New Gator basketball lineup to debut

Published: Thursday, November 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

When Florida coach Billy Donovan was informed he'll face a size disadvantage across the frontline in his team's exhibition opener, he wasn't surprised.

"I think every frontline against us is going to be a big frontline," Donovan said.

Such is life without Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Chris Richard. Florida will face a Flagler College team tonight that boasts pretty good size for the Division II level. Flagler starts 6-foot-10, 245-pound Ben De La Cruz at center, with 6-11 Lyndon Merthie and 6-9 Bryan Borstelmann as the two forwards.

The Gators will counter with a starting lineup of center Marreese Speights (6-10), forward Dan Werner (6-7) and guards Walter Hodge (6-0), Jai Lucas (5-11) and Nick Calathes (6-5).

Donovan played the three guards together during an intra-squad scrimmage last week and is intrigued with the combination because it puts his most experienced player (Hodge, a junior) on the floor with his two most talented freshmen (McDonald's All-Americans Calathes and Lucas).

"They are all good ballhandlers," Donovan said. "They are all good pick and roll players. Certainly Walter and Nicki shoot the ball well. You still have some size with Nick being 6-foot-5. We're probably small in the backcourt with Jai and with Walter but, I think we're fast back there. I have played that lineup in practice some and it's been a good lineup for us."

But Donovan said that starting jobs will continue to be evaluated before the season opener Nov. 9 against North Dakota State.

"I'm probably just looking at it more as combinations and things that we want to look at on the floor for ourselves," Donovan said. "We'd also like to take a look at some bigger wings with Adam Allen and Jonathan Mitchell. We'd like to maybe look at something smaller in the frontcourt with maybe Werner and Chandler Parsons."

Lucas, who signed to play at Florida last spring, is looking forward to his first game at the O'Connell Center.

"I don't think I've slept good in about two days, thinking about the game," Lucas said. "This is my first time playing in a Florida game. I didn't come to one during the season, so I don't know what to expect. I'm really excited."

Lucas, the son of former NBA coach and point guard John Lucas, said he feels comfortable playing with Hodge and Calathes together.

"It's a different look than people are used to seeing," Lucas said. "It's a lot of speed. Really whoever gets the ball can bring it up and do whatever we want. That's one of the options that can be effective for us."

Unlike Lucas, the 6-foot-9 Parsons has been coming to Florida basketball games since he was kid. Parsons, from outside Orlando, remembered how loud the Rowdy Reptiles cheered the Florida team.

"All these people are on your side," Parsons said. "Just to think that tomorrow, they are going to be cheering for me, it's nuts. I just can't wait. I'm ready."

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or

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