Walsh at academy to improve game

Florida's Matt Walsh, bottom fights Vandy guard Dan Cage, left in the first half of the Univeristy of Florida's 81-71 win over the Vanderbilt Commodores Saturday, February 7, 2004.

Sun file photo
Published: Friday, April 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 1, 2005 at 1:18 a.m.
Florida junior guard Matt Walsh will begin participating this weekend in the IMG Academies offseason basketball training program, workouts designed for skill development that also have served as a tool for underclassmen to explore their NBA Draft options.
Florida coach Billy Donovan confirmed that Walsh set up a meeting with him earlier this week in which Walsh told Donovan he entered the academy to improve his skills and athletic ability. Donovan said Walsh gave him no indications that he intended to leave school.
Walsh was unavailable for comment.
Former Memphis forward Sean Banks will be among players working out this weekend. Banks has been at the camp since being kicked off Memphis last January for personal and academic reasons and intends to play professionally next year, according to published reports.
Former Indiana forward Jared Jeffries and former Minnesota forward Rick Rickert are among underclassmen who have decided to declare for the draft while attending the program in recent seasons. The 6-foot-10 Jeffries jumped to the NBA following his sophomore season in 2002 and was a first-round pick (11th overall) by the Washington Wizards. Rickert, a 6-11 junior, was a second-round pick (55th overall) by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2003.
Notre Dame senior point guard Chris Thomas worked out in the program last season and attended the Chicago predraft camp without an agent before deciding to return to school. Connecticut forward Charlie Villanueva, who declared for the NBA Draft on Tuesday, also worked out at the academy last year and may again participate this weekend.
Coming off a junior season in which he averaged 14.6 points and 2.9 assists, the 6-foot-6 Walsh won SEC Tournament MVP honors and emerged as a team leader after returning from a sprained ankle in early January. Despite his defensive deficiencies, Walsh is intriguing to pro scouts because of his size on the wing, his deft passing and his ability to shoot the basketball. Walsh shot 42.6 percent (69-of-162) from 3-point range this season and is a career 39.8 percent 3-point shooter.
Bradenton-based IMG Academies, with training facilities on 190 acres, began in 1978 as the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy before merging with IMG, a Cleveland-based company that represents dozens of major sports starts. Its clients include golfer Tiger Woods, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and tennis stars Venus Williams and Jennifer Capriati.
The facility expanded in 1992 and currently offers academies and training programs in golf, tennis, basketball, baseball and soccer for thousands of athletes from more than 70 different countries. The academy offers dormitories for athletes who choose to train there full-time.
The basketball training program has developed more than 30 NBA players and trained about 35-to-40 NBA and draft-eligible players last offseason. Former Gator and current Toronto Raptors forward Matt Bonner trained at the academy last spring to prepare for his rookie season in the NBA.
IMG program director Joe Abunassar said about "50 percent" of the college and high school players enrolled are training with designs toward the draft. NBA scouts are not allowed to attend the drills when underclassmen are present.
Portland Trailblazer point guard Sebastian Telfair enrolled in the training program after declaring for the NBA Draft as a high school student last spring. Darius Washington of Orlando Edgewater High, who considered turning pro out of high school, also took part in the program last year before deciding to enroll at Memphis as a freshman.
"We have those elite players, but we also have players from Division II and Division III schools who are looking to get better," Abunassar said.
Abunassar said that five-on-five scrimmages occur if enough players are present, but most of the program is geared toward individual skill work, conditioning and nutrition.
Florida freshman point guard Taurean Green trained at IMG and played for the academy during his junior season in high school. Two other current SEC players - Kentucky guard Ramel Bradley and South Carolina forward Renaldo Balkman - also played at IMG during their high school careers.
Walsh is spending his own money for travel costs and the program enrollment. Under NBA rules, he has the option as an underclassmen to declare for the draft and return to school if he doesn't hire an agent and pays for his own travel.
Florida junior point guard Anthony Roberson, an honorable mention All-American and two-time All-SEC first-team selection, is again mulling his NBA Draft options. As a sophomore, Roberson waited until the May 11 filing deadline before deciding to return to Florida for his junior season.
Kevin Brockway can be reached at (352) 374-5054 or by e-mail at brockwk@gvillesun.com

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