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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