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, August 27

Florida basketball staff reloads

Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan knew for a while that he would have two staffers leaving the program this offseason, and it all became a reality last week when assistant to the head coach Mark Daigneault and video coordinator Oliver Winterbone both departed to join the Oklahoma City Thunder organization.

Daigneault was hired as the head coach of the Thunder’s D-League affiliate, the 66ers, while Winterbone accepted a basketball information analyst position with Oklahoma City’s front office. (The 66ers are moving from Tulsa to Oklahoma City this season.)

Donovan did not wait long to fill the staffing holes and keep his machine running.

On Tuesday, ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman reported that Donovan will hire veteran assistant coach Billy Schmidt to fill the off-court assistant position vacated by Daigneault.

Schmidt has spent the last 11 seasons coaching under Brian Gregory including eight at Dayton and the last three at Georgia Tech. He was Gregory’s first hire, joining the Flyers after spending nine seasons coaching in major conferences. Schmidt’s journey began as a manager with Wake Forest (1988-92) but continued with stops at Tennessee (1994-97), Northwestern (1997-2000) and under Tommy Amaker both at Seton Hall (2000) and Michigan (2001-03).

OnlyGators.com learned Monday evening that Donovan has also desired to hire Peter Gash to replace Winterbone as video coordinator.

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FOUR BITS: Walker, Pouncey, SEC Network, Noah

1 » Five days after junior guard/forward DeVon Walker tore his ACL and four days after the news officially broke, Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan has addressed losing a key role player for the entire 2014-15 season. “DeVon had two years under his belt. He was really finding out who he was as a player and looking good at workouts,’ Donovan said in a story on the school’s website. “I feel terrible for him because he had worked so hard to get himself to this point.” Florida also announced that Walker, who tore the ligament during an individual workout, is scheduled to go under the knife at some point later this summer.

2 » According to The Miami Herald’s Armando Salguero, the torn labrum suffered by Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey is likely to keep him out up to eight weeks of the regular season, three more than initially predicted. Though Pouncey was only projected to miss the Dolphins’ first four games (the team has a bye week in week five), he is now a candidate to be placed on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list to start the season. Players on that list cannot return to their team until after the sixth game of the season. Pouncey will be included on the PUP list during training camp and into the preseason, but Miami will have the opportunity to decide whether to keep him on it before the first week of the regular season.

Continue Reading » FOUR BITS: Walker, Pouncey, SEC Network, Noah

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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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Florida Gators G/F DeVon Walker tears ACL, likely to miss 2014-15 season

Florida Gators junior guard/forward DeVon Walker “is expected to miss the 2014-15 season” after tearing his ACL, according to CBSSports.com’s Jeff Borzello.

A spokesman for the team confirmed Walker’s injury to OnlyGators.com early Monday morning.

Walker, who transferred from Florida last offseason over play time concerns but eventually decided to return to the Gators in a reserve role, wound up making seven starts and playing in 35 games in 2013-14.

Though he averaged 2.4 points and 1.2 rebounds in 12.1 minutes per game last season, Walker came up big for Florida in some tough circumstances in Southeastern Conference play when he drained 8-of-14 threes over a five-game stretch. He also played solid defense throughout the year. Additionally, there were three separate five-game stretches during the season in which he averaged 20 minutes or more per game.

Walker being out of commission does not spell doom for the Gators though he was expected to be part of Florida’s regular rotation as a reserve at the two and three. Junior Michael Frazier II returns as the starting shooting guard for UF.

The Gators hope to have redshirt sophomore G Dillon Graham back in the fold after he underwent season-ending surgery to repair bone spurs in his hips. Redshirt junior G Eli Carter should also be available for Florida now more than a year removed from a broken leg suffered during the 2012-13 campaign that sidelined him for most of last year.

UF’s three-member 2014 recruiting class also includes a pair of wing players in five-star F Devin Robinson (Christchurch, VA) and four-star G Brandone Francis (Jacksonville, FL). Though both were expected to get run next season, there are now even more minutes to go around.

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Freshman PF Chris Walker announces return to Florida Gators for sophomore season

Freshman power forward Chris Walker announced Wednesday that he intends to skip the 2014 NBA Draft, continue playing college basketball and return to the Florida Gators as a sophomore for the 2014-15 season.

“This year has been a great one, and I’m happy to say I will be joining the gatornation again for one more year!” he wrote Wednesday afternoon on Twitter.

Walker, an athletic frontcourt player who joined the team in mid-December after being declared academically ineligible for the fall semester, did not play his first game until Feb. 4 while serving an NCAA suspension for accepting impermissible benefits.

He averaged 4.8 minutes over the 18 games he did play, amassing a grand total of 34 points, 24 rebounds and eight blocks on the season.

As he neither went through the offseason strength and conditioning program nor spent the summer and fall practicing with the team, Walker was far behind when he eventually became eligible for the Gators.

His length and athleticism were apparent in his rebounding and shot blocking, but he often rushed shots when getting post touches and was considered a liability on defense.

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3/24: Defensive-minded (1) Florida begins preparations for offensive juggernaut (4) UCLA

Head coach Billy Donovan spoke with the media on Monday, two days after the No. 1 Florida Gators (34-2) advanced to the Sweet 16 of the 2014 NCAA Tournament for the fourth-straight season and sixth time int he last nine years.

Florida will face the No. 4-seed UCLA Bruins (28-8) on Thursday at approximately 9:45 p.m. in Memphis, TN at the FedEx Forum. The game will air live nationally on CBS, tipping off 30 minutes after the conclusion of the other South Region showdown between No. 10-seed Stanford and No. 11-seed Dayton.

The Gators are 3-0 against the Bruins in NCAA Tournament play with all three games played in the prior eight seasons. UF had to go through UCLA to capture both of its national titles, winning 73-57 to bring home the 2006 championship and 76-66 in the Final Four of the 2007 tournament. Florida is 7-2 all-time in the Sweet 16 with a 6-1 record under Donovan including six-straight wins dating back to 2000.

INJURY UPDATES

Despite being seen after the Pittsburgh game with ice on his knee, senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said he “feels fine” and that the injury was simply a bruise that he likely suffered by bumping knees during the game.

Donovan said he has not heard any concerns from Florida’s training staff in regards to Wilbekin’s health. “We were off [Sunday] but no complaints. The trainer didn’t say anything. [Wilbekin] went in, he was diagnosed with a bruise or just kind of banged knees – actually thought at first it was some cramps because he’s had some cramping issues during the course of the year,” he said. “But there’s no issues right now, at least that I’ve been aware of or made aware of as it relates to him practicing and going forward.”

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