Dan Cross was the starting point guard on Florida’s first Final Four team 1994.
So the former Gator knows a thing or two about running a team. And he wasn’t shy about offering perspective why Florida has struggled mightily in close games in each of the last two seasons.
“The point guard a lot of times is the difference,” Cross said. “And making the decisions, if you will have the ball in your hands or get the ball in the right person’s hands … that critical decision making a lot of times makes or breaks games.
“It’s the free throws at the end of games, when the free-throw is in the hands of the point guard. I believe that kind of leadership has been lacking the last few years.”
In essence, Cross took a back-handed swipe at Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton and Scottie Wilbekin, who have manned the point in each of UF’s last two seasons. The Gators went 0-6 in games decided by six points or less last season and are 2-9 in games decided by 5 points or less over the last two seasons.
The 5-foot-8 Walker had a knack for hitting big shots in his UF career, but was sometimes selfish down the stretch and often had shots altered by bigger opposing defenders. Boynton struggled with the ball in his hands late in games last season. Wilbekin, suspended indefinitely for the second time in his career this summer due to disciplinary issues, is a superior defender but has yet to emerge as an assertive floor leader.
But Cross is confident that help is on the way. Living in Orlando, Cross has watched incoming freshman point guard Kasey Hill extensively throughout his high school career. He thinks the McDonald’s All-American can be the answer help solve UF’s recent close-game woes.
“He has the potential to have that quality type of relationship, that type of demand that’s put on a point guard,” Cross said. “I just believe (Florida coach) Billy (Donovan) hasn’t been able to find that the last few years. But a guy like Kasey Hill, that kind of commands and controls the pace of the game … anytime you have that type of point guard who can control what’s going on, his upside is very good.”
Cross, in Gainesville to host his ninth annual youth camp at St. Francis High School, said it’s hard to believe it’s been close to 20 years since being a part of UF’s first Final Four run. He co-owns company, Athlete Connections, that helps place jobs for scholarship athletes coming out college.
“A lot has gone one with us being 20 years away from the athletic program, but to see the transition and the development of the tradition of University of Florida basketball, it’s been a great experience to see what’s taken place,” Cross said.
Under Donovan, who took over as UF’s coach in 1996, the Gators have reached three more Final Fours and won two national titles. Florida has knocked on the door of the Final Four of late, reaching the Elite Eight in each of its last three seasons.
“It’s very tough to get the Elite Eight,” Cross said. “I think our expectations as Gators and the Gator Nation is so high and sometimes not realistic. To get to a Final Four in basketball, it takes talent, it takes a little bit of luck (being in the) right place … a lot of the shots, these are close games that we’re talking about to get to the Final Four, one shot away, two shots away.
“Hopefully this year the ball will drop in our favor, but it’s been very impressive to see what Billy has done with these group of kids which may not have been the most talented group over the years, but he’s found a way to jell and find the right chemistry for these guys to work well and work hard together.”