst of clanging shots off the iron, was not good. That’s when he was summoned to the coach’s office for equal doses of perspective, wisdom and advice.

Just look at Beal now.

“I really can’t remember the last time he had a bad game,” junior guard Kenny Boynton said after No. 7 seed Florida (25-10) practiced for two hours at Arizona State University in preparation for Thursday night’s West Region semifinal showdown against third-seeded Marquette (27-7). “He’s doing all the things in the game that matter.”

Maybe that’s because his sole focus isn’t on the one thing that really matters to so many great players: scoring.

But it’s probably more because Beal, the 6-foot-4, 207-pounder from St. Louis and first-team All-SEC selection, a fantastic talent who in the past few weeks has come to terms with some things about his game.  

“The thing I tried to get through to him [was] stop worrying about your shot. Freshmen are going to have peaks and valleys shooting the basketball,” Gators coach Billy Donovan recalled of that sit-down with his rookie superstar. “I told him, ‘You do too many other things as a player that impact our team,’ and to start stepping up and trying to be more aggressive.”

Check out the box scores from Omaha, Neb., during UF’s wins in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. In the 71-45 vaporizing of 10th-seeded Virginia, Beal had 14 points and 11 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season. Against Norfolk State, a 35-point wipeout, Beal had 14 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two steals.

In the two games combined, he was 9-for-16 from the floor, 3-for-9 from the arc and shot 11 free throws.

“He’s always been a guy that relied on his offense,” Donovan said. “He’s starting to see that there’s so much more to his game, with the way he rebounds, the way he passes and the way he attacks.”

Added assistant coach Matt McCall: “For a freshman, even one as talented as he is, it’s just so unique for a guy to have the great feel for the game Brad has. He needed some time for that feel to really manifest itself.”

Somewhere along the line, that feel was fueled by a jolt of confidence. And that heart-to-heart with his coach.

“I just started letting the game come to me,” Beal said. 

When Florida is in sync on offense -- and the floor is spaced the way Donovan likes it -- Beal’s total arsenal goes on display. No, his jumper is probably not where he’d like it statistically (43.3 percent overall, 32.7 from 3), but opponents have to honor it. And when they commit to extending the defense at him on the perimeter, his ability to penetrate makes Beal all the more dangerous, be it with finishes or free throws.

“When he drives to the rim, good thing usually happen,” Boynton said. “Brad’s just really turned into the complete package.”

Beal’s work without the ball beneath the basket has nearly completed it. He admits he wasn’t a good rebounder in high school -- “Sometimes I really didn’t feel like rebounding, but you could get away with that before,” he shrugged -- but now he leads the team with 6.7 per game.

Over the last 13 games, Beal is averaging nearly eight rebounds per game.

“I really took it upon myself to bear down and start guarding guys and crashing the boards,” he said. “My shot just ended up coming out of nowhere, really. Coach told me it was just a matter of me playing and getting my rhythm. Sure enough, it came.”

The next phase of development is to assert himself in other ways.

Intangible ones.

As UF’s best all-around player and sure-fire NBA lottery pick whenever he chooses to come out, Beal has earned the right to be a leader on this team, class standing notwithstanding.

“As a freshman, he doesn’t want to be out of bounds or put our team or our chemistry in jeopardy,” Donovan said. “But sometimes, he needs that push to let him know it’s OK.”

Beal’s been at the forefront of Florida’s push to the Sweet 16. No one on the team would begrudge him from shoving his teammates a round or two further.

 

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