OGGOA concludes its look at the three seniors set to be honored Wednesday evening as the Florida Gators basketball program celebrates Senior Night at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Be sure to check out the other two features as well.
When senior guard Kenny Boynton committed to the Florida Gators on Oct. 30, 2008, he was ranked as the No. 12 overall prospect in the 2009 recruiting class and seen as player who would spend one – maybe two – years in college before moving on.
Things obviously did not go as planned for Boynton. While reflecting on his four-year career at Florida on Monday, he certainly admitted as much.
“I think everything happens for a reason. I think in the four years that I’ve been here, I think I’ve gotten better as a player. I definitely didn’t think, when I first signed, that I would be here four years,” he said.
Boynton earned himself a starting role right away as a freshman. He averaged team-highs in minutes per game (32.9) and scoring average (14.0) in his first season but was quite inefficient overall, shooting just 37.6 percent from the floor and 29.4 percent from beyond the arc. Those numbers basically held true during his sophomore campaign, making it quite clear that a professional career would have to wait as he worked on improving his game at the collegiate level.
What Boynton did accomplish in those first two seasons was helping the Gators return to the NCAA Tournament after consecutive NIT appearances. Florida got bounced by BYU in a two-overtime dogfight in the first round when Boynton was a freshman but won the 2011 SEC regular season title outright and made its first of back-to-back Elite Eight appearances during his sophomore season. The Gators returned to prominence and he was a big part of that turnaround.
“Honestly, it took a team effort. The year I came in, Vernon Macklin, it was his first year playing. Chandler Parsons that was his first year starting. I think it took a team effort for all of us to collectively come together,” Boynton said. “I think Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, this group has done a great job giving themselves their own identity. Through it all, I think I had a part in it but overall all of us did it.”
The offseason before his junior year was an important one for Boynton. He worked with a shooting specialist and matured as a player.
With only one senior on the team (Erving Walker) and a big-name freshman (Bradley Beal) in the fold, Boynton did what was necessary to make a major impact. He improved his shooting drastically by draining 44.0 percent of his field goals and 40.7 percent of his threes – up 6.5 percent and 7.6 percent from his sophomore season, respectively – and became Florida’s best perimeter defender in the process.
UF took a backseat to Kentucky last season despite the team’s improved play and second-straight Elite Eight appearance. The Gators have taken another step forward now during the 2012-13 campaign, but Boynton’s shooting is down from a year ago.
He’s back to his sophomore season numbers – 39.6 percent from the floor and 32.8 percent from downtown – while scoring three fewer points per game. What he has done, however, is become a better ball handler, distributor and rebounder, averaging a career-low 1.3 turnovers and career-highs of 3.1 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game.
“It’s a mind thing,” Boynton said of his shooting struggles. “I couldn’t say that from this year to last year anything has changed in my shot. I’ve been in the gym if not more this year than last year trying to get it right. I think, personally, it’s probably a mind thing. It’s something I’m definitely working at. I definitely don’t want to stop shooting, going to the gym. I definitely have been working at it trying to get it back where it was at.”
When or if Boynton finds his stroke could determine whether Florida can break through that Elite Eight barrier in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. But before the postseason comes into focus, the Gators have one more task to handle: winning their second outright SEC regular season title in three years.
“[Winning] it would mean a lot. Coach [Billy] Donovan told us [Sunday], the junior group and our senior group will probably be the first ones to ever do that. It would definitely mean a lot to be the first group to ever win two outright SECs. … We never have been able to cut down the nets. I think as a team we would want that, but it’s his decision and we’ll see how it plays out.”
Unlike in 2011, when the Gators clinched the title in Nashville, TN, Florida will be playing at home on Wednesday. It will be Senior Night in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, the perfect stage for a coronation if ever one was to occur this season.
Looking back on his career, Boynton is glad he came back for his senior campaign and is in the position to accomplish what is within reach on Wednesday.
“The team is winning and I’m most happy with that,” he said. “The season is still going on and I think we have a team that we can make a good run in the NCAA Tournament. I’m happy with my teammates, and I’m happy with this year.”
He also knows that while staying four years was not his original plan, he has become a better player by sticking around and putting his career Donovan’s hands.
“I’ve learned a lot. Coach Donovan has pushed me to a level that I didn’t know I had in me,” Boynton said. “Sometimes coming in two-a-days and us thinking we didn’t have the energy to practice. I’ve met some great people here, and I’ve honestly enjoyed my four years here.”
Donovan certainly holds Boynton in high regard. He loves telling the story of his recruitment (Donovan handed Boynton a Nerf gun and told him to shoot him if he ever thought he was being less than honest) and is pleased to praise the young man when he deserves it. Though Boynton deflected credit to his teammates, Donovan sees him as a big reason why things turned back around at Florida.
“Kenny coming out of high school probably could have gone just about anywhere in the country, chose to stay in-state and play here,” he said. “Coming off of two NITs and then his freshman year, still have vivid memories of him having a great game against Jimmer Fredette and BYU – scoring and defending and really trying to make a huge impact in the game. We came up a little bit short.
“Getting a chance to be part of an SEC Championship his sophomore year, advancing deeper in the tournament the last couple of years. The fact that he’s going to leave here one of the all-time leading scorers, he’s just had an incredible career. Personally, I’ve loved coaching him. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to coach him a lot longer.”
Boynton will leave the Gators as more than just a leading scorer (his 1,940 points, as of press time, are second to Ronnie Williams’s 2,090). He is already first in Florida’s all-time record books in five categories: three-point field goals made (320) and attempted (934), field goal attempts (1,591), career starts (133) and minutes played (4,414). Boynton is also in the top-10 for field goals made (No. 7 – 635), games played (No. 7 – 136), free throws made (No. 9 – 350) and assists (No. 10 – 376).
In other words, Boynton has done it all throughout his four years despite never focusing on putting up gaudy statistics.
“I didn’t think about breaking records or anything like that when I got here,” he admits.
Instead, when he eventually hangs up his jersey and leaves UF for good after graduating in May, Boynton desires to be remembered in one very specific way.
“I want them to say I went out as a winner,” he said. “In my four years here, I’ve tried my best to win as much as I could. Definitely I want to go out this year as a winner, winning the national championship. I definitely want to be remembered as that.”
The national title still being a ways off, Boynton and his fellow seniors can take the first step in cementing their legacies as winners by giving it their all one final time in front of what is sure to be a rowdy crowd at the O’Dome on Wednesday evening.
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