The long-awaited debut

Vols the first challenge for Drejer

Published: Wednesday, January 15, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 14, 2003 at 11:46 p.m.
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Florida's Christian Drejer goes for a dunk against the Midwest All-Stars Monday evening during an exhibition game in the O'Connell Center.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun


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It wasn't just any other practice. Florida's trainers and team doctors were there. So were all the managers. Naturally, so were Billy Donovan and the rest of the Gator basketball team.
When the shot went up there was silence. Then it went in.
"It was like an eruption," sophomore center David Lee said. "That was his first practice back. It was like a crowd was there."
With one shot, Christian Drejer was back.
Drejer, Florida's freshman from Denmark, has been to a lot of places over the last two months. He logged two weeks in the hospital. He's had two surgeries. He had an infection that initially stumped the doctors at Shands Hospital.
Drejer's injuries quickly escalated since his arrival at Florida. First there was a hip flexor, then a sprained ankle. Bad luck, but certainly injuries that were nothing new for a basketball player.
But then there was the infection. The infection was the reason why, when his teammates were beginning the season, Drejer was in a hospital bed.
"It was probably the hardest part of my life, being at Shands and not knowing what was wrong with my foot," Drejer said. "The pain was bad."
Now, the pain is gone. Florida's most heralded freshman has yet to take the court in a regular-season game. After two long months of recovery, Drejer will make his debut when No. 6 Florida hosts Tennessee at 7 tonight at the O'Connell Center.
"For me it's just really going to be nice to be able to step on the court," Drejer said. "It doesn't matter if it's one minute or more. It will help me being back on the court."
It will help his team as well. If nothing else, Drejer gives Florida added depth which it will need as it gets deeper into SEC play. But no one thinks Drejer will only contribute for this team. When he gets to be 100 percent, people expect him to have a large impact.
"Hopefully, I'll fit in with the team and help the other players play good," Drejer said. "I want to help Bonner and help Brett (Nelson) get back into business."
Expectations for Drejer have been huge since he signed with the Gators in July. While Florida's other freshman chose the Gators over other top basketball schools. Drejer chose Florida over professional careers in both Europe or in the NBA.
"I heard about him right before the draft," Donovan said. "There was a guy I knew who called the office and said there was a European player who was supposed to enter the NBA draft, but wanted to come to the United States and go to college."
When Drejer arrived at Florida he was being touted as possibly the best freshman in the country. After two months of injuries, Donovan isn't about to put any pressure on Drejer.
"My expectations of him are absolutely zero," Donovan said. "I don't know what kind of contribution he will be able to make, if any. He is not the player he was when he first got here."
Just to get to his first college game, Drejer has been through a lot.
"It's been the hardest time of my life," Drejer said. "I'm ready to show people that I am a good player."
Drejer's teammates are already convinced.
"He's everything they said he is," Florida freshman Anthony Roberson said. "He'll work his way in slowly. I'm just ready to see him play and help us win."
Drejer was cleared to play before the SEC opener, but Donovan opted to wait another week before playing Drejer. For Drejer's debut there isn't the pressure of playing a top team like Mississippi State on the road, or against a top rival like Georgia. When Drejer takes the court against Tennessee there are no medical limits placed on him. His playing time will be restricted only by how he performs.
"If he goes out there and throws down dunks and knocks down threes, then he is going to get more playing time," Donovan said. "Do I think that's going to happen? No. I'm going to monitor him carefully. If he is playing well, he'll get more time, but if he's struggling and he's unsure of himself and he's not able to handle it, then we'll see."
As dominant as Drejer looked on tape against Danish competition, there was a lot to be learned when he got to Florida. The European style of play, typically isn't very physical, but Bonner said he tried to change that part of Drejer's game.
"When he started practicing with us, he was a little tentative," Bonner said. "I laid him up pretty good with some screens and kind of gave him a wake-up call. Then he started hitting back."
Drejer has spent the last two months battling back. Only tonight people will be able to see how far he has come.

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