Florida Gators land five-star PF Chris Walker

Don’t look now but Billy Donovan has done it again.

Just a month after corralling two of the top transfers in college basketball, the Florida Gators head coach has hauled in another impressive catch, earning a commitment from five-star power forward Chris Walker (Bonifay, FL) on Sunday morning.

The top remaining target on Donovan’s recruiting board and one of two players the coach honed in on gaining a commitment from in the 2013 recruiting cycle, Walker chose Florida over Kansas, Kentucky and Louisville. He is listed as the No. 6 overall player in his class by Rivals and the No. 7 player in the nation by ESPN.

Walker surprised fans early Sunday morning when he wrote on Twitter that he would be making his decision at 8 a.m. He made good on that promise by officially announcing his commitment to the Gators via video on the website Home Team Hoops (see below).

“I will be playing college basketball for the University of Florida – the Florida Gators there in Gainesville, FL – and I will be teaming up with my teammate of my AAU squad Kasey Hill. And together we will be the best duo in college and we will win a national championship. You heard it here first.”

His pledge landed Donovan a second huge name for 2013 with the coach’s first coup being five-star point guard Kasey Hill (Clermont, FL), who helped Florida end 2011 with a bang by committing on New Year’s Eve. Hill and Walker are close friends and AAU teammates and have often spoken about playing together in college.

With Walker now in the fold, the Gators have the No. 6 and 7-ranked players in the 2013 class according to both Rivals and ESPN (rankings flip-flopped). Both can sign their National Letters of Intent as early as Nov. 14-21 (early signing period).

Seeing as three seniors are set to graduate following the 2012-13 season, Florida has space for at least one more potential commitment this cycle with no additional attrition.

Hill (No. 1) and Walker (No. 23) at the Adidas Invitational:

More videos of Hill and Walker playing together…after the break!
Continue Reading » Florida Gators land five-star PF Chris Walker

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FOUR BITS: Johnson, Jenkins, Walker, Hill

1 » Florida Gators junior left-handed pitcher/designated hitter Brian Johnson, who has signed a professional contract with the Boston Red Sox after being selected with the No. 31 overall pick in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft, was presented with the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award on Saturday night. Johnson became the first player in team history to bring home the award and added yet another honor to the numerous postseason recognitions earned by Gators juniors who will play professionally next season. He finished the 2012 season with an 8-5 record, 3.90 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 90 innings along with a .307 batting average and 41 RBIs.

2 » According to sources close to the team that spoke with Yahoo! Sports’s Jason Cole, the relationship between cornerback Janoris Jenkins and the St. Louis Rams (which selected the first-round talent with a second-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft) is “off to a rocky start because of a verbal pre-draft agreement” that is not permissible but is also not being honored. One reason why Jenkins has not signed his contract with St. Louis yet, Cole reports, is because head coach Jeff Fisher wants him to be financially advised by Lou Taylor of Tri Star Sports & Entertainment Group while Jenkins and agent Malik Shareef seem “content” with the management team in place. Pre-draft agreements of this kind are not allowed as part of the new collective bargaining agreement, something that Cole reports both parties are aware of, but what appears to be one looks to be the reason why Jenkins is not yet an official member of the Rams organization.

3 » The No. 6 overall recruit in the class of 2013, five-star power forward Chris Walker (Bonifay, FL) continues to be the apple of Florida head coach Billy Donovan’s eye. Not only is Walker an extremely talented player at a much-needed position for the Gators, he is also a local product and friend of current Florida commit five-star point guard Kasey Hill (Clermont, FL), the No. 7 overall recruit in the country. Walker recently told SLAM Online that he plans to schedule seven visits and make a decision at the end of the summer. “My plan is to commit either right after this summer or towards the beginning of the school year; I’ve always wanted to decide early in the process, to get comfortable and just enjoy my senior year of high school without all the distractions,” he said. Many analysts believe Walker is truly between UF and Kansas; each school has a current teammate of his already committed. “Me and Kasey talk about [playing at Florida together] all the time, and to be honest, I would love to play with him,” Walker said. “Kasey is the truth – he can score, find the open man and create for others. It would be really good to play with him.”

4 » The AAU team that Walker and Hill currently share – the Florida Rams – made headlines on Thursday when it was one of four summer league teams officially banned from NCAA-certified events by the organization. The NCAA announced their ruling after it was determined that the Rams and three other teams had associations with a sports agency called ASM Sports. Though the teams will not be able to participate in events this summer, the players will retain their eligibility and be able to play as long as they join different teams or have their team recreated in a brand new form. Walker and Hill will both be affected by this, and it will be interesting to see if they find a way to remain together and continue playing this summer.

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SIX BITS: tennis, softball, Hill, Thompson, NBA

1 » No. 12 Florida Gators men’s tennis (16-9) continued its hot play in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, completing a 4-0 sweep of the No. 24 Harvard Crimson (23-3) to advance to the round of 16. Florida clinched the doubles point and received singles victories from No. 53 senior Nassim Slilam (6-2, 6-3), No. 66 sophomore Spencer Newman (6-4, 6-2) and sophomore Florent Diep (6-1, 6-4) to grab the victory and move on to the round of 16 for the third-straight season. UF will resume play on Friday against No. 5 Ohio State at noon.

2 » Gators softball, one day after falling hard in a bid for a conference tournament title, learned Sunday that they have earned the No. 5 overall seed in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Florida (46-11) will open the tournament as hosts of the Gainesville Regional, which will also feature Florida Gulf Coast, Central Florida and South Florida. UF is 2-2 this season against the field with victories over FGCU (5-0) and USF (3-2) and losses to UCF (2-0) and USF (4-1). The Gators will play their first game on May 18 at 6 p.m. against FGCU. Should Florida be the victor of their regional, they will take on the winner of the Los Angeles Regional featuring No. 12 UCLA, Florida State, San Diego State and Hofstra. UF would likely host the Super Regional in that scenario.

3 » Five-star point guard Kasey Hill, a 2013 Gators’ commitment and the No. 8 player in the country according to Rivals, received high praise from ESPN’s Dave Telep on Thursday. Telep, who has attended five AAU events since March, said Hill stood out as the top performer at the adidas VIP Run and thinks he is one of two players who could be considered the best point guard in the class of 2013. “The most improved player I’ve seen? That would be point guard Kasey Hill,” he wrote. “He’s refined his approach to the point guard slot and in my mind, become an elite player and impact recruit. There’s a difference between being highly rated and being an impact signee. He’s the best point guard Billy Donovan has ever recruited.”

4 » Two NFL writers had some high praise for former Florida wide receiver Deonte Thompson based on how he performed in Baltimore Ravens minicamp on Sunday. FOX Sports’ Aaron Wilson said Thompson “had a good day…speed is eye-catching, caught the ball fairly well, too,” while CBS Sports’ Jason Butt noted that Thompson “looked fluid and sharp, and showcased stellar straight-line speed and quick cuts.” Thompson is one of two former UF players (quarterback John Brantley) who signed an undrafted free agent deal with Baltimore this offseason.

5 » Denver Nuggets forward Corey Brewer became the third former Gators basketball player (and member of the Oh Fours) to be eliminated from the 2012 NBA Playoffs this week after Denver fell 96-87 to the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday. Brewer, after having some highlight moments during the series, had a rough outing in Game 7. He scored just four points on 2-of-9 shooting (0-for-3 from downtown) with two rebounds and one steal in 13 minutes. Also out of the postseason is center Marreese Speights and the Memphis Grizzlies. Speights also had an admirable series but did not get the opporutnity to contribute much in Memphis’ 82-72 Game 7 loss, scoring just two points on 1-of-2 shooting with two rebounds and a steal in 11 minutes.

6 » Only three former Florida players remain in the playoffs: F Matt Bonner of the San Antonio Spurs and both power forward Udonis Haslem and guard Mike Miller of the Miami Heat. Bonner is averaging 4.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in 16.0 minutes per game this postseason while Haslem is posting averages of 3.8 points and 6.4 boards in 19.0 minutes and Miller is registering 7.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 23.2 minutes.

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Florida ready for Elite Eight game vs. Butler

With the 2011 NCAA Tournament Southeast Regional Final between the No. 2-seed Florida Gators (29-7) and No. 8-seed Butler Bulldogs (26-9) just hours away from getting underway, there are a number of storylines being discussed going into the contest. OGGOA has compiled some of the latest news and notes surrounding the Florida-Butler game airing live on CBS Saturday afternoon at 4:30 p.m.

DEFENSIVE EFFORT DIDN’T HURT BOYNTON

Coming into the game with questions about a now week-old sprained ankle, sophomore guard Kenny Boynton silenced any worry right away, explaining that he feels healthy and is ready to go again on Saturday. “It feels great. I did some icing last night to help it out a little more, and when we get back to the hotel, I’m going to ice it some more,” he said. “My playing level is good. I got tired a little bit last night because I hadn’t practiced a lot this week. But I think it’s going to come back to me with more running.”

BUTLER IS NO “CINDERELLA”

Carrying a No. 8-seed with nine losses coming out of the Horizon League, Butler has been dealing with the “Cinderella” tag for quite some time. However, as Florida head coach Billy Donovan points out, that tag no longer fits the 2010 NCAA Tournament finalists. “Last year you had Butler making it to the national championship game. I think Butler has proven that they’re as good as any program in the country,” he said. “And you don’t get to a national championship game or the amount of Sweet 16s that they’ve gotten to by just being a Cinderella story. That doesn’t happen year after year.”

BUYING IN TO DONOVAN’s SYSTEM

After a rough start to the season including some dumbfounding losses, the Gators made a concerted effort to buy into what Donovan and his coaching staff were preaching as 2010 came to an end and 2011 began. The players understand now, more than ever, that playing together as a team yields better results than looking for individual glory.

“We relied on [the coaches] a lot. We’ve got all the trust in the world in [Donovan] and he’s done a great job,” junior point guard Erving Walker said. “Out of all of us, he’s the only one who’s been in these situations and moving forward, and we just trust him and the whole coaching staff.” Senior forward Chandler Parsons shared similar sentiments. “Our whole team has totally bought into what they’re saying and what they’re preaching to us,” he added. “We’re just trying to do exactly what they say because they’ve obviously had success and they obviously know what they’re talking about.

Part of accepting Donovan’s plan for the team was relinquishing the potential for high-scoring individual efforts. “We all understand that we’re willing to do whatever it takes for us to win. Any given night, anybody can score,” Parsons said. “I don’t think there’s any selfishness and we just love playing with each other and our chemistry on and off the court is great. We play very unselfish and it doesn’t matter who’s scoring, just whoever is open gets the ball, and we’re not worried about that stuff, we’re just worried about winning.”

PREVAILING IN CLOSE GAMES

One of the main ways Florida has improved in 2011 compared to 2010 is in their ability to pull out tough victories and come through in the clutch. Redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin explained in detail how the team has changed their mentality in those situations. “For the most part, we come together and we grind it out in the huddles. Chandler does a lot of talking,” he said. “After Coach Donovan and the coaching staff speak, we just get in the huddle again and talk amongst each other. We want to go out there and play as hard as we can and fight until the horn go off.”

Parsons detailed what he talks about at that time. “Just maintaining a level of focus throughout the whole game and understanding that anything can happen on any given play,” he said. “You can’t take anything for granted and play until the buzzer stops.” He also discussed the difference in the team’s mentality. “We were confident last year, but I think this year we’re doing a better job of staying focused and keeping our composure and understanding what’s there on offense and not forcing anything,” Parsons said. “And we understand that when we need to get a stop, we have to step up and get a stop together. We’re just very confident at the end of games and very comfortable in those situations.”

QUOTES

Donovan’s opening statement: “Well, we’re playing against a team that is extremely physical, don’t think there’s any question about that, a team that has got a lot of players that know about success in this tournament from last year. […] They’re a hard team to guard offensively, and I think our guys understand that we’re playing against a terrific team that is very talented, physical and gifted and playing terrific basketball right now.”

Donovan on Mike Miller’s buzzer-beater vs. Butler in 2000: “In order to experience something like that, you’ve got to be in the NCAA Tournament. And that group before that experienced a very devastating loss to Gonzaga at the buzzer to go to the Elite Eight. If you look at the best programs in the country and you look at the amount of years and how many times they’ve been to the NCAA Tournament, that’s where you have a chance to do something really special. You’ve got to get there often enough to make a run at it, and certainly Mike’s shot and play gave us the opportunity to play another game. And that was the first-round game, but it gave us an opportunity to continue on and move on and advance. When you get a chance to advance and move on in this tournament, it’s always very exciting for your program and for your players.”

Parsons on defending Bulldogs star F Matt Howard: “He’s very difficult to guard. He’s one of the most physical players in the country and he plays smart and just relentless and he doesn’t stop and he’s got a really good motor. So a guy like him, he just battles for 40 minutes and you’re not going to get anything easy with him just because his effort is off the charts.“

Boynton on Donovan recruiting him in high school: “When he was recruiting me in high school, he showed a lot of, I’m going to say — he kept coming at me. He came to all my games in the summer, and I heard that he played at Providence. I watched some tapes on him, and I knew he was a guard, and he let his guards play. I watched Erving Walker his freshman year playing. He just lets his guards play freely and he had great success with the 2006 and 2007 national championship.”

Tyus on if he thinks about pulling his name from the 2010 NBA Draft: “No, I really don’t think about it too much. You know, I just try to stay in the moment, concentrate on what I have to do at that time. I’m really happy about where we’re at right now, and I just want everything to just keep going on.”

Donovan on recruiting Walker: “I kind of followed him because I knew Erving had a strong interest, and then all of a sudden I started to watch the guy and he’s playing against Rice, Kemba Walker, playing against a lot of really good players in New York City and saw him on the AAU circuit and there was something about him that he learned to overcome his size, and then he obviously had a huge growth spurt and he went from about 5’4″ to about 5’8″. [Laughing] But he ended up — I think it’s the internal things that make up Erving Walker. It’s not the physical attributes, it’s the internal things, his mind, his understanding, his competitiveness. He’s had to overcome to be a good player.”

Donovan on Stevens taking “his” title of best young coach: “I’ve never looked at it that way as it relates to age. A lot of times it’s what you’re exposed to and what you have a chance to experience. And Brad has been around a lot of terrific people, a lot of terrific coaches, and he’s a terrific coach himself. And I think a lot of times people can label somebody based on their age, and I don’t think that that’s fair to Brad. Brad has been a terrific coach, you know, before he made it to the national championship game a year ago. And he was a terrific coach before last year started. I think the one thing I respect and admire about Brad in getting to know him is he’s got a great passion and enthusiasm for the game and for coaching, and I also think he has a tireless and relentless attitude to try to get better and improve. And he loves the game. But a lot of times people look at someone’s age and at what point are you past young? Are you calling me old now, because I don’t feel like I’m that old, you know? (Laughter).”

Donovan on Stevens consulting with him in the offseason: “Brad was just talking to me just about his team, and he just wanted to know maybe some experiences. I’ve known Brad for a long time and I would consider him a good friend. He comes down to our clinic every summer, he’s on our campus and we’ve spent a lot of time together. So it was one of those things where he was just reaching out looking to share ideas, and you know what, he shares ideas with me, too. We bounce different things off each other, and it’s great when you get a chance to be able to talk to someone like that.”

Donovan on scouting Butler: “What ends up happening is – and I’m sure this is no different for Butler. Coming to New Orleans on Wednesday or Tuesday night, our staff had basically divided up. We had obviously somebody that was scouting BYU, but our staff had started watching Butler and Wisconsin right after we played UCLA. So the first that these guys really heard anything in depth about Butler was really this morning because it was a late game by the time we got back from the arena and had those guys get some rest and get up this morning. So most of what they started to hear in depth and in detail really started this morning and then obviously continued on at practice today.”

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3/23: Florida’s Sweet 16 press conference quotes

Arriving in New Orleans, LA for their Sweet 16 match-up against the No. 3-seed BYU Cougars in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan along with senior Chandler Parsons, Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin met with the media to discuss a number of topics. OGGOA has compiled most of those quotes for you below (click the link below) with the rest coming in a post Thursday afternoon.

Continue Reading » 3/23: Florida’s Sweet 16 press conference quotes

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Basketball nabs first 2012 commit – SG Frazier

Offered a scholarship to the University of Florida by Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan just over a month ago, four-star 2012 shooting guard Michael Frazier (Tampa, FL) decided to commit to the team even though he is two years out from heading up to Gainesville, FL.

“I chose Florida because of Coach Donovan and the outstanding staff,” Frazier told ESPN. “Coach Donovan has a proven history of winning national championships and excels in player development. UF is an excellent academic school as well. It’s always been one of my favorite schools.”

Frazier, who boasted offers from 20 other schools ranging from Michigan to Harvard at the time his conversation with Donovan, has a 4.0 GPA and is considered to be both a bright student and extraordinary shooter.

“He’s the best shooter ever to come out of our program,” Florida Elite AAU coach Conrad Foss told The Gainesville Sun. “And with those perimeter skills he’s become much better at putting the ball on the floor and getting to the basket. He’s becoming a complete player.”

Here is what ESPN has to say about Frazier’s abilities:

Frazier’s ability to shoot the ball makes him special because he has two of the greatest qualities a shooter can have: great self-confidence in his stroke and a short memory to focus on the next shot. He rarely misses open shots when his feet are set. He shoots over smaller defenders with ease and is a willing passer when he draws an extra defender. Frazier is also smart at moving without the ball and creating clean looks at the basket. Opponents must find him immediately in transition because he will spot up on the break and knock it down from beyond the arc. While he can knock it down from 3, his midrange game (15- to 18-foot jumpers) is most efficient. Defensively, he needs to be more committed and engaged as an on-ball defender, but Frazier and his coaches — H.B. Plant coach Mike Phillips and his Florida Elite U-17 USSSA coach, Conrad Foss — are committed to getting him ready for his first day of practice at Florida.

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TWO BITS: Pouncey update, Rosario recruits

1 » Former Florida Gators center/guard Maurkice Pouncey is on the verge of signing his rookie contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers and has been making sure to keep in shape so he is fit and ready to participate in training camp beginning this weekend. However, allegations that Pouncey received $100,000 from a runner for an agent while at the University of Florida put him off schedule a bit recently, something his speed and conditioning coach Tom Shaw noticed. “He’s disappointed that this stuff has come up and thrown a wrench in. That’s the reason why he missed [workouts],” Shaw told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review last Wednesday. “He’s gotten to a point where he’s trying to make sure he still has his [good] name. He wants to be able to go back to the University of Florida and still be respected.” Nevertheless, Pouncey is ready to go; now he just has to sign his contract and put the rest behind him.

2 » Florida transfer guard Mike Rosario, who will be eligible to play for the team during the 2011-12 season after sitting out a year due to NCAA rules, spoke with SNY’s Adam Zagoria Wednesday about watching two of the nation’s top recruits – five-star Gators commit Brad Beal and five-star recruit Austin Rivers – play in the AAU U-17 Super Showdown on Tuesday. “I watched them go head-to-head,” he said. “It was a great matchup. Those guys [have] been playing well. I love Brad Beal’s game. He has a smooth game like Ray Allen. I love the fact that Austin Rivers can shoot the ball, put it on the floor. Both of those guys are capable of helping us win a conference championship. I hope they both come here so we can turn this program into a special program.” Rosario also noted that the biggest adjustment he has had to make since stepping on campus is dealing with the heat. “You walk out of the dorm room, it’s just a sauna,” he noted.

Extra BIT » The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Florida has offered a scholarship to 2012 guard/forward recruit Jarmal Reid. “That Florida offer really excited me,” Reid told the paper. “I like the whole atmosphere there. They have great fans and one of the best coaches around in Billy Donovan. I would love to be coached by him.”

Photo Credit: Rob Tringali

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TWO BITS: Tebow praised, Beal struggles

1 » As agent Jimmy Sexton attempts to get his client under contract before training camp officially begins on Aug. 1, former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow of the Denver Broncos is working to accomplish at least one feat: winning over his new teammates. Outsider linebacker Darrell Reid has already noticed Tebow’s work ethic and came away impressed with what the Heisman Trophy winner has to offer.

“I’ve actually sat down with Tebow. I call him Lucky Lefty,” Reid said. “I told him, ‘I know they say you’re not as talented, your arm’s not as tremendous as his, but your work ethic reminds me so much of when I was with Peyton [Manning] in Indianapolis.’ I told him, ‘I think you’re going to do big things for us, and I can’t wait to see you get on the field.’ […] I think the thing people don’t know about him is he’s a very, very, very, very hard worker. He’s almost like a perfectionist. That’s what carries him further. Most people who end up being great, it’s because they want to be great and wind up working harder than everybody else. Whether it’s working on his throwing motion or in the weight room or running, he’s almost always the last guy out of the building. He’s a very humble kid, and he’s a proven winner who will do whatever it takes. That’s why we love him.”

2 » Competing in the championship of the AAU U-17 Super Showcase on Tuesday, Gators five-star shooting guard commitment Brad Beal (St. Louis, MO) and former Florida five-star guard commit Austin Rivers (Winter Park, FL) squared off. Unfortunately for Beal, who called it his “worst game ever” on Facebook, he finished with only 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting (1-for-5 from downtown). Rivers, on the other hand, shined with 24 points including a highlight package alley-oop dunk in the first half.

After the game, Rivers spoke with reporters and said that he does not have a favorite in his recruitment with UF, Duke and North Carolina occupying the top three spots in no particular order. “Right now I’m not leaning toward anybody and I like all schools the same,” Rivers said. “I haven’t taken any official visits yet so I don’t have any favorites over the others. But I’m really looking forward to making the visits.”

Photo Credit: Ed Andrieski/Associated Press

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