Gators spread offense
Published: Saturday, January 20, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 20, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.
There are times when Florida forward Joakim Noah is in open space and tempted to let a 15-foot jumper fly.
Ole Miss at UF
- When: Today, 1 p.m.
- Where: O'Connell Center
- TV: Fox, WJXT
- Radio: WRUF FM (103.7) and AM (850)
- GameDay, 5C
"There are definitely times when we can take them," Noah said. "But when you have guys like Lee Humphrey and Taurean (Green) who can really shoot the ball, that's been one of our strengths as a team, knowing what a good shot is."
No. 1-ranked Florida (16-2, 3-0 SEC) enters today's game at home against Ole Miss leading the nation in field goal percentage at 54.5 percent. Along the way, Florida players with an eye on the next level have struck the delicate balance of showcasing new skills while playing team basketball.
For junior center Al Horford, it's been the addition of a mid-range jumper to go with his back-to-the-basket game. For senior 3-point shooting specialist Lee Humphrey, it's been the occasional drive to the basket to keep defenses honest.
"I'm happy those guys have confidence and they put the time in," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "That's how you get confidence, by working at something and doing it over and over 'til you get comfortable with it. The thing they have to be smart about is it can't be something they totally rely on, that it's now evolved into being who they are."
Horford and Noah honed their perimeter skills over the summer in pickup games, prohibiting themselves from playing with their back to the basket in an effort to launch more jumpers. Perimeter shooting also was an emphasis during individual drills.
"Coach has spent a lot of time with the bigs, working on 15-footers," Horford said. "We feel more comfortable out there. It's all about confidence and being ready to shoot. Last year, I felt like I wasn't ready a lot of the time. This year, I feel more comfortable."
Noah has been a little less consistent with his jumper compared to Horford. Noah shoots with a chest-high, side guide-hand delivery that one NBA scout recently referred to on a report as a "tennis shot," but says he's comfortable with his current form.
"Al definitely has a better mid-range game than I do," Noah said. "I'm just the guy who's going to try to do the dirty work and get the offensive rebounds."
Donovan has given his big men freedom to shoot when the opportunity arises.
"The shot clock is winding down and there have been several times Al has taken 15, 17-footers and I've had no problems with him taking them, because they've been at the right time," Donovan said.
"I've had guys in the past, where you work and work and work on things with and then you get in the game, and they never even do them, or attempt to do them.
"One thing that's encouraging about Al is Al's left hand has gotten better, Al has taken more left-handed jump hooks this year than he has all of his career, and he's probably taken more jump shots than he has."
Humphrey, a point guard in high school, gained more confidence driving to the basket as he gained more upper body strength throughout his career. Humphrey has nearly as many two-point baskets (20) this season than he did all of his junior year (29).
"The way people play the 3-point line on me has given me a chance to attack the basket a little bit," Humphrey said.
Noah, Horford and Corey Brewer all bypassed chances to be first-round NBA Draft picks last spring to return to school. Donovan said he's sought advice from former Florida players in the NBA such as Mike Miller, David Lee and Matt Bonner, asking them if there's anything else he can teach to prepare players for the professional level.
"I feel like it's my obligation as a coach," Donovan said. "I'd feel terrible as a coach if those guys went through the program and said they never got better at Florida."
Kevin Brockway can be reached at (352) 374-5054 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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