Don’t look now, but while many of us have been entrenched in the football coaching soap opera, Billy Donovan’s Florida basketball team has quietly become one of the best in the country. After three straight elite eight appearances, this team looks talented enough to take it farther if the team can stay healthy, and out of trouble.
Suspensions and injuries have slowed the development of this year’s squad but as the pieces begin to come together the Gators are playing better each game. It appears that Chris Walker will be available within the next few weeks to add yet another piece to the puzzle. Scottie Wilbekin, Kasey Hill and Casey Prather are all quite capable of creating their own offense. This team should have the one piece it was missing last year, somebody to make a play at the end of a close game. But, perhaps the biggest improvement in this team is the defense. Opposing teams are being forced to work hard for their offense every trip down the court. I know Kansas came back to make it a game, but that win was the result of first half turnovers forced by the tenacious Gator defense.
The one thing that remains an obstacle to a Final Four run is free throws. For some reason, the Gators continue to be borderline brutal at the charity stripe. It has gotten so bad that Patric Young had to be benched in the final minutes against Kansas when Florida had the ball to avoid being sent to the free throw line. I have never understood why someone who spends that much time on the court cannot hit sixty to seventy percent of their free throws. I’m sure they try but it shouldn’t be that difficult.
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Apparently, Damontre Harris is not going to be able to do the things it takes to play basketball for the University of Florida. That is a shame. It is shame for the team because the Gators could seriously use his size on the court. More importantly, it is a shame for Harris. Opportunities are not endless. It is always disappointing to see someone throw one away so carelessly.
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Now, back to football, the transfers have begun with the announcement that fullback Rhaheim Ledbetter has decided to transfer. As is always the case when a team is going through tough times, a certain number of fans will point to that as further evidence that the program is going in the wrong direction. Every good college team has transfers on a regular basis for a variety of reasons. It is not always a bad thing. In fact, it is seldom a bad thing. When a player decides to leave a program he has a reason. It might be a lack of playing time, being buried on the depth chart, a disagreement with the coaches or something as simple as being homesick. Regardless of the reason, if a player no longer wants to be part of a program it is almost always better for both parties to separate. The player can find his niche in the world and the program can use that scholarship to add a much needed contributor to the roster.
Transfers do not mean that there is something wrong with the team. They do not mean that there is something wrong with the player. It simply means that the time has come for a change. Ledbetter chose the University of Florida when he had other options. I for one appreciate that and I wish him well wherever he goes regardless of the reason for the transfer. Good luck Rhaheim.
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Still no coaching hire, and Gator fans are starting to settle in for what might be a longer wait than they anticipated when the two assistants were let go. I know, I know, you are feeling antsy because of the possible effects to recruiting. In my opinion, it is more important to make the right hire than the fast hire. I would rather lose a recruit or two and get the right guy on the staff. It is a much better recipe for success. All the talent in the world will only go so far if you don’t have the right people developing them and putting them in a position to succeed.
I know I am in the minority but if I had a Heisman vote it would go to Auburn running back Tre Mason. Everybody knows that Auburn is going to run the ball. And yet, they still rack up three hundred plus yards a game. He teamed up with a quarterback that was going to be a defensive player at UGA to become an unstoppable force. And he carried his team to the national championship game against all odds. There are very legitimate arguments to be made for all of the candidates. But, in view of the questionable character of two of the quarterbacks and the competition level the other played against, I would have to lean toward one of running backs. Andre Williams has incredible numbers but Boston College was never really a contender at any point this season. While that is not a requirement to win the Heisman, it should at least be considered. Mason won’t win, but I would vote for him.