Senior Night special for three Gators
Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 5:32 p.m.
Regardless of what happens the rest of the season, Florida seniors Kenny Boynton, Erik Murphy and Mike Rosario will leave the Gator program with a winning legacy.
Who: No. 11 Florida Gators (23-5, 13-3 SEC) vs. Vanderbilt Commodores (13-15, 7-9 SEC)
When: Wednesday, 8 p.m.
Where: O'Connell Center
Gainesville-area TV: CW (Ch. 10, Cox Cable, Gainesville)
Gainesville-area radio: AM-850, 103.7 FM
But the three senior starters can achieve something more special Wednesday on Senior Night against Vanderbilt.
A win against the Commodores at the O'Connell Center would give Florida its fourth outright Southeastern Conference regular season title in school history. It would also give UF its first outright SEC regular season title since 2011, making Boynton, Murphy and Rosario (a practice-squad player in 2011 due to NCAA transfer rules) the first senior class to win two outright SEC titles.
“That says a lot with what they've been a part of,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “They've been a part of really good things here.”
Coming off back-to-back NIT seasons in 2008 and 2009, Murphy and Boynton will leave UF leading the Gators to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances. Rosario, a transfer from Rutgers, will be a part of three NCAA Tournament teams, including two as an active player.
“Those guys understand that the game is bigger than the Senior Night for us as a team with what's on the line and playing against Vanderbilt,” Donovan said. “I think any time it's a senior's last home game, that's always meaningful.”
The three seniors have stepped up at different times this season, helping to set a balanced tone to UF's offense. Rosario had led UF in scoring 13 times this season, while Boynton had led UF six times and Murphy five times.
Here's how the three seniors, who will be honored during pregame ceremonies, reflected on their UF careers:
A heralded McDonald's All-American recruit out of Pompano Beach, the 6-foot-2 Boynton was projected as a potential one-and-done player out of high school. He's started at shooting guard since he first put on a Gator uniform as a freshman.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Boynton said. “I think in the four years I've been here, I think I've gotten better as a player. I definitely didn't think when I signed here I'd be here four years, but I am here and I decided to stay."
In that span, Boynton has climbed his way up the UF record charts. He is UF's all-time leader in 3-pointers made (320), second in scoring (1,940 points), first in games started (133) and first in minutes played (4,414).
“Coach Donovan has pushed me to a level that I didn't have in me,” Boynton said. “In two-a-days, when we didn't think we had the energy to practice. ... I've met some great people here. I honestly have enjoyed my four years here."
Statistically, Boynton isn't having the senior season he envisioned. His scoring (12.5 ppg) and 3-point shooting percentage (32.8 percent) is down from a season ago (15.9 ppg, 40.7 percent). But he hasn't let it impact his play on the defensive end of the floor or his passing ability (376 career assists).
Boynton's career highlights include scoring 27 points as a freshman in an NCAA Tournament game against BYU and 20 more points against Norfolk State during UF's Elite Eight run last season.
"I want them to say that I was a winner,” Boynton said. “In my four years here, I've tried my best to win as much as I could. Definitely, I want to go out this year as a winner with winning a national championship."
The 6-foot-10 Murphy was at a crossroads at the end of his sophomore season. After coming off the bench his first two seasons, different people were telling him he should transfer.
“I had a lot of people telling me a lot of different things,” Murphy said. “When it really came down to it, I talked with coach and the thing he said was, ‘What do you really want to do? It's your life. You've got to make a decision for yourself.' For myself, I loved it here and wanted to stay here. When I really thought about it like that, it was a pretty easy decision.”
It's worked out for the Gators as well. Since becoming a starter as a junior, Murphy has provided a mismatch as a power forward who could step outside and shoot from 3-point range. This season, Murphy is leading the SEC in 3-point shooting percentage (46.4 percent) and has expanded his game with his ability to rebound, defend and score inside.
Murphy also has shown toughness, playing part of the season through a broken rib. Overall, Murphy said he's glad he stuck it out and finished his career as a Gator.
“There's so much I can take away, just life lessons, basketball lessons,” Murphy said. “It's been a crazy four years. It's been a roller-coaster ride. But it's been the best four years of my life. There's so much I can take away from it, I really can't narrow it down to any specifics right now."
Rosario said he knew the transition was going to be tough when he transferred from Rutgers to Florida. At Rutgers, Rosario was the primary scoring option, averaging 16.7 points per game as a sophomore while playing close to 34 minutes per game.
“I knew that coming into this situation, I was going to have to basically do a whole new chapter,” Rosario said. “I just looked at it as a challenge and just being a part of this program and this winning tradition here was going to be a different standard.”
But the relationship between Rosario and Donovan didn't click right away. Playing behind Boynton, Erving Walker and Bradley Beal, Rosario didn't start as a junior. He missed 25 practices and five games due to various minor ailments and never fully accepted his role as UF's sixth man.
“When I first got here, I didn't really understand coach, as far as — you have to be responsible for everything you do, be on time for everything,” Rosario said. “It was a different transition because I was so used to, basically — if you give me an inch, I'd take a yard when I was at Rutgers. It was different playing for Coach Billy. It was his way or the highway.”
With Walker and Beal both gone this season, Rosario came into camp with a better attitude. He won a starting job during the preseason by playing hard on both ends of the floor. Rosario is still erratic at times, but he's also currently UF's leading scorer at 12.9 points per game. In SEC games, Rosario has averaged 13.7 points.
Rosario said Senior Night for him will be emotional, considering what the Jersey City, N.J., native has overcome.
“I had a lot of people doubt that I could make it up to this point,” Rosario said. “There's a lot of people back home saying that by me making this transition, moving from Rutgers to Florida, that everything is not going to work out.
“I just had to be patient and wait until my turn. I knew that it was going to come if I just kept in the process and kept working hard. I just never lost sight of that: getting better every day.”
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Kenny Boynton 6-2 Sr. 12.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg
G Mike Rosario 6-3 Sr. 12.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg
G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Jr. 9.1 ppg, 5.3 apg
F Erik Murphy 6-10 Sr. 12.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg
C Patric Young 6-9 Jr. 10.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg
VANDERBILT PROBABLE STARTERS
G Kevin Bright 6-5 Fr. 7.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg
G Kedren Johnson 6-4 So. 13.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg
G Dai-Jon Parker 6-3 So. 6.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg
F Rod Odom 6-9 Jr. 10.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg
C Josh Henderson 6-11 So. 5.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg
Notes: Florida (14-0 at the O'Connell Center) can close out the regular season with a perfect home record. It would be UF's first unbeaten home mark since going 18-0 during the 2006-07 season. … Florida is 22-12 against Vanderbilt under Billy Donovan and has won 14 of its last 15 at home against the Commodores. … The Gators rank third in the nation in scoring defense, holding opponents to 53.4 points per game. The Gators have held 11 opponents under 50 points and 20 opponents under 60 points. … Offensively, Florida will be looking to get back on track. The Gators have an assist-to-turnover ratio of 42 to 39 over their last four games and have shot just 27.9 percent (24 of 86) from 3-point range during that span. … Florida junior forward Casey Prather is averaging 9.3 points and 5.3 rebounds in his last seven games off the bench. … Vanderbilt is 4-7 on the road this season, but has won its last two on the road against Mississippi State and Auburn. … Defending the 3-point line will be important for the Gators. The Commodores are shooting 35.7 percent from 3-point range and make 7.9 3-pointers per game.