First Look at 2006-07 Hoops Gators

Yes, it’s just an exhibition game against someone or something called Northwood but its time for the Gator Basketball team to hit the floor. (Actually Northwood is a school in South Florida coached by Rollie Massimino). Thursday evening the Gators will have their public debut as we get a chance to look at the five returning starters, top two reserves and a four man freshman class.

It’ll be fun just to see the guys on the floor for the first time since Indianapolis. It’ll be fun to see the Rowdy Reptiles start cranking it up for another year. And it’ll be fun to think about the road ahead, the goals worth pursuing and the potential for another magical spring.

Watch for the Newcomers

Florida has the potential to be a stronger, deeper, quicker team this year and the first signs of that will be visible in the O’Dome Thursday. Dan Werner should see action at both the “four” and “three” spots, giving Florida a heady player with shooting range to create match up problems. Marrisse Speights will give Florida a second muscular big man on the bench. Jonathan Mitchell gives Florida more chances to rest Corey Brewer, giving Florida a more physical guy in that spot and a lefthander to boot. And Brandon Powell is already drawing comparisons to Justin Hamilton for his defensive skills and physicality.

I’m curious to see how Donovan will mix and match his lineups in order to try and maximize the experiences for his youngsters while establishing a flow for his veterans. Do you limit the rookies to one on the court at a time? Two? Do you play with some interesting combinations like Horford/Werner and Noah/Speights? I suspect we’ll see a variety of different looks Thursday night, and I can’t wait to see all of them.

Keeping the Gators Hungry and Humble

Florida’s players and coaches have said all the right things coming into the season. They aren’t defending anything this year. They aren’t going to be successful unless they are a better team than last year. They have to continue to attack the opponents rather than bracing for their attacks.

Still, one of the best ways in the world to ensure effort and focus is the bench, and Donovan’s history shows he is more than willing to use a courtside seat to deliver a statement. I also think the Gators have a number of goals that are personal for them to keep them aiming high.

* These guys Have not won the SEC Championship

* These guys have never posted a perfect home season

* These guys all want to improve their prospects for the future

* These rookies have never won anything at this level

* These guys have never can make their coach UF’s All-Time winner

Those are just some of the carrots that are out there, and there are more. Florida’s basketball team had the greatest season in school history that began with virtually no expectations. Beginning Thursday they get to show how they handle great expectations.

Kansas Showdown Losing Luster

The Las Vegas showdown with third-ranked Kansas is not looking like the battle for number one it was planned to be. The Jayhawks have lost not one, but two centers at this stage of the pre-season. First, talented but troubled 6’10” sophomore CJ Giles was suspended indefinitely by Coach Bill Self who recently was quoted saying, “he may never be a part of our team.” Self won’t discuss the reasons for Giles’ suspension, but various published reports have indicated there are a number of issues, including unpaid child support, academic shortcomings and behavioral problems. Those same reports suggest Giles will face further discipline if and when he is ever reinstated. Giles averaged 6.2 points and 4.8 rebounds in 20 minutes a game last season.

Add to that, junior center Alexander “Sasha” Kaun suffered a partially torn patellar tendon last weekend and will be out three-to-six weeks. Kaun averaged 8.2 points and 5.3 rebounds in just 19 minutes a game last season. He almost certainly won’t be back for the Florida game, which would have been a reunion with former Florida Air Academy teammate Walter Hodge.

Assuming Kansas is without those two, 6’8” 218 pound forward Julian Wright gets the challenge of battling Joakim Noah and Al Horford et al in the paint.