Backcourt chemistry a key for Gators
Published: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 9:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 9:30 p.m.
Florida enters the 2011-12 season with its most depth and talent in the backcourt in close to a decade.
Yet the concern for Florida coach Billy Donovan is how five players capable of starting at most programs in the country will blend together on the floor.
"I think the relationship and the chemistry away from the practice court with all those guys is pretty good," Donovan said Wednesday during UF Basketball Media Day. "There's a great deal of respect. They all like each other. But I think it's different when you step on the floor and try to utilize each other's strengths as a player."
How the backcourt comes together could determine if the Gators can repeat a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Florida is coming off a 29-8 season that ended with an overtime loss in the Elite Eight against Butler.
The Gators open practice Friday and will play their exhibition opener Nov. 3 against Catholic University.
Florida returns senior starting point guard Erving Walker and junior starting shooting guard Kenny Boynton. Sophomore backup point guard Scottie Wilbekin is back and has proven he is capable of playing both guard spots while playing defense at a high level.
But the Gators also will add some offensive firepower in the backcourt with Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario and incoming freshman McDonald's All-American Bradley Beal. Rosario was ninth in the Big East in scoring in his final season at Rutgers, averaging 16.7 points per game. Beal, the consensus third-ranked recruit in the country in 2011, averaged more than 32 points in his senior year of high school.
Donovan has said he will consider playing some three and four-guard lineups this season to get some additional perimeter scoring on the floor. But with just one basketball to share, the question remains: Can all the guards coexist and stay happy?
"If we push the tempo and fast break, there will be lots of shot opportunities for everybody," Wilbekin said. "I don't think people will have to worry much if we play the up-tempo, pressing style. Even if we don't, I think all of our guards are mature enough to find their role, facilitate when they need to facilitate and shoot when they need to shoot."
Boynton, a former McDonald's All-American, said it will come down to putting egos aside for a greater goal.
"We've heard the stuff about we've got a lot of scorers," Boynton said. "Overall, we all just want to win. Mike has been at Rutgers, he's lost. We've been close to the Final Four. We all just want to win and we know we have to sacrifice for each other to win."
Donovan already has challenged Walker to lead the Southeastern Conference in assists. The 5-foot-8 Walker has proved his ability as a big-shot maker throughout his Florida career and led the Gators in scoring last season at 14.6 points per game.
"With us having more shooting around Erving and with his speed and quickness, he needs to be a guy that has a great assist-to-turnover ratio," Donovan said.
Said Walker: "I think it's just another challenge for me. I trust Coach Donovan with all of my heart and I think he has my best interest and the team's best interest."
At 6-foot-3 and 207 pounds, Beal has the physical tools to compete at the SEC level. Donovan also has been impressed with Beal's maturity off the court.
Beal said he's been looking to Boynton and Walker for guidance.
"They have a lot of experience," Beal said. "Just being around them, I'm a quiet guy, I'm really shy. I really just sit back and watch things happen. I just observe everything they do."
The 6-foot-3 Rosario has dealt with back issues in the preseason but said he's ready to make sacrifices to ensure UF's success.
"Whatever Coach Billy needs me to do, whatever my teammates need me to do to bring to the team and bring to the table, that's what I'm going to try to do," Rosario said.
Donovan said the added pieces in the backcourt could result in a different style of play this season. Last season, Florida often dumped the ball in the post on offense. When the Gators tried to press early last season against Ohio State, they were run off the floor.
"The last two years with the depth in our backcourt, Erving and Kenny Boynton logging so many minutes, it made it very, very difficult for us to extend the floor when we needed to," Donovan said. "I do think because we have speed and quickness in our backcourt, we really need to try to get up the floor and be more of a full-court defensive team. That's not to say we will do it for 40 minutes, but I'd like to do certainly more than we have in the past."
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out his blog at Gatorsports.com.