Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
MAYPORT, Fla. -- For an entire offseason and deep into the preseason, Billy Donovan and his Florida coaching staff toyed with various lineups and combinations in trying to forge an identity for the Gators 2012-13 basketball team.
And in the last four days, they’ve had to blow a lot of it up and practically start over.
“We’re kind of making this up as we go right now,” Donovan said Thursday.
Losing transfer forward Damontre Harris to a torn labrum last month hurt, but only for bodies to bang at practice. He had to sit out the season per NCAA rules anyway. Sophomore center Cody Larson’s decision to quit the squad two weeks further depleted the frontcourt and took away a few reserve minutes per game.
Then came backup forward Casey Prather and his two concussions in nine days, the latest coming Monday. Losing his athleticism, versatility in the press and defense was a significant blow.
But with Thursday’s suspension of starting point guard Scottie Wilbekin, the heir apparent to the spot locked down by Erving Walker for the last three years, the 10th-ranked Gators moved into full-blown remake mode, what with the season opener against Georgetown set for Friday night in the Navy/Marines Corps Classic on the USS Bataan at Naval Station Mayport.
“This throws a wrench into some things,” Donovan said.
Wilbekin, suspended for violating team rules, had been UF’s No. 1 playmaker since the Gators resumed workouts following the loss to Louisville in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament last March. After Wilbekin, an outstanding man-to-man defender and an underrated (45.7 percent) 3-point shooter, Florida has no true point guard.
But as Will Muschamp would say, “Man down, man up.”
And that means you, Kenny Boynton.
“I’m just gonna try and do the best I can,” Boynton said.
Think about this: Boynton is the No. 8 scorer in UF history and begins his senior season 502 points from breaking the school scoring mark; he’s had the green light to shoot (especially from 3-point range, where his 757 attempts are more than any Gator ever has taken) since arriving from Pompano Beach four years ago.
In three seasons, he’s taken 1,303 shots, compared to 290 assists.
Now, he’s the guy who has to get teammates shots. And he’s got to do it against a team like the Hoyas, who may have just two starters back from a team that went 24-9 -- and were a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament -- but is always formidable.
“He has enough pieces where he can substitute and make changes,” Georgetown coach John Thompson said. “Down two players, all that means is two other good players are going to get quality minutes.”
That’s the attitude the Gators will tip off the season with.
Everything will start with Boynton the shooting guard-turned-Boynton the scoring point guard.
“I really have confidence in Kenny back there,” Donovan said. “I think he knows what I want and I think he can run our team. He understands there’s going to be a different role for us and him, but there’s a fine line with how he runs the team and how he needs to score. He has to understand what’s going on in the game.”
That means feeding Patric Young in the post, finding Erik Murphy on the wing and attacking the basket while also fighting the instinct to pull up for jumpers and trade them for passes to open teammates.
It’s a big responsibility (to some degree, an unexpected one), but Boynton is ready for it. More than that, he needs it.
Last offseason, he considered forgoing his senior year and turning pro, but scouts told him he needed to improve his game with the ball in his hands.
“I’m ready for the challenge,” Boynton said. “One of the main reasons I came back to school was to play more at the point guard spot.”
What an opportunity.
Ditto for UF’s four-man freshman class. Trouble is, Donovan probably was counting on key minutes from half that class a few days ago. The losses of Prather on the wing and Wilbekin in the backcourt mean Michael Frazier, Dillon Graham, DeVon Walker and Braxton Ogbueze will have to play against Georgetown; probably two positions each; in Frazier’s case, maybe three positions.
Their baptism to the next level will demand they match the Hoyas intensity, while maintaining awareness of the multitude of backdoor cuts they’ll face against the Princeton-style offense.
Finally, throw in whatever intangible elements -- such as temperatures in the high-40s and enough wind to affect shots much shorter than 3-pointers -- and some Gators will be need to grow up in a hurry.
“We didn’t recruit these guys to sit ‘em,” assistant coach Matt McCall said. “They came here to play.”
They’ll play, all right.
“We need the freshmen to step up,” junior forward Will Yeguete said. “We’ll need everybody to step up.”
Donovan put it another way.
“It’s not optimal,” he said, “but it’s what we have.”
GATORS GAMEBOX -- NAVY/MARINE CORPS CLASSIC
No. 10 Florida vs. Georgetown
Tip-off: Friday, 9:15 p.m. (USS Bataan, Naval Station Mayport)
Records: Florida 0-0; Georgetown 0-0
TV: NBC Sports Network (w/Tom Hammond, Stan Van Gundy and Carolyn Manno)
Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Mark Wise) -- Click here for affiliates) / Sirius 220/XM 199
Game notes: Florida notes; Georgetown notes
Need to know: The Gators tip off their 93rd year of basketball and the 17th under Coach Billy Donovan, who is 386-158 (.710) on the UF sidelines. The game will mark Donovan’s 600th career game as a head, including two seasons leading Marshall. His career is 421-178 (.627). ... Florida has won 21 consecutive season openers, a mark that includes 16 straight with Donovan. ... The Gators return three starters from a squad that finished 26-11 last season and advance to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year before losing to Louisville one game shy of the Final Four. ... The Gators are 2-2 all-time vs. Georgetown, with the last win coming in the 2006 Sweet 16 en route to the program’s first national championship. ... ... Seniors G Kenny Boynton (15.9 ppg, 40.7 percent from 3-pt range), senior F Erik Murphy (10.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 42.1 percent 3-pt range) and junior C Patric Young (10.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg) make up the trio of starters. Senior G Mike Rosario (6.6 ppg) will pair with Boynton in the backcourt, with the fifth starter -- possibly freshman G Michael Frazier or junior F Will Yeguete (4.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg) -- a game-time decision depending on whether Donovan wants to go big or small at tipoff. Frazier, from Tampa by way of Montverde (Fla.) Academy, led the team with 21 points, including 5-for-6 from distance, in the team’s 101-71 exhibition game defeat of Division II Nebraska-Kearney. ... The Hoyas returns two starters from last season’s 24-9 team that went 12-6 in the Big East and lost in Round 2 of the NCAA Tournament. F Otto Porter (6-8, 205) could be the next in a long line of very good (if not great) frontcourt players. He did not start until the final seven games of the season, but averaged 9.7 points and a team high 6.8 rebounds. ... The Gators will need to focus on boxing Porter out, but also in limiting easy baskets off Georgetown’s backdoor-cutting offense. ... The Hoyas allowed just 59.4 points per game last season -- defense is a Georgetown hallmark -- and faces a UF team that scored 75.9 points per game, second only to Kentucky in the SEC.