Role reversals

Several players have had to adjust to new positions


Published: Tuesday, January 6, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 6, 2004 at 12:19 a.m.

A role is more easily assumed than defined.

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Expectations were that Christian Drejer, who went from reserve guard last year to starting small forward this year, was going to be a consistent scorer. He hasn't been that.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/Sun file photos

In acting, it is playing a part, going beyond stereotypes to understand the depth and breadth of a character. Likewise, Florida basketball players came into the 2003-04 season typecast, individuals expected to fulfill certain expectations from positions labeled upon them.

Anthony Roberson went from shooting guard to point guard. David Lee went from center to power forward. Christian Drejer went from reserve guard to starting small forward. Matt Walsh went from starting small forward to starting shooting guard.

Three sophomores and a junior changed positions.

There was the high of a one-point win early in the season against Arizona. Then came a rut where Florida won but didn't play well against Florida A&M, Central Florida and Stetson.

Frustrations culminated during a two-game losing streak against Maryland and Louisville, when Florida coach Billy Donovan declared his team had "great chemistry off the court, but little chemistry on it."

Since then, Florida has won four straight, heading into the Southeastern Conference season Wednesday against South Carolina with a clearer understanding of what it can accomplish working together on the court.

"We got exposed in some certain areas against Maryland and against Louisville," Donovan said. "I think the big thing from that point in time, as a coach, I look at our team and it's improved."

It's not where Donovan wants it to be yet, but he's seen progress. There's more energy on the press and less selfishness on offense. Players are making the extra pass. Turnovers are down.

"Our team is a pretty young team, and it took a little while for everyone to understand their roles," Drejer said. "But I think that's one of the reasons why we're doing well now. Everyone understands their roles. They know what they have to do."

Right now, Donovan sees his team as a collection of individuals still coming together. The characters, at this point, have their share of strengths and flaws:

  • ANTHONY ROBERSON: From the Stephon Marbury-Barron Davis mold, Roberson has emerged as a point-scorer because of his ability to come off screens and shoot the basketball.

    "Part of the reason why he's scored more lately is he's moved more off the ball," Donovan said. "There was a period there at the point where he moved the ball up the floor and he'd just stand and he wouldn't move.

    "A lot of it had to do with fatigue, trying to get a rest. He's moving now more within our offense where guys are finding him more now where he can catch and shoot."

    To his credit, Roberson has managed to score while keeping his teammates involved at the same time, a tough balancing act at the point. His 3.8 assists per game rank second behind Drejer.

    "The biggest thing with me in my position is doing what coach wants," Roberson said. "Florida State was a night I had to score a lot. South Carolina might be another night where David Lee has to score a lot and I have to give out four or five assists. I think it's something you take as it comes."

    Still, Florida players understand the importance of finding Roberson in open space.

    "It's important for us to have Roberson down in that corner because he's going to knock down that shot nine out of 10 times," Drejer said.

  • CHRISTIAN DREJER: Expectations, based on some gaudy exhibition numbers, were that Drejer was going to be a consistent scorer.

    He hasn't been that. But what Drejer has lacked in offense some nights he's made up for in unselfishness and rebounding.

    "People will probably say I'm a small forward, but I like to push it up the floor with the fast break and make other people better," Drejer said.

    Drejer has taken on the added responsibility of backup point guard because freshman Ryan Appleby had trouble getting the ball up the court early in the season against more physical teams. His 4.0 assists per game lead the team and his 28.7 minutes rank second behind Walsh (31.7).

  • MATT WALSH: Walsh became the primary focus of defenses after scoring 27 points early in the season against Arizona. With that came frustration and the turnover problems that plagued him as a freshman last season.

    "He gets such rare open looks for himself that when he does get an open look and he misses it, he gets disappointed," Donovan said. "But that's just part of the game."

    Walsh turned the corner against West Virginia, when he put together the best floor game (17 points, eight rebounds, six steals, five assists) of his career.

    "We have so many offensive weapons that if you have to key on one or two of us, another one will get you," Walsh said.

  • DAVID LEE: Lee has overcome early cramping problems in his legs to become the low-post scoring option that Donovan envisioned heading into the season.

    "We're getting the ball in the positions where David is able to make a lot of high-percentage shots," Donovan said.

    Lee is shooting .634 from the field and had a string of 19 straight shots made snapped last Saturday against Florida State.

  • THE BENCH: Donovan was hesitant to press early in the season because he was afraid that his bench, with four freshman and two sophomores, would get exposed due to their lack of experience.

    They have in some instances. But Donovan still intends to press the rest of the way.

    "We realized this is who we are as a team," Donovan said.

    The roles are set. Now comes the hard part. Playing them out through the rigors of the SEC schedule.

  • RANKING UPDATE: Florida remained at No. 14 in the latest Associated Press poll and moved up one spot to No. 11 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll.

    Kevin Brockway can be reached at 374-5054 or by e-mail at brockwk@gvillesun.com.

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