As the fans of the Florida Gators begin to get over yesterday's crushing loss to Butler, it becomes time to look to the future. After the best season for the Gators since the 06-07 championship team, Billy Donovan will face the task of bringing his squad back to the Big Dance without three impact seniors.
With SEC Player of the Year Chandler Parsons, center Vernon Macklin and athletic forward Alex Tyus graduating, Florida will have to replace three big holes.
Here is a look at the roster Florida will bring to the table when next season tips off.
Please note that the years in school of the players will be based on next season, not the current one.
He is the smallest player on Florida's roster. He is not overly fast, prone to bad passes, bad decisions and a non-factor when he gets into the paint.
But Erving Walker will come back next season as Florida's best player, senior leader and a key piece of the team. He is an incredible clutch shooter with a knack for knocking down the big shot. Over the summer, Walker can focus on improving his decision-making and change his tactics driving to the hoop.
After 14.6 points per game in 2010-11, Walker should thrive next season as well.
Kenny Boynton has potential. As good as he already is, with an improved shot, great layup moves and great speed, Boynton has tons of room for improvement.
He can continue to tweak his shot, working on releasing the ball at the top of his jump. He can improve his strength so that he becomes more explosive and less affected by contact and he raise his basketball IQ, improving shot selection and becoming a more dynamic playmaker.
If it all comes together for KB next year, the Gators will finally see the five-star prospect that Boynton had hoped to be.
If you don't know who this is, don't worry. He was a Gator this past season, but he was on the bench. He was a transfer, a redshirt, an unknown to most Gator fans. But next season, everyone in Gainesville will know who Mike Rosario is.
A transfer from Rutgers, where he averaged 16 points as a sophomore, Rosario sat out last year to maintain two years of eligibility with the Gators. He is the type of guard Florida lacks—a physical, Big East style player who goes strong to the rim. He is a good rebounder for a guard, and though he is not exactly a great passer, he knows how to make plays.
It is unclear what role Rosario will play for the Gators. He could be used in three-guard packages, or he could be used to spell Walker or Boynton when they get tired. Whatever the case, Rosario is an extremely talented player who will make a big impact.
Remember when the Gators were going to land coveted recruit Austin Rivers? Remember when he de-committed from Florida and signed with Duke?
Brad Beal will make you forget that Rivers even exists. The 6'4" guard from St. Louis is the seventh-best recruit in the country. He picked Florida over Kansas, Duke and Ohio State. Still not convinced? This is what his ESPN evaluation says:
"Beal is a pure shooter that draws favorable comparisons to Ray Allen."
This is the most exciting player the Gators have had in years, maybe ever. If he pans out, the Gators will have a top-flight shooting guard. In a crowded backcourt, he will almost certainly find a way to get major playing time.
The Gators' youngest player this past season will enter his sophomore year at the ripe old age of 18. But don't be fooled by his youth. Wilbekin is an extremely skilled defender and has a high basketball IQ. Of all the current Gators, he has the most room to grow as a player.
He must develop a more consistent outside shot, become a smarter passer and work on understanding his role on the team. It seemed that Wilbekin tried to do too much at times, and though he will be relied on more next season, he still must recognize that his job is to play tight defense and not do more than he is asked offensively.
Of course, if his offensive game improves drastically, he could find much more playing time. Until then, he will remain an excellent bench player with lots of youth and lots of talent.
The senior guard Kyle McClanahan has, for his entire Florida career, been the man at the end of the bench. Though he has never been considered good enough to get significant playing time, McClanahan will enter his senior year as an injury replacement, a late-game guard, and a senior who has experienced a lot.
His guidance, especially for the younger players, will be much more valuable than his playing ability in the 2011-12 season.
When the 2011-12 season starts, all eyes will be on a Murphy who wears blue. But it will not be Erik. It will be his brother Alex, who will play forward next season for the Duke Blue Devils. With all the hype surrounding Alex Murphy, his brother should not be overlooked.
Already a very versatile forward, Murphy can improve himself to become one of the best players on Florida's roster. At 6'9", 220 pounds, Murphy still has some room to grow into his body. He must get stronger if he is to make a true impact in the post next year. He already possesses great post moves and is an above-average rebounder and shooter.
If he can bulk up and improve his overall explosiveness, the attention might shift from the freshman brother to the junior for the Gators.
The most NBA-ready player on the Gators will be returning for his sophomore season. Patric Young will be a much-needed inside presence for a frontcourt-depleted Florida squad.
He is 6'9" and 225 pounds with room to grow. He is a hulking figure with Dwight Howard shoulders. As impressive as his body is, his basketball ability will grow to be just as impressive. He learned over the course of the season that he will not be able to completely overpower every opponent, but once he gets stronger, Young will wreak havoc in the paint. He is a natural rebounder, and once his offensive game becomes more polished, he will become dominant.
He will be a first-round NBA pick when he decides to leave Florida. Until he does, the Gators have a dominant post player to complement their excellent guards.
With Macklin, Tyus and Parsons gone, the Gators will lose a ton of height and inside threats. But with Pitchford, some of that post talent will be replenished. A three-star recruit from Grand Rapids, MIchigan, the 6'9" Pitchford will be a valuable player for Florida.
He will almost certainly grow, definitely in terms of strength and weight and potentially a few more inches of height. He is still a raw talent, but shows great potential on both sides of the ball. He is very comparable to Alex Tyus, but with more strength. If he can improve his overall strength, he will become a great inside presence.
He may not get tons of playing time initially, but Pitchford has the potential to be a great inside force for the Gators.
Prather is an ultra-athletic guard/forward who did not receive a ton of playing time his freshman year in Gainesville. In his brief appearances in games, however, there were flashes of brilliance. His athleticism is by far his biggest strength. He is a good rebounder, decent shooter, active defender, but above all, can jump out of the gym.
Over the off-season, he, like many other Gators, must bulk up and get stronger. At 6'6", he isn't a natural fit at shooting guard or small forward, but with a more polished offensive game, he could turn into a good threat off the bench.
If he continues to show the ability to defend with intensity, Billy Donovan will almost certainly find a place for Prather.
Another freshman who did not play much, Yeguete is more of an undersized post man than he is a swingman. At 6'7", he is not quite big or strong enough to play the 4 or the 5, but he can fill holes and provide energy and ability off the bench.
He is a good finisher and though he will be used primarily off the bench, he can still make an impact for the Gators on both sides of the ball.
At 6'9" and 230 pounds, Larson is a Big Ten-style post player who can provide a huge boost for the Gator frontcourt. He redshirted this past season, so he has four years of eligibility left with Florida.
He is surprisingly athletic for his size, and also has a nice shooting stroke. He is a polished rebounder and a good defender. All that being said, he has limited exposure to the college game, so his true impact won't be known until he gets more playing time. Billy Donovan has praised Larson for being great in practice against the other Florida bigs.
Cody Larson will certainly play a role in the Florida frontcourt, but how much of a role is still yet to be determined.
Two players in Florida's 2011 recruiting class for football have expressed interest in playing basketball, but whether or not they make the team remains to be seen.
Defensive back De'ante "Pop" Saunders was a three-star point guard in high school. At 6'0" he has good size and is a physical guard.
Quarterback recruit Jacoby Brissett (left) is also a three-star shooting guard. The 6'5" Brissett is extremely athletic and could be a potential guard/forward for the Gators.
It is still unknown whether either of these players will play basketball, but if they do, they could be good additions to an already strong Florida team.
So here is the roster breakdown for the Gators going into 2011-12
Guards: Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario, Brad Beal, Scottie Wilbekin, Kyle McClanahan
Forwards: Patric Young, Erik Murphy, Cody Larson, Casey Prather, Will Yeguete, Walter Pitchford
And here is my prediction for the starting five:
Guard- Kenny Boynton
Guard- Erving Walker
Guard- Brad Beal
Forward- Erik Murphy
Forward- Patric Young
The Gators have an excellent roster, and their 2011-12 season could be just as successful, if not more so, than their last.