Mooney dreams of playing for championships at UF

There are times when Johnny Mooney (6-9, 235, Altamonte Springs, FL Lake Brantley) hates Jim Flanigan. “I’m pushing myself with every breath that I have and I hurt and he’s asking me for one more,” Mooney said Sunday night. “He does that and I think ‘I hate you’ and then after it’s over and I know that I’m getting strong and this is going to make basketball better and easier for me, I’m okay. He’s just trying to help by pushing me to my limit.”

Flanigan is the trainer Mooney sees a couple of times a week. He’s helped put muscle on Mooney’s frame during this growth spurt in which he has grown an inch. It is a love-hate relationship all the way – he hates it when Flanigan is pushing him to give him more, but he loves it when he goes on the basketball court and powers through a defender who might have stopped him on the way to the rim just a few months ago.

“It’s all good,” Mooney said. “I know I’m getting better every time I work out with him. He doesn’t take no for an answer. He keeps pushing and tells me that I can get better. It’s what I need.”

A 2016 commitment to Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators, Mooney has two more years of high school basketball before he will be able to suit up for UF, time that he plans to use to improve his game. He averaged 24 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks and four assists a game as a sophomore, numbers that he plans to improve through a consistent work ethic and a love of the game that surpasses his desire to drive.

Mooney is 15 and won’t turn 16 until March 20. “I won’t get my license until a month or two after my birthday,” Mooney said.

The reason? Basketball has been more important than driving.

There are two constants in Mooney’s life: (1) his love of basketball and (2) his desire to excel in the classroom. Those two things consume him and that’s the reason why he will be late getting his license.

Not that he minds. He’s got an AAU season coming up with Nike Team Florida, which was the runner-up in the 16-and-under national tournament last year, and a 4.0 in the classroom.

On Nike Team Florida, Mooney teams up with 2015 Florida commitment Kevarrius Hayes (6-9, 195, Live Oak, FL Suwannee County) and a pair of guards the Gators are recruiting, Haanif Cheatham (6-6, 180, Fort Lauderdale, FL Pembroke Pines Charter School) and Chance McSpadden (6-4, 185, Winter Haven, FL) among others.

This is a group that has been playing together a long time and might be the very best team Nike Team Florida coach Tom Topping has ever put together including the 2006 team that featured future Gators Chandler Parsons and Nick Calathes and the 2009 team that featured current Gators Scottie Wilbekin and Will Yeguete. Mooney feels familiarity and experience will come into play this spring and summer.

“We had practice today and I really enjoyed playing with those guys again,” Mooney said. “Playing with Kevarrius (Hayes) is always cool since we’ll be playing together at Florida someday. I think we’ve got a chance to do something special this summer. I’d like to win a championship.”

You could say that he’s got championship fever after being at the O-Dome Saturday for Senior Day when the Gators knocked off Kentucky and then celebrated the Southeastern Conference championship by cutting down the nets. From the pre-game Senior Day ceremonies to the post game madness and everything in between, Mooney wants to experience it first hand.

“That’s definitely a goal but a real dream for me,” Mooney said. “Seeing Patric Young and Will Yeguete hold up their jerseys before the game and hearing the crowd go crazy over those guys … then later they cut down the nets. I want to be a part of that. That’s something I want to experience.”

While he awaits his chance to put on a Florida uniform, he will concentrate on becoming the best player he can possibly be so he will be ready to step in and contribute immediately.

Mooney listed his strengths as: (1) ability to see the entire court and make the right pass to the open shooter; (2) ability to stretch a defense by taking the ball out beyond the arc; and (3) a relentless work ethic.

As for weaknesses, Mooney points out (1) a need to improve his strength; (2) improve his speed and footwork; and (3) a need to become a better and more consistent ball handler.

A lifetime Gator fan – his sister Caitlyn was Florida homecoming queen in 2011 – Mooney plans to camp at Florida in June. He has watched Billy Donovan on the sidelines and now he’s ready to experience Donovan’s coaching first hand.

“I think Coach Donovan can take my game to the next level,” Mooney said. “You look at guys like Erik Murphy and David Lee, who are the prototypical stretch four that can step outside and shoot it. They’re in the NBA now after spending four years with Coach Donovan. Getting to their level is a personal goal of mine and I don’t think there is another coach out there who can bring that out of me like Coach Donovan.

“I really can’t wait to play for the Gators.”

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.