Freshman contributing for men's hoops team


Published: Monday, December 1, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 5:56 a.m.

Florida's freshman men's basketball class didn't come into this season with much fanfare.

But through the first six games of the season, it's clear the Gator freshmen have earned a measure of respect. The No. 23 Gators (5-1) enter tonight's game against Florida A&M with one freshman already earning a starting job and another contributing significant minutes off the bench.

"I'm really excited about those guys," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "For the most part, they've got a pretty good disposition."

Sandwiched between a 2007 freshman class that was rated as the top recruiting class in the country and a 2009 class that features the signing of five-star recruit Kenny Boynton, the "08s" have so far displayed more substance than style.

The biggest surprises have been the play of freshmen Allan Chaney and Erving Walker, who have taken advantage of early opportunities presented to them. Chaney replaced a slumping Chandler Parsons in the starting lineup and the 6-foot-8 forward responded with 13 points and three rebounds in his first career start against Washington.

Walker is coming off his best performance of the season, one that Donovan described as phenomenal. Against Missouri-Kansas City, the 5-foot-8 Walker displayed all of his point guard skills, finishing with 13 points, nine assists and five steals.

Walker is playing 21.3 minutes per game, taking on a more significant role than expected after projected starting guard Jai Lucas announced he was transferring before the season began.

"With Jai leaving I knew I had to play more of a role," Walker said. "But I've just got to keep doing the same things."

The rest of the freshmen are continuing to develop, with the exception of freshman forward Eloy Vargas, who remains out indefinitely with problems following offseason ankle surgery. Freshman guard Ray Shipman had four points, three rebounds and two assists in 14 minutes against UMKC. Freshman center Kenny Kadji had four points and is averaging 3.2 points over his first six career games.

"It was good being able to play Ray a little bit more because he didn't play in Kansas City," Donovan said. "It was a good thing to see him a little bit more reliable defensive and more reliable in what we're running.

"I think Erving has played pretty significant minutes so far where he's going to probably play between 18-25 minutes. Kenny has had some moments but he's been up and down a little bit as a lot of big guys are and Chaney has played well enough to move into the starting lineup."

The way the freshmen have played hasn't surprised Parsons, who was part of Florida's top-rated 2007 freshman class last season.

"Just working out with these guys all summer long knowing them and practicing with them every day, my expectations coming into the season were really high for them," Parsons said. "They play so hard. They're just not playing scared and coming in here and just playing their game."

FREE THROWS: Florida dropped six spots to No. 23 in Monday's AP Poll. ... The Gators dropped to No. 21 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll. ... Syracuse, which beat Florida and won the O'Reilly Auto Parts/CBE Classic, moved into the AP poll at No. 16. ... Donovan didn't sound optimistic Monday that Vargas or sophomore guard Adam Allen will be back any time soon. Allen has been sidelined for more than a month with a sprained knee. "I don't know if we'll get Adam back and I don't know how long it will take Eloy to get really, really healthy where he can contribute," Donovan said. "We're going forward looking into this year looking like we've got nine (scholarship) guys, and that's basically the way we're handling it. Adam has gotten a little bit better but I can't sit here and say within the next week or two he's going to be playing."

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