ESPN and SEC basketball analyst Sean Farnham watched Florida practices and games extensively through the 2014-15 season.
And while Farnham said he thinks the next Florida coach will have some strong players to work with, it might not automatically translate into smooth sailing in an SEC that’s continuing to get deeper and more talented. The Gators went 16-17 in Billy Donovan’s final campaign, their worst record since going 14-15 in 1997-98.
Florida’s talent base took another hit on Tuesday when shooting guard KeVaughn Allen, the highest-rated player in UF’s incoming 2015 freshman class, said he plans to ask out of his Letter of Intent to transfer to another school.
“It’s important for Florida fans to understand that is a sub-.500 season that they are coming off of,” Farnham said. “They just lost one of the best coaches, if not the best coach in college basketball, when you talk to a lot of people, (with) my ability to cover the Big 10, ACC, Pac 12 over the years, they all say you are hard pressed to find a better coach than Billy Donovan.
“The idea here is not necessarily to hit the reset button, but it is imperative to find a coach that can continue what he did do, then add their own flare, their own stamp, to the newfound tradition that Florida had under Billy Donovan and not the tradition that was in place prior to Billy Donovan’s arrival.”
Farnham said he was impressed with the ability of rising sophomore guard Brandone Francis and sophomore center John Egbunu, two players who could practice last season but couldn’t play last season due to different reasons. For Francis, it was due to academics. For Egbunu, a transfer from USF, it was due to NCAA transfer rules.
“I like Francis,” Farnham said. “The big, Egbunu, he’s much more the typical interior presence and size that Florida is used to.”
But Farnham said the biggest key to UF’s success could be the continued growth and development of starting point guard Kasey Hill. Farnham pointed to games against Kentucky and Auburn last year where Hill showed his dynamic potential by being able to turn the corner, get to the rim and finish. Hill also scored a career-high 20 points against North Carolina in the Bahamas and 17 points against Florida State. But those kind of games were few and far between.
“You don’t want to pick and choose and earmark three or four games where Kasey Hill had a really strong game,” Farnham said. “You want to be able to look over the course of a majority of the season and say, OK, by now as a junior, he needs to start taking steps forward and we need to see improvement in different areas of his game.”
At his farewell press conference on Monday, Donovan was asked about how he felt about the level of talent he’s leaving behind.
“It’s a good team,” Donovan said. “I feel like those guys are going to grow. I think Kasey will be a year older, a year better. DeVon Walker was out with an ACL. But he’s a year older, more mature. I think Dorian Finney-Smith’s the same thing, John Egbunu has had a chance to sit out, so has Brandone Francis … but coming off last season, there needs to be a high level of growth from those guys.”
— ESPN.com’s Andy Katz reported on Tuesday that Florida and Michigan State are nearing a home-and-home series that will begin next season in East Lansing, Mich. But a source familiar with UF’s scheduling said not to pencil that matchup in yet. The series was explored under the thought that UF would need extra road games due O’Connell Center renovations that were supposed to be going on this spring and fall. But with the renovations pushed back a year, it would make no sense to start a two-game series next season on the road. Florida already has committed to play a game at Miami next season and will open the season at Navy on Nov. 13 in the Veterans Classic. In addition, Florida will travel to Uncasville, Conn.,from Nov. 21-22 to play St. Joseph’s and either Purdue or Old Dominion in the Hall of Fame Classic. Adding a game at Michigan State would present another tough test away from the O’Connell with a new coach in his first season replacing Donovan. Don’t forget, Florida also will be playing a Big 12 team in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge in late January, and that could wind up a road game against a major conference team as well.
— Florida baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan said he will miss Donovan and relayed a story when Donovan provided some advice to him. It came during a 2011 Super Regional series at McKethan Stadium against Mississippi State, after Florida lost the second game of a three-game series on a walk-off home run. Donovan suggested to O’Sullivan that he have a team meeting following the game that night, to flush out the loss. O’Sullivan agreed and gathered his team in the locker room Saturday before the deciding game Sunday, which Florida won 8-6 to reach the College World Series for the second straight season. “For him to reach out to me at that point, I think it was invaluable,” O’Sullivan said. “Who knows how the team reacts and comes back if we don’t get back together on that Saturday night? Who knows? I think it helped.”