FOUR BITS: gymnastics, baseball, softball, tennis

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators gymnastics advanced to the 2012 NCAA Championships on Saturday by winning the NCAA Raleigh Regional title with a team score of 197.325. Florida took down Ohio State (196.225) to win the event and also surpassed N.C. State (195.975), Penn State (196.650), North Carolina (194.025) and Kent State (193.575); finishing second, OSU also earned an opportunity to compete for the title. Four Gators won five total event titles on Saturday with junior Ashanée Dickerson posting a season-best 39.65 to claim the all-around for herself. Dickerson shared the vault (9.95) and uneven bars (9.90) titles with sophomore Alaina Johnson and cheered on as junior Marissa King picked up the balance beam (9.925) title and freshman Kytra Hunter won the floor exercise (9.95). Johnson (second), King (fourth) and Hunter (sixth) all finished high in the overall standings, and Florida posted the highest team total in every individual event as well. The victory was UF’s 12th regional title overall and their eighth in the last nine years. The NCAA Championship will be decided from April 20-22.

2 » Likely to lose their top ranking on Monday, No. 1 Gators baseball (25-7, 7-5 SEC) has continued its slide by dropping a home series over the weekend to the No. 7 LSU Tigers (25-7, 8-4 SEC). Florida has now lost five of their last seven games including consecutive three-game series for the first time since 2008. The Gators scored six or more runs in all three games but struggled with their pitching and defense in both the opener and series finale. Florida fell 7-6 to LSU on Thursday as junior left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson (4-1) gave up six earned runs on seven hits with a walk and just two strikeouts in four innings. The Gators rebounded with a 7-0 win Friday thanks to a great performance from sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford (3-1, 6.0 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 4 K). Sunday’s game started on a positive note with UF leading 7-2 through three innings. However, Florida’s bullpen gave up six unanswered runs over the final six innings to drop the heartbreaker. Sophomore RHP Karsten Whitson started but only lasted an inning after hitting two batters, giving up two hits and allowing two runs (one earned). The Gators bullpen combined to allow six earned runs on 13 hits as the Tigers fought back for the victory. Already having won the series’ first two games, Florida will look to close out Florida State on Tuesday at 6 p.m. in Tallahassee, FL.

3 » No. 6 UF softball (35-4, 15-2 SEC) had a much more successful weekend, sweeping the Ole Miss Rebels (16-21, 3-11 SEC) to extend their winning streak to six games. The Gators got it done on the mound and at the plate, outscoring the Rebels 28-4 in the three games. Sophomore RHP Hannah Rogers (20-2) started the first two games and posted a pair of solid performances by allowing just one earned run on four hits with four walks and nine strikeouts in 11.0 innings (including a complete game effort on Friday). Freshman RHP Alyssa Bache (5-0) concluded the weekend for the Gators by giving up three earned runs on three hits but registering five strikeouts in five innings. Though Florida’s pitching was dominant, the plate work of freshman designated hitter Bailey Castro was even better. Castro combined to go 4/7 with three home runs, eight RBIs, five runs and three walks. She hit two bombs on Sunday including her first career grand slam while registering a career-high seven RBIs. UF will travel to face Central Florida on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in Orlando, FL.

4 » No. 2 Gators women’s tennis (17-1, 10-0 SEC) continued their march to the postseason while clinching at least a share of the 2012 SEC Championship for the regular season with a pair of 7-0 sweeps over the weekend. Florida took down the No. 40 Arkansas Razorbacks (10-10, 2-7 SEC) on Friday and No. 39 LSU (11-10, 4-5 SEC) on Sunday with their players winning all 30 sets they competed in over the weekend. UF has now swept four consecutive opponents and 13 of 18 this season. The Gators will look to win the SEC regular season title outright on Saturday at South Carolina. No. 9 Florida men’s tennis (13-8, 6-4 SEC) was not as successful as their female counterparts, taking down Arkansas (14-10, 1-8 SEC) 7-0 on Friday before falling 4-2 to No. 27 LSU (13-9, 4-6 SEC) on Sunday. The Gators won 15 of 16 sets and were successful in a pair of tiebreakers in the former contest but were beat handily to close out the weekend. UF will host USC on Saturday at 1 p.m. to end the regular season.

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SIX BITS: Rainey, Noah, softball, lax, tennis, NBA

1 » NFL.com’s Gil Brandt took a look back at the Florida GatorsPro Day on March 13 and came away with some very interesting information. He clocked Rainey in at 4.41 and 4.35 seconds in his 40-yard dashes and said that he also impressed while working out at wide receiver. Brandt (among others) believes Rainey is a sure-fire third-round pick in the upcoming 2012 NFL Draft. He also noted that WR Denote Thompson “ran blistering 4.31 and 4.32 40s” and also worked out as a defensive back and “looked good, even though he has no experience playing there.”

2 » Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah was ejected from Saturday’s game after throwing a ball near a referee but was contrite and apologetic on Sunday when asked about the situation. “I don’t know what’s going to happen about that,” Noah said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “I just want to apologize to the ref. I just feel bad for what happened. I just want to apologize to the ref for coming at him like that. It was wrong of me. I was just frustrated. I just hope he reads this and accepts my apology.” The NBA decided not to suspend Noah for his actions, which were not overly aggressive.

3 » No. 4 Florida softball (29-1, 10-1 SEC) swept the Arkansas Razorbacks (18-12, 2-9 SEC) in three-straight games over the weekend, earning three impressive victories on Friday (6-0), Saturday (3-2) and Sunday (5-0). Sophomore right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers (16-1, S3) led the way for the Gators on the mound, registering two wins and a save in the three contests. She combined to pitch 15.0 innings and allowed just six hits and six walks while registering 15 strikeouts. Senior center fielder Michelle Moultrie was dynamite at the plate, going 8/11 with two homers, four RBIs, six runs and a walk. She was named SEC Player of the Week on Monday.

4 » No. 5 Gators lacrosse (10-2, 1-0 ALC) continued their winning ways with a 10-8 victory over the No. 12 Ohio State Buckeyes (7-2, 0-1 ALC) to open conference play on Saturday. Florida’s veteran junior class combined for just three goals on the afternoon as a pair of freshman midfielders led the way by putting most of the numbers up on the scoreboard. Nora Barry and Shannon Gilroy combined to score six goals on 10 shots, propelling the Gators over the Buckeyes.

5 » No. 2 Florida women’s tennis (13-1, 6-0 SEC) and No. 11 Gators men’s tennis (10-7, 3-3 SEC) each registered weekend victories over the No. 19/unranked Ole Miss Rebels. The women won 6-1 at home in Gainesville, FL behind victories from all but one of their ranked players, while the men earned a 5-2 win on the road in Oxford, MS in nearly identical fashion.

6 » ESPN Insider’s Chad Ford updated his latest top 100 prior to the 2012 NBA Draft. Ford currently has three Florida players listed on his rankings: freshman guard Bradley Beal (No. 3), sophomore center Patric Young (No. 25) and junior G Kenny Boynton (No. 93). Young has already said that he intends to stay in school for his junior season, but Beal and Boynton have both been mum about their respective futures. Beal would be a “lock” in the top five and potentially as high as No. 3 overall, according to Ford, while Boynton is unlikely to be selected in the draft and would likely play overseas if he left.

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Florida women win SEC Indoor track & field title

No. 6 Florida Gators women’s track and field captured their seventh conference indoor title and second since 2010 on Sunday, winning the 2012 Southeastern Conference Indoor Championship in Lexington, KY with 132 total team points.

Florida took down the No. 2 LSU Tigers (109) and No. 4 Arkansas Razorbacks (99) in the women’s competition for the school’s first league title of the 2011-12 season. The No. 1 Razorbacks (151) got a measure of revenge on the men’s side by topping the No. 2 Gators (137) and No. 24 Georgia Bulldogs for the other SEC Indoor title.

Despite Florida winning the women’s championship, only one Gators student-athlete won an individual title on that side of the competition. Sophomore distance runner Florence Ngetich captured the 5,000-meter title in 16:12.64.

The men, on the other hand, lost the overall championship but won three individual titles. Sophomore hurdler Eddie Lovett defended his 60-meter hurdles title with a time of 7.78 seconds, junior jumper Omar Craddock won Florida’s fourth-straight SEC Indoor triple jump championship with a distance of 16.44m/53-11.25, and senior thrower Kemal Mesic won the shot put title (19.89m/65-3.25) for the third SEC Indoor meet in a row.

One significant disappointment on the men’s side came as junior sprinter Jeff Demps failed to win the 60-meter dash for the third consecutive season, finishing his attempt in 6.64 seconds, 0.01 seconds behind the victor.

Florida has two more meets next month before competing in the 2012 NCAA Indoor Championships from March 9-10.

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Walker, No. 12 Gators outclass Razorbacks 98-68

The Arkansas Razorbacks were undefeated at home heading into Saturday game, a showdown with the No. 12/14 Florida Gators at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, AR. Florida (21-6, 9-3 SEC) put an end to that 17-game winning streak by demolishing Arkansas (17-10, 5-7 SEC) 98-68 and put a major dent in their NCAA Tournament chances behind a career-best performance from senior point guard Erving Walker,

Walker led the Gators on Saturday with a career-high 31 points on 9-of-12 shooting (5-for-6 from downtown, 8-for-8 from the line) and game-high five assists.

UF utilized exceptional shooting and efficient offensive rhythm by the entire team to silence a raucous crowd that had previously helped the Razorbacks defeat a pair of top-20 opponents this season.

Florida held an early 8-7 advantage before exploding on a 19-4 run (and 25-6 scoring stretch) that included three-pointers on four-straight possessions and vaulted them ahead of Arkansas 33-13 with 8:47 to play in the first half.

Walker started the game 4-of-4 from beyond the arc and led the Gators to a hot 9-of-14 start from downtown. His fourth trey doubled up the Razorbacks, and UF continued their first half onslaught to jump ahead by 26 points at the break.

Florida began the second half by taking a 28-point lead on a three by freshman G Bradley Beal with 17 minutes to play. At one point, the Gators had hit nine-straight treys and 20 consecutive field goals over a 16:05 stretch spanning the half. Florida started 11-for-16 from beyond the arc and 21-of-31 from the floor with 12 assists.

The Gators found themselves ahead 30 points in the second half and took a game-high 32-point lead on Walker’s final trey of the game with 1:36 remaining.

Florida as a team shot 58.3 percent (28-of-48) from the field, 56.5 percent (13-of-23) from beyond the arc and 85.3 percent (29-of-34) from the charity stripe. The Gators had 14 assists on 28 baskets and outrebounded the Razorbacks 39-21.

Joining Walker with an impressive performance was junior G Kenny Boynton, who scored 25 points, hitting 10-of-11 free throws and grabbing five rebounds while dishing three dimes. Beal posted 21 points on 6-of-8 shooting with nine boards and three assists, and junior forward Erik Murphy chipped in 13 points while going 3-of-5 from downtown with four boards.

Returning from a concussion that forced him to miss Florida’s game on Tuesday, sophomore F Will Yeguete recorded a game-high 12 rebounds.

Since starting the season 0-4 on the road, the Gators have gone 4-1 away from home over their last five games. Florida will return to Gainesville, FL to host Auburn on Tuesday. The game will air live at 7 p.m. on ESPNU.

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Yeguete may return to action Saturday for Gators

Suffering his second concussion of the 2011-12 season at home against Tennessee last Saturday, Florida Gators sophomore forward Will Yeguete looked to miss a significant period of time with head coach Billy Donovan even mentioning that he could be out of action for multiple weeks due to the severity of his head injury.

Yeguete, who sat out Florida’s game on Tuesday (a 61-52 win on the road at Alabama) and watched the contest from his dorm room in Gainesville, FL, believes he could very well be back as soon as Saturday’s game at the Arkansas Razorbacks if he continues progressing in a positive direction.

“It was kind of a helpless feeling not to be there [Tuesday] but relaxing and resting was what was best for me,” he said on Thursday. “I’m doing much better now, and I’m hoping I can play. We will see.”

Donovan said Monday that Yeguete had only passed two of the concussion tests he needed to satisfy in order to resume practicing with the team. According to Florida, he passed and met his pre-established baselines for “a third on Monday and the other two Wednesday,” clearing him to resume a workout schedule with the team.

The Gators note that it will be determined on Friday whether or not Yeguete will travel with the team to face Arkansas on Saturday. If he does board the plane, barring an unforeseen setback, it is likely that he will see action over the weekend.

Donovan did not take Yeguete’s second concussion lightly. He was extremely concerned when he saw him unconscious on the court after Yeguete hit his head against the basket station and was pessimistic about his return when his second-year defensive star failed three of the five concussion tests initially, calling him “way off” from playing.

“There’s protocol that the trainer and the medical staff have to go through as it relates to conclusions,” Donovan said Monday. “The concussion issues right now because of football have been addressed at certainly a very heightened level. There is this protocol we have to go through regardless of how Will is feeling.”

Now it appears as if Florida may be able to count on one of their most important players returning against a team looking to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive.

Yeguete is not the only reserve who has missed the last two games. Gators redshirt junior guard Mike Rosario (hip pointer) missed his fourth and fifth contests of the season and is unlikely to face the Razorbacks even though he “did participate in an individual instruction workout after practice” on Thursday, according to UF.

Photo Credit: Phil Sandlin/Associated Press

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SIX BITS: Tebow, Dillman, gym, Jenkins, Powell

1 » Appearing Monday on WKOV 690 AM in Jacksonville, FL, new Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan responded to a caller who was wondering if he would consider trading for Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow should he be made available. “You know something? I think I can tell you this. I had a long chat with Wayne [Weaver] that year. Obviously the Rams drafted Sam Bradford, and I was talking to Wayne then on what they ought to do,” Khan said. “I should have an offline conversation with you, OK? I’m going to absolutely talk your ear off. Some of the stuff might not be politically correct, but I share your sentiment. I think, when is the next time Jacksonville is going to have an athlete like Tim Tebow? Coming from being raised in Illinois, I couldn’t see Red Grange playing for anybody other than the Bears or Dick Butkus playing for anybody other than the Bears. I don’t want to get into 20/20 hindsight, and God help us, the draft record has not been the best with the Jaguars.”

Khan was then asked by the host if he would have drafted Tebow had he been owner of the Jaguars at the time. “100 percent I would have. Absolutely,” he said. “The first Jaguars game I came to was in ’10, we played Denver here. There were a lot more Tebow jerseys in the Jaguars stands than the teal jerseys for any player, let’s face it. You hate to get into 20/20 hindsight and finger pointing, but certainly [I would have] if I had anything to do with it. We probably won’t have a chance like that again.”

2 » Even though his team is not participating in Super Bowl XLVI, Tebow will be in Indianapolis, IN for festivities over the course of the week. He will also be a guest on NBC‘s Late Night with Jimmy Fallon Wednesday along with actor/comedian Tracy Morgan and musical group All American Rejects. Tebow’s name has been a hot topic on Fallon’s show recently as the host as done a parody character of him and David Bowie and also used him in a number of jokes over the last few weeks.

3 » The Florida Gators have put together an introductory video featuring the team’s new strength and conditioning staff including most notably director Jeff Dillman and assistant Jesse Ackerman. The duo discuss their mental and physical approach to strength and conditioning over a video featuring a number of Florida players lifting weights and working out. You can check it out by clicking here.

4 » No. 8 Gators gymnastics (6-0, 2-0 SEC) put together an unbelievable performance on Friday, registering the fifth-highest total in team history and the top score in the nation this season, 197.775, to defeat the No. 1 Arkansas Razorbacks (8-1, 2-1 SEC) and No. 24 Maryland Terrapins (4-4) and Bridgeport in a quad-meet at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Four Florida gymnasts won events with sophomore Mackenzie Caquatto winning the uneven bars (9.95), junior Marissa King taking the balance beam (9.95), junior Ashanée Dickerson capturing the all-around (39.60) and both Dickerson and freshman Kytra Hunter tying to win the floor exercise (9.95). According to UF, Friday was the first time the Gators had defeated a top-ranked team at home since 1989.

5 » North Alabama and former Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins put together a solid performance in the 2012 Senior Bowl on Saturday and is in the process of working his way into the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. As part of this journey, he quit smoking marijuana, which he was arrested for three times and ultimately got him dismissed from UF. “I learned as a young man, you can’t smoke weed; it don’t get you where you want to go,” Jenkins told The Florida Times-Union. “As a kid I had to learn for myself. I learned for myself when I found out the hard way. I just thank God for letting that happen to me early and not late. […] I tell everybody now if you’re going to come around me and smoke weed, I can’t hang around you,” he said. “We’re friends, but while you’re smoking marijuana, I can’t hang around you.”

6 » With National Signing Day less than 48 hours away, the Gators are hoping to haul in a number of top prospects that still have them high on their list. As it turns out, Florida may actually end up losing a commitment due to his grades and a potential learning disability. Four-star linebacker Jeremi Powell (Largo, FL), who committed to the Gators almost a year ago, recently visited the Marshall Thundering Herd and enjoyed his trip. According to HerdNation.com, it has become a legitimate landing spot for him because of the school’s H.E.L.P. Program which provides “educational support, remediation and mentoring to individuals” with specific learning disabilities or disorders like ADD/ADHD. Powell must pass one more high school class and improve his ACT score in order to get into UF, obstacles that could have him instead decide to commit to Marshall.

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FOUR BITS: soccer, Jones, volleyball, Mann

1 » No. 23 Florida Gators soccer (17-7) advanced to the second round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament on Saturday with a strong 3-0 victory over the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (14-5-2) at James G. Pressly Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Senior midfielder/forward Tahnai Annis scored consecutive goals for the Gators in the 16th and 68th minute before senior F/MF Lindsay Thompson followed suit with a conversion of her own from 10 yards out at 80’. The Eagles only took three shots the entire game, and freshman goalkeeper Taylor Burke was only forced to make one save during the contest. Florida will take on Central Florida on Friday at 7 p.m. in second round action.

2 » Unranked heading into the season, Gators women’s basketball had an opportunity to pick up a solid win in their opener but fell just short on Friday. Florida (0-1) was defeated 69-66 by the Michigan Wolverines (1-0), which outscored their opponents 9-7 with less than three minutes left in the game to pick up the victory. Senior guard Jordan Jones led the Gators with a career-high-tying five treys for 21 points on 20 shots, and senior G Lanita Bartley added 11 points on 5-of-12 shooting. Florida took 27 shots from downtown in the contest, making just 10, and was outrebounded 42-36 by Michigan.

3 » No. 18/19 Gators volleyball (21-5, 14-3 SEC) concluded the road portion of their regular season in style over the weekend, picking up a pair of hard-fought victories to continue an impressive four-game winning streak. Florida topped the LSU Tigers (17-9, 10-6 SEC) 3-1 (23-25, 25-14, 25-21, 25-12) on Friday behind a career performance from sophomore middle blocker Chloe Mann, who hit .900 on the evening with 18 kills on 20 swing with no errors and five blocks. The mark is the second-best in NCAA history for a player with 20+ swings in a single match and helped earned Mann SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors as announced Monday.

4 » The Gators had a greater test Sunday against the Arkansas Razorbacks (18-10, 10-7 SEC), fighting back from a two-set deficit to win 3-2 (18-25, 30-32, 25-21, 26-24, 15-9). Mann and senior outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel each had a 19 kills. That mark was a career-high for Mann, while Jaeckel and senior right-side/setter Kelly Murphy each completed a double-double. Florida will face Georgia (Nov. 18), Auburn (Nov. 20) and South Carolina (Nov. 23) at home before beginning NCAA Tournament action in Dec.

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Donovan confident in Gators’ rebuilt staff

It has been a long offseason for Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan. In addition to serving as a court coach for USA Basketball, traveling across the country recruiting some of the nation’s best high school players and preparing for the 2011-12 season, Donovan had to hire four new staff members including three assistant coaches.

“The only guy that liked me half way decent was our trainer [Dave Werner]. That’s because I take him fishing a lot,” Donovan joked during Florida basketball’s media day on Wednesday.

“In hiring, there [were] a couple things that were concerns for me. One, I felt like I needed some familiarity. People around me that knew me, knew Florida, knew the way we were going to do things here. It can be very time consuming when you have to train three new people. When I say ‘train,’ I’m not talking about coaching train them, but terminology on the court, how you go about recruiting, dealing with players, individual workouts, breaking down tape, scouting reports. All those things are things that need to be taught because it’s their first time doing it this way, not the first time in their career.

“The other thing too is, I talk a lot about our team chemistry, how we play together, chemistry on the court, chemistry off the court. I think it’s really hard to sit there and talk to your team [about that] when your coaching staff doesn’t have chemistry. Players see that stuff. I wanted to try to hire a staff where we all were going to try to make each other better, there were going to be great relationships, great respect and great passion.”

Donovan first reached out to an old friend and a familiar face for fans of Gators basketball. John Pelphrey, fresh off being fired by the Arkansas Razorbacks following five years as the team’s head coach, decided to return to Gainesville, FL where he was an assistant under Donovan from 1996-2002.

“From a familiarity standpoint, bringing John Pelrphey back first was very helpful to me because he had been with me for quite some time,” Donovan explained. “He knew me, knew Florida. I knew he could help the other guys.”

Next up was hiring another experienced assistant. Though there was no direct connection to Donovan, former St. John’s Red Storm head coach Norm Roberts became a top candidate. Like Donovan, Roberts is a native New Yorker, and the two had crossed paths as players and on the recruiting circuit. Roberts had been out of work for a year after being released by St. John’s in 2010.

“Getting the chance to hire Norm was a real big steal for us. Norm’s a high-character, a really good basketball coach,” Donovan said. “He obviously has head coaching experience under his belt at the highest level. He’s been a great guy. I’ve known Norm since we both got out of high school in New York at the same time, played against each other a little bit. Never had a close relationship but we knew each other.”

Rounding out the staff is former University of Florida director of basketball operations Matt McCall. Also serving as a team manager, head manager and graduate assistant during the seven years he worked under Donovan (2004-08), McCall left the program to become an assistant coach with the Florida Atlantic Owls under head coach Mike Jarvis. He is now back in a coaching role and with a lot more responsibilities.

“I don’t think it’s any different than when I was hired by Coach [Rick] Pitino at 24 years old at Kentucky. I started off as an administrative assistant and worked my way up and within 2-3 years was on the road recruiting at 25-26 years old. Matt’s been with me for a long period of time. He’s been involved. He was like an administrative assistant here,” Donovan said of hiring such a young assistant.

“He learned an awful lot at FAU. He had a lot to do with the players that were brought in there along with their staff. They won the league this past year. It’s one of those things when you know somebody as a person, someone that you’ve worked with and someone you’ve been around, it makes it a little bit easier. I don’t think there’s any question that he will do a terrific job for us and is more than ready to handle [it] because he knows exactly what’s going on.

“The one thing that’s great about him is he’s got great energy in recruiting. He’s very passionate about it and he’s very good. On the floor, he knows our system. He knows our style of play. He knows practice. He knows all those things. That will be OK for him.”

Donovan is not only thrilled about the character and talent of his new assistants but also how well they are already meshing both on- and off-the-court.

“It’s great to see those guys work together because you have Norm and John who have obviously recruited at a high level for a long time, and you have Matt who has been here and around and has watched us at Florida try to recruit like that,” he said. “Now you’ve got Matt’s energy and enthusiasm recruiting with the experience of Norm and John. The staff, the way it’s mixing and matching, is very good.

“It really exceeded my expectations of what these guys have done to this point in time. Having to get right into recruiting and develop relationships, having to know the players and find out our system and style.”

The hiring process was not over for Donovan after Pelphrey, Roberts and McCall were in the fold. Strength and conditioning coach Matt Herring also decided to leave the program to become the director of athletic performance with the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA. Donovan replaced him by hiring Preston Greene, who had spent his last three years as the assistant strength and conditioning coach with the Clemson Tigers.

“Hiring those three guys was really great. And then hiring Preston Greene our strength coach, I think we added another really good guy,” Donovan said. “I would say that, right now, our ability to work together, recruit together, coach together, I feel like we’re all on the same page and it has been good.”

If Florida’s chemistry on the court can be built the way its coaches have formed relationships off the court, the Gators have a lot to look forward to this season.

Photo Credits: Unknown, Chris Trotman

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