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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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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13 Gator Bites for Friday, June 13: Graham, Dendy, Harvin, Haslem, softball, MLB, Parsons

From time to time, OnlyGators.com will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share – too much to fit into one of our truncated BITS segments. When stories like these fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» Florida Gators redshirt sophomore guard Dillon Graham on Friday tweeted that he has “finally [been] cleared” by team doctors after missing most of the 2013-14 season following surgery to repair bone spurs in his hips. Less than a month ago, head coach Billy Donovan said he did not expect Graham to be cleared for contact until August or September. Doctors are likely allowing Graham to work out and practice in non-contact situations at this time. “He’s missed a whole entire year of development and now you’re talking about an entire summer and into the fall without it,” Donovan said on May 22. “So, when he does get back, what is he like as a player and maybe how long does it take to get him back to maybe where he was? I think that’s going to be a long process for him.”

» Florida junior jumper Marquis Dendy on Thursday captured the 2014 NCAA Outdoor Championship in men’s long jump. The outdoor long jump title in school history, Dendy’s 8.00m/26-3 championship-winning mark was his best of the season. Actually, all three of his jumps would have won the crown for Dendy, who previously won the 2013 NCAA Indoor Championship in the same event. He did not even need to take the last jump but chose to do so because he was “in the moment” and also wanted to qualify nationally in the event. He returns to the field on Saturday for the men’s triple jump, an event UF has dominated in recent years.

Continue Reading » 13 Gator Bites for Friday, June 13: Graham, Dendy, Harvin, Haslem, softball, MLB, Parsons

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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.”

Continue Reading » Donovan talks Harris, Horford, Egbunu, NBA

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Pictures, tweets, videos: Florida Gators former and current discuss the Final Four

Support for the (1) Florida Gators (36-3) was riding high on Saturday as the team prepared to play in the Final Four of the 2014 NCAA Tournament at the AT&T Center in Arlington, TX. There was so much written about the team by former and current student-athletes, in fact, that this post had to be limited to those either with ties to the basketball program or in attendance at the game.

Though the (7) UConn Huskies (31-8) were victorious and eliminated Florida from the event, there was still plenty of well-wishers after the contest. Check out the pictures, tweets and videos below for a comprehensive look at what former and current Gators had to say before, during and after the game.

PRE-GAME

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Pictures, tweets, videos: Florida Gators former and current celebrate advancing to Final Four

Support for the (1) Florida Gators (36-2) has been strong throughout the season and especially the 2014 NCAA Tournament.

It continued on Saturday after the team advanced to the Final Four for the fifth time in school history and first time since 2007 with a 62-52 Elite Eight win over the (11) Dayton Flyers (26-11) at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, TN.

Check out the pictures, tweets and videos below for a comprehensive look at what former and current Gators had to say before, during and after the game. OnlyGators.com has also added a few other choice contributions that fit in with the overall theme.

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Next for Chris Walker: NBA or Donovan process?

One way or another, the 2014 NCAA Tournament comes to an end in less than two weeks and a number of Florida Gators will need to sit down and evaluate their basketball-playing careers at that time.

That future remains somewhat decided for Florida’s four seniors, all of whom will first look to the NBA but almost certainly play professional basketball somewhere next season.

A number of other Gators will have a variety of options on the table.

Junior guard Eli Carter must determine whether he believes he will physically be able to play next season when he will be 19 months removed from a broken leg. Sophomore G Dillon Graham, coming off surgery for bone spurs in his hips, will also have to reevaluate his situation at Florida. Even if completely healthy, will he see much playing time in 2014-15 after an infusion of talent arrives at UF in the fall?

Then there’s the five-star freshmen. Though it was point guard Kasey Hill who opened the season as a starter and has seen extensive playing time throughout the campaign, leaving early for the NBA does not appear to be in his cards at this time.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is power forward Chris Walker, who has averaged 1.8 points and 1.4 rebounds in just 5.1 minutes over the 15 games he has played since joining the team late and first taking the court on Feb. 4.

Once considered a sure-fire lottery selection, Walker’s sometimes-haphazard play and lack of collegiate practice time (just over three months) has exposed holes in his game.

Scouts now have questions about whether he could even be a productive rookie – and therefore a worthwhile first-round selection – which has most projecting the draft mocking him in the 20-30 range based purely on athleticism and upside.

As it turns out, Gators head coach Billy Donovan feels the same way.

Continue Reading » Next for Chris Walker: NBA or Donovan process?

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High-ankle sprain for Florida PG Scottie Wilbekin

The Florida Gators announced Tuesday that while X-rays on his injured right ankle came back negative, senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin will be sidelined indefinitely with a high-ankle sprain he suffered in the closing minutes of Florida’s 65-64 loss to UConn on Monday night in Storrs, CT.

Wilbekin, who missed the first five games of the regular season due to suspension, has only played in three contests this season but nevertheless led the Gators with averages of 35.7 minutes and 5.7 assists per game, both career-highs. He was also averaging a career-best 11.3 points per contest despite shooting just 37.1 percent from the field.

This latest injury leaves Florida without a healthy point guard on its roster. Freshman sensation Kasey Hill, who started the Gators’ first four games, suffered a high-ankle sprain of his own on Nov. 18 against Southern and was ruled out for a month.

Wilbekin was not given a timetable for his injury, and it certainly did not look as serious on film as Hill’s appeared to be two weeks ago. The school also announced after Monday’s game that Wilbekin left the arena without the use of a boot or crutches, while Hill had a boot on his foot for an entire week following his injury.

With Florida not playing for seven more days – No. 6 Kansas comes to town on Dec. 10 – it would be unwise to rule out either Wilbekin or Hill for the Gators’ next contest.

Head coach Billy Donovan and Florida’s trainers are notorious for exaggerating the severity of injuries – or at least placing extra-long timetables on recovery.

Wilbekin was also seen at his brother’s high school basketball game walking without a limp. Hill is set to begin participating in individual drills this week.

Should neither Wilbekin nor Hill suit up next Tuesday, the Gators will only have six scholarship players healthy enough to see the court assuming sophomore guard DeVon Walker (sprained foot) is recovered in time.

Junior G Eli Carter is still recovering from a broken fibula he suffered last February and has been designated as a redshirt candidate. Sophomore G Dillon Grahahm underwent season-ending surgery to alleviate pain due to bone spurs in his hips and will also take a redshirt. Redshirt junior center Damontre Harris is currently off the team and trying to work his way back from a variety of issues.

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