Florida Basketball: A Blueprint for Success

McLeod NealeAnalyst IJuly 13, 2008

Florida is a football school, but the general perception is that Florida is a basketball school too.  Right now it is not far-fetched to think that Florida has a brighter future in basketball than they do in football.

The stage is set for Florida to have dynasties in both sports for a long time, so Florida fans need to jump on the bandwagon for basketball and be Florida basketball fans for life.  Florida is going to be loaded for years to come with the talent that Billy Donovan is bringing in.  Donovan is proving that he can recruit with the best of them.

Billy Donovan was obviously going to have to rebuild after the Gators won their second straight national championship.  Florida had a down year last season, but do not be fooled.  Billy Donovan is building a juggernaut down in Florida, and it is something that people should take notice of.

With back to back national championships under their belts and the addition of Shaka Smart to the staff, Billy Donovan and his staff are hitting the recruiting trail as hard as ever, and now he is able to bring in more talent than ever before.

Billy Donovan has the perfect blueprint for what he wants to build, and now it is easier than ever for him to get the pieces that he needs to do it.  That blueprint created the team that took him to two national championships.

Here are some important parts of that blueprint.


1. Having the best frontcourt in America

This is something that stands out about Billy Donovan's two national championship teams.  Some might even say that Billy Donovan had the best big man tandem in the history of college basketball with Al Horford and Joakim Noah.  He also had arguably the best sixth man in the country in the 2006-2007 season with Chris Richards.

One thing you will notice about every big man that has ever played for Billy Donovan is that he can run the floor.  I have personally heard Billy Donovan say that he will not recruit a big man that cannot run the floor.  Billy Donovan will not recruit slow post men because they are a defensive liability if Florida faces a team that likes to push the ball like North Carolina or UConn.

Billy Donovan likes big athletic post players.  This also has something to do with the pick and roll offense that Florida runs.  It makes no sense to send a big slow post player to set a pick for a pick and roll because they will not really be a threat to beat their defender on the roll.

It is good news for Gator fans that Billy Donovan may have the most loaded frontcourt in the country a few years down the road.  It looks like Donovan has made this recruiting priority number one.  Florida is set down low for a very long time.  Billy has two sophomores, three freshmen, and three other big men slated to start playing in the 2009-2010 season.

Returning Players:

Florida returns sophomores Chandler Parsons (SF/PF, 6'10") and Alex Tyus (PF, 6'8").  Donovan has praised Parsons for his upside.  Parsons has the height of a power forward but the skill set of a small forward.  His three-point shot is very dangerous.  He is a mismatch nightmare.  Look for him to be bigger and have some development in his low post game at the beginning of next season.

Alex Tyus has been gifted with a lot of athleticism, and he really is the only true power forward that Florida has returning on the roster.

The Freshmen:

Florida has three big freshmen coming in this year: Kenny Kadji (C, 6'10"), Eloy Vargas (PF, 6'10"), and Allan Chaney (PF, 6'8").  None of them are McDonald's All-Americans, but neither were Noah and Horford.  Florida is hoping that Kenny Kadji and Eloy Vargas can make a nice one-two punch like Noah and Horford did.

That may have to wait due to the fact that Vargas and Kadji are the two biggest guys on the roster, but in the long run Vargas is a power forward.  Kadji is better in the low post with his back to the basket, while Vargas has a nice mid-range game.  Their games should compliment each other very well at Florida.  They should be the best big man tandem entering the SEC this year.

Also, Allan Chaney was one of the fastest risers on the AAU circuit last year.

In a year or two:

Florida is also set down low for the recruiting class of 2009 with Erik Murphy (PF, 6'11") and Deshawn Painter (C, 6'9")Vernon Macklin (6'9"), a former McDonald's All-American who played behind Roy Hibbert at Georgetown, will also become eligible to play the year that this class comes to Florida.

People who have watched Macklin play in scrimmages on campus say that Macklin shows a lot of similarities to Horford.  One of those similarities is his passing skills.  Even though Macklin has to sit out this year, he is another guy that the other bigs can practice against.  He will make the other guys better.

People say that Erik Murphy plays like a European player.  He can use both hands equally well and he is just a very fundamental player.  He has quite an arsenal at his disposal.  He can step outside and hit the three, or he can take you inside and hit the baby hook with either hand.  He should end up being considered one of the top ten players in his class, even if he is not right now.

Murphy's performance in the Peach Jam finals makes a great case for Murphy being a top 10 player.  Murphy played a fabulous game in the Peach Jam finals against the Atlanta Celtics, where he dominated Derrick Favors (6'9"), the No. 1 overall player in the class of 2009.  Murphy scored 25 points while holding Favors to only six points.

Deshawn Painter is a guy that has a lot of potential.  He is known for his defense and is one of the best shot blockers in the country.  Like Marreese Speights did in high school, Painter will attend Hargrave Military Academy, where he hopes to improve the offensive part of his game over the next year before heading to Florida.


2. Unselfish players that have heart

Unselfish play is one of the things that really stands out about Florida's national championship teams.  They were always willing to make that extra pass.  The fact that the Gators went two straight years where all five starters individually averaged more than 10 points a game is a testament to how unselfish that team really was.

Last year's team did a pretty good job of sharing the ball as well—six players averaged at least eight points.  Billy Donovan is not out there recruiting players that score the most points.  He is recruiting the basketball players that work for his system.  Donovan also does a great job knowing how recruits will play together on the basketball court.

I think Corey Brewer, Al Horford, Joakim Noah, and Adrian Moss are guys that sum up this category very well.  They were guys that just loved to hustle, play great defense, and get up and down the floor.  They were willing to sacrifice for the team.

Returning Players:

The definition of unselfishness starts with Nick Calathes.  Yes, he led the Gators in scoring last year, but he also led the SEC in assists.  Unfortunately for the Gators, but fortunately for Nick, it is very possible that the Gators may lose him to the NBA draft after this year.

The Freshmen:

Eloy Vargas also played high school ball with Kenny Boynton, who most consider to be the best scoring guard in the country.  He never really complained about not getting the ball enough.  You have to be an unselfish player to play with Kenny Boynton.  That is not a hit against Boynton, because he is a guy that should be taking lots of shots.

Ray Shipman seems to be the person that will give the Gators the athleticism and the hustle that Brewer gave to the team.  Ray reminds me of Rip Hamilton without the shot.  He will be able to run the floor all day long.  Ray will bring the intensity to every play.

In a year or two:

It is well known that Deshawn Painter is the fifth scoring option on the Boo Williams team.  For a guy as good as Painter, it takes a humble attitude to do that.  He is also known for his defensive intensity and rebounding.  That is the type of player that Billy Donovan wanted this season: a guy that would run the floor, rebound, hustle, and play good defense.

From what I have heard about Painter, he sounds like a guy like Adrian Moss, who is the poster boy for unselfishness, hard work, and hustling.  The exception is that Painter could end up more skilled offensively than Moss, and I will take as many guys like Adrian Moss as I can get, because an attitude like that can be contagious.  Adrian Moss does not get the publicity that he deserves for being part of that first national championship team.

Erik Murphy is another unselfish guy.  He is considered just as good of a passer as he is a scorer.  He is a well-coached player who plays for former NBA player John Carroll.  Erik Murphy has the potential to score 25 points like he did against Derrick Favors.  However, during the Tournament of Champions in Chapel Hill, NC, Murphy averaged about 11 points while eight of his teammates averaged over five points, showing that he is able to distribute the ball quite well too.


3. Good three-point shooters:

If you have the best frontcourt in America, that is really going to open things up for the shooters.  That was a key part of the second national championship.

I believe the reason that Billy Donovan is making big men the No. 1 recruiting priority is that the three-point line is moving back about a foot.  It is going to take time for players to adjust to that, and you cannot rely on shooting three-pointers as much anymore because it is a more difficult shot.

The importance of great three-point shooters is that they are necessary to prevent defenses from collapsing on the big men down low.  It also keeps defenses honest on the pick and roll.

In the 2006-2007 season, Billy Donovan had two shooters, Lee Humphrey and Taurean Green, who both shot over 40 percent from three.  Lee Humphrey shot 45.9 percent two straight seasons in a row and now holds the all-time record for three-pointers made in the NCAA Tournament.

Taurean Green's strength as a shooter was his ability to hit the shot dribbling off the pick and roll.  It ended up being key down the stretch that Florida had three players—Taurean Green, Lee Humphrey, and Corey Brewer—that were capable of knocking down the three-pointer.

Returning Players:

Billy already has two great three-point shooters.  Those two guys are Adam Allen and Jai Lucas.  They both shot over 40 percent from the three-point line as freshmen.  Jai just needs to be confident.  That will come with experience.

Walter Hodge was shooting over 40 percent for a while last year, but he was actually shooting over 50 percent the previous year.  He should be a guy that can hit somewhere above 40 percent.  Chandler Parsons and Nick Calathes should also be able to step up and hit a higher percentage.

I can definitely see Adam Allen stepping into the Lee Humphrey role on offense.  He reminds me of how automatic Lee was.  We have more shooters on this team than we did on the previous two teams, so it is just a matter of confidence now.

The Freshmen:

I think that Florida is set for a while at the guard position, but there is one freshman that should be very exciting.  His name is Erving Walker.  He is not very tall, standing at 5'6", but it does not matter because he has a whole lot of game.  He has a jump shot that goes beyond the NBA three-point line, so he will not be affected by the new rule at all.  Just think Speedy Claxton with a cannon when you think of Erving Walker.

If you ignore his height, Erving Walker is second to none in straight-up basketball skills.  It does not matter what team you cheer for—this guy is going to be one of the most enjoyable guys to watch in college basketball the next couple of years.

In a year or two (or three):

It is not a sure thing, but I have a good feeling that Kenny Boynton is going to join his teammate Eloy Vargas at Florida.  He will find out how much he misses Eloy on and off the court during this summer and his senior year.

Kenny is the number one scoring guard in the country for the class of 2009.  Three-point shooting will not be a problem if he comes to Florida.  He is automatic.  I would worry about him being one-and-done, but I think that problem between the NBA and the NCAA could be taken care of before Kenny Boynton makes it to Florida. 

Florida is also very much in the running for Brandon Knight.  It will probably come down to Florida and UConn for his services, but I would put my money on Florida.  He plays on the same AAU team as Kenny Boynton, and he is good friends with Eloy Vargas as well.  Knight and Boynton would make the best backcourt tandem in the nation if they both went to Florida.

Knight is considered by some to be the top player in the country for the class of 2010.  He can do it all.  He is a pure point guard that can also score in a variety of ways.  He is a little streaky as a three-point shooter, but he is good enough.  He has plenty of time to work on his game.

Austin Rivers is one of the top players in the country as a sophomore.  He is better than either Brandon Knight or Kenny Boynton right now according to most college scouts.  He has a deadly three-point shot.


4. Connections to former NBA players

Billy Donovan realizes that athletes who have had a parent play in the NBA or have been around professional players are going to be more mature basketball players.  Al Horford and Taurean Green were both very mature as sophomores in college.  Is it a coincidence that they both have fathers who played in the NBA?

Tito Horford is a retired Dominican professional basketball player who played three years in the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Washington Bullets.  Sidney Green was an All-American at UNLV who was selected by the Chicago Bulls with the fifth overall pick in the 1983 NBA draft.  Sidney Green played 10 years in the NBA with the Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, San Antonio Spurs, and the Charlotte Hornets.

Billy Donovan has continued to recruit these types of players, and it is hard to ignore the trend of recruiting the sons of former NBA players.  There also seems to be some correlation with how mature these sort of kids are as basketball players.

It also is a great blessing for the Gators to have much of the class of 2004 back on campus working out and playing pickup with our current guys this summer.  Hopefully their work ethic will be contagious.  It would be nice to see these guys' hustle rub off on the players in a very similar fashion.

Returning Players:

Nick Calathes had spent time working out and playing with former Florida Gator Jason Williams.  Nick has developed a rare sense of the game that is beyond his years.  A lot of that probably has to do with spending some time with NBA players like Jason Williams.

Jai has a brother, John Lucas III, that played at Oklahoma State and is remembered for hitting the game-winning shot that knocked out Jameer Nelson's previously undefeated St. Joseph's ball club while simultaneously sending Oklahoma State to the Final Four.  He had a brief NBA career with the Houston Rockets.

Jai's father, John Lucas II, went to the University of Maryland, where he was an All-American as a basketball player and a tennis player.  He had a 14-year NBA career that included an NBA finals appearance with the Houston Rockets in 1986.  Jai's father later returned to the NBA as a coach with the San Antonio Spurs, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Philadelphia 76ers.

Jai came to Florida as an extremely smart and mature player who was able to hold his own his freshman year.  He clearly had benefited from competition with his brother and his father's coaching.  The only way that Jai may have slipped mentally last year was that he changed the way he played the game after he took a brutal hit in the lane during the Vandy game last year.  However, I have heard that he is once again fearlessly attacking the lane like he used to.

In a year or two (or three):

Erik Murphy plays for the New England Playaz, who are coached by former NBA player John Carroll.  Erik Murphy's father, Jay Murphy, was a former Boston College standout and NBA player.  His coach John Carroll says that he is not surprised at how good Erik is due to the fact that his father was such a great player.

The great thing about Erik is his mature approach to the game.  One example of this would be his game against Derrick Favors in the Peach Jam finals.  One of the criticisms of Erik Murphy's game is that he has fallen in love with his jump shot and that he is too weak to play in the low post.  Well, Erik made it a point to show to everyone that they were wrong.  Erik took it to Favors, scoring all of his points down low in the paint while shooting an extremely high percentage.

Clearly, Erik has learned how to work on his game and become a better basketball player.  The reason that Erik decided to go to Florida was the fact that he watched how Al Horford progressively got better each year.  He says that he would like to see the same sort of progress from himself.  He has a very mature attitude about it all.

Austin Rivers is young, but he has the nasketball I.Q. of a 20-year-old.  He is a lot like Nick Calathes coming out of high school.  There is just no one that is a close second when it comes to basketball I.Q.  He is the son of former NBA player and current coach of the Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers.

A lot of college scouts say that Rivers is better than Brandon Knight, the top player in the class of 2010, and Kenny Boynton right now, and he is only a sophomore in high school.  He gets to spend lots of time around NBA players, so it makes sense that his game would be at the top of the class and up there with the best regardless of class.  He is by far the best player in the class of 2011.


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