10/29: Rosario to start, Larson welcome back

Just a few days before his team steps on the court for its first and only exhibition game of the season, Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan met with the media to discuss how his roster is shaping up heading into the 2012-13 campaign.

ROSARIO GETS FIFTH STARTING SPOT…FOR NOW

Redshirt senior guard Mike Rosario, by all accounts, matured a great deal this offseason. Not only did coaches on the Puerto Rico National Team rave about his conditioning and efforts, Donovan said he got a sense that Rosario understands this is his last chance to prove that he can be a contributing member of a team and play well enough to take his career to the next level.

Because he is starting to build a trust level inside the team and has shown, both on and off the court, that he has made great strides, Rosario is listed as the starter at the small forward position for Thursday’s exhibition game against Nebraska-Kearney.

“His behavior, his accountability, him being responsible has carried n through. I think he has a better understanding of the expectation level here on him,” Donovan said. “It really didn’t make a difference. I could have started Casey [Prather]. I threw him out there because I certainly, with what he’s been doing, wanted to give him an opportunity to go out there and do that.”

He continued, “Mike has done a good job. As far as my trust level for him on the court, I think it’s growing and growing because he’s taking care of his responsibilities. I think the biggest thing right now for him that he needs to take care of on the court where he’s got to get better is just his carelessness with the ball at times. I think sometimes he’s too loose and too lax. In terms of him playing hard, being here every day, not missing practice, his attitude, trying to be a positive guy each and every day, how he’s trying to play the game, things he’s doing, I think are things that I’m kind of expecting out of him right now.”

Donovan would have no problem starting Prather against a team with a larger small forward or in a game in which rebounding may be of prime concern. Though he said he appreciates the efforts that the guards have made in rebounding, he admitted that Florida’s lack of size will be an issue all year on the glass. That is just one of the reasons why Donovan does not expect to name starters on a regular basis, though four of the players spots are obviously decided.

“I’ve never really been a big believer in just naming – these are our starters and these guys are starting. I would say there’s going to be some process of elimination,” he said. “I’m never going to come out and say, ‘These are our starters,’ because I think sometimes personnel in games dictates that, sometimes how guys practice dictates that, injury dictates that. And I think what it also does is it sends a message to your team that [players can earn more playing time or a starting job].”

Read the rest of this post…after the break!

DOOR IS OPEN FOR LARSON TO RETURN

On the surface, redshirt sophomore center Cody Larson deciding to quit the Gators may not be a big loss, but it does hurt the basketball team overall. No, he was not expected to see a huge increase from the minutes he played a year ago, but Larson was a big body in practice and a player who Donovan said Monday that he saw making strides each and every day.

“I think it definitely hurts the depth [in the frontcourt]. I would say this. I think Cody, without question, in September with individual workouts and then certainly the first 10 days of practice, the first week of practice, was playing his best basketball that I’ve seen him play. And I think he was aware of that as well, too,” he said.

“Because of his departure, you’re taking a physical body. Right now with [Erik] Murphy and Patric [Young], those I would say would be the only two frontcourt guys that we have right now that are going to play that have legitimate size, girth, big, body guys. Will [Yeguete], to a certain extent, is an undersized power forward even though he’s been effective playing that power forward spot for us and has been a great rebounder loose ball guy. Certainly, Cody leaving provides some depth issues there.”

Larson’s departure does not appear to be about playing time, at least not how Donovan tells it. Instead, it appears as if he came to a crossroads where he decided that playing collegiate basketball was not what he wanted out of life for the time being. Donovan noted that he had become more dedicated academically and taken greater responsibility for his life. This decision was part of that overall assessment.

“I’m not so sure he’s even going to go play anywhere else. I don’t even think it’s about that for him. I think he’s in a great, great place right now mentally for himself. I’m really proud of the strides that he’s made in his personal life, taking accountability and responsibility. I think it was the first time since I’ve been with Cody in two years that I actually feel like he’s critically thought about his future, his career, his life away from basketball,” he said.

“I think the realization hit him that right now, at this point in time, I don’t think he loves the game. Just doesn’t love it, just doesn’t enjoy coming in and working and doing those kinds of things. I think it was a feeling for him where he felt like he was doing our coaching staff a disservice. He felt like he was doing the team a disservice. I think he realized that if he stayed on the course he’s been on now for the last six months, it was pretty evident he was going to have his scholarship back. That’s not to sit there and say he may not want to play after he reevaluates or reassesses things, but he’s going to stay here for the rest of the semester. I think right now for him everything is on the table.”

To that end, Donovan said he would welcome Larson back if he chose to play basketball again. “I would if he really wanted to do it. If there’s anybody that knows about changing their mind, it’s me,” he said, referring to his about-face in regards to coaching the Orlando Magic after winning back-to-back national championships.

“If he legitimately felt like a week, two weeks for now, that he missed it and made a huge mistake, we’re not bringing anybody in right now. He could come back to our team,” Donovan continued. “I understand as a young kid right now, there’s a lot swirling around in his head. I am not at all pushing him to come back. I have not even tried to even talk him into staying. I didn’t give him some motivational speech because the bottom line is, if I really tried to persuade or influence him staying, at some point those feelings are going to resurface again and he’s going to have to deal with them.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» On playing three guards, whether in the starting lineup or during the game: “Clearly, just based on our personnel, there’s going to be points in time in the game we have three guards on the floor. The biggest thing is going to be, how long can we play that way? Because right now my biggest concern is we don’t rebound. We don’t. Not at the level we need to rebound the ball at.”

» Donovan said he was proud of the way team practiced for the first two weeks of fall, save for one day in which he got on the players about their effort. He is now focused on getting the Gators to push over the mental hump so the coaching staff can begin working on specific areas in which the team can improve.

» On team retention and the freshman class: “The thing that’s clear is the seven [veteran] guys have an idea what’s going on. They really understand it. I would say the encouraging part with our freshmen is they have been able to sustain a level of intensity, they’re working hard every single day, and they’re making practice very, very competitive for us. But there’s still an enormous amount those guys got to learn and get better at.”

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