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Tuesday November 6, 2012Gators Bracing for a Bit of Everything in Preparations for Outdoor Game

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Growing up in Massachusetts, Erik Murphy knows a little something about playing basketball outdoors.

So outdoors, in fact, the game probably resembled a winter extreme sport.

“We’d play until the ball stopped bouncing, then we’d go run hot water on it,” Murphy recalled. “Hot water gets the bounce back. The grip, too. But I’m talking about the mid-20s.”

Florida’s players can thank the clear Jacksonville night skies that temperatures will be nowhere near that cold when the 10th-ranked Gators open the 2012-13 season Friday against Georgetown on the deck of a battleship in the Navy/Marine Corps Classic at Mayport.

Extended forecasts call for temperatures to hover around 50 degrees (maybe less), with winds about 8 mph and no chance of rain.

The benches will be equipped with heaters and uniforms are going to have a twist other than the military-themed camouflage look.

“Long sleeves,” junior center Patric Young said.

Obviously, this is going to be basketball the likes of which only two teams have really experienced. Those would be North Carolina and Michigan State, who last year in San Diego Bay -- aboard the same aircraft carrier that buried Osama bin Laden at sea -- combined to make just six of 32 shots from behind the 3-point line as sunset turned nighttime and temperatures in Southern California dipped into the 50s.

Longtime watchers of Coach Billy Donovan’s teams may have taken note over the years that the 3-point shot is fairly prominent in his offense.

How prominent it will be outdoors will be a huge in-game storyline.

“We’ve talked a lot about it,” Donovan said Tuesday. “I would think this is going to be one of those games where there are are going to be a lot of loose basketballs; more offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds and more situations where scouting is taken out of the game.”

UF’s staff kicked around the notion of practicing outdoors in advance of the game, but figured the one practice around sundown Thursday and a Friday morning shoot-around on game day day would be enough to get acclimated to the conditions.

How they react to those conditions after tipoff will be more important.

“I think we have to be smart in terms of taking good shots,” Donovan said. “I don’t think we can go into the game and just totally alter what we do because we’re going to be outside, but I do think we have to be smart.”

That puts premiums on defense, rebounding on both ends and executing efficiently in the halfcourt -- and even if the Gators do those things, they could still find it difficult to score given the unique outdoor setting.

It’ll be up to the Gators and Hoyas not to psyche themselves out before even stepping board the ship.

Not as easy as it sounds, especially with a handful of native of Floridians on the squad.

“We used to practice outside when I played in middle school,” junior guard Scottie Wilbekin said. “The ball would get so hard it hurt my hands.”

Since Wilbekin plays point guard, he’d better purge those memories from his head.

And Young, who the Gators sorely need to play well and strong inside given their depth issues in the front court, needs to stay out of foul trouble.

The cool ocean air should give him extra motivation.

“Players say you get cold on the bench sitting out,” Young said. “And it’ll literally be cold on the bench sitting out.”

There’s no getting around that. The Gators just have to get over it.

It's outside. It's cold.

And very different.

“I’ve played outside a lot,” said senior guard and 3-point specialist Kenny Boynton, who groomed his jumper on lots of double-rimmed hoops in South Florida growing up. "I never played in the cold like that, though, so we’ll see how it goes.”


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