Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In the gymnasium where they once cheered him passionately, as well as the state that for years proudly claimed him, Mike Rosario had trouble comprehending the chants from the crowd.
JER-SEY HATES YOU!
Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap!
JER-SEY HATES YOU!
"The low point of my college career," Rosario said. "By far."
Rosario, out of Jersey City, N.J., played two years at Rutgers -- the state's first McDonald's All-American to stay home and go to college in the Garden State -- and scored more than 1,000 points at the Big East Conference school before choosing to transfer upon the arrival of a new coaching staff.
He came to Florida, sat out the 2010-11 season while the Gators won the Southeastern Conference regular-season title, and in his seventh game wearing a UF uniform found himself back in the very Rutgers' gym he'd once felt so at home. This time, he was unmercifully booed in a nationally televised game the Gators lost in double-overtime. Rosario scored five points on 2-for-6 shooting and was called for a technical foul.
Welcome home, kid.
For Rosario, though, that dark day is a distant memory about to be replaced by lots and lots of good ones. At least that's the mindset for the fifth-year senior guard who is in the midst of a makeover that could make him a very important member of a 2012-13 Florida squad that debuted at No. 10 in the USA Today Coaches poll.
Quite simply, the Gators need him this season.
"I'm itching to get out there and get this thing started," said Rosario, whose 16.4 points-per-game average the first two years at Rutgers dipped to 6.6 as the third or fourth man off the UF bench last year. "I'm ready for the challenge, ready for my final year, ready to make everybody proud."
Ask any player, coach or support staff member about Rosario, the basketball player, and they'll speak about his offensive skill set and game IQ that is as high as anyone's on the team. He's also one of the most-liked players in the locker room.
Eventually, though, the word "consistency" will make its way into the conversation as the one facet of Rosario, on and off the court, that tends to hold him back.
"For Mike, it's always been one day he's great, the next day he's not so great," senior forward Erik Murphy said. "He knows that and to his credit he's working to be more consistent."
Gators coach Billy Donovan was painfully candid about this very subject at the team's media day last week. Rosario, he said, needs to show a level of commitment to the program that covers a broad brush whether in conditioning, punctuality, academics, whatever.
Basically, life in general as it relates to representing the University of Florida.
"His biggest issue -- and No. 1 issue -- is inconsistency," Donovan said. "And not only on the court; everywhere he's inconsistent."
During his redshirt year, Rosario missed 17 practice. Last season, after earning his way into the rotation, Rosario missed 10 practices and five games with back and hip injuries.
"I think, for Mike, there was this expectation of, 'Well, I haven't practiced in 10 days, but I had a really good practice the day before we're playing -- why am I not playing?' " Donovan said. "Well, there are 12 other guys that are practicing every day. ... Any time you're putting my credibility as a coach to those other 12 guys in jeopardy, you're going to lose that battle."
Keep in mind, Donovan made these remarks before the first official practice of the season.
"That's Coach Billy's way of motivating me," Rosario grinned after a practice this week. "He says things to get me focused on being tougher. That's OK. I'm good with that. I'm hungry and I'm humble right now, and he's just rubbing it in."
But Donovan also said that Rosario's run-up preparation to the season constituted the best three weeks since he transferred to UF, and nothing has changed in the week since the Gators rolled the balls out for real Oct. 12.
"The past month, honestly, he's been really, really good," Murphy said. "He's playing better defense. He's talking to the young guys. He's being a leader out there -- and he's doing it on his own. In the past, sometimes, we had to say stuff to him, but he's one of the older guys now and he's realizing some things; like maybe there's only so many games left."
The first one isn't for another three weeks -- Nov. 9 against Georgetown on a battleship in Jacksonville -- but the 6-foot-3, 183-pound Rosario is looking forward not only to that night, but to the opportunity to get better each day at practice. That preparation is not confined to the court or film sessions.
Example: Rosario's habits in the weight room, a place he has never embraced, have improved, too.
"He's actually drinking protein shakes now," strength and conditioning coordinator Preston Greene said. "He's taking care of himself. He's been a lot better."
Rosario put on five pounds of muscle during the offseason, which should translate into stamina. What's at stake -- as in a final year, with nothing guaranteed beyond -- could aid that endurance and fortitude as well.
This summer, Rosario played for his native Puerto Rico in the 2012 FIBA Centrobasket Tournament, earning a silver medal and falling one win shy of qualifying for the Olympic Games. He didn't see much time in that tournament, what with NBA players Carlos Arroyo and J.J. Barea locking down the backcourt, but he did see first-hand how pros go about their business. And they talked to him about the day-to-day process and what it takes to be great.
It was a fresh perspective.
Now comes a fresh opportunity.
"I had my low point, but it's like the whole thing's been reversed," he said. "This is my high point, and it's just beginning. It's sort of like Mike Rosario is back in the spotlight and ready to do whatever it takes to help the Gators."
His team hopes that's his outlook -- consistently -- well into next spring.