Games like Tuesday night’s have come and gone for Florida Gators basketball over the years: blowouts over less-talented, in-state opponents in which Florida’s coach is less thrilled with his team’s effort than the score suggests.
Tuesday’s 89-65 victory over the Jacksonville Dolphins was different. There were four Gators in double figures despite the team once again struggling mightily from beyond the arc (.286) and at the charity stripe (.655), but it was the final basket scored by UF (which put it up 27 points for a period of 20 seconds) that was the most special.
Sophomore walk-on guard Zach Hodskins, who was 0-for-5 in his career in 13 minutes over his previous nine games, finally found the bottom of the net in highlight fashion with a great spin move in the paint and one-handed finish. One-handed, of course, because Hodskins was born without the other.
Yes, Hodskins has one hand and one forearm (he has two arms, though, despite what some misleading and somehow still-incorrect tweets, headlines and stories would have you believe). And it’s nice that he’s getting attention for scoring in a Division I basketball game because the highlight will hopefully encourage others with disabilities to understand that what may appear to be limitations are just speedbumps and not roadblocks.
But Hodskins’s story is not about his most recent highlight but rather his perseverance. He told OnlyGators.com in October 2013 that he taught himself how to tie his own shoes at five, spent middle school dominating on the monkey bars, was always able to do more pull-ups than his friends and played a number of other sports including baseball and wakeboarding.
This latest rush of recognition for Hodskins may not be as overwhelming as his commitment to the Gators was in the first place. Hopefully fans and media, going forward, will now look at Hodskins the way Billy Donovan did when he recruited the 6-foot-4 prospect to join the program.
“They made it clear, first of all, that I’m a player for them. They see me as a player in every aspect,” Hodskins told OnlyGators.com of his recruitment to Florida. “I have every opportunity to earn a scholarship. It’s not just because of who I am. It’s because they see me as a player. … I know Billy Donovan wants a lot of people to know that, and I want people to know that.”
So as Hodskins wishes, let’s make this about basketball.
Hodskins missed the ensuing free throw on the and-one opportunity created by his spinning layup, dropping the Gators below 66 percent for the game. On the season, Florida is scoring on just 62.3 percent of its foul line opportunities, which is good for 323rd nationally out of 346 teams. That’s not bad; it’s abhorrent.
The Gators used their overwhelming size to lead the Dolphins by eight at the break before pulling away in the second half of Tuesday’s win, outscoring the visitors by 16 over the final 20 minutes.
Freshman guard Kevaughn Allen was unable to hit any of his four attempts from long range but finished 5-of-6 both from inside the arc and at the charity stripe with a career- and team-high 15 points.
Redshirt sophomore center John Egbunu (14 points, five boards, three blocks), redshirt senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith (13 points) and sophomore F Devin Robinson (12 points) also scored in double digits.
Florida’s point guards, which have been up and down this season, played well for the second straight game. Junior Kasey Hill and sophomore Chris Chiozza combined for 16 points, 13 assists and 10 boards with Hill evening out with two steals and two turnovers.
Head coach Mike White was not pleased with the overall performance – “If we want to be average, we accomplished that” – a feeling that permeated through the team following the game.
At least Florida, Hodskins and all, has a week to prepare for its final contest of the elongated nonconference slate as it is next set to face Florida State on Dec. 29 at 7 p.m.