Through almost 30 years of watching student-athletes come and go at the University of Florida there is one thing that I enjoy more than any other. There is nothing that compares with watching someone come in who is obviously unable to help the team much and watch him or her become an integral part of a championship team.
If you look at the Florida Basketball team the guy who fits that description best is senior guard Lee Humphrey.
Humphrey arrived from Maryville, Tennessee at least in part because the home state Volunteers didn’t think he was good enough. And frankly, after his first year most of us agreed. Humphrey’s rookie year showed us a guy who could shoot — and that’s about it. Humphrey scored all of 98 points his rookie year with 31 rebounds, 29 assists and 23 turnovers. His second year wasn’t much better, with 155 points (in six more games) with the other stats staying roughly the same.
Entering last season one of the big questions surrounding this team was where would the Gators get their scoring? Oh sure, Humphrey could make a few long range shots (62-for-157 .395) but he was a liability on defense, couldn’t handle the ball and was a mediocre passer. Or so most thought.
What a Difference a Year Makes
Lee Humphrey took the challenge of becoming an important part of the Gator team as the opportunity of the lifetime. The designated shooter improved as a defender and ball handler becoming indispensable to Florida’s NCAA Tournament run. He ended up setting the school record with 113 three-pointers, averaged 10.9 a game. He made the transition to being a shooter off the bench to being a member of the All-Tournament team at the NCAA Final Four.
This year Humphrey has continued to grow as a player, taking the ball to the basket more frequently and more aggressively. When teams over-extend their defense to try and take away his long range scoring chances, Humphrey puts the ball on the floor and scores that way. Humphrey (14.1) is Florida’s second-leading scorer in SEC games and has made an incredible 30-of-45 from behind the three-point line.
Where Does He Rank?
Watching Lee Humphrey got me thinking about whether or not he is the most improved player in UF history. I say, yes! Certainly there are other candidates and we will look at them in our next column, but as far as I’m concerned Humphrey tops the list. Not only has he developed his game as a player as much as anyone else I’ve seen, but he has done so while reaching the highest level of college basketball; playing on the National Champions.
But that’s just my view; he’s what some far more learned individuals responded to my question, ‘Is Lee Humphrey the most improved player in Florida Basketball history?’
Head Coach Billy Donovan —– Over a four-year period I’d have to put him up there. So much of a player’s development really depends on a guy’s mind set and how much he wants to get better. I think Lee was always open to try to get better and try to improve. He came in with a great shooting eye; but he’s gotten better defensively, he’s gotten better at putting the ball on the floor and getting to the basket. So I would say he’s probably improved as much as anybody. When he came in as a freshmen everyone kind of said, ‘he’s going to be a pretty good role player. He’ll be a backup guard, make some shots off the bench and be a good kid.’ But I think he’s evolved into being one of the really good two guards in our league. I think you have to put him up there as a really dangerous guy.
Bill Koss, Gator Television Analyst, Sun Sports/FSN Florida —– You will find no single individual who better reflects the ideals of intercollegiate athletics than Lee Humphrey. He is one of the most outstanding individuals to ever compete in any sport at the University of Florida. He is also one of the most improved overall players in the programs history and yet in my opinion the most improved player ever from his freshman to his senior year is Neal Walk.
Mark Wise, Gator Radio and former Collegiate Assistant Coach — Lee makes my starting five on the most improved list. However, while many will focus on the offensive end and his ability from bonus land, I put him there for a different reason. No one, and I mean no one, could foresee Lee being the disciplined defender that Billy assigns to the opposition’s best outside shooter. When you couple that with the way he has shot the ball in the last 33 games, he is a starter on the most improved starting five in Gator history.