As the Florida Gators prepare for Friday’s season opener against William & Mary, the players understand the new roles that will have to be filled with the departures of last year’s seniors.
For Michael Frazier II, the sole returning starter, the process to achieving the goals set for the team begins with a complete focus on the tasks at hand.
“I think we just got to do a good job of eliminating all the outside distractions, I think that’s the biggest thing, just focusing on what we have control over and just trying to get better everyday, that should be our main goal when we step on the floor to practice is just trying to get better everyday in every area,” Frazier II said.
Florida will look different than the squad that made the Final Four last year, and with the personnel changes come a less experienced team learning new aspects to the game and Florida program – such as defensive assignments. Head coach Billy Donovan has discussed Florida’s defensive issues throughout fall practices and preseason. The team was slow to rotate on plays, leading to open baskets in the 79-70 exhibition win over Barry University. After watching tape on the game, Frazier said they have to give their attention to that side of the ball, as well as communication.
The Gators will need strong defensive communication to take on William & Mary guard Marcus Thornton. The Tribe’s leading scorer has long-range ability, as well as quick ballhandling skills that could present problems to Florida’s defenders. Frazier II said guarding Thornton would not fall solely on one person.
“Can’t have one guy on the island with him, going to have to be a team effort, going to have to help each other and, like I said, communicate on defense, help them speed the game up a little bit and, you know, just do what we do,” he said.
Offensively, the players will also have different tasks than last year’s team. In the exhibition against Barry, the Gators ran a three-guard backcourt, and look to do the same against William & Mary. The change in lineups places Frazier II back to the small forward position, a change from playing shooting guard last year. The junior looks forward to the new opportunities provided with the position change.
“Definitely focused on that a lot because I’m playing more of the three now than I was my freshman year,” Frazier II said. “Last year I played a lot of the two so I was getting back to defense rather than crashing so this year I’ll be able to get in there and mix it up a little bit.”
While it’s only been a week since the exhibition contest, Frazier II said the team has made major strides on the defense, as well as their discipline. The Gators will look to continue to build upon the progress made in practice, while still holding on to the importance of playing team basketball.
“I think it’s still on us to communicate while we are on the floor,” Frazier II said. “But last year’s team, that was last year, we have a total different team now so we’re focused on this year and those were great guys but we understand what we have here, what we have this year and what we’re trying to do as a team.”