With Bradley Beal entering the NBA Draft after just one season at Florida, Gators coach Billy Donovan has an opening in his starting lineup at the small forward position.
As a freshman, Beal averaged 14.8 points per game. More than that, he provided intangibles for the team.
Despite being slightly undersized at 6-foot-3, Beal collected 6.7 rebounds per game. He also had a combination of strength and athleticism that gave Donovan the ability to get creative with his defensive matchups.
This season, Donovan will again have to be creative but in a different way. He will be tasked in deciding which combination of players can be the most effective on the floor together.
Donovan has talked about utilizing some three-guard lineups, which would have Mike Rosario play small forward. However, Casey Prather is another option to fill the role against bigger opponents.
With less than two weeks until the season begins on Nov. 9 against Georgetown, Donovan said the small forward position is the spot he hasn’t quite decided about.
Replacing Erving Walker, Scottie Wilbekin projects to be the starting point guard, with Kenny Boynton joining him in the backcourt. Up front, Erik Murphy and Patric Young continue to be mainstays.
The final spot seems to be up for grabs between Prather and Rosario. Will Yeguete could sneak into the starting lineup, but he is a guy the coaching staff seems to value coming off the bench to provide energy and defense.
Though Donovan downplayed the significance of who starts the game, saying he is comfortable with each of his top seven guys, he said he understood that some players perform better in different spots in the lineup.
“To the kids … starting is probably a big deal,” he said. “… Maybe the ego part of hearing your name called before the game starts.”
In a recent scrimmage against Rollins College, it was Rosario who received the starting nod. Much maligned for a lack of effort last season, Rosario appears to have an attitude adjustment this preseason.
During the team’s media day, Donovan spoke critically of Rosario, more or less saying his daughter could have recovered from an injury quicker than his player did.
Perhaps the jab was an attempt to motivate the mercurial Rosario. If so, it appears to be paying dividends to this point.
“Since media day when I made that comment, I would say his behavior, his accountability, him being responsible, I think has carried on through,” Donovan said. “I think he has a better understanding of the expectation level here on him.”
Donovan said Rosario earned the start in the scrimmage because he has performed better on and off the court.
However, two months of hard work does not equate to playing time once the season begins. Rosario will still need to develop into the team guy he has been asked to become.
Though he has been promised nothing, Rosario said he plans to make the most of the opportunity he has been given during his final season in college.
“This is the opportunity that I’ve been waiting for and the challenge I’ve been waiting for,” he said. “I’m overly excited for Thursday.”
Thursday, the Gators play host to Nebraska-Kearney in the team’s first exhibition game of the season. The game is at 7 p.m. in the O’Connell Center.
Rosario is expected to be in the starting lineup for the Gators, who are 60-13-1 all-time in exhibition play.
“[I’m] just trying to be a consistent guy,” Rosario said. “Every day. That’s something that coach speaks about every day. … That’s in all areas, on the court and off the court.”