6 FLORIDA GATORS

With more speed than size this year, Billy Donovan is returning to a style of play that should look familiar
November 14, 2011

Some teams aspire to be graceful, powerful or efficient. Not Florida. "We want to be an annoying team," point guard Erving Walker says.

The Gators, who are likely to start three guards 6'3" or shorter a season after coming within one win of the Final Four, want to invade the personal space of opposing ballhandlers. They don't have the manpower to bash bigger teams inside, but they do have an abundance of athletic, scrappy guards who can play uncomfortably tight defense. So, in coach Billy Donovan's 16th season, his team's style will return to the one he originally brought to Gainesville in 1996. "Because we have speed and quickness in the backcourt, we really need to try and get up the floor and try to be a more full-court defensive team," Donovan says. "That's not to say you do it for 40 minutes, but I'd like to do it more than we have in the past."

Last year Walker and Kenny Boynton each averaged more than 32 minutes a game, and Scottie Wilbekin, who graduated from high school early to join the Gators, was the only true guard to come off the bench. This season that trio will be joined by Mike Rosario, who led Rutgers in scoring as a freshman and sophomore before he transferred to Florida, and Bradley Beal, a freshman who was named MVP of the 2010 FIBA under-17 world championship.

The change in personnel should result in a change in role for Walker, the Gators' leading scorer last season, whom Donovan would like to lead the SEC in assists. The coach wants Walker feeding Boynton, Rosario, Beal and sophomore center Patric Young, whose development has drawn rave reviews from former Florida stars Marreese Speights and Corey Brewer. "With us having more shooting around Erving and with his speed and quickness, he needs to be a guy who has a great assist-to-turnover ratio," Donovan says.

Walker embraces the change, but that doesn't mean he intends to relinquish the role of crunch-time shooter. He has terrible memories of the three-pointer he missed that sent Florida's Elite Eight matchup with Butler to an ill-fated overtime. But he also hasn't forgotten the runner he made over 6'10" UCLA center Joshua Smith that sealed the Gators' second-round NCAA tournament win. "My parents told me when I was young, 'Don't be afraid to fail,'" Walker says. "You're not going to make every shot."

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE

COACH Billy Donovan (16th season)

2010--11 RECORD 29--8 SEC 13--3 (1st, East)

NCAA TOURNAMENT Elite Eight

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POS. PLAYER HEIGHT CLASS KEY STATS
PG Erving Walker 5'8" Sr. 14.6 ppg 3.4 apg
SG Bradley Beal* 6'3" Fr. 32.5 ppg 5.7 rpg
SG Kenny Boynton 6'2" Jr. 14.2 ppg 2.6 apg
F Erik Murphy 6'10" Jr. 4.3 ppg 2.3 rpg
C Patric Young 6'9" Soph. 3.4 ppg 3.8 rpg
KEY RESERVE
SG Mike Rosario† 6'3" Jr. 16.7 ppg 3.9 rpg

Returning starter

*High school stats

†2009--10 Rutgers stats

FAST FACT

50.6 PERCENTAGE of the Gators' rebounds last season that were pulled down by the trio of Vernon Macklin, Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus, all of whom are gone.

THE LOWDOWN

BEST CASE

Walker becomes a distributor, and the scoring of Boynton, Rosario and Beal opens opportunities inside for Young. The Gators make a deep tourney run.

WORST CASE

Everyone looks for his own shot, creating an inconsistent offense, and Florida's lack of size inside leads to an early NCAA tournament exit.

PHOTOBOB ROSATOERVING WALKER The point guard must become less of a scorer and more of a playmaker for a team with fresh depth in the backcourt.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)