Basketball’s Freshman Impact

By the time the Michigan Wolverines had taken scissors to nylon in Cowboys Stadium, the reality set in that Florida’s season had officially come to an end.

With that, the collegiate careers of Kenny Boynton, Erik Murphy and Mike Rosario were also over, unofficially ushering in a new era of Florida basketball.

Fans were undoubtedly disheartened by Florida’s third consecutive bounce from the Elite Eight in as many years, but for some, the pain may have been easier to bear upon realizing the talent that will dot the Gators’ roster next season.

While losing three proven talents is stinging to any program, Billy Donovan will have a plethora of talented athletes at his disposal next year. However, Donovan is hoping that expectations by fans and the players themselves are tempered heading into the newcomers’ arrivals.

“I’m always cautious,” Donovan said. “I think one of the things that happens a lot of the times is when guys come in as freshmen and whether they’re McDonald’s All-American or those things, there’s an automatic expectation.

“I just think there’s not necessarily a direct correlation there. Just because you were great in high school doesn’t mean you’re going to be great in college.”

Donovan pointed at former freshman stars Brad Beal and Mike Miller as players who were able to deviate from the norm and be impact performers from day one. While Beal and Miller were certainly rare talents, a single look at incoming guard Kasey Hill or incoming forward Chris Walker’s highlight tape would force one to expect a similar arch for the incoming freshmen.

“I think Chris Walker and Kasey Hill and (transfers) Damontre Harris and [Dorian Finney-Smith], they definitely bring an added value to our team,” Donovan said.

“(With Hill) I think Scottie’s [Wilbekin] got another ball-handler, another creator, another playmaker back there. I think Dodo’s a very versatile player; he can play a couple different positions. Probably the first time in a while we’ve had shot blocking, you know, with Damontre if he can remain healthy.”

With Hill’s arrival, some have begun to question the fate of Wilbekin, who blossomed in his role as the team’s point guard this season. On the aforementioned highlight tape of Hill, it doesn’t take long to figure out the 6’1 guard’s offensive prowess, showcasing an array of dizzying ball-handling moves, coupled with a penchant for always finding the open man.

Wilbekin was no slouch on the offensive end of the floor this year, averaging 9.1 points and 5.0 assists, including a trio of games with 10 assists. With such a strong performance out of Wilbekin this season, Donovan was asked how he expects the chemistry between to play out between his star-freshman and senior-to-be stalwart.

“You know, the one thing I love about Scottie Wilbekin, is Scottie’s first and foremost, his identity has always been defense,” Donovan said. “He loves playing defense. And you can play Scottie anywhere, when he’s out there, he can function.

Donovan cited Wilbekin’s play as a shooting guard this season as an example of his willingness to play anywhere. Wilbekin was forced into the role after Kenny Boynton had taken over the point during an early season suspension for Wilbekin.

“He’s just a basketball player; you can throw him out there and he’ll go out there and play,” Donovan said.

As far as Walker is concerned, questions have been thrown around regarding his academic eligibility.  Donovan didn’t make any definitive statements regarding Walker, instead choosing to say that he worries about every freshman until they actually make it on campus.

“I think in looking at our incoming freshmen, certainly they are in the right courses, taking the right classes and doing all of that stuff but I think that stuff will end up playing itself out whenever he graduates,” Donovan said.

With 10 players returning and two incoming freshmen, Florida still has room for an additional scholarship player for next season. Donovan says that while his staff is open to it, there are no specific plans to bring in a transfer for next season. Rather, Donovan said, the focus at the moment is recruiting the high school classes of 2014 and ’15.

“Right now, we would look at (bringing in a transfer),” Donovan said. “From a transfer situation, there’s no one we’re really involved with right now. I’ll be on the road tomorrow, about noon tomorrow, until Sunday.

“So most of my time will be on kids finishing up their junior years and sophomore years. They’ve added some dates for us and some more events to watch some guys play. The next three weeks I’ll be out on the road. “

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alex gray
A once-upon-a-time standout on the high school gridiron, Alex unfortunately learned of the inexistent market for 5-foot 10 offensive linemen, and concentrated on remaining involved with sports in some capacity. Upon finishing at the University of Florida, Alex realized his passion for writing and sought a way to combine that passion with his love of sports, thus bringing him to GC. In his spare moments, Alex enjoys spending quality time with his DVR, and is on a current quest to break 120 on the golf course.