Billy Donovan and the Gators haven’t had to worry about the front count in a while. With Pat Young, Will Yeguete, Casey Prather, Dorian Finney-Smith and Chris Walker gave Florida a talented frontcourt last year.
However, the graduation of three of those players left Florida with a gaping hole on their roster. Florida did receive help from Alex Murphy, Erik Murphy’s little brother, who transferred in from Duke and will be eligible to play in December and still have Walker and Finney-Smith but little depth behind them.
Donovan addressed that issue through recruiting. Florida will bring in talented small forward Devin Robinson this summer but Donovan didn’t stop recruiting there.
The Gators also brought in two transfers to bolster the frontcourt in John Horford (brother of Gator great Al Horford) as a graduate transfer from Michigan and another big man in John Egbunu from USF. Horford will be available to play right away and should play considerable minutes for the Gators this season. Egbunu will have to sit out a season per NCAA rule.
Donovan recruited the younger Horford some out of high school before John decided to attend Michigan. Horford played four seasons at Michigan and contributed on a team that played for a national championship two seasons ago. Donovan is hoping that experience will help his team from a leadership standpoint.
“He’s already in school. He’s getting acclimated with the players and what we’re doing here,” Donovan said of Horford. “But I think he gives us maybe a little bit more experience in our frontcourt with the loss of Will and Pat and Casey, another older guy.”
Donovan is familiar with Horford after coaching his brother and hopes that the younger Horford can bring his experience of making deep runs in the tournament with Michigan to what will be a young, talented team in 2014-15.
“I think the thing that he’ll bring to our team is certainly a lot of success at Michigan while he was there. Some very good teams, some deep runs in the tournament. I think he’s got an understanding of what goes into winning.”
Horford will play his last year of eligibility out in 2014 while fellow transfer Egbunu is forced to sit out. Donovan said he was unsure is Egbunu would apply for a NCAA waiver to be eligible this season but that he and the university would support whatever decision the family came to.
Egbunu is an athletic big man who will instantly give Florida a great rebounder and a player who can reject shots with the best big men in the SEC. He’s still raw and rough around the edges but Donovan feels that a year of sitting out could benefit Egbunu.
“John Egbunu I think has got unbelievable upside and potential. He’s really long, he’s athletic. I think this year sitting out will be really, really important for him in terms of his development,” said Donovan. “Did some really great things for South Florida this year. I think he’s got incredible upside, just his size, his athletic ability. His potential, I think, is huge. I think he wants to be really good player. I think he knows he needs development in skill. He’s probably not a polished offensive player with his back to the basket, although I think this year could be important in helping him do that.”
Donovan has been a big proponent of his players staying the course at Florida. He often says that when a player transfers schools they quickly find the same or similar problems at the new school.
“I do think when you battle and fight through that adversity it makes you a better player, better person,” he said. “It helps you deal with what life is going to be like, so again when we are recruiting a transfer getting them to the point of, ‘why are you leaving? What’s the problem here?’ You know, sometimes the problem they have at one place is going to be the same exact problem they have here.”
That’s not a blanket statement. After being the benefactor of transfer — Florida will have six transfer players on their roster next season — Donovan believes that sometimes a change of scenery is necessary for a player.
“Sometimes a kid does need a change of scenery, a change of situation,” Donovan said. “But sometimes when a player leaves one program because he views that situate as being bad a lot of times it’s he himself that needs to change and make some adjustments. Most of the time when we get a transfer to come in here they can look back at their past experiences and realize to a certain level I need to change and get better.”
Carter on the mend
Carter transferred to Florida from Rutgers and was granted a NCAA waiver that would have allowed him to play last season instead of having to sit out a season. That turned out to be for not as Carter was sidelined before the season began due to a lingering leg injury he sustained while at Rutgers.
Carter is still rehabbing and working to get back on the court full time but is expected to be at full strength by the fall.
“I’d say right now in just talking to the trainer and just talking to Eli he’s probably 80-85 percent right now,” Donovan said. “I think our trainer feels very confident he’ll be 100 percent by the time we start practicing in October. He’s made some really good strides. Him playing last year would’ve prolonged that healing process for him in getting ready to play.”
Donovan answers the NBA call, again
Gator fans won’t forget the time he left, the pictures of Billy Donovan holding an Orlando Magic basketball after being introduced as the new head coach of the franchise.
Donovan had a change of heart and returned to Gainesville but that doesn’t mean that NBA teams will stop calling one of the most successful coaches in the college ranks.
“I will say this,” Donovan said when specifically asked if the Minnesota Timberwolves had contacted him. “I have spoken to a couple NBA teams, and that’s all I’m going to say.”
After going through the situation in Orlando, Donovan is weary to talk too much about interest that NBA franchises have in him on a year-to-year basis.
“I’ll say all it is. I got a few calls from a couple NBA teams. I’m going to leave it at that,” he said. “After the Orlando situation, that’s all I’m saying. That’s it. So I’m not going to get into, ‘He’s lying, he’s not being truthful.’ I got a couple of calls, that’s all it is.”
Donovan would go on to say that he plans to continue coaching the Gators next season and that the conversations he had with NBA teams were very brief.