If you look at points and rebounds per minute played the most productive member of the Gator Basketball Team by a wide margin is freshmen center Marrisse Speights. The big man from St. Petersburg by way of Hargrave Military Academy has been remarkable in limited playing time. In just 149 minutes on the court, Speights has scored 108 points and grabbed 67 rebounds.
That projects to 29 points and 18 rebounds every 40 minutes on the court. By comparison senior Chris Richard’s 40 minutes averages would be 11.7 points and 7.6 rebounds.
Wednesday’s game with Alabama was perhaps the best of Speights’ young Gator career. The 6’10” 250 pounder scored eight points in five minutes off the bench giving Florida a desperately needed lift. Not bad for a guy averaging just over two points in SEC games. Not bad for a guy who didn’t get off the bench against Kentucky.
So why doesn’t he play more?
Versatility (or a lack thereof) is the Key
If you look at Florida’s four big men it’s easier to understand why it’s been hard for Billy Donovan to give Speight extensive playing time in the Gators’ toughest games. Joakim Noah and Al Horford as clearly the top two guys, the starters and guys who are equally comfortable and effective at either the center (aka: “5”) spot or power forward (“4”). Chris Richard and Speights, however are clearly suited for the “5” spot, making it difficult for them to play at the same time. Therefore just about all of Speights’ minutes will come from Richard’s allotment.
It’s really difficult for any coach to take minutes from a senior, but even more so for a senior who comes off the bench. It’s unusual to have a long-term contributor who is still coming off the bench in his final season, but because of that Richard is a major obstacle to getting the freshman his minutes. Last year “C-Rich” averaged 17.5 minutes and his playing time this season really hasn’t changed. Thus Speights has been splitting Adrian Moss’ minutes with freshman Dan Werner.
Marrisse Speights spoke with me and other media guys after the Alabama game.
LV: How hard is it to be physically and mentally ready to play every night when you don’t know what kind of playing time you’ll get?
MS: It doesn’t matter. I have to be ready any time. If coach calls me, I’m ready because he’s always telling me to stay ready.
LV: Did you feel the need to give the team a lift with the way the game was going?
MS: I tried top give the team a little edge, you know a little energy. I think I did pretty good at that.
LV: How much do the other guys tell you to keep positive and believe in yourself when you aren’t getting to play much?
MS: Oh they give me a lot of confidence. Al, Jo and Chris keep telling me to be patient that my time could come at any minute. You never know when someone might get in foul trouble and they’ll come to you; so that’s why I’m always ready.
I asked Gator point guard Taurean Green about the contribution Speights gave the Gators in the win over the Crimson tide.
TG: Mo played great. He came in and was a sparkplug off the bench. We call him, “instant offense”. He just has a knack for getting the ball inside and a knack to score.
Green also says Speights is getting a lot from this season because of the daily competition on the practice floor.
TG: He’s going up against future pros with Al, Jo and C-Rich every day and it’s only going to make him better. We try to keep him confident and knowing he has to be ready. Well he was ready tonight (Wednesday) and played great for us.
Billy Donovan talks about why Speights didn’t play in Lexington, but was able to have a big role in the win over Alabama.
BD: People asked me about not playing Marrisse in the last game against Kentucky. I thought this was a better match up for him. I told Marrisse on Monday, ‘Don’t get discouraged. Don’t get down because the team we’re getting ready to play is a perfect game for you to play in, so you gotta be ready to go’. We got some great minutes from Marrisse.