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October 28, 2010

Basketball: Exhibition season opener

With the Florida Gators basketball team set to unofficially kick off its season tonight with its exhibition opener against Florida Tech, the focus is on the five new freshmen.

Headlined by McDonald's All-American center Patric Young, the group has a great blend of size, athleticism and basketball acumen.

When they take the court tonight, all eyes will be on how they perform in their first college game.

So far, the freshmen class has gotten very positive reviews from head coach Billy Donovan.

"I'm a little bit cautious after a week of practice because I think what happens is they haven't hit the wall," Donovan said. "But as of today, they've done everything we've asked them to do. I think all the guys have."

One of the main areas that Donovan sees his team improving from a year ago is the level of competitiveness in practice.

With a limited roster a year ago, the Gators often couldn't have tough, physical practices. An injury to the back-court during the season might have killed any shot Florida had at making the NCAA Tournament.

But that's not the case this year.

Particularly in the frontcourt, the Gators have plenty of depth. That's made everyone better, according to Donovan.

"One of the things we struggled with [last year] is that balance between really trying to get better in practice through competition," he said. "We've got enough now that the practices are at a level physically, competing-wise that guys are in a position where they have to compete on a regular basis."

That's something that should benefit the Gators down the road; something that Donovan hopes to continue to see throughout the season.

More importantly, when Florida takes the court tonight, Donovan will be looking to see what each freshman can contribute.

"When you have a freshman group come in, there's things that happen instinctively in the workouts before they get coached," he said. "When they start to play live, things happen physically. You can see how a guy reacts instinctively."

To this point, the freshmen have done well. They've even surprised the coaching staff at times.

And while they're not polished yet, their athleticism and desire to get after it in practice has made the whole team better.

"We've got freshmen stepping in taking charges with never ever being told to do that," Donovan said. "And then what's happened is it's forced some of the older guys to do some of that stuff too, because (the younger) guys are willing to do some of those things."

Even if the freshmen don't have a huge impact on the stat sheet right away, Donovan is confident they've already added, and will continue to add, value to the team.

"There are some things I think our freshmen have brought to the table that has allowed us to get better at some of the intangible things," he said. "We have a chance to be much better at that."

QUICK HITTERS

* Donovan said Tuesday that the Gators have experimented some with center Vernon Macklin and Young on the floor at the same time. Because of Young's youth, Donovan doesn't want him to have to learn a new position, so he has played at center in that rotation with Macklin sliding to the power forward spot.

* Freshman Cody Larson missed some practice time with the flu. Sophomore Eric Murphy also missed some practice time with a sprained ankle.

* Donovan expects all of the freshmen to play in the opener tonight, despite Larson missing practice time. He said he would like each player to play 15-25 minutes.

* The Gators also experimented with a three-guard lineup in their scrimmage, as Scottie Wilbekin joined returning starters Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton in the back-court.

* Donovan said Chandler Parsons has progressed as much as a player during his career as much as anyone he has coached. He said that he has never had to get on him in practice for effort.


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