Following a season that supposedly was not notable, the Florida Gators basketball program has been making news at a consistent pace this offseason. As each new wave dies down, a wind blows to kick up another.
With so much happening, we’re going to stop and take a breath, and then recap all that’s happened thus far.
We’re breaking it down into the four biggest occurrences; reviewing what exactly happened and what it means going forward.
THE NEVER ENDING SEASON.
Let’s be honest. It came to a point during the 2014-2015 season where fans we’re ready to throw their hands up and cry uncle. Billy Donovan reached his 500th career win as a head coach, but that was just about the only bright spot in an otherwise dismal run. The Florida Gators (16-17, 8-10), bowed out of the basketball world before postseason berth were even announced. Following a second round loss to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament, Billy Donovan packed up his team and brought them back to Gainesville. Just a year after the four seniors carried Donovan and the Gators to the Final Four, Florida’s team had to watch from home, knowing that this was the first time since Donovan’s inaugural season (1996-1997) that the Gators have missed out on the postseason.
It was a season that saw excruciating close losses and painful blowouts as well.
At one point during a 64-52 loss to Missouri, Donovan had to play two walk-ons and a freshman.
There isn’t really much to say that hasn’t already been said. Perhaps the best way to finally close the book on that never-ending story is one last quote from head coach Billy Donovan which sums up the most disappointing season in recent Florida Gators basketball history.
“It’s been an incredible learning experience for me, from the standpoint of as a coach, it was a real challenge this year to get them to be a team. They never really wanted to deal with the truth. And I’m not sure really even today they want to deal with the truth. It was a team that maybe was a little bit more wrapped up in themselves. They didn’t quite understand the level of sacrifice needed to be a good team. As a head coach, I think I really feel short in getting them to see how important it is for us to play as a team. I think it was still a very very humbling, learning experience. I think it was a great experience. I use the word maybe delusional, not in reality; these guys have never really been in reality the entire year. Now we’ve gotten better, we’ve made some strides, but they have not totally given of themselves to the team. And that’s one of the greatest questions I have as a coach, is how do you get someone to be like that.”
BYE BYE FRAZIER
There was so much discussion as to whether not Chris Walker and Dorian Finney-Smith would leave early for the NBA, that junior shooting guard Michael Frazier II just unassumingly slipped right by the speculation.
As a sophomore, Frazier was able to step on the court with four seniors and do nothing but shoot. Everything else was taken care of, and with the freedom to just do his thing, Frazier set a school record for three pointers in one game (11) and another school record for three pointers in a single season (118).
But as a junior, there was suddenly a burden of responsibility placed squarely on his shoulders. The extra weight caused the 6’4”, 194 lb Tampa native to slightly stumble. He saw his school record 41 consecutive games with a three come to an end at Alabama.
An ankle injury kept him out of commission for an entire month, missing seven games. The time of leave though didn’t end up hurting his average too much. He still finished second on the team in scoring, averaging 12.5 points per game. The exit though leaves Fraizer just two points shy of reaching 1,000 career points as a Gator.
Frazier announced his decision on social media on March 27, saying, “Thank you to my coaches, teammates and the entire Gator Nation for 3 special years of my life. I will be pursuing a career in professional basketball and have signed with Matt Ramker of ASM Sports. I will never forget my time in Gainesville and look forward to returning each summer to complete my degree. I will always be representing the Gator Nation. Go Gators.”
In his absence, redshirt senior guard Eli Carter and sophomore guard Chris Chiozza will be leaned on more heavily.
Chiozza carried a .396 shot average into the season finale versus Kentucky.
Carter will have to step up downtown where he’s currently shooting .304 percent (compared to the .388 posted by Frazier).
Just as Gator fans had accepted that Frazier would be long gone by next season, some surprisingly good news filtered through; forward Dorian Finney-Smith will return for his senior season.
Doe-Doe led the team in scoring (13.1 ppg) and rebounds (6.2 per game) in the 2014-2015 season. At 6’8”, 218 lbs, he brings the size needed inside, while also possessing the ability to shoot from outside. He was shooting 43% when the season came to an end.
After receiving notes on his draft stock, Finney-Smith choose to return, saying that Donovan never pressured his decision, just supported the process.
“I got all the information I needed to make a decision,” said Finney-Smith.
“He didn’t pressure me into anything, but rather let me be a grown man. Coach D is a mentor to me, I trust him and I’m happy and anxious to have another year with him.”
THE BOYS ARE BACK IN TOWN
Finney-Smith will have now also have one year with a guy Florida Gators fans are familiar with from many years ago. Anthony Grant, who served as a Florida assistant coach from 1996-2006 and then nine years in a head-coaching role at VCU and Alabama, will be coming back to Gainesville to rejoin a championship staff.
Grant was an assistant coach with John Pelphrey under Billy Donovan from the very beginning. The three created quite a reputation while at Marshall, putting the Thundering Heard on the basketball world map. When Donovan came to Florida, Pelphrey and Grant followed. Together they led the Gators to the national championship game in 2000, the national title in 2006 and numerous SEC titles.
Grant is following much the same path as Pelphrey, who left to be a head coach at South Alabama and Arkansas before returning to Donovan and the Gators.
He will be replacing Matt McCall, who took the head coaching job at Tennessee-Chattanooga.
For Anthony Grant, it’s all a part of a bigger plan to bring him home, and he’s happy to go along for the ride.
“Pretty easy call, man. It’s all about relationships,” Grant told GatorZone.com
“Pretty much everyone in that office is like family to me. So this is like coming home. The way it all worked out? God has a plan.”
So what’s next? Who knows? But the offseason is long which means the rumors will be many. If the past month and a half have been any indication, it will an interesting few months indeed, all leading up to a season that will come with much expectation.