When senior guard Kenny Boynton officially signed on with Florida in November of 2008, fans were excited to see a consensus top-10 prospect added to the Gators’ roster.
Boynton’s commitment brought a revived hope and enthusiasm to a fan base which had seen a sudden floundering of the Florida program following the successful national championship runs of 2006 and 2007.
While Boynton’s arrival may have signaled a nearing end to the Gators’ basketball woes, his stay in Gainesville was initially predicted to be rather short, as the 6-foot-2 scoring machine was seen as a player whose name would be found high on NBA draft boards by the end of his freshman or sophomore season.
“I think so much in today’s day and age, everything is about the NBA,” UF coach Billy Donovan said on Monday. “I understand why. I was no different than any player across the country wanting to get to the NBA.”
For the majority of young kids who spend their time on a community blacktop or on a makeshift driveway court, the NBA is a pipe dream. Whether they are victims of a lack of talent or simply victims of unfavorable genetics, the tantalizing vision of an adult life spent in the public eye as a basketball superstar will simply remain an unreachable fantasy.
For a heralded high school phenom however, the NBA dream is all too real. The immense pressure and expectations built by years of prep stardom steadily crescendos until a college decision is made. But according to Donovan, once the college destination is decided, the player — and oftentimes more so, the people surrounding him — already have their eye on the grander prize of the NBA.
“I think a lot of times, the unfortunate part for a lot of young kids — because there are a lot of kids that are one and done — so many times I think people put these expectations on a young man that are, I think, are totally unfair,” Donovan said Dec. 29 after the Gators’ 78-61 win over Air Force Sunrise, Fla., near Boynton’s hometown of Pompano Beach.
“He hasn’t even played a college game or been in a college practice yet and somebody’s talking about him being a pro. Let’s see him become a good college player first.”
While his stay in Gainesville has been longer than originally anticipated, Boynton has indeed morphed into a good college player.
The four-year starter currently sits in third place on UF’s all-time scoring list with 1,782 career points — only 308 behind Florida’s all-time leading scorer Ronnie Williams, who had 2,090 total points from 1981-1984.
Boynton’s 2012-13 season has been somewhat of an up-and-down affair thus far. With the graduation of former roommate Erving Walker, Boynton has been forced into part-time role as the Gators’ point guard, a move which has required a bit of an adjustment up to this point.
After seeing a dip in production during December, Boynton has been on a tear as of late, matching a career-best of 28 points against Yale in the Gators’ 79-58 victory, and then following up that performance with a team-leading 20-point outburst in Florida’s 74-52 victory over LSU last Saturday.
Even before his sizzling start to January, Boynton felt no regret over his decision to return for another season, nor his entire career following his homecoming against Air Force.
“I know a lot of people expected [me to leave early], but I’ve been good honestly,” Boynton said. “I talked to Coach Donovan after the season about decisions and staying and going, and I felt like after the season it’s best for me to come back all the years that I did come back. Definitely this year, I felt like we had a great team, so I definitely don’t regret any of my decisions.”
Added fellow senior Erik Murphy: “We all have the utmost respect for him. Like he said, a lot of hype, a lot of ‘one and done’ stuff. He could have probably left any year he wanted to, but he stuck around and I think that says a lot about he wants to be with this team. We all love Kenny and I’m happy he’s been here.”
Although the SEC’s most supreme talents have come and gone in recent years — i.e. John Wall, Anthony Davis and Florida’s own Bradley Beal — Boynton’s current status as the league’s active leading scorer is a definite accomplishment.
While Boynton may not have been high enough on draft boards to warrant a guilt-free jump to the NBA after only a few seasons, he has undoubtedly made his mark as a talented individual player. However, perhaps most importantly to Donovan and Gators fans, is the impact the South Florida native has made on the UF basketball program during his career in Gainesville.
“If you don’t get to the NBA as quickly or as fast as possible and you don’t make it in the NBA, people have the tendency to forget a guy’s college career or experience,” Donovan said on Monday. “Regardless of what his future holds at the next level, I want for him to work through this experience and say that I got better as a player, we won at Florida, and I am proud of that accomplishment.”