Four years ago, he felt like he was starting over. Four years later, Billy Donovan has lost his big guys -- again. But the transition this time should be smoother. "In 2007, we lost three lottery picks and our entire starting five," he says. "We've got some good players coming back for this next season."
Florida struggled after the back-to-back national championship teams and it wasn't until last season that it was able to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. But much of the frontcourt (Vernon Macklin, Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus) that helped UF reach the Elite Eight graduated, making this year's squad a guard-heavy team that has to have some younger players develop if it is to compete for a second straight SEC Championship.
"We'll be a better shooting team than we were a year ago," Donovan says. "But the big question is going to be our frontcourt depth. We've got to find some guys who can go and get some rebounds."
The Gators will lean on center Patric Young and forward Erik Murphy to produce down low. Young was often the first guy off the bench for the Gators a year ago and led the team in blocked shots. He spent the summer playing for the U.S. U19 team and needs to develop more moves around the basket to be effective.
Murphy saw limited action as a sophomore -- he played 10-plus minutes in only seven SEC games -- but had some good moments. He showed a nice touch from outside, shooting 40.0 percent from three-point range. Donovan is also hoping that sophomores Casey Prather and Will Yeguete can provide quality minutes at small forward. The two combined to average 13.8 minutes per game a year ago. Depth may also come from Cody Larson, a 6-8 forward who redshirted last year, and incoming 6-10 freshman Walter Pitchford.
Florida returns its two leading scorers in guards Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker. Boynton is a streaky shooter but a lockdown defender, while Walker's penchant for making clutch shots is undeniable. Together they averaged 28.8 points per game and either one could play the point or shooting guard.
The talent on the perimeter doesn't stop with those two. Mike Rosario averaged 16.5 points per game at Rutgers in two seasons before transferring and sitting out last year. Scottie Wilbekin enrolled in school a year early and played an important role off the bench. And incoming freshman Brad Beal has already been projected as potential 2011 NBA Lottery pick. The Missouri native can drive it to the basket and is an excellent three-point shooter.
"We're going to play some three-guard sets," Donovan says. "We've got some guys who can really shoot it. It's just a matter of figuring out how to work them all in."
This will be a different team than the one that lost in overtime to Butler in the Elite Eight last season. That was an inside-out team; this group will be more perimeter-oriented. Still, the Gators will go only as far as their big men take them.
In the rugged SEC, the Gators will have plenty of firepower, but if they can't rebound or defend inside, it's not going to matter. Young may be the answer inside. If he takes a big step forward, Florida will be back as an SEC contender.
Brad Beal (G, Fr.): Considered one of the elite prospects in the nation and brings instant scoring to the Gator lineup.
Cody Larson (F/C, Fr.): The former 4-star recruit redshirted last season.
Walter Pitchford (F, Fr.): A 6-10 forward is probably more of a project.
Mike Rosario (G, Jr.): Transfer from Rutgers can score and distribute.