Donovan addresses Murphy’s eligibility, Carter’s health as Florida preps for Wake Forest

Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan met with the media on Thursday to preview Saturday’s game against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in the 2014 Orange Bowl Basketball Classic and discuss his team as it heads into the holiday break.

GATORS MAY ADD MUCH-NEEDED DEPTH

A mid-season transfer from Duke, redshirt sophomore forward Alex Murphy has yet to suit up for Florida in a game but looks poised to take the court for the first time in Saturday. All Murphy needs to be cleared for action is for the school to post his fall semester grades, which would immediately make him eligible as it would mark the conclusion of the semester.

“We’re just trying to remain optimistic he’ll get an opportunity to play on Saturday,” Donovan said.

“This week I’ve tried to put him in a little bit more to try to get him kind of caught up and up to speed and what he needs to do. And he’s a smart kid, Alex. He picks up things pretty quickly. So I’m not really worried about that,” he added.

With Murphy practicing with the Gators for the last year, he is capable of being brought into the regular rotation without much of an adjustment. His knowledge base will go a long way to helping Donovan factor him in to his plans from the get-go.

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Gators F Dorian Finney-Smith diagnosed with hairline fracture in non-shooting hand

Updated on Sunday at 11 p.m.

No. 7 Florida Gators basketball (1-0) may be without the reigning SEC Sixth Man of the Year for its Monday showdown with the Miami Hurricanes (1-0) as the program announced Saturday that redshirt junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith has been diagnosed with a hairline fracture in his left, non-shooting hand.

Finney-Smith suffered the injury – initially believed to be a sprain – early in Florida’s 68-45 win over William & Mary on Friday. After heading to the locker room for tests and a wrap, he returned to the court and led the Gators with 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting to go along with five rebounds, a steal and an assist.

X-rays were done after the game, but the results were not released until Saturday. On Sunday, head coach Billy Donovan noted that Finney-Smith has “two hairline fractures on two fingers,” though the injury should not affect his ability to play if he feels up to it.

Continue Reading » Gators F Dorian Finney-Smith diagnosed with hairline fracture in non-shooting hand

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2014-15 Florida basketball primer: Can the Gators keep it going with a rebuilt starting five?

Despite losing four senior starters to graduation, Florida Gators basketball will enter the 2014-15 season as the consensus No. 7 team in the nation, coming off its return to the Final Four for the first time since 2006-07.

Florida finished the 2013-14 campaign with a program-best 36-3 record, winning a program-record 30-straight games at one point and dropping its three contests to a pair of opponents including twice to eventual national champion UConn. UF beat Kentucky thrice (including in the finals of the 2014 SEC Tournament), became the first SEC team to finish 18-0 in league play (21-0 including the SEC Tournament), and went undefeated (17-0) in the friendly confines of the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

The Gators also captured their second-straight SEC regular-season crown and swept both SEC championship titles for just the second time in program history (2007).

Though none of Florida’s four seniors were selected in the 2014 NBA Draft, three were given tryouts with NBA teams and center Patric Young caught on with the New Orleans Pelicans as an undrafted free agent.

Head coach Billy Donovan, entering his 19th year with the program coming off his third SEC Coach of the Year award in four seasons, will look to lead UF to at least the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament for the fifth-straight season. He brings two new transfers and one of the nation’s best recruiting classes into the fold, though not all of the players will be available this season.

Here’s what Donovan (451-169, 195-100 SEC) has to work with as the Gators prepare for their exhibition game on Thursday evening in Gainesville, Florida.

Continue Reading » 2014-15 Florida basketball primer: Can the Gators keep it going with a rebuilt starting five?

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Media Day: New challenges ahead for Florida Gators basketball in 2014-15

Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan held a press conference last week as part of his team’s media day and discussed a number of pressing topics facing his team as it began fall practice. Below are some links to stories published here on OnlyGators.com last week as well as a wrap-up of everything else Donovan had to say.

Story: Chris Walker suspended three games, Brandone Francis will not play
Story: Billy Donovan stands behind embattled Will Muschamp
Story: Michael Frazier II must step up game, leadership for Gators

NEW CHALLENGES

The 2014-15 Gators basketball team will be a vastly different group…because that’s what happens when you lose four true-senior starters that amassed the vast majority of your points and logged tons of minutes. Florida was so successful last season not just because of those players’ experience but also due to the fact that they had faced so much adversity that they were motivated to overcome any they encountered during their final year in orange and blue.

This year’s team, well, it’s filled with freshman and sophomores that are used to seeing the Gators as one of the best teams in the nation, coming off a season in which the program only lost three games.

“They haven’t faced any adversity,” said Donovan. “That’s going to be, I think, a challenge that these guys have not been tested in. They can go out there, work really, really hard and may not get the results [they want]. …

“There are a couple of concerns for me. There was no level of consistency at all from our returning players outside of Michael Frazier. There were moments that he played exceptionally well, there were moments that they really did a great job, but there was a discipline issue on the court in terms of being reliable guys game in and game out. That is going to be a challenge.”

It’s not that Donovan thinks this group of players is entitled. Rather, “it’s a lack of not living in the real world” for these players, which likely expect Florida to continue or even improve on its impressive showing from last season.

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The Silver Lining for Wednesday, July 23

What is this?

In case you missed it last week, The Silver Lining is a new weekly column exclusively on OnlyGators.com that combines news, opinion and entertainment. The format may change as the concept develops, and suggestions are both respected and appreciated.

DeVon Walker: A season over before it started

Breaking news came through Saturday afternoon that Florida Gators junior guard/forward DeVon Walker, a rotation player who made headlines last year for transferring in the offseason only to change course and return to school, tore his ACL on Friday and is consequently expected to miss the entire 2014-15 season.

Walker, who originally transferred due to playing time concerns, wound up making seven starts and playing in 35 games last year as his teammates dealt with injuries and suspensions. His energy and defense were bright spots – as was his three-point shooting on occasion (he drained 8-of-14 threes over a five-game stretch in league play) – but Walker still averaged just 2.4 points and 1.2 rebounds in 12.1 minutes per game.

It is for that reason that his injury does not strike a major blow for Florida basketball. The Gators will get along fine without Walker next season. Junior Michael Frazier II will start at shooting guard, and five-star freshman Devin Robinson has a great shot to play major minutes at small forward with redshirt junior Alex Murphy currently not cleared to play until the spring semester (pending an NCAA waiver).

Nevertheless, it is interesting that Walker’s serious injury – which a UF spokesman eventually confirmed to OnlyGators.com on Monday – has not even been mentioned publicly by the university. Walker may only be a role player but he is a scholarship student-athlete in a major sport and had an impact on the team last season.

Continue Reading » The Silver Lining for Wednesday, July 23

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New Gators basketball players pick numbers

Updated on July 1 at 1:15 p.m.

In the process of finalizing the roster information for 2014-15, the Florida Gators have announced the uniform numbers for the six new players set to play for the first time next season, many of which finally stepped on campus as students on Monday.

TRANSFERS*
» 5 – Alex Murphy (Wakefield, RI), four-star redshirt junior forward
* Murphy joined the Gators in the spring of 2014 from Duke. He will be eligible to play in the spring of 2015 barring the approval of a NCAA waiver.
» 15 – John Egbunu (Fort Walton Beach, FL), four-star sophomore center
* Egbunu joins Florida as a transfer from USF. He will not be eligible to play until the 2015-16 season due to NCAA transfer rules.
» 21 – Jon Horford (Grand Ledge, MI), three-star redshirt senior power forward
* Horford joins UF as a graduate transfer from Michigan.

FRESHMEN
» 2 – Brandone Francis (Jacksonville, FL), four-star guard
» 3 – Devin Robinson (Christchurch, VA), five-star forward
» 11 – Chris Chiozza (Memphis, TN), four-star point guard
» 24 – Zach Hodskins (Alpharetta, GA), preferred walk-on guard

CHANGES^
» 14 – Lexx Edwards (Orlando, FL), junior guard
^ Edwards previously wore No. 11, which was taken by Chiozza

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Donovan talks Harris, Horford, Egbunu, NBA

With the Florida Gators making plenty of news this offseason, head coach Billy Donovan met with the media on Thursday to discuss his program’s incoming transfers and exiting players. He also touched on whether professional teams have contacted him about his services and explained how he responded to those inquiries.

THREE STRIKES AND YOU’RE OUT

Donovan does the best he can to get players to buy in but some simply cannot get out of their own way. Such is the case with center Damontre Harris, who Donovan has dismissed from the team for the second time in six months – this time for good.

Harris was granted the opportunity to return to the Gators after Donovan dismissed him in December 2013 but failed to live up to his promises – dedication to the program, attendance at all team events, communication with the coaching staff and teammates. Having already suspended Harris for a violation of team rules at the start of the 2013-14 season and dismissed him at the end of the fall semester, Donovan finally decided to give up on his reclamation projection after Harris proved no better this time around.

“Damontre is not a bad kid. He’s a good kid but really undisciplined and unreliable in a lot of ways, and [he was] really selling me on the fact that he’s going to be [improved in] that way,” Donovan explained on Thursday. “And then what we basically did was not allow him to play, even though he was eligible to play, and I told him he had to earn his way back on the team, very similar to the way Scottie [Wilbekin] had to do it. …

“He had every opportunity to do that. He had a whole semester to do that and just could not do the things he needed to do, we expected him to do. … This guy was in practice; he was used on the scout team. The things we were talking about is like going to class, being on time, being in the weight room, lifting, showing up to practice, those kind of things.

“Basically, we evaluated him over that two-and-a-half, three month [span] over that second semester and clearly nothing had changed at all. And I was just not going to have him come back in this kind of situation.”

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Florida Gators add transfer C John Egbunu

The Florida Gators on Thursday landed their third transfer in the last six months, adding South Florida Bulls center John Egbunu to a stacked roster.

Egbunu’s decision was first reported by CBSSports.com‘s Jeff Borzello.

A four-star prospect and the No. 83 overall player in the Class of 2013, Egbunu (6-foot-10, 245 pounds), joins the Gators this summer but will be unable to play at Florida until the 2015-16 season when he will be listed as a redshirt sophomore after sitting out the 2014-15 campaign due to NCAA transfer rules.

He will have three years of collegiate eligibility remaining when he suits up for UF.

Egbunu made 31 starts in 32 games for the Bulls, setting a school record for rebounds by a freshman (198) while averaging 7.4 points, 6.2 boards and 1.3 blocks per contest.

He is one of five South Florida players that transferred after the school fired head coach Stan Health, choosing Florida over Michigan State, Georgetown and Virginia Tech.

Egbunu, a native of Bauchi, Nigeria, had his eligibility reviewed by the NCAA during the 2013-14 season but did not miss any games.

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