A word fitting for 2014’s Florida Gators men’s basketball team.
Last year’s squad is gone, a unit that featured a starting lineup of four seniors and went to the Final Four. In its place is an inexperienced squad with a lot of talent and questions as to what type of team they’ll be.
Questions even coming from their coach, Billy Donovan.
At Monday’s Media Day Donovan said he was looking for consistency from the Gators this season. The head coach noted the steady play from the four seniors last year, as well as an understanding of what was required during SEC games and the postseason paved the way for Florida’s unprecedented season.
“(Last season) there was no level of consistency at all from our returning players, outside of Michael Frazier,” Donovan said. “There were moments they played exceptionally well, there were moments they really did a great job, but there was a discipline issue on the court in terms of being reliable guys game in and game out; that is going to be a challenge.”
That consistency will be difficult to get going early in the season, as Florida announced sophomore forward Chris Walker will miss the first three games of the season due to a violation of team rules. Center John Egbunu is appealing for immediate eligibility but according to Donovan, it’s looking like he’ll miss the entire season. Junior guard DeVon Walker is out for the season with an ACL injury and guard Brandone Francis will miss this season while he attempts to improve his academics. Donovan also said junior forward Alex Murphy may miss the first 8-10 games due to transfer rules.
So many players being out early concerns Donovan, but the coach said he’ll look at various rotations, such as moving forward Dorian Finney-Smith and newcomer Jon Horford around multiple spots on the court.
“We’re going to have some flexibility in our roster as we get everybody back,” Donovan said. “But at the beginning of the year, as you mentioned, having a lot of guys out, maybe being limited, we’re going to have to probably do some things differently lineup wise to offset some of those depth issues.”
While the Gators work on building steady play collectively, Donovan said that this year’s team has more shooting and my be better at passing. Without a post-oriented big man, the Gators will have a lot more speed on the court led by point guards Kasey Hill and Chris Chiozza. The freshman, who may be on the court the same time as Hill, looks forward to the uptempo opportunities.
“Well we’re both fast,” Chiozza said. “I think we’re probably the fastest two guards in the country, so when we’re both on the court, it’s going to be a run-and gun, it’s going to be fast-paced.”
For Hill, his goal this season is to do whatever the coaching staff asks of him. The point guard also worked on various things during the offseason to be a better all-around player for the team.
“Definitely be more vocal, definitely work on [my] mid-range jump shot, and just become a more vocal person and someone they can depend on,” Hill said.
Defensively, Donovan said the team doesn’t have the defensive nastiness they had a year ago, and that they’ll have to work hard to develop it. Chiozza said the defensive aggression will come over the season.
“That’s all a mindset thing and I think once the season starts, [Coach Donovan] really keeps getting on us in practice, I think we’ll be just as good if not better than we were last year on defense,” Chiozza said. “We’re faster, and a we’re more athletic and we’ve got more talent, so we should be alright.”
The Gators will have a new set of challenges with a new squad, and while the players are confident in their abilities to pick up where last year’s team left off, Donovan knows that the squad will have to go through adversity in order to move forward as a unit.
“There’s got to be a balance between them going through some struggles and some adversity because it’s just part of their normal growing and maturing process, and sometimes I may not be able to help,” Donovan said. “They’re going to have to figure some of this out. There’s other times I think I can help. But I think that’s going to be a challenge for myself and our staff.”