Gators lose Salt, miss out on Jenkins, Birch

Two days after the football team got arguably their second-best prospect of the 2012 cycle, the Florida Gators‘ two major sports programs suffered a trio of recruiting losses.

Early in the evening it was announced via the major recruiting services that four-star JUCO defensive tackle Visesio Salt (Walnut, CA), who decided on Dec. 18 that he would transfer and play for Florida next year, instead chose to remain closer to home and join the Utah football program. Salt wanted to commit to Utah out of high school but was unable to qualify due to his poor grades.

“It’s just the fact that it’s good to be at home with my family,” he told InsidetheGators.com. “They can come out and see every single game, every home game. It’s right down the street. It was going to be tough for them to come see me play at Florida. There was going to be a lot of money being spent. This is better for them. This is all about them.”

The Gators coaches, though dismayed to lose Salt from their recruiting class, understood the difficulty of his choice and stood behind his change of heart.

“They were really sad about my decision, but they supported me 100 percent,” Salt said. “They really wanted me to come up there. I loved everything about their program, but I had to make a decision about what was best for me. They respected me for putting family first.”

Florida was dealt another recruiting loss shortly thereafter when five-star power forward Khem Birch (Fitchburg, MA), who enrolled at Pittsburgh this year but decided to transfer and narrowed his list down to UF and UNLV, chose the latter program. Birch had a whirlwind recruitment that lasted just about a week and always appeared to be favor UNLV considering the basketball team’s penchant for recruiting Canadians like himself.

Unfortunately for the Gators, Birch is quite close with five-star PF Anthony Bennett (Henderson, NV), who Florida is hot after to round out its 2012 recruiting class. Bennett also has UNLV in his final five along with Kentucky, Washington and Oregon.

The Gators hoped to end the day with a commitment from a player the coaches had put a full-court press on this cycle, four-star defensive end Jordan Jenkins (Hamilton, GA). Announcing his decision live on FOX Sports South, Jenkins chose Georgia over Florida, Alabama and Auburn, a surprise because UF felt good about their chances.

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4 BITS: Tebow, Starks, Schottenheimer, Speights

1 » Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow set a number of football records on Sunday, but he also wound up making headlines in some off-the-field statistics, too. According to the Sports Business Journal, the Denver-Pittsburgh games registered a 25.9 overnight rating for CBS, which slates it as the largest-viewed AFC Wild Card game since 1988. Additionally, the final quarter-hour of the game (8-8:15 p.m.) pulled in a whopping 31.6 overnight rating. Tebow also made history on Twitter, setting a new sports tweets-per-second record with 9,420. CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell points out that Tebow’s tweets-per-second on Sunday shattered the previous sports record, which had the 2011 Women’s World Cup final game at 7,196 tweets/second. Other comparisons Rovell provided were Steve Jobs’s death (6,049 t/s), the Osama Bin Laden raid (5,106 t/s) and last year’s Super Bowl (4,064 t/s).

2 » Another happening from Sunday night’s game, albeit an unfortunate one, is that the injury to Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Max Starks knee appears to be a bad one. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Starks has an injury to his anterior cruciate ligament that is believed to be a tear. If he did indeed suffer a torn ACL, Starks will begin the 2012 season like he did this year – unemployed – and will have to try and work his way onto a NFL roster as he begins to heal. Starks was a free agent heading into the 2011 season but was signed by the Steelers as the team’s offensive line became decimated with injuries. Center Maurkice Pouncey, who was named to his second Pro Bowl this year and earned his first Associated Press All-Pro honor, missed Sunday’s game with a high-ankle sprain.

3 » Before NFL action began Sunday, a tweet from ESPN insider Adam Schefter got some Gators fans buzzing: “Brian Schottenheimer never withdrew his name from consideration for the Florida OC job.” Schottenheimer, the current offensive coordinator of the New York Jets, was previously thrown around as a name to consider for UF’s opening. However, the New York Daily News reported last week that he had withdrawn his name from consideration and was not a possibility for Florida. At the time there were no reports that the school had even reached out to him as a potential candidate. A former backup quarterback for Danny Wuerffel with the Gators under head coach Steve Spurrier, Schottenheimer has very little college coaching and recruiting experience (1999-2000). He has worked mostly as a NFL coach since 1997 and has been a quarterbacks coach since 2011, holding the role of offensive coordinator for New York since 2006.

4 » Maybe playing time really will do new Memphis Grizzlies center Marreese Speights well. Traded from the Philadelphia 76ers to Memphis on Jan. 4, Speights saw six minutes of action in his second game with his new team. However, the Grizzlies put Speights in for 29 minutes on Sunday and he responded with 17 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals. It remains to be seen how Speights will perform the rest of the season, but he said last year that consistent minutes are what he needs to take his game to the next level.

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Loss at Tennessee knocks Florida down in top 25s

The ninth editions of the 2011-12 regular season USA Today/ESPN and Associated Press Top 25 Polls were released on Monday, and the Syracuse Orange maintained their spot as the No. 1 team in the country for the fifth week in a row.

The Florida Gators fell to No. 19 in both polls on the heels of a victory at home against UAB and loss on the road at Tennessee. Florida is one of three Southeastern Conference teams listed in the respective rankings.

WeekGator BaitRecordAP Top 25USA TodayNCAA RPI
Preseason--No. 7 (1,153)No. 7 (568)-
2W 68-45 vs. William & Mary1-0No. 8 (1,127)No. 7 (560)-
3L 69-67 vs. Miami
W(OT) 61-56 vs. ULM
2-1No. 18 (467)No. 16 (303)-
4L(OT) 65-66 vs. Georgetown
W 56-47 vs. UAB
L 64-75 vs. North Carolina
3-3NR (40)No. 24 (60)-

USA TODAY/ESPN COACHES POLL
This Week 1-5: Syracuse (30), Kentucky (1), North Carolina, Baylor, Ohio State
6-10: Duke, Michigan State, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas
11-15: Georgetown, UNLV, Michigan, Murray State, Louisville
16-20: Connecticut, Virginia, Kansas State, Florida, Mississippi State
21-25: Creighton, San Diego State, Gonzaga, Marquette, Harvard

This Week 1-5: Syracuse (30), Kentucky (1), Duke, North Carolina, Baylor
6-10: Missouri, Ohio State, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville
11-15: Michigan State, Indiana, Michigan, Florida, Kansas
16-20: Mississippi State, UNLV, Murray State, Wisconsin, Marquette
21-25: Harvard, Kansas State, Virginia, Creighton, San Diego State

ASSOCIATED PRESS TOP 25 POLL
This Week 1-5: Syracuse (60), Kentucky (5), North Carolina, Baylor, Ohio State
6-10: Michigan State, Indiana, Duke, Missouri, Kansas
11-15: Georgetown, UNLV, Michigan, Louisville, Murray State
16-20: Virginia, Connecticut, Kansas State, Florida, Mississippi State
21-25: Gonzaga, San Diego State, Creighton, Seton Hall, Marquette

Last Week 1-5: Syracuse (60), Kentucky (5), North Carolina, Baylor, Duke
6-10: Ohio State, Missouri, Connecticut, Georgetown, Michigan State
11-15: Louisville, Indiana, Florida, Kansas, Mississippi State
16-20: Michigan, UNLV, Wisconsin, Murray State, Marquette
21-25: Virginia, Harvard, Kansas State, San Diego State, Gonzaga

*Numbers in parenthesis represent first-place votes.

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Road woes continue as Vols top Gators 67-56

An 11 a.m. start time did nothing to help the No. 13 Florida Gators (12-4, 0-1 SEC) shake off their season-long struggles on the road as the team opened up Southeastern Conference play with a 67-56 loss to the Tennessee Volunteers (8-7, 1-0 SEC) on Saturday afternoon at Thompson-Boling Arena.

The Gators fell to 2-8 in their last 10 contests against the Vols in Knoxville, TN and are now 0-4 in true road games this season including two losses in the last 10 days. UF’s 56 points were a season low and the fewest the team has posted since scoring 54 against Kentucky on March 13, 2011.

Florida got out to a sluggish start and Tennessee held even with them the entire way with the two teams trading the lead for the first few minutes of the game.

Ahead 20-17 after a 5-0 run, the Volunteers lost their advantage when the Gators responded with a 7-1 run of their own to go up three; however, UT answered right back with a 7-2 scoring stretch to jump ahead 28-26.

A three-pointer from junior guard Kenny Boynton gave UF a 29-28 advantage, but Tennessee capped the first half with a 5-0 run including a three by G Trae Golden with five seconds remaining to take a 33-29 lead into the break.

The second half started the same way for Florida with the Gators missing shots, turning the ball over and being taken to the hoop on defense. The Vols began incrementally increasing their lead throughout the half and jumped ahead 15 points with an 8-0 run capped by a trey from G Cameron Tatum.

Tennessee maintained that advantage nearly the rest of the half as Florida was unable to hit a field goal for 8:23, missing 11-straight shots. The Volunteers eventually took a game-high 16-point lead with less than two minutes to play, hanging on for an impressive victory over a ranked opponent.

The Gators shot just 35.7 percent from the field and 31.8 percent from downtown while their opponent was better than 50 percent from both locations. Florida outrebounded Tennessee 37-34 but turned the ball over 15 times and gave up 32 points in the paint. UT’s bench also outscored UF’s 25-1 over the course of the game.

Volunteers forward Kenny Hall and a pair of Gators – Boynton and junior F Erik Murphy – all posted 13 points each. Murphy went 5-for-7 from the field for Florida and had a game-high four blocks, while sophomore center Patric Young and Tennessee F Jeronne Maymon each had a game-high seven rebounds.

Gators freshman G Bradley Beal struggled once again with nine points on 4-of-12 shooting (1-for-5 from downtown) with five boards and five turnovers. Senior point guard Erving Walker was just 3-for-8 from the floor with three turnovers and two assists.

UF will look to rebound from another tough road loss with a home game against rival Georgia on Tuesday. The game will air live at 7 p.m. on ESPN.

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1/5: Donovan, Boynton talk early start, road woes

With No. 13/14 Florida Gators basketball days away from beginning their Southeastern Conference schedule with a road contest against the Tennessee Volunteers early Saturday afternoon, head coach Billy Donovan met with the media Thursday to discuss what preparations he is making for the squad’s next game.

TRYING TO GET THE TEAM HEALTHY

Injuries and illnesses have been piling up for Florida recently but Donovan is confident the Gators will be able to put them all in the back window soon. Redshirt freshman forward Cody LarsonCasey Prather (flu) have missed action recently due to being sick, and senior point guard Erving Walker and freshman G Bradley Beal have also caught a bug. However, all four are expected to be in action Saturday especially seeing as how Beal only missed one day of practice and Walker did not miss any.

During practice Thursday, junior F Erik Murphy got hit with an elbow by sophomore center Patric Young while the two were jostling for a rebound. Murphy had 3-4 stitches above his eyebrow, according to Donovan, and should be fine for the game. The only outstanding injury that Florida is keeping an eye on is redshirt junior G Mike Rosario’s ankle, which was recently twisted and caused him to miss the UAB game.

EARLY BIRD CATCHES THE WIN

Florida and Tennessee will meet Saturday with an 11 a.m. tip-off, an unusual time for a southeast college basketball game, but Donovan said he completely understands the scheduling and has no problem with it whatsoever.

“It’s just the price of having our league wanting to play on TV as much as it is. Everybody, whether it’s a 9 [p.m.] game somewhere whether it’s an 11 a.m. game, I think we all realize we’ve got to do things for the league and the exposure that ESPN is giving us,” he said. “I think that’s a part of it but, you know what, we’re playing at 11 a.m. and so are they, so we just have to make sure we are ready to play.”

Junior G Kenny Boynton is excited for the early start because he actually prefers it and thinks that the Gators are prepared for the change of pace. “Our team, we’ve been practicing early to get ready for this game, and we’re going to come out ready,” he said. “Usually one of the teams don’t come out ready since it’s an early game, but I think we need to be an enforcer.”

ROAD WOES NOT GETTING FLORIDA DOWN

Florida has lost all three of its true road games this season, a fact not lost on Donovan or his players. Obviously two of those contests were early in the season against teams ranked No. 3 in the nation at the time, but the Gators also dropped a tough double-overtime contest at Rutgers just last week. The common denominator between those losses? Turnovers – UF averaged 18 per game with a season-high 20 against Syracuse.

“I think that’s something that we got to do a better job at and will need to do a better job in Knoxville,” Donovan said. “I also think our ability to make really good decisions, and I don’t necessarily mean turning the ball over, but making good decision of when to shoot, when not to shoot, when to go inside – all of that stuff with our team being on the same page, I think that’s got to get better, too.”

Boynton is confident in Florida’s ability to win on the road and pointed to how well last year’s team played away from home once it hunkered down and practiced hard, which is what he said the Gators have been doing this week.

“We played some tough teams on the road, and we let Rutgers slip [by us], but we’ve seen the mistakes we did on the road against those three teams, and I think we’re going to do a good job playing against Tennessee,” he said.

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Donovan on Beal’s recent struggles: “There’s a different level of talent he’s dealing with right now. For him to go through what he went through last game and what he went through from Rutgers, he has to go through that in order to take the next step as a player, to understand the speed and pace of the game, to understand that he’s got to play out of his comfort zone a little bit in terms of the speed of the game. Him going through the process of coming from high school to college and how different it is, I just think there’s a real learning curve there for him, and I don’t think he’s different from any really talented freshman.”

» Donovan on Young developing offensively: “Patric’s gotten better. The biggest thing for him is a combination of our guys finding him in good spots on the floor and also him working to get to those spots on the floor. He’s been a lot more efficient offensively because when he has that good deep post position we’ve found him and we’ve gotten him the ball to him in the right areas of the floor. Where Patric is probably not as effective is when he catches it maybe a couple steps off the lane line and now all of a sudden the guys on the perimeter can really sink down and provide help as he works his way to the basket.”

» Boynton on Young’s aggressiveness in practice: “Whether it’s been a pick or a rebound, Pat’s hit everyone on this team.”

» Sophomore point guard Scottie Wilbekin on if he’s been tagged by Young yet: “No, he’s never got me. I stay out of his way.”

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Chandler Parsons slams it down on Blake Griffin

In case you have missed his games so far in this young season, former Florida Gators forward Chandler Parsons is turning some heads with the way he has started playing for the Houston Rockets. Parsons, who has played solid minutes in three of six games this year and had a career-high 24 on Wednesday against the Los Angeles Clippers, also had an impressive put-back dunk on center Blake Griffin that has been getting some buzz. In the three games he’s seen significant time (more than 10 minutes), Parsons is averaging 9.7 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 54.5 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from downtown. Below is a clip of Parsons’s dunk, which concluded with a lingering stare at Griffin. There is no animosity between the two, however, as Parsons tweeted after the game that he had dinner with Griffin.

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Speights heading to Memphis in three-team swap

Former Florida Gators center Marreese Speights, who has spent his entire three-year NBA career with the Philadelphia 76ers after the team selected him early out of school with the No. 16 overall pick in the first round of the 2008 NBA Draft, will be playing his fourth year in a new city with a different team.

Speights was dealt Wednesday to the Memphis Grizzlies as part of a three-team trade with Philadelphia and New Orleans, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein, who first reported the transaction. As part of the trade, guard Xavier Henry will go from Memphis to New Orleans and two second-round picks are being sent to Philadelphia as compensation.

Speights played a career-low minutes (11.5) with the 76ers last year after averaging 16.2 per game in his first two seasons. He has not seen the court in four games this year.

Following his team’s 4-1 series loss to Miami in the first round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs, Speights sat down for an interview with OGGOA and discussed his lack of playing time, citing that the inconsistency never allowed him to get into a rhythm.

“It was so inconsistent that I never knew how to prepare for the game because I never knew if I was going to get in or not,” he said. “It was hard for me to prepare myself this year. I might have a good game one game and then come back and play three minutes and then after that DNPs [“do not play” – a designation given by the coach] for three games and then come back and play 15 minutes. It was the whole year – inconsistent. I feel like if I can get in there, I’ll produce. That’s how I’ve been my whole career.”

A 49.2 percent career shooter, Speights has averaged 7.2 points and 3.7 rebounds in 205 NBA games (four starts). He posted 14.5 points and 8.1 rebounds while shooting 62.4 percent in 24.3 minutes during his final year at Florida

Speights will join a Grizzlies team that reached the conference semifinals round of the playoffs last year as a No. 8 seed. Memphis defeated No. 1-seed San Antonio 4-1 in the first round before falling 4-3 to Oklahoma City in a seven-game series.

Considered one of the surprise teams in the Western Conference last season, the Grizzlies are primed to return to the playoffs in 2012. Speights will become the team’s primary reserve center playing behind rising star Marc Gasol but will also spend time backing up power forward Zach Randolph, who recently went down with a MCL tear.

Randolph’s previous backup, Darrell Arthur, is out for the season with a torn Achilles, and Randolph is expected to miss up to eight weeks himself, which provides Speights with a great opportunity for immediate playing time.

Photo Credits: Associated Press, Unknown

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Donovan’s UAB post-game, SEC teleconference

The No. 13/14 Florida Gators ended their 2011-12 non-conference schedule with another double-digit victory, defeating UAB 79-61 on Tuesday at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL. After the game, head coach Billy Donovan met with the media and shared his thoughts on the victory. He also spoke to the media Wednesday as part of the Southeastern Conference‘s weekly teleconference.

HOW FLORIDA CAN BECOME A TRULY “ELITE” TEAM

Following Tuesday’s game, Donovan was open and honest about what the Gators will have to do to be an elite this year, saying Florida must learn to sacrifice, appreciate their opponents and respect each other as capable, talented players.

“When you’re talking about being a really elite team, it means you have talent on your team. And we have talent on our team. So the first thing that needs to happen is they need to sacrifice. There is always a level of sacrifice. Any of the teams that go really far understand that there’s a level of sacrifice, that they can do more but they understand that them doing more creates less for the team and them actually doing a little bit less creates more for the team. There needs to be an appreciation for who you’re playing with and the fact that there’s good players around you and really admiring, respecting the job that they have in front of them and how they go about doing their job. And then I think there needs to be a level of emotion and passion and excitement and thankfulness for the opportunity to compete. People that can embrace those areas and those aspects have a chance to end up being very elite provided they have the talent level in place to be elite. Those are hard things to deal with.”

YOUNG IS A KEY BUT HE’S ALSO JUST DOING HIS JOB

As a team with a plethora of talented guards and a relatively thin frontcourt when it comes to size and strength, Florida is seen nationally as a squad that depends on sophomore center Patric Young to give them a low-post presence. That may be the case, but Donovan was quick to point out that Young – like every other player – is just doing his job and whatever he can to help the Gators win each game.

“We’re a team and everybody’s got to do their job and their part. Patric’s certainly has got a job and a part that he plays. There’s no question that his size and strength and things that he can do helps our team,” he said.

“We need Patric to play with the energy he’s always played with and continue to develop and get better. I think he’s in an entirely different role than he was a year ago because our frontcourt was so deep and he was a freshman last year and there was a learning curve he had to go through. Patric has been a great kid to coach because he’s eager to get better, he’s eager to improve. The team is important to him as is winning. We just need him to continually do his job night-in and night-out, and I think he’s committed to doing that.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Donovan from Tuesday on heading on the road to Tennessee: “There’s a process that these guys need to go through in order to understand the level they need to play at and compete at. I think our non-conference schedule has been difficult, has been challenging. I feel good about going into Knoxville from the standpoint of playing at Rutgers, playing at Syracuse, playing at Ohio State. We’ve played at some difficult venues and our guys understand what it’s like playing on the road.”

» Donovan from Wednesday on having a few days off before the UT game: “Everybody right now is excited about league play starting. I know our guys are, too. At least playing last night we get a little bit of time here with the break to get prepared to play against Tennessee on the road. Obviously in this league I think every game, home or away, is a battle, and we know we got a great challenge ahead of us in Knoxville.”

» Donovan from Wednesday on if not playing for a division title anymore impacts him as a coach or the players who compete on the court: “One of the emphases that have decreased over the year is when you do win a conference championship and you win your league. Because of all the expansion and because of all that’s going on with schools moving into different leagues and so many teams in so many different leagues, there never really is anymore a true champion. I don’t think an East champion and a West champion alters our minds going into the season, but I think we’re all as coaches on board with trying to do what’s best for the league to help our league. Whoever wins the league this year, in a lot of respects none of our schedules are exactly the same. The only way to have a fair league champion is to play everybody twice, once home and once away. That’s certainly not going to happen with the amount of games that need to be played for people with what they’re trying to do with their non-conference schedule. The feeling was to move to one league and not have divisions was the best thing for the league. The coaches agreed that would be a good thing to do. Although we don’t have divisions, we still are playing divisional play so-to-speak with the way the schedules are set up. I don’t think we’ve ever gone into the season saying, ‘Let’s win the East.’ Certainly all of the schools are competing for a SEC championship and trying to compete for postseason play to continue to move forward, grow, develop and get better as the course of the season unfolds.”

» Donovan from Wednesday on how he feels about there not being a “true” champion anymore: “Things evolve and change. I remember when I was an assistant at Kentucky when it was still you played everybody twice, there was truly a champion and a lot of emphasis placed on that. Among the coaches and the players its important, but once you get through the regular season, a lot of the focus even goes beyond your conference tournament right into whose on the bubble, whose off the bubble, whose going to be a number one seed, how’s the seeding going to be. It’s almost as if everything is geared towards the NCAA Tournament. And I understand that. It certainly creates a lot of excitement for college basketball. I still think for the coaches and the players, competing for a league championship, playing for a league championship is very important. I don’t know if nationally in terms of fans and people, if people look at that as necessarily being a big deal.”

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