Recruits impressed by crowd at O-Dome

As the Gators cut down the nets Saturday afternoon following their 84-65 regular season-ending win over Kentucky, a number of top recruits stood on the sideline taking it all in. It was obvious that a Stephen C. O’Connell Center crowd that at times was deafening had enhanced the game day experience for Chris Chiozza and Devin Robinson, 2014 signees; 2015 recruits Antonio Blakeney, Haanif Cheatham and Austin Grandstaff; and 2016 commitment Johnny Mooney.

Others at the game were Trey Mourning (6-10, 220, Miami, FL Ransom Everglades) and Noah Dickerson (6-9, 255, Atlanta, GA/Montverde, FL Montverde Academy).

Here are some post game impressions from Chiozza, Robinson, Blakeney, Cheatham, Grandstaff and Mooney.


Chris Chiozza (5-10, 160, Memphis, TN White Station): Chiozza came away from the Kentucky game with ringing ears.

“This is the loudest place I’ve ever been,” Chiozza said. “I love the fans. I can’t wait to come here to play.”

White Station finished the season 30-2, losing to Arlington in the state playoffs this past Thursday night. Chiozza averaged 12 points and 10 assists per game.

Asked his impressions of Florida’s win over Kentucky and how he sees himself fitting in next year, Chiozza said, “I love the way they play as a team. Everybody passes the ball. Everybody is looking out for each other. Coach Donovan is a great coach and this is a great team. I think I’ll fit in next year. I am quick and I can push the ball. I like making plays for my teammates.

Devin Robinson (6-8-1/2, 195, Chesterfield, VA Christchurch School): Robinson says he has grown a half inch and added 15 pounds since last summer. He’s coming off a season in which he averaged 25 points 10 rebounds and five blocked shots per game.

The atmosphere at the O-Dome and Senior Day caught Robinson’s attention.

“These are great fans,” Robinson said. “When they get going you can’t hear yourself think. I couldn’t believe how loud it was. I really like the way they gave it up for the seniors. That says a lot about the fans here.”

Asked where he sees himself fitting in at Florida next year, Robinson said, “I am comfortable shooting out on the perimeter or playing the high post or down low. I guess you could say I’m just a basketball player. Put me out there and I’ll find a place to play. I just want to come here and play wherever Coach Donovan wants me to play.”


Antonio Blakeney (6-4, 185, Orlando, FL Oak Ridge): Blakeney said he felt right at home in Gainesville. He loved the way the Gators took care of business with Kentucky on Senior Day.

A combo guard who averaged 24 points per game for Oak Ridge, which made it to the regional semifinals before losing to eventual Class 8A champ Winter Park, Blakeney is being heavily recruited by Florida, Louisville, Kansas, Notre Dame and North Carolina.

Asked his impressions of Saturday’s game, Blakeney responded, “I loved the crowd and how they got into it. I love the way the Gators play. They play hard and fast and they really play great defense.”

Although he would not declare a leader, Blakeney said the Kentucky game certainly changed his impressions about Florida.

“I can see myself playing at Florida,” he said. “Florida is right there for me. I think I would fit in without any problem.”

Blakeney will be playing AAU basketball for Each One Teach One.

Austin Grandstaff (6-5, 185, Rockwall, TX): Grandstaff averaged 26 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game this year for Rockwall, which went from a winless team in district play in 2013 to one that won 18 games and made it to the regional tournament in 2014. Grandstaff had a 51-point game against Wilmer-Hutchins in February.

Formerly committed to Oklahoma State, Grandstaff has opened things up and has Florida, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Texas recruiting him the heaviest. Grandstaff got an offer from the Florida staff Friday evening.

Asked what he thought about the O-Dome crowd, Grandstaff said, “This place is so loud. It’s a great place to play basketball. The crowd really gets into it. The students are just crazy.”

Grandstaff agreed to chat via phone on Sunday.

He will play AAU ball this summer for Team Texas Elite.   

Haanif Cheatham (6-6, 180, Fort Launderdale, FL Pembroke Pines Charter): Cheatham helped Pembroke Pines Charter get to the regional finals in class 6A before the season came to an end. A lefty who is equally comfortable at the point or on the wing, Cheatham averaged 26.5 points, 10.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game.

Cheatham was most impressed with the way Florida sent off its seniors.

“Senior Day was great,” he said. “I love the way the fans love these guys. This was a great crowd and so loud, too. I couldn’t hear anything. It’s deafening.”

Asked how he sees himself fit in with the Gators, Cheatham said, “I could play the wing or play the point. I could hit shots from the outside. I could get to the rim and get fouled. I don’t mind contact.”

Cheatham is being heavily pursued by Florida, Alabama, Pitt, Georgia and Vanderbilt.

Cheatham will be playing AAU basketball this spring and summer for Nike Team Florida along with 2015 commitment Kevarrius Hayes (6-9, 190, Live Oak, FL Suwannee County) and 2016 commitment Johnny Mooney (6-9, 220, Altamonte Springs, FL Lake Brantley).


Johnny Mooney (6-9, 220, Altamonte Springs, FL Lake Brantley): Mooney has grown an inch since last summer and is in the middle of a growth spurt that could take him to 6-10 or 6-11. His older brother is 6-8.

Mooney found the game day atmosphere electric and loved the way the Florida fans treated the seniors.

“This is the way to treat seniors on Senior Day,” Mooney said. “The crowd was great. They really do help the Gators the way they get into the game. They really made it tough for Kentucky.”

Mooney and Gator Country will do a long interview via phone Sunday.

Mooney will play AAU ball this spring and summer for Nike Team Florida along with Cheatham and Hayes.

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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.