Five-star PF Anthony Bennett eliminates Florida

Believed by many to be the front-runner for his services, the Florida Gators were eliminated on Friday from the recruitment of five-star power forward Anthony Bennett (Henderson, NV) , the player told Scout.com’s Evan Daniels.

Bennett, who had Florida in his final four along with Kentucky, Oregon and UNLV, recently paid unofficial visits to the other three schools. He previously said that he would take official visits to his final three schools before making a decision but surprisingly UF did not make the cut despite being expected to receive his final visit.

The No. 7 overall recruit in the country and one of head coach Billy Donovan’s primary targets in 2012, Bennett was expected by most to eventually join the Gators basketball team. Florida is in need of impact frontcourt players and Bennett spoke highly about the opportunity to compete day-in and day-out against sophomore center Patric Young.

However, SNY.tv‘s Adam Zagoria reports that Bennett’s decision was affected by freshman guard Bradley Beal entering the 2012 NBA Draft, according to the co-founder of Bennett’s AAU team CIA Bounce.

“The bottom line is when Bradley Beal committed and decided he was going off to the draft, he and AB were pretty tight,” Mike George said. “The main reason he was considering going there was to play with Bradley. They were pretty close. Bradley took the lead on recruiting him. The second thing obviously for AB is he just wants to be in a position where he wants to enjoy his experience and he wants to be one of the main focal points of what’s going on. Florida has Erik Murphy coming back. He’s a senior and probably is going to dominate the minutes. They also have Patric Young coming back. He loves Coach Donovan and loves the staff. They’re good people.”

Instead, Donovan misses out on yet another prominent forward and could switch his focus to unranked center Bradley Hayes (Jacksonville, FL). Also a 2012 recruit, Hayes has not made a commitment as he is still surveying his options. He does not yet have a scholarship offer from UF (due to the team having just one available) and is not guaranteed to receive one with Bennett out of the picture.

The Gators are also courting transfer PF Damontre Harris, who plans to leave South Carolina at the end of the semester and join a new team for the 2012-13 season. He is strongly considering Florida and Kansas, according to CBSSports.com’s Jeff Goodman, but could also return to USC should he find that the grass is not greener elsewhere.

Harris averaged 6.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks while playing 25.9 minutes per game last season. He would be forced to redshirt next year but would have two seasons of eligibility remaining beginning in 2013-14.

Though Florida already has four players committed as part of their 2012 class – four-stars point guard Braxton Ogbueze (Charlotte, NC) and G Michael Frazier (Montverde, FL) and three-stars G Dillon Graham (Orlando, FL) and F DeVon Walker (Winter Haven, FL) – Donovan has missed out on a number of other top-ranked forwards this cycle including five-stars Kyle Anderson (Jersey City, NJ) and Alex Poythress (Clarksville, TN) and four-star Ricardo Gathers (Reserve, LA).

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FOUR BITS: Rosario, Harris, Wambach, Tebow

1 » Florida Gators redshirt junior guard Mike Rosario is one of four American college basketball players who were invited to try out for the Puerto Rico Senior National Team, SNY.tv’s Adam Zagoria reports. Rosario, who joined Florida two years ago but played for the Gators for the first time this past season, has a good chance to make the team. “We worked really hard to get Mike this opportunity,” Puerto Rico Playmakers founder Todd Washington told Zagoria. “This is a huge year for Mike. It’s his last year at Florida and his turn to lead the team. Coach [Billy] Donovan was incredibly supportive of Mike coming down to Puerto Rico. He knew how important this was to Mike and his family. Mike is in Jersey City working out twice a day and doing everything he can to get in the best shape of his career.”

2 » While still going after five-star power forward Anthony Bennett (Henderson, NV) and keeping a close eye on center Bradley Hayes (Jacksonville, FL), Florida basketball continues its pursuit of big men to add to the roster. Enter PF Damontre Harris, a class of 2010 player who committed to the South Carolina Gamecocks but is planning to transfer now that head coach Frank Martin took over the program. According to CBSSports.com’s Jeff Goodman, Harris is visiting the Gators this week and believed to have narrowed down his future to either Florida, Kansas…or possibly returning to South Carolina. Harris, who averaged 6.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in 25.9 minutes per game last season, would be forced to sit out the 2012-13 season. He would have two years of eligibility remaining.

3 » Former Gators striker Abby Wambach, who had a series of unforgettable moments and performances in the 2011 World Cup over the summer, was included on a list of the Top 40 Athletes of the Title IX Era published by Sports Illustrated on Wednesday. Below is the entry explaining why she is on the list.

It’s no pun to say Wambach plays head and shoulders above the competition. That’s where the 5-foot-11 forward, famed for her aerial attacks. In 2004, Wambach headed a goal in extra time to give the U.S. a 2-1 win over Brazil and the gold medal in the World Cup. In the quarterfinals of the 2011 World Cup, she scored on another header, pushing the U.S. past Brazil again. The five-time U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year led the now-defunct Washington Freedom to the WUSA’s Founder’s Cup title in 2004. At the University of Florida, Wambach set school records for goals (96), assists (49), points (241), game-winning goals (24) and hat tricks (10).

4 » New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow attended Kingsley-Pierson High School prom on April 28 though he did not necessarily do so in the most conventional way. High school student Rachel Bird asked Tebow to be her prom date over Twitter (as well as through his team and his agent) but did not receive a response. After much consideration, she decided to spend $19.99 to create a cardboard cutout of Tebow at Staples and brought him along to the prom where he appears to have been a big hit. “He was a cheap date, and he didn’t talk much,” Bird joked when interviewed by the Sioux City Journal. “And when I asked him to stand in a corner, he did. I don’t think it even hurt his feelings. The after-prom [party] would have been too much. He was tired. He’d been smiling all night.”

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TWO BITS: Walker’s taco, Bennett’s list, Swamp

1 » Former Florida Gators point guard Erving Walker pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor petit theft and was ordered to pay a $301 fine on Thursday after the State Attorney’s Office agreed to drop all charges against him. According to The Gainesville Sun the judge also withheld adjudication for Walker meaning he was not officially convicted of the crime. Walker was arrested and charged after allegedly stealing a taco worth $3 from a street vendor in downtown Gainesville, FL. “It was just a silly mistake,” he said, according to ESPN.com. “I apologize to everybody. I’m embarrassed about it. That’s not me. I’m just trying to put it behind me and move on.”

2 » Five-star power forward Anthony Bennett (Henderson, NV) is down to four. According to SNY.tv, Bennett has eliminated Washington from his finalists and is now down to Florida, Kentucky, Oregon and UNLV. He plans to cut one more school by next week and pay visits to the three finalists before sitting down and making a decision in early May. Ryan Greene of RunRebs.com adds that Bennett and Gators head coach Billy Donovan had “a lengthy sit-down” on Wednesday. Florida is believed to be Bennett’s leader but has a back-up plan in center Bradley Hayes should the former player not commit. UF has not offered Hayes a scholarship yet as the school is first waiting on a decision from Bennett.

Extra BIT » Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is currently undergoing yet another face lift as the West Concourse is being renovated and improved. The project should be completed in July 2012 but GatorVision.tv provided a video update this week which includes some renderings of and more information on the project.

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SF DeVon Walker commits to Gators for 2012

Just a few hours after officially announcing that freshman guard Bradley Beal will forfeit his remaining eligibility and declare for the 2012 NBA Draft, the Florida Gators received a bit of good news as three-star small forward DeVon Walker (Winter Haven, FL) officially committed to join the team’s 2012 recruiting class.

A member of the Rivals150 as the No. 142-ranked player in the country, Walker originally committed to Central Florida but changed his mind and gave his pledge to Florida over Alabama, Clemson and Kansas State on Friday. He averaged 23.8 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists during his senior year at Winter Haven High School.

News of Walker’s choice leaked Thursday evening though it was a badly kept secret that he had decided to stay in-state and play for the Gators earlier in the week.

Florida’s pursuit of Walker undoubtedly and understandably intensified once head coach Billy Donovan had an inclination that Beal would leave the program early and got final word of his player’s decision on Monday.

At 6’6” and 187 lbs., Walker has a lot of versatility and will play wing for the Gators though he may also be called upon to help the team in the post in a smaller lineup. He is already solid on the defensive end and will concentrate on improving his shot and overall offensive game in order to become even more of an all-around player.

Walker is the fourth player to commit to be part of Florida’s 2012 signing class joining four-star point guard Braxton Ogbueze (Charlotte, NC), four-star G Michael Frazier (Montverde, FL) and three-star G Dillon Graham (Orlando, FL). The Gators have one open scholarship remaining and are hoping that five-star power forward Anthony Bennett (Henderson, NV) chooses to fill it when he makes his decision in early May.

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Florida forward Walter Pitchford will transfer

Florida Gators freshman forward Walter Pitchford has decided to transfer after one year with the team in order to play basketball closer to home.

Spending just one year at the University of Florida and only seeing a total of 22 minutes of action in 13 of the team’s 37 games, Pitchford was the last scholarship player on the bench this season and considered a bit of a project. However, he always worked hard in practice and was a productive member of the team.

Pitchford told OGGOA on Wednesday that he and his family decided it would be best that he leave the program and play closer to his home state of Michigan at least partially due to his grandfather being ill.

“It’s definitely the best thing for him and his family, just with some of his extenuating circumstances,” head coach Billy Donovan told the school’s website. “Right now, he just needs to be near his family. They need him home and they want him home.”

Pitchford was pleased with his time in Gainesville, FL and praised both the coaching staff and his teammates for helping make him a better basketball player.

“My time here – I like to say that this was a learning year for me,” he said. “I really enjoyed learning from one of the greatest coaches in Coach Donovan. The assistant coaches – I really loved learning from them. Besides that, I learned a lot from my teammates. I learned something from everybody in the program. Everybody had something to add that I picked up from and will learn from.”

Donovan noticed that leadership was an issue with UF during the season and began preaching communication among the players during games. Pitchford said that is one thing in particular that he will take away from his time with the team.

“Something that clicked for me was being more verbal, being able to help tell [my] teammates what to do, saying good job, picking them up or just keeping the team excited. I learned [how important it is] to bring more energy and extra stuff,” he said.

His departure opens up one scholarship for the Gators to utilize in 2012-13. The team may wind up with two available slots should freshman guard Bradley Beal decide this month to declare for the 2012 NBA Draft.

Florida has targeted five-star power forward Anthony Bennett (Henderson, NV) to fill that remaining scholarship, but he will not make a decision until early May and is also considering a number of other schools including Kentucky, Oregon and UNLV.

The Gators’ 2012 recruiting class currently consists of three guards. With Pitchford planning to leave the team, Florida will have only three players over 6’7” on the roster next season (as of press time) – sophomore center Patric Young (6’9”), junior F Erik Murphy (6’10”) and redshirt freshman F/C Cody Larson (6’9”).

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FOUR BITS: Beal, Young, Sampson, Bennett

1 » ESPN Insider’s Chad Ford ranked Florida Gators freshman guard Bradley Beal and sophomore center Patric Young as the No. 1 and No. 2 (respectively) NBA prospects in the West Region of the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Ford noted shooting and athleticism as Beal’s positives but said his struggles from beyond the arc are an obvious negative. He also said that “NBA teams expect him to thrive” in a true NBA lineup and that he could move all the way up from top six to No. 2 overall behind Anthony Davis if he performs at a high level in the tournament. Ford added that “NBA scouts are convinced Young has the potential to be a dominant defensive big man” no matter what he does offensively in college or the NBA. For further details click here (subscription required).

UPDATE: Young reaffirmed Thursday that he plans to remain at UF for 2012-13.

2 » Still looking to add a big man to their 2012 recruiting class, Florida basketball missed out on another this week when four-star power forward Jakarr Sampson (Akron, OH) decided to play for St. John’s next season. Sampson, who was originally committed to SJU before being forced to spend a year in prep school to improve his grades, recommitted to St. John’s on Wednesday over UF, Kansas and Providence. Sampson recently said he was getting prepared to visit the Gators but will no longer make that trip. “They always had my heart,” Sampson told Rivals.com about his new team. “Even when I left my heart was still here. I got to know the coaches, the players and I couldn’t leave them like that because my heart is still with them.”

3 » Florida’s primary focal point in the frontcourt has always been five-star PF Anthony Bennett (Henderson, NV), who has yet to decide what school he will attend. UF, which stands a good chance of landing him, is in his top five along with Kentucky, UNLV, Washington and Oregon. “The coaching staff is really cool,” he told Rivals of the Gators in January. “My mom likes them a lot and they say that they will develop me into a three/four type player. Also, if Patric Young doesn’t go pro, I would be able to practice every day against one of the best big men in the country.”

4 » No. 2 Florida women’s tennis and No. 5/6 lacrosse were both victorious in a pair of mid-week matches in Gainesville, FL on Wednesday. Gators tennis (10-1) earned a shutout 5-0 win over the No. 5 Duke Blue Devils (11-1) while Florida lacrosse (7-2) gained a dominant 17-4 victory over the Stony Brook Seawolves (5-2). Weather ended the tennis match early, good news for junior No. 1 Allie Will who was down one set and losing in the second to No. 2 Beatrice Capra. Junior No. 14 Lauren Embree, senior No. 19 Joanna Mather and sophomore No. 39 Sofie Oyen won their singles matches as No. 3 Will/Oyen and No. 11 Embree/Mather also picked up doubles victories. Across campus junior attacker Caroline Chesterman led the way for the Gators by netting all five of her shots for goals. Midfielders junior Brittany Dashiell and freshman Nora Barry each scored two goals, and junior As Kitty Cullen and Gabi Wiegand added two apiece. Janine Hillier, who transferred was Florida’s fourth-leading scoreer a year ago but transferred in the offseason, did not score for Stony Brook.

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SIX BITS: Guy, Koch, Bennett, Bullard, Meyer

1 » While the Florida Gators wait to figure out which scholarship quarterback to bring in as part of their 2012 recruiting class, the team has offered a preferred walk-on role to three-star Jacob Guy (Dade City, FL). According to the Tampa Bay Times, Guy has scholarship offers from Massachusetts, Ohio and Western Michigan and is also being considered by Memphis and Miami (OH). He is unlikely to make a decision before National Signing Day on Feb. 1, probably in order to see how the situations shake out at all of his potential destinations.

2 » Former Florida golfer Gary Koch will be inducted into the Florida Sports Hall of Fame as part of the 2012 class on March 19-20 in Tampa, FL. He is one of 14 athletes to be included in the ceremony and will be inducted alongside names like Charlie Ward, Alonzo Mourning and George Smith. A four-time All-SEC first team member, three-time All-American, two-time SEC Champion (1973-74) and NCAA Champion with the Gators, Koch won six PGA Tour events but never finished better than tied for fourth at a Major Championship (The Open Championship, 1988). He also spent time on the other tours and has worked for both ESPN and NBC Sports as a sportscaster.

3 » Five-star power forward Anthony Bennett, Florida basketball’s lone remaining target for its 2012 recruiting class, is not any closer to making a decision where he will play next year. In an interview with SNY.tv’s Adam Zagoria, Bennett said that his mom is favoring UF and Kentucky but that UK has told him they expect to lose up to seven scholarships next year so he could come in and start right away. With the Gators, Bennett notes that head coach Billy Donovan is telling him that he will be able to develop his inside-out game better than any other school. His top five also includes Oregon, Washington and UNLV.

4 » In a feature by The Gainesville Sun’s Robbie Andreu, Florida 2012 commitments five-star defensive end Jonathan Bullard (Shelby, NC) and three-star defensive back Rhaheim Ledbetter (Boiling Springs, NC) discuss their long-time friendship and a trick Bullard played on his buddy before committing to the Gators. “We’re going to be roommates at Florida. We talk about it a lot, how much fun it’s going to be,” Ledbetter said. “It’s just going to be real nice to have an extra few years with my best friend, playing on the same team. It’s crazy.” Bullard added, “I’m glad it worked out the way it did. Maybe it’s a sign that we need to be together and achieve our goals together to win championships. It’s exciting. We’ve got a strong bond. We’ve been best friends since the sixth grade. I see him as a brother now.”

5 » Former Gators head coach Urban Meyer committed last October to be the keynote speaker at the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner on Feb. 7. However, just a month before the event was sent to take place, Meyer has now notified the organization that he “could no longer honor his commitment,” according to The Daytona Beach News-Journal. The chamber has been selling advance tickets ($100 apiece) to the event for a while but luckily as of Jan. 24 has not had anyone request a refund. Meyer has since been replaced as the keynote speaker by a pair of political analysts, CNN’s Paul Begala and FOX News’ Tucker Carlson.

6 » Florida announced Wednesday that Paul Spangler, “a 10-year assistant track and head cross country coach at The Virginia Military Institute,” will be the new assistant coach for distance and cross country with the Gators. His responsibilities include being the head cross country coach during the fall and an assistant for the distance track and field athletes during the indoor and outdoor seasons. “I’m really looking forward to this outstanding opportunity to get back to the SEC and contribute as a coach at the University of Florida,” Spangler, a former Alabama cross country runner, said. “I’m excited to be in a position where I can work with the Gator student-athletes one-on-one to help them reach their full potential and work towards a common goal of bringing another national championship back to Gainesville.”

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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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