UF to rely more on its freshmen
Published: Wednesday, January 5, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 5, 2005 at 1:00 a.m.
They have been asked to grow up quickly. From September, when Florida coach Billy Donovan first noticed signs of their ability and attitude, Florida's freshmen class has been counted on in situations some didn't envision before the start of the season.
Corey Brewer, a McDonald's All-American, broke the starting lineup ahead of upperclassmen Lee Humphrey and Mohamed Abukar. Al Horford was pressed into starting duty in late December when center Adrian Moss's disc problems in his back became too much to bear.
So Florida enters its Southeastern Conference schedule Saturday against Arkansas much the same way it did a season ago, relying on younger players to contribute. That will mean Brewer and Horford will need to continue to develop in starting roles, and Joakim Noah, Taurean Green and Cornelius Ingram will need to provide steady play off the bench in order to make a stronger showing in the conference season.
With Matt Walsh doubtful against Arkansas with a sprained ankle, the margin for error for Florida's freshmen may even be more slight.
"For the development of our team and program this year, we're going to need our freshmen to continue to get better and improve," Donovan said. "I think everyone will agree that Brewer, Green, Horford and Noah come in with great energy and play very hard. However, they have to shore up mistakes and get better."
Ill-timed intentional fouls. Turnovers. Missed free throws. Those were just some of the growing pains Florida experienced in playing freshmen prolonged minutes Sunday against Florida State.
"Stupid freshman mistakes," Noah said.
The kind of mistakes that take time and experience to correct.
Donovan has little choice but to utilize the freshman five. Abukar, disgruntled over a lack of playing time, quit the team last month and has transferred to San Diego State. Moss' back problems will likely relegate him to a reserve role for the rest of the season.
"The freshmen definitely feel like they can contribute a lot to this basketball team," Noah said. "There are still a lot of mistakes going on on our part, but I feel like the more I step on the court, the more I'm going to learn from my mistakes."
Early on, it was the play of Green and Brewer that provided a spark. But Brewer has yet to put together the kind of disruptive defensive performance he did in a November win against Providence, and Green's play has leveled off since scoring 13 points that night. Turnovers have been an issue with both. Brewer has had nine in his last five games and Green has had 17 in his last six games.
"Sometimes, when you start to get film on guys, people can prepare for them better and find weaknesses in their games," Donovan said. "It's up to our guys now to adjust to that."
Still, Donovan is encouraged because his freshmen aren't afraid to make mistakes.
"They do make mistakes and they do create a lot of errors," Donovan said. "One of the things with our younger guys last year was they were lacking the understanding of how hard they had to play and compete. With this group there's a readiness about them that makes me more comfortable putting them out on the floor."
The SEC will present different challenges. It's a physical league, though Donovan is confident the freshmen will adapt because of the different styles they have been exposed to during the course of the non-conference schedule.
"We've faced a lot of different things this year," Donovan said. "Playing on the road against FSU was good because it was our first true road game. We faced a top-15 team in Louisville.
"We've faced teams that have tried to play zone. We've faced teams who have tried to press a little bit. We've faced teams that want to run and we've faced teams that want to play in half court. The only thing we haven't faced on a consistent basis is the level of play we're going to play against for the next nine weeks."
Kevin Brockway can be reached at (352) 374-5054 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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