With only 13 scholarships available and players eligible to bolt to the NBA after one year of college basketball, putting together a roster capable of competing at the highest levels has become a juggling act for coaches like Florida’s Billy Donovan.
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Donovan could field a roster of 11 players next season if McDonald’s All-Americans Patrick Patterson and Jai Lucas elect to sign with the Gators in the next few days. If they don’t then Donovan will save his scholarships for the class of 2008 and Florida will play next season with just nine on ship.
Patterson, the 6-8 power forward from Huntington, West Virginia, and Lucas, the 5-10 point guard from Houston Bellaire, are the last two big name recruits undecided in the recruiting class of 2007. Patterson has a list of six schools, but it’s pretty common knowledge that it’s a battle between Florida, Kentucky and Duke. Lucas has five or six on his list, too, but it has evolved into a battle between the Gators, Kentucky and Maryland, where his father John was an All-American.
They are the key not only to this Florida recruiting class but the recruiting class of 2008 as well. If they come to Florida, the Gators will be looking at a signing class of perhaps only two in 2008. If they go elsewhere, the Gators will be looking at four or possibly even five in case there is some attrition in the roster.
Here is a look at 15 players that figure prominently in Florida’s recruiting plans for the class of 2008. Players are not listed in any order of importance or ranking.
KENNY KADJI, IMG Academy (Bradenton, FL): Kadji is 6-10, 260). He’s trimmed down from 310 pounds to a svelte 260 in the last year and the lost weight has translated into quickness and mobile feet that have Kadji rising the charts faster than any post player in the country right now. He plays AAU ball for the Florida Rams where his performances in the early spring have been outstanding. He has very strong hands and he is an outstanding rebounder. He’s emerging as a low block scoring force. He needs the most work on the defensive end where he tries to block too many shots and doesn’t always play fundamentally sound. He is considered a strong Florida lean and there are rumblings that he could be committing to the Gators any day now.
SAMARDO SAMUELS, St. Benedict’s Prep (Newark, NJ): Samuels is a rock solid 6-8, 240 with a ready to play college ball body. A native of Jamaica, he plays AAU ball for the Metro Hawks. In the low blocks he’s an almost unstoppable scorer with nice turnaround moves. He’s an outstanding finisher around the rim. If there’s one area that needs improvement it’s on defense where he tends to slack off a bit to ensure that he stays out of foul trouble. Long thought to be a North Carolina or Rutgers battle, the Gators are emerging as a real player in this battle.
HOWARD THOMPKINS, Oak Hill Academy (Oak Hill, VA): Thompkins is a 6-9, 230-pound banger that hasn’t developed into a primary scoring option yet. He plays for the nation’s highest profile high school program at Oak Hill Academy and he’s on the AAU circuit with the Atlanta Celtics. He is one of the best rebounders in the country and he’s rarely out of position defensively. Lacks an outside shot. He visited Florida twice during the past season and he’s long been considered a Gator leaner. Georgia Tech is really turning up the heat and North Carolina is trying to sell its tradition. Kentucky is trying to use its recent signing of former Oak Hill teammate Alex Legion to muscle in on this one.
TONY WOODS, Rome High School (Rome, GA): Wood, 6-10, 200, plays AAU ball for the Georgia Stars. He’s got long arms and legs so there’s plenty of room to add muscle onto his thin frame. He runs the floor well and is an intimidator on the defensive end. His defense is far ahead of his offense right now. He really needs physical strength to compete at the next level but he’s got worlds of potential. He’s very interested in the Gators and the interest is mutual. Clemson, Georgia and Georgia Tech are all going to have their say in things before he makes a decision.
STORM WARREN, Richwood High School (Monroe, LA): The name of the game for this 6-8, 220-pound banger is hustle. He plays so hard at both ends of the floor and he’s developing some serious skills. He’s got a game that will remind you of Brent Wright in that he will do all the dirty work that nobody else wants to do and never complain. Florida, LSU and Kentucky are at the head of the class here.
GREG MONROE, Helen Cox High School (New Orleans, LA): It’s either Monroe or Samuels that most experts say is the top player in the country. He plays AAU ball with Louisiana Select. Monroe is 6-9, 200 with tremendous defensive instincts. He needs a lot of muscle and he needs to develop an offensive game, but there is no questioning his ability to rebound and defend. At this point, the Gators are a long shot but they are in the mix along with Kansas, Louisville, North Carolina, Duke and Texas. Florida’s fortunes could rise considerably if Texas assistant coach Russell Springmann joins the Florida staff.
JAMYCHAL GREEN, St. Jude High School (Montgomery, AL): If this 6-8, 215-pounder had any kind of shot, he’d be considered one of the top 10 players in the country. Green plays AAU ball for the Alabama Challenge. He’s an exceptional one-on-one defender and he’s got good timing and instincts as a shot blocker. Offensively, he is five feet on in. Until he develops some sort of consistent jumper, he’s going to be a very limited player. Alabama and Auburn have made him their top priority. Florida’s been looking for a long time but the Gators haven’t pulled the trigger on an offer.
AL-FAROUQ AMINU, Norcross High School (Norcross, GA): This could be the multi-tasker of the recruiting class. Aminu is 6-8, 195, and a very capable wing forward that could potentially play both the high and low post, too. He plays for longtime Georgia prep power Norcross and on the AAU circuit with the Georgia Stars. He runs the floor very well and can get his shot off at will. He’s very good at putting the ball on the deck then pulling up for the short range jumper. Needs to develop some range on his jump shot but a very complete player. Florida is very much in the mix here. He visited Florida twice during the past season on unofficial visits and he has a great relationship with the Gator staff. North Carolina is working hard to be the prime player here and U-Conn is recruiting him heavily. The team to beat is probably Georgia Tech since his brother Alade plays there. He’s a Muslim kid and Atlanta’s strong and big Muslim community could factor into his decision.
DARIUS MILLER, Mason County High School (Maysville, KY): Miller might be the most athletic player in the recruiting class. He’s 6-6, 190 and looks like a gazelle running the floor. He can finish on the break and he’s an outstanding perimeter shooter. The only questions about him are his toughness, particularly on the defensive end, and he has been known to sulk if he doesn’t get off to a great start. Florida wants him and he likes the Gators but it’s going to be tough to get him away from the Bermuda Triangle of Louisville, Kentucky and Tennessee.
SYLVEN LANDESBERG, Holy Cross High School (Flushing, NY): Nobody plays the game harder or is tougher than this 6-7, 190 pound wing who plays his AAU ball with the Metro Hawks. His game is hardened by years of playing on the black tops in all kinds of weather in New York City. He’s a slasher and a scorer although not a great shooter. He finds ways to get his points and his jump shot is streaky. When he’s on, he’s really on. Florida is high on the radar here but the Gators will be battling the Big East and Louisville to get him out of New York. Georgetown, U-Conn, Syracuse, Rutgers and St. John’s are all ready to duke it out. Louisville might have the inside track.
RAY SHIPMAN, Monsignor Pace High School (Opa-Locka, FL): Shipman is a highlight reel on the fast break. At 6-5, 190, he’s a high flyer that knows how to finish. He plays AAU ball with Kadji for the Florida Rams. He’s a tough defender, knows how to press and make the transition to the offensive end. His jump shot is improving but it needs range and consistency. Florida hasn’t offered yet but the Gators are watching him closely. LSU wants him badly and so does West Virginia now that Bob Huggins has bolted from Kansas State.
SCOTT SUGGS, Washington High School (Washington, MO): Suggs is a 6-6, 185-pounder that plays AAU ball for the St. Louis Eagles. He’s a multiple position player and that is his greatest strength. He’s quite capable of playing three positions, which is why Roy Williams and North Carolina have made him a priority recruit. He’s a solid defender that needs weight and strength to become a better rebounder. His offensive game is streaky. Florida seems to be cooling on him. Kansas and Purdue are thought to be strong in the mix.
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, St. George’s High School (Collierville, TN): Watch the stock rise this summer on this 6-4, 180-pounder that plays the AAU circuit with the M3MM Ballers out of Memphis. He’s a devastating open court defender and a slasher that can get to the rim in the half court game. His weakness is his perimeter shot but that’s been showing signs of coming around. Florida is joining a lot of other schools that are watching Williams develop this spring and summer, but in the end, it’s going to be hard for anyone to beat either John Calipari and Memphis or Bruce Pearl at Tennessee.
IMAN SHUMPERT, River Forest High School (Oak Park, IL): Shumpert has a game and body similar to Elliot Williams. He’s 6-4, 175, and playing AAU ball with Total Package this summer. He’s a big time scorer and a high riser that doesn’t mind going against taller players. He needs some strength and his ball handling is suspect but not his athleticism. Marquette, Illinois and Michigan have the upper hand at this time. Florida hasn’t offered but the Gators are definitely watching closely.
ERVING WALKER, Christ the King High School (Middle Village, NY): He may be only 5-7, 140 but Walker has no fear taking the ball to the rack and he’s one of the best, if not the best, three-point shooter in the country. He plays AAU ball for Team Next. Not afraid to take the big shot and a solid team player that knows how to get his teammates involved. Even at 5-7 you would have to consider him a combo guard, capable of playing on the wing as well as the point. Committed to the Gators.