Monday February 4, 2013Unselfish Move Back by Boynton has Provided a Giant Step Forward for Gators
FAYETTEVILLLE, Ark. -- The decision pretty much was made by the Florida coaching staff on the flight home from Kansas City. The Gators had dropped their second game in a week, looking disorganized, rushed and even selfish at times in falling to Kansas State.
Billy Donovan knew he had to change things up.
So did Kenny Boynton.
The experiment in honoring Boynton's request to play point guard his final collegiate season was not working. After a three-day Christmas break, the team reported back for practice and Donovan called the senior to his office to deliver the message. Boynton was a step ahead of the conversation.
"Move me back, Coach," he said.
So the Gators returned to work, but with that not-so-subtle tweak to their offensive scheme. Scottie Wilbekin would assume the primary role as point guard, with Boynton moving back to the shooting guard spot he played almost exclusively the previous three seasons.
It wasn't so much that UF was playing poorly with Boynton on the ball; it just wasn't the best lineup for the Gators to work from.
The current one is. For all parties.
Florida (18-2, 8-0) has won 10 straight games, ascended to the nation's No. 2 ranking and captured its first eight in Southeastern Conference play since reconfiguring the lineup. The Gators will put all that on the line Tuesday night when they face Arkansas (13-7, 4-4) at sold-out Bud Walton Arena.
"I think he's matured and grown as a player," Donovan said. "He's finally getting an understanding that he can really impact the game in a lot of different ways."
Through the season's first 10 games, Boynton was leading UF in scoring at 12.5 points per game, but found himself forcing shots. During one five-game run, he made just 13 of 51 attempts from the floor (25.4 percent), including only 4-for-32 from 3-point range (12.5 percent). From the point spot, he had 27 assists and 18 turnovers. An OK ratio, but certainly nothing special.
He had a lot on his plate.
In the 10 games since returning to his familiar two-guard spot, Boynton has made 47.1 percent of his shots, nearly 42 percent of his 3-pointers and his assist-to-turnover ratio is an astounding 40-to-7 (with a 35-to-6 mark in SEC play that rates best among starters in the league).
In Saturday's 78-64 win over then-No. 16 Ole Miss, Boynton scored just nine points, but dished a career-best 10 assists, three more than the seven shelled out by Wilbekin, the team's leader at 5.1 per game. Florida tied its season high of 23 assists that day, a number the Gators have hit three of the last four games.
Consider this is a message to the pro scouts who wanted to see something from the Florida guard other than shot after shot after shot.
"I came back to prove I could pass the ball," said Boynton, whose maturation as a more complete offensive threat can be traced to one thing. "I'm more willing to give the ball up now. When you think team-first, you just see more things happening out there."
The willingness was there before. It just butted heads with his natural instinct to shoot the ball.
"It's not that Kenny had to remake his game as much as his awareness is so much better," UF assistant coach Matt McCall said. "As a freshman and a sophomore, he had to score a lot of points and take a lot of shots. But this team is so diverse, with so many weapons, and he's doing an unbelievable job of moving and passing and making the right play. That awareness has turned some shots he would have taken in the past into an easier shot for a teammate."
And that productivity should help Boynton in his basketball life after Florida, wherever that may be.
When Boynton went looking for feedback about his professional basketball options last spring, scouts saw a typical 6-2 college shooting guard and their responses were pretty much universal.
Stay in school, kid.
The book on Boynton wasn't long and didn't need to be. Since the moment he arrived at UF, Boynton was a volume shooter that resembled the version college recruiters watched during his McDonald's All-America days at Pompano Beach (Fla.) American Heritage High, where he once scored 61 points in a game.
Wonder how many assists he had that day?
"People never really came at me with assists [numbers] in high school," Boynton said. "They talked about points."
The words "Boynton" and "points" are still topical. With 1,857, he's the No. 3 scorer in UF history with a chance -- and it's a longshot -- to break the school scoring mark of 2,090, held by forward Ronnie Williams (1981-84).
For that to happen, the Gators need to make deep runs in the SEC and NCAA Tournament, and the best way for that to happen is to maintain the passing and sharing on offense that has been their hallmark this season.
"Kenny is playing the right way," junior forward Will Yeguete said. "We're all benefiting from it."
Or as Patric Young put it, he now has to be on alert when Boynton has the ball on the perimeter.
"The ball could be coming into my hands now, instead of me just [turning] to go for the rebound," Young said.
Donovan's not sure Boynton could have made this adjustment a few years ago.
"These guys are coming in from high school [and] there's so much hype, there's so much exposure, there's so much publicity, and Kenny was clearly one of the best high school players coming out. And I think, a lot of times, people just think, 'OK, it's going to take me a year or two, and I'm going to be in the NBA,' and it doesn't work like that. A lot of the NBA stuff is size for position, length, athleticism, jumping," Donovan said. "Through experience, he's become a very, very good decision-maker. He's made other people on the floor better."
But more importantly, his team.
"Honestly, coming back, I didn't have a real clear idea of what our record would be this year," Boynton said. "But the direction we're going? Man, I love it."
GATORS GAME BOX
No. 2 Florida at Arkansas
Tip-off: Tuesday, 7 p.m. (Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville, Ark.)
Records: Florida 18-2, 8-0 (SEC); Arkansas 13-8, 4-4 (SEC)
TV: ESPN (w/Brad Nessler, Jimmy Dykes and Shannon Spake)
Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Mark Wise) -- Click here for affiliates) / Sirius 134/XM 199
Game notes: Florida notes; Arkansas notes
Need to know: The Gators have won 10 straight for only the ninth time in program history and eighth time under Coach Billy Donovan. The Gators are looking to to join the 2007 team -- the one that defended its NCAA title -- as only the second to open the Southeastern Conference schedule with nine consecutive victories. ... Florida is coming off an 78-64 defeat of Ole Miss, an outcome that marked UF's closest league game. The Gators' average margin of victory in eight SEC games is 26.5 points. Arkansas, meanwhile, snapped a two-game losing streak Saturday by defeating Tennessee 73-60. The Razorbacks are 13-1 at Walton Arena (the loss to then-No. 6 Syracuse in November), including a 4-0 mark against SEC teams. ... Florida boasts the league's No. 1 scoring defense (51 ppg) and field-goal percentage defense (36.0), but Arkansas has scored 73 or more points in all but one game this season. ... Four of five UF starters average in double-figure scoring, led by senior guard Kenny Boynton (13.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg), but the fifth starter, junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin (9.3 ppg, 5.1 apg), is right there. ... Senior forward Erik Murphy leads the SEC in 3-point shooting, having made 43 of 84 attempts for 51.2 percent, including 57.1 percent in league play. ... Freshman backup guard Michael Frazier is making 50 percent (12-24) of his 3s in SEC games. ... Arkansas ranks third in the league in field-goal percentage (45.1), but first in assists (16) and first in turnover margin (plus-6.76). ... The Hogs are led by 6-3 sophomore guard BJ Young (16.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and 6-7, 240-pound junior forward Marshawn Powell (15.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg). Young, a former McDonald's All-American, scored 31 against Florida on 10-of-19 shooting last season, but the Gators won that game 98-68 behind 56.5-percent 3-point shooting.