I don’t know if there’s anything more important in a college student-athlete than improvement. Individual improvement is the tangible measure of individual work ethic and determination. It’s also a useful tool in evaluating the capabilities of a coaching staff in general and position coaches in particular.
Raw talent is a wonderful thing, there’s a lot to be said for having a roster of “five star” athletes. But I’m more impressed with the individual who comes in as a “one star” but leaves as an All-Star.
A couple of days ago I tried to make the case for Lee Humphrey being the most improved Gator ever. He came in as a lightly regarded one trick pony; a shooter who could do little else who was not even wanted by the SEC team in his own back yard. He might well leave as the best three-point shooter in Florida history who has evolved into a solid ball handler and passer and a vastly under-appreciated defender. He’s also a first class kid and the perfect teammate.
It also got me thinking about others who came a long way while playing basketball in Orange and Blue. To be considered, the player had to stay all four years, and pretty much had to stink as a freshman. Well, stink might be too harsh, but they were not capable of contributing significantly to a winning basketball team. This is the five I ended up with.
Neal Walk —– I was not here when Walk arrived in Gainesville, in fact I was a third grader. However my good friend and TV sidekick Bill Koss insists Neal was rather clumsy and physically quite weak when he was a freshman. Well, Walk got to work and statistically has to rank as the greatest player in school history. His junior and senior stats are a joke. He averaged 26.5 points and 19.8 rebounds in the 1967-68 season and followed that up with 24 and 17.8 his final season. Despite playing just three seasons he remains Florida’s career rebound leader. His single season mark of 19.8 rebounds a game will never be broken.
Dametri Hill —– You gotta love a guy who reports to school about 50+ pounds overweight and ends up among the All-Time top 20 scorers. Hill’s patented baby hook shot was dubbed “Da Meat Hook” by a caller to my radio show and the name stuck. Hill scored all of 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds his entire freshman year. However by the time he was a senior, he was one of the best low post scorers in the SEC averaging 17.6 points and 7.8 rebounds a night. Hill gets the most improved recognition from my more learned colleagues Mark Wise and Bill Koss. I disagree because his improvement was probably due to conditioning as much as anything else.
Al Bonner —– The Pensacola native averaged fewer than five points during his rookie season 1974-75. However he improved his field goal shooting dramatically and averaged double figures the next three years. Bonner led the Gators to what was then a special season, going 17-and-9 his junior year.
Dan Cross —– He was an unheralded recruit from Carbondale, Illinois and his first year was nothing to write home about, scoring about five points a game. His sophomore year was about the same, but Cross got stronger, and tougher and teamed with Craig Brown to form arguably the best backcourt in school history in 1993-94. A .646 free throw shooter his first two years, Cross connected at a .835 clip his next two campaigns.
Other notable players who warrant mention with their freshman/senior points and rebounds stats:
* Dwayne Davis 6.2/4.7 15.1/7.4
* Matt Bonner 4.8/3.2 15.2/6.1
* David Lee 7.0/4.7 13.6/9.0
* Craig Brown 8.8/3.0 14.8/4.9
* Malcolm Cesare 8.3/5.5 16.9/6.9