With just days to go until the Florida Gators‘ 2011-12 basketball season gets underway, the first half of OGGOA‘s series – The Countdown – takes a look at those players on the roster wearing jerseys ranging from No. 35-23.
35 – Walter Pitchford V (Grand Rapids, MI)
6’10” 221 lbs.
Quick Bio: A three-star recruit coming out of high school, Pitchford was the last player to join the Gators’ 2011 signing class. He originally committed to DePaul in 2010 but requested a release from his signed scholarship when the head coach was fired; Pitchford wanted to attend Summit Christian Academy prep school for a year and reevaluate his options. DePaul and the NCAA initially denied his request before eventually granting it in July, paving the way for him to commit to Florida.
2011-12 Outlook: Though the Gators do not have much size, Pitchford is still quite raw as a player and will likely see the fewest game minutes of anyone on the roster this season. “Walter is still learning and growing,” head coach Billy Donovan said in mid-October. “Walter is not any different than a lot of freshmen that come in terms of figuring out how hard they have to play, better competition, what to do, where to go, what’s happening.” Pitchford said in April that Donovan plans to have him on the court as a stretch four who will have opportunities to play on the perimeter at times.
34 – Cody Larson (Sioux Falls, SD)
Redshirt freshman forward/center
6’9” 231 lbs.
Quick Bio/2010-11 Season: A three-star power forward coming out of high school, Larson is quite athletic and quick for his size and position. Though he averaged 19.8 points and 7.8 rebounds as a high school senior, Larson redshirted last season and will play his first regular season minutes this year.
2011-12 Outlook: Back with the team after being indefinitely suspended over the summer, Larson is expected to see major playing time as a reserve at the four and five. He is the primary backup to sophomore center Patric Young and could have a big role this season. “Cody is a big body who can rebound and run the floor and step out and knock down jumpers,” former Florida forward Chandler Parsons told OGGOA last week. “He just has to bring it every night and provide energy and whatever else the team needs. He could really help out down low this year.” Donovan has also praised him. “Cody has been a guy that is doing a lot of really good things right now in terms of the little things that aren’t going to show up on a stat sheet,” he said. “I’ve been pleased with what he’s been able to do for our team physically because we need another physical presence up front.”
6’10” 230 lbs.
Quick Bio: The first-ever player from Rhode Island to be named a Parade Magazine All-American, Murphy was a four-star commit in 2009 who has played as a backup in each of his first two years with UF. He is shooting 55.7 percent for his career, 40 percent from downtown and 69.2 percent from the line while averaging 2.4 rebounds per game.
2010-11 Season: Murphy earned one start in 2010-11 when Parsons was injured and unable to play. Otherwise he served as the primary frontcourt reserve off the bench behind a veteran unit. He averaged 4.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in 33 games and scored in double digits three times. Murphy shined in the NCAA Tournament against UCLA, scoring seven points on 3-for-4 shooting.
2011-12 Outlook: Like Larson, Murphy was indefinitely suspended for most of the offseason but rejoined the team and earned a starting role this year. He was 6-of-9 from the field and 3-for-4 from downtown for 17 points in the team’s exhibition against Catholic. “I’m just going to try to play my role, do what coach asks and do whatever I can for the team to help us win,” he said last Wednesday. Murphy jumped up to 230 lbs. in the offseason and said that his much-needed weight gain has helped him become stronger and more durable. “A couple times both seasons I got banged up a bit,” he said. The weight [gain] has definitely helped me. I’m in the best shape of my life. It feels good, and I feel comfortable right now.”
24 – Casey Prather (Jackson, TN)
6’6” 212 lbs.
Quick Bio/2010-11 Season: A highly recruited swingman and four-star player coming out of high school, Prather saw 6.7 minutes of action per game as a freshman but served mostly as a roleplayer during the season, averaging 1.2 points and 1.1 rebounds per appearance. He wound up starting two games due to Parsons’s injury and scored double-digits once – on 5-of-8 shooting against North Carolina A&T.
2011-12 Outlook: Prather, who can play in the frontcourt or backcourt, is one of the Gators’ most versatile players. His length and athleticism allow him to move the ball, get open in space and attack the basket, but he is still trying to refine his touch and become an all-around player. Prather had a team-high seven rebounds in the exhibition and will be counted on to hit the boards hard all season long.
23 – Brad Beal (St. Louis, MO)
6’3” 207 lbs.
Quick Bio: Arguably the best player ever to sign a national letter of intent with Donovan and the Gators, Beal was a five-star recruit and one of the top five players in the country coming out of high school last year. The 2011 Gatorade National Player of the Year, he averaged 32.5 points, 5.7 boards, 2.8 assists and 2.7 steals per game as a high school senior. Beal is the 14th McDonald’s All-American signed by Donovan and also a two-time Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Missouri. In the offseason, Beal led the United States’s U17 FIBA World Championship team to a gold medal and captured the tournament’s most valuable player honor.
2011-12 Outlook: A starter from day one, Beal joins a veteran backcourt that has been playing together for three years. He has been a model freshman in practice so far and could be a big catalyst for Florida in 2011-12. Beal scored a 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting (4-for-7 from downtown) with five dimes in the exhibition game one week ago and could very well be the team’s best offensive player this season due to his ability to hit open shots and slash to the basket. “He’s been a guy that’s absorbed everything pretty well,” Donovan said of Beal. “He’s more advanced than most freshmen in terms of being able to retain and understand what we’re trying to get done. Coupled with the fact that he’s a talented and gifted player. He’s been unfazed, so to speak, by what he’s gone through. It’s been challenging, but it’s not like he’s lost or confused. He has a really good understanding and feel of what we’re trying to do and [he] is able to do that.”