As the Florida Gators try to mentally block out the three-game losing streak they are taking into the postseason and prepare for action beginning Thursday in the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament, another upcoming event is also on the minds of a few players: the 2012 NBA Draft in June.
Up to three Gators – freshman guard Bradley Beal, sophomore center Patric Young and junior G Kenny Boynton – may decide it is in their best interest to become professional basketball players at the end of the season. Any or all of those three could join senior point guard Erving Walker, who is graduating in the spring, leaving what could potentially be a large void of talent in the Florida basketball program.
Beal is considered the most likely of the three to leave – and for good reason. Despite being one of the youngest players on the team, he has quickly earned head coach Billy Donovan’s trust and respect and is playing 34.2 minutes per game this season, the most on the team. Beal, who is averaging team-highs of 6.5 rebounds and 1.2 steals while scoring 14.4 points and dishing out a pair of assists each contest, has been praised by Donovan for his maturity (at such a young age), basketball IQ and an overall understanding of what it takes to win both on and off the court.
Those are just a few reasons why Beal is projected in most mock drafts to be a top-10 pick by the time the event rolls around. Analysts believe his size at 6’3” and 207 lbs., length, athleticism and production will translate well to the NBA.
That does not mean he is without his issues and flaws. A sharpshooter in high school, Beal was expected to be a high-percentage scorer both while driving to the hoop and taking jumpers from three-point range. However, his 42.9 percent shooting from the field is second-lowest out of anyone playing at least 20 minutes per game for Florida, and his 31.8 percent accuracy from downtown is the lowest on the team out of any player who has taken at least two treys this season.
Despite all of his positive attributes, another year in college would likely do Beal a lot of good. Returning to UF could not only help him hone is game but also raise his draft stock further and put him in position to be a top-five pick when 2013 rolls around. According to his coach, an additional season at the collegiate level would help Young even more.
Donovan spoke at length Monday about Young, who had arguably his best performance of the season on Sunday against No. 1 Kentucky by posting 21 points and nine rebounds while providing a great deal of effort and energy on both ends of the floor. That has not always been the case for Young this season, and Donovan has had the reason why pinpointed for a while now.
“When you’re talking about maturity, it rears its head in a lot of different ways. Maturity can also be when the game is not going well for you that you still find ways to impact the game by still staying locked in instead of maybe having your own internal pity party that you’re not playing well,” he said. “I talk to our guys a lot about an internal will. Internal will to me is, when you’re not playing well as a player, do you fight harder because your internal will is that you want the outcome or result that you want? Are you willing to fight for those things not only for yourself but for your team? That can be a lack of maturity, when adversity hits not being able to understand how to deal with it.
“Another part of maturity can be your self-talk in your own head, convincing yourself of something that may not even be true but you deem it to be true in your head. Patric has dealt with some foot and knee [injuries] but it’s not anything that is preventing him from playing. He played that way against [Anthony] Davis and Kentucky [Monday], he’s capable of doing that every single game. I’m not saying getting 21 points and 15 rebounds, but he’s capable of having that impact in the game.
“There’s a level of requirement that you have to have as a player that, when you step into practice, you’ve got to work on a regular basis to get better. He had two really good days on Friday and Saturday going into the game, and he did not have a very good day on Wednesday at all. It’s that up-and-down-ness of, ‘I’m tired, I’m sore, my knee hurts, my foot hurts.’ You can’t one minute say that and then the next minute jump up and tomahawk dunk. That doesn’t make any sense. That’s part of any player growing, and I think Patric is still scratching the surface of understanding who he can be and what he can be on a consistent basis.”
Donovan has never been one to hold a player back from going to the NBA if he truly felt he was ready to leave. He told Corey Brewer, Al Horford and Joakim Noah that he felt all three were prepared to turn pro after they won their first national championship; the decision to stay was a choice the trio made, partially because they wanted to win another title and partially because they knew their coach could get them even more prepared for the next level.
Based on general comments he made about Young on Monday, Donovan does not appear convinced that he is ready to take that next step in his career. Though NBA teams may have him up high on their draft boards based on his physical attributes and potential, Young still has a ways to go to become a well-rounded basketball player in Donovan’s eyes.
“As much as I want to expedite that process – I want it to happen right now – he’s got to go through it. What happens is, when you go through the pain and struggle of competition, you start to find out a lot more about yourself internally,” he said. “Patric is finding those things out because I think there was a struggle there for a while for him, even in practice every day – giving the effort and the commitment that he needs to give.
“It also comes down to, more than that, what does Patric want out of the game of basketball? Every player can want something. There are some players that like what the game brings to them – notoriety, attention, for certain guys playing in the NBA, money. Then there’s certain guys that really want to be great in the game and what drives them is to be the best they can be. This process, while these guys are in college, is all about them figuring out what do I really want from the game? Who do I want to be in the game of basketball? It can’t be about external, peripheral stuff. It has to be: what do I really want?
“Once you find out what you really want form the game, then you’re able to go in with incredible perseverance, great internal will because you have a clear-cut understanding of what it takes. Patric is finding out right now what it takes to be a great player. Now the next step is, is he able to make that commitment every single day to play like he did [Sunday] all the time? Not scoring – his activity. A post presence, good post moves, running the floor, offensive rebounding, being physical, defending. He’s capable of doing those things every single night.”
Unlike Beal and Young, Boynton is not a player on the top of teams’ draft boards right now. Slightly undersized for a shooting guard and lacking experience at the point, he has not had the sustained success that scouts like to see from veteran college players.
Working to Boynton’s advantage, however, is the fact that he is in the midst of a career year for the Gators, posting career-highs in points (16.8) and shooting averages. He is hitting shots from the field at a 45.9 percent clip (7.4 percent better than a season ago) and has improved his accuracy from three by 10.3 percent, now hitting 43.4 of his attempts from long range.
Asked Monday if he has made a decision on whether or not he intended to return for his senior season, Boynton gave a short, simple and potentially concerning reply.
“I don’t know,” he said.
Should Beal be the only player to leave early, Florida whould be able to recover relatively quickly. His talent is irreplaceable, but junior G Mike Rosario can step into his minutes and the Gators also have a trio of young guards committed for 2012.
Young and Boynton departing along with Beal would be a cause of major concern for Florida, the former being UF’s only true dominant post presence and the latter being a veteran scorer who is only beginning to hit his stride at the collegiate level. The Gators have no big men committed for 2012 and would face major depth issues in the frontcourt.
The best-case scenario for Florida, of course, would be all three returning for the 2012-13 season with the potential to build on the foundation laid out this year. With as few as two and as many as eight games remaining until the 2011-12 campaign comes to a close, winning tournament games is not the only thing on the Gators’ mind as much as some may want to believe that’s the case.