Fans at the O’Connell Center have been able to catch a few glimpses of former Gator guard Mike Rosario lately.
Rosario has been in the stands throughout December watching Florida play. The reason? Rosario is on break from playing professionally overseas in Puerto Rico for the Ponce Leones. The 6-foot-2 guard also has been working out at the UF basketball facility to prepare for when he returns for training camp with Ponce in late January.
“It’s a second home,” Rosario said of Gainesvillle. “I spoke to (Florida coach Billy Donovan) a couple weeks back and told him I was going to come up here and get a run in with the guys and work in the weight room and stuff to prepare myself for Puerto Rico. It’s been a great experience, just to know how much these guys accept me here and how much I love the school and its tradition.”
In his first 33 games with Ponce over the summer and fall, Rosario averaged 6.9 points per game in 14.5 minutes off the bench. He shot 44.2 percent from the field and 34.6 percent from 3-point range.
“I thought I did a solid job coming in as a rookie for my first season,” Rosario said. “I thought I gave them a lot of extended minutes, playing against 34, 36-year-old men. It was a good start.”
A transfer from Rutgers, Rosario had an up-and-down junior season at Florida, adjusting to some tough-love from Donovan while dealing with injuries and playing behind Bradley Beal. But as a senior, Rosario flourished at UF, averaging a team-high 12.5 points per game and helping lead the Gators to a third straight Elite Eight appearance. Rosario’s 25-point performance against Minnesota in round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament helped carry the Gators to the Sweet 16.
“It’s always good having Mike around,” Donovan said. “I enjoy it when former players come back. I think him talking to our younger guys, the experiences he’s gone through in his life, from being an All-American going to Rutgers, transferring being here and going through some adversity his senior year and then becoming a really, good senior leader. I mean, it’s a good guy to come back.”
Rosario and former Gator center Vernon Macklin (Georgetown) gave Donovan faith that players could transfer from other big-time programs and have success at UF. Though things didn’t work out with South Carolina transfer Damontre Harris, who left UF without ever playing a game for the Gators, Virginia Tech transfer Dorian Finney-Smith is having success for the Gators this season, averaging 10.6 points and a team-high 7.2 rebounds off the bench. Donovan is hoping that guard Eli Carter (a Rutgers transfer on a medical redshirt) and forward Alex Murphy (a Duke transfer) will pay similar dividends for the Gators next season.
“I felt me and Vernon set a good example that you can transfer from another high-level D-I school to a school like this and still progress in so many areas and get better,” Rosario said.