Gators' bright basketball future


Florida coach Billy Donovan talks to his team against Michigan during the first half of the Elite Eight on Sunday at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Michigan defeated Florida 79-59 to advance to the Final Four.

Matt Stamey / Staff photographer
Published: Monday, April 1, 2013 at 2:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 1, 2013 at 2:04 p.m.

ARLINGTON, Texas — Florida's national championship dreams ended Sunday at the same roadblock it has hit for the past three seasons.

Facts

Florida superlatives

Scoring: Mike Rosario, 12.5 ppg
Rebounding: Patric Young, 6.3 rpg
Assists: Scottie Wilbekin, 5.0 apg
Blocked Shots: Patric Young, 58
Steals: Scottie Wilbekin, 53

There's no shame in reaching the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight, one win short of a Final Four. At 29-8, Florida won just its fourth outright Southeastern Conference regular-season title in school history, and tied three other teams (1994 Final Four team, 2000 Final Four team and 2011 Elite Eight team) for the third-most wins in a season in school history.

But after being bounced from the Elite Eight for the third year in the row, are the Gators capable of making the next step next season?




“People deem this NCAA Tournament journey of different pinnacles,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “Getting out of the first round, getting to the Sweet 16, getting to the Final Four. At the end of the day for the people that are involved in it and coaching it, there's no easy exit out of the tournament.”

Making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament is never easy, and Florida will lose at least three starters next season — seniors Erik Murphy, Mike Rosario and Kenny Boynton. The trio accounted for more than 50 percent of UF's scoring during the 2012-13 season.

Donovan said Murphy and Boynton helped restore credibility to a program that had been to NITs in 2008 and 2009 before they arrived as freshmen.

“There's a lot of really, really good things that these kids have done,” Donovan said. “And I'll always be thankful and appreciative because they've always handled themselves with class, they've worked hard and given me everything they had.”

Florida also could lose a fourth starter if junior starting center Patric Young decides to declare for the NBA Draft. The 6-foot-9, 247-pound Young said following Sunday's loss to Michigan that he's still undecided if he will return for his senior season. Young averaged 10.1 points and 6.3 rebounds and was named to the All-SEC defensive team this season.

But junior guard Scottie Wilbekin is optimistic that the Gators can maintain the lofty standard they've set the previous three seasons.

“I think it will still be strong,” Wilbekin said. “We'll still be good. It's hard to look at that when I'm losing three great friends. But I think we'll be good. We're definitely going to be deep next year.”

That depth will come from the addition of Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris, a pair of transfers who practiced with the Gators this season. Harris, a 6-foot-10 center from South Carolina, gives Florida a shot-blocking presence at the rim it has lacked since Joakim Noah and Al Horford. Finney-Smith, a 6-8 sophomore from Virginia Tech, is an athletic small/power forward capable of rebounding and defending and scoring in transition.

“Dorian and ‘Tre, they are really good,” Florida junior forward Will Yeguete said. “They've got size. I think they are going to fit in, they're going to help, and I think people are going to grow to like the way they play.”

Florida also adds a pair of McDonald's All-Americans in its 2013 freshman class, point guard Kasey Hill (6-1, Eustis) and power forward Chris Walker (6-10, Bonifay). Wilbekin said he's familiar with Hill because his younger brother, Mitchell, has played with the incoming UF freshman on travel league teams.

Wilbekin said he's confident he could develop good chemistry with Hill if the duo start together in the same backcourt.

“He's a really smart player,” Wilbekin said. “I feel like he knows how to play and I'm pretty sure we'll have some alley-(oop) connections because I know he's a high-flier.”

The departure of the three seniors also could open up opportunities for Yeguete, junior forward Casey Prather and freshman guard Michael Frazier II. All three reserve players have a chance to move into starting roles next season, depending on how they develop during the offseason.

“We just have to use this year as motivation,” Frazier said. “Whatever happened, happened. It's in the past now, all we can do is move forward and get better from this point.”

Yeguete missed six games following knee surgery to remove bone chips in February, but returned in early March. It took awhile for the 6-foot-7 forward to get back to himself, but Yeguete looked more comfortable in the NCAA Tournament. His defense off the bench in the second half provided a big lift in wins over Minnesota and Florida Gulf Coast. In the Elite Eight loss to Michigan, Yeguete had 13 points and seven rebounds.

“I don't think I was 100 percent,” Yeguete said. “But even though I wasn't 100 percent I just wanted to be out there and be able to be with my teammates and just push through the injury.”

Defense was Florida's calling card in 2012-13. The Gators held opponents to 54.4 points per game. But Florida couldn't consistently score with teams when it had off nights on the defensive end of the floor. The Gators were 25-0 when they held opponents to less than 60 points and 4-8 when opponents scored 60 points or more.

The pieces are in place for Florida to have another strong defensive team next season, especially if Young comes back. But offensive improvement will depend on if Hill is as explosive a playmaker as advertised, or if Frazier (46.8 percent from 3-point range, 52-111) can continue to provide perimeter scoring with defenses focused on stopping him next season.

“We're going to be good,” Yeguete said. “It's the same process. We lost a couple of guys last year. We're going to lose some guys this year, and just gotta go back to work and find the chemistry.”

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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