Thursday October 24, 2013Billy D gives Gators a lesson in playing through pain
Updated: 7:49am, October 25
Updated: 7:49am, October 25
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Billy Donovan’s team got a painful/meaningful lesson Thursday in the difference between being hurt and being injured.
Yes, there are Florida basketball players who are smarting. Plenty. Sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith rolled an ankle Wednesday and can't practice. Sophomore guard Dillon Graham did his ankle last week and has not been able to go since. Senior forward Will Yeguete, who had offseason knee surgery, is having his reps managed. Ditto for junior guard Eli Carter, who’s had a difficult rehab from breaking his leg last February while playing for Rutgers.
For those players, Donovan has empathy.
But woe to any Gator unwilling to play through the minor aches and pains; or even complain about them.
That was the message to his team Thursday night -- about five hours after Donovan threw his players out of their afternoon practice in exchange for an evening reboot.
Most of the nightcap live action was 4-on-4, what with the lack of numbers due to injures. The Gators, though, worked with intensity and efficiency.
“Practice tonight was exactly what it should have been this afternoon,” Donovan said afterward. "I realize we're limited, but we still have work to do."
Florida is one week from its dress-rehearsal exhibition game against Florida Southern Nov. 1 at the O’Connell Center. The Gators are two weeks from opening the 2013-14 regular season with a home game against North Florida.
But ask Donovan and he'll tell you the team is months away from being a where it needs to be.
The way the Gators will get there is by practicing with a purpose and working their way -- effectively, prudently -- through the everyday discomforts that come with playing basketball.
“Coach Donovan told us we have to have a level of toughness,” senior center Patric Young said. “If you’re dealing with an injury, he said to ask yourself, ‘If it was Joakim Noah or if it was Al Horford, would they be playing through this type of thing?’ ”
When trying to make a point, why not go with your best material?
“Listen, we’re never going to put anybody in harm’s way in terms of getting them hurt, but there are going to be ailments they’ll have to deal with,” Donovan said. “Everybody is going to be tired, banged up and sore. It’s part of the deal. Some guys have a better resiliency and toughness to deal with those things.”
That didn't happen Thursday afternoon; at least to the satisfaction of the coach. The complaints and grimaces reflecting aches and pains struck a nerve. Out they went.
[Note: Donovan has been throwing his teams out of practice since he got here in 1996 (couple times a year, usually), with a teaching moment always attached to the ploy]
Players who say they're unable to practice are sent to treatment, then sentenced to extra sessions with strength and conditioning coach Preston Greene, who's normal training routines are demanding enough.
Green's goal for these extra visits is to make a player choose to practice.
Example: Let’s just say junior center Damontre Harris, who has been in and out of practice with hamstring pain and is lagging behind in his conditioning, may opt to work through some discomfort next time.
“He’s really out of shape and has a long way to go,” Donovan said.
These tactics are not about punishment as much as they’re about establishing a mindset very early with a team down in numbers.
“There’s definitely a sense of urgency to get guys back on the court as soon as possible,” sophomore guard Michael Frazier said. “Coach is always saying battle through adversity, take on challenges. We understand that.”
Frazier is a good example. Last week, he was sidelined for two practices while being tested for mononucleosis. The day the results came back negative, Frazier was cleared and on the floor practicing.
It’s a mindset.
Updated: 4:35pm, October 21
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- While Billy Donovan’s practices proceed with caution on the injury front -- the team is taking Monday and Tuesday to rest some sore and healing bodies -- it seemed like a good time to check in on a trio of former Gators looking to make their mark in the NBA.
When the NBA opens the 2013-14 regular season Oct. 29, league rosters are expected to be dotted with 12 former UF stars. That’s two more than last year, with the additions of rookie forward Erik Murphy and point guard Nick Calathes, who will make his NBA debut after playing four seasons in Greece.
The 2012-13 NBA season featured a slew of Billy D products in the news, with Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem (right) going back-to-back with the Miami Heat, Chandler Parsons’ mega-breakout year in Houston, Joakim Noah and David Lee named the all-star team and Bradley Beal garnering all-rookie honors.
This post focuses on Beal, Calathes and Murphy -- the newest of the Gators in the NBA -- and how they’ve fared thus far in the exhibition season.
Team: Washington Wizards
Background: The No. 3 overall pick in 2013 draft after his All-Southeastern Conference freshman season, Beal got off to a slow start as a rookie and after finding his groove missed 26 games due to injuries, including a badly sprained ankle. He eventually averaged 13.9 points on 41 percent shooting from the floor (38.6 from the arc) to go with 3.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists. Beal’s game expanded -- along with the Wizards' success -- when franchise point guard John Wall joined the team after missing the first 33 games due to a knee injury. With Wall and Beal in the lineup, Washington went 16-9. When one of them did not play, the Wizards were 13-44.
Update: Beal hung 29 on the Miami Heat in just three quarters last week -- a mere 10 of 15 from the floor, 4-for-8 from the arc and perfect in five shots from the line -- then went for 30 at Rupp Arena Friday against the New Orleans Pelicans. Through five preseason games, he’s averaging 21.4 points, shooting 51 percent from the floor, including 44 percent from 3-point range. Assuming Beal and Wall can stay healthy, the Wizards will have one of the league’s most dynamic young backcourts; maybe for years to come.
Fun fact: Beal only turned 20 in June and reported for training camp having actually grown an inch. He now goes 6-foot-5 and 207 pounds.
Team: Chicago Bulls
Background: The Gators sharp-shooting “stretch-4” was taken in the second round (49th overall) of the June draft.
Update: By all accounts, Murphy is expected to make the Bulls’ roster this season. He’s been slow to find that 3-point touch that made him so dangerous at Florida, however. In fact, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau called out both Murphy and fellow rookie Tony Snell, the first-round pick of New Mexico, over the weekend as to their progress to date. "They have a long way to go," Thibodeau said. Through five games, Murphy is averaging 3.0 points on 27-percent shooting overall and 28.5 percent from 3-point range. His rebound numbers stand at 3.2 per game. Murphy’s shooting accuracy needs to improve. That’s what he was drafted for. Given his track record, look for it to get better.
Fun fact: Murphy is the oldest of three sons whose father, Jay, was one of the greatest players in Boston College history. Middle son Alex played at Duke last season. Pretty good, huh? Well , younger brother, Tomas, is in eighth grade, already stands 6-7 and is thought to be on track to be the best of the bunch.
Team: Memphis Grizzlies
Background: During the 2007-08 and ’08-09, Calathes was the only player in the country to average at least 15 points, five rebounds and six assists a game. After leaving UF following his sophomore year, Calathes was drafted in the second round by the Minnesota Timberwolves, then traded to the Dallas Mavericks. Calathes, opted to play in his native country of Greece, where he averaged 7.3 points, 2.0 rebound and 3.3 assists during his career with Panathinaikos (3 seasons) and Lokomotiv (1). In July, Dallas traded the rights to Calathes to Memphis, which signed him two a two-year deal.
Update: After dishing 10 assists in a win Friday night at Atlanta, Calathes is averaging 5.7 points, 3.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists for the Grizzlies, with an assist-to-turnover ratio approaching 3-to-1 (32-12).
Fun fact: Last week, Calathes made good on his childhood dream of playing professional basketball in Orlando. The two-time Florida “Mr. Basketball” from Winter Park Lake Howell High, grew up cheering for the NBA Magic and in his first game facing the Magic scored two points, dished five assists and had no turnovers.
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- As we watched the Missouri-Georgia game in the press box at LSU last weekend, one media type was getting far more excitable than the rest of us.
He was an MU grad, and therefore a long-suffering MU fan.
And it showed.
Underdog Mizzou’s 18-point lead was slowly shrinking; first by a field goal, then a touchdown, then another touchdown to draw within two points early in the fourth quarter. For this one tortured Tiger soul it was as if his entire football life was passing before his eyes.
“Welcome to Mizzou football, folks,” he announced. “This is what we do.”
But then something altogether unexpected happened.
The Tigers, with their star quarterback knocked from the game, made a big play and pulled away for a 41-26 upset of Aaron Murray and the nation’s seventh-ranked team and with it their first signature victory as a member of the Southeastern Conference.
One of the biggest wins in the history of the program.
“I can’t believe it,” our press box friend said. “I just can’t believe it.”
The realization that his team had won a game of such significance was compounded by the possibilities that defeat of the Bulldogs put before the usually tough-luck Tigers.
Starting with their very next game.
They’ve been playing football at Missouri since 1893, yet fall weekends like the one they’re about to experience up on the famous quadrangle have been rare the last 120 years. It just so happens the Florida Gators, in their first visit to the Show-Me State’s flagship university, get to live it.
The Tigers (6-0, 2-0), just two seasons into joining college football’s greatest league, are unbeaten, ranked 14th in the nation and in sole possession of first place in the SEC Eastern Division. A win over UF not only would make a monumental statement to the state of the Tigers’ program, but wipe out any realistic hope the Gators have of playing for the league title.
So to commemorate this first -- not to mention high-stakes -- visit to Columbia, we offer a crash course in Mizzou football history. The following is a flurry of names, nuggets and memorable moments about a program Florida fans are going to hear a lot about between now and kickoff Saturday morning. Not to mention for years to come.
SO, WHO IS MIZZOU?
What: University of Missouri
Colors: Black and Gold
Stadium: Faurot Field (built in 1926)
Mascot: "Truman the Tiger," (left) named for President Harry S. Truman, born in Lamar, Mo., and the only President of the United States from the state.
SOME HISTORY (with moving pictures)
* When Missouri first took the field in 1893, it did so as a member of the Western Interstate University Football Association, along with Kansas Nebraska and Iowa. That league was dissolved after the 1897 season and the Tigers joined the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Association, which in 1928 took on the nickname of the Big Six Conference. In time, it became the Big Seven, then Big Eight, then Big 12, with the Tigers leaving the conference after the 2011 season to join the SEC.
* In 1957, Frank Broyles coached the Tigers to a 5-4-1 record, then left to start would be a Hall of Fame career at Arkansas. He was succeeded by Dan Devine, who went 92-38-7 in 13 seasons leading the Tigers, including a 61-24-4 mark in Big Eight play and two conference titles. Devine left Columbia in 1971 to coach Notre Dame.
* Tucked inside Devine’s numbers was 20-18 victory over Steve Spurrier and the Gators in the 1966 Sugar Bowl, a game the Gators trailed 20-0, only to score three fourth-quarter touchdowns and fail at three two-point conversion attempts. Video below.
* From 1984 to 2002, the Tigers had just two winning seasons under four different coaches. They went 4-7 in 1990, but that record has the second-biggest asterisk in college football history next to it -- second only to the one next to Colorado’s national championship that season. My friend from the LSU press box understands.
* Those two winning seasons came under Larry Smith, who went 7-5 in 1997 and 8-4 in 1998. In ’97, the Tigers and their home crowd were denied one of the great wins in their history, courtesy of a play that became known as the “Flea Kicker.” After this, you’ll surely feel press box dude’s pain.
* In 2007, under curren Coach Gary Pinkel, the tigers went 12-2 and ascended all the way to No. 3 in the nation, but both losses came against Big 12 rival Oklahoma; a 41-31 loss at Norman and 38-17 loss in the league title game at San Antonio, Texas.
* Two former Tigers are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: San Diego Chargers tight end Kellen Winslow, maybe the greatest ever to play his position, was enshrined in 1995, while St. Louis Cardinals safety Roger Wehrli, who some consider the first so-called “shutdown corner” ever to play the game, voted in by the veterans committee in 2007.
* Other notable Mizzou football alumni: Mel Gray (wide receiver, St. Louis Cardinals); Johnny Roland (running back, St. Louis Cardinals); Andy Russell (linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers); James Wilder (running back, Tampa Bay Buccaneers); Eric Wright (cornerback, San Francisco 49ers).
* Missouri has had seven players taken in the first round of the NFL draft since 2001, with six coming since 2009. That’s only one less than Florida has had taken in Round 1. Those six are: 2009 - Ziggy Hood (defensive tackle, Steelers, 32nd) and Jeremy Maclin (wide receiver, Philadelphia Eagles, 19th); 2010 - Sean Weatherspoon (linebacker, Atlanta Falcons, 19th); 2011 - Blaine Gabbert (quarterback, Jacksonville, 10th) and Aldon Smith (defensive end, 49ers, 7th); 2013 - Sheldon Richardson (defensive tackle, New York Jets, 13th).
For fun’s sake, here are some notable Mizzou alums who did not play football. Some pretty good ones didn't make the list.
Chris Cooper won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in "Adaptation," but loved him in "The Patriot," "American Beauty," "Bourne Identity" and "Capote."
Sheryl Crow, singer-songwriter. She's gonna wanna have some fun this weekend.
Linda M. Godwin, NASA astronaut on four space shuttle missions.
Jon Hamm. No explanation needed.
Jim Lehrer, the PBS icon journalist and presidential debate moderator.
Brad Pitt went there to study journalism, but found another calling.
Max Scherzer probably has his mind elsewhere this week. Detroit or Boston, most likely.
George C. Scott was there long enough to take some classes, but hey, it’s George C. Scott. As brilliant as he was in "Patton," what about "Anatomy of a Murder" and "Dr. Strangelove?"
Sam Walton. As in the father of Wal-Mart. Yeah, that guy.
Tennessee Williams, playwright who authored "A Streetcar Named Desire," "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and "Sweet Bird of Youth." Stellaaaaa!
Updated: 9:02pm, October 17
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Billy Donovan had a smile on his face during Thursday’s practice. That’s because he actually had a basketball team to coach.
Nearly a full one.
Senior forward Will Yeguete and junior guard Eli Carter, the transfer from Rutgers, both were cleared for limited contact drills, while tests to determine if sophomore guard Michael Frazier (pictured right) had mononucleosis came back negative and allowed him to take the floor, as well.
“We got some guys back today,” Donovan said.
Not completely back, but the situation for the Gators, the No. 8 team in the USA Today Coaches' preseason poll released Thursday, was better than it was earlier in the week when the team had to scrimmage four-on-four.
Yeguete (left) is rehabbing from offseason knee surgery and was limited to spurts of possessions. Same with Carter (below right), who suffered a season-ending broken leg at Rutgers last February and has been slow to return to his normal gait.
UF trainer David “Duke” Werner has timelines for both players, but those plans include heavy doses of caution and patience. Donovan double-checked with Werner at various times during practice to make sure Yeguete and Carter had not overworked themselves.
“The fact that Will is doing a little more, and Eli is doing a little more, those are good things,” Donovan said. “If we can get our numbers back to where they need to be -- become a healthy team -- obviously we’ll have a chance to get much better.”
Werner said Frazier showed all the symptoms of mono earlier in the week -- Patric Young had it early in the fall semester last year -- and really threw a scare into the staff. Mono could have sidelined UF’s best outside shooter for up to six weeks.
“For Frazier to complain about not feeling well even for one second, that told me something,” Werner said.
The good-news tests results came back Thursday, and Frazier was cleared for practice.
He looked good.
“And I feel pretty good,” Frazier said. “Much better than the other day.”
The news on the health front wasn’t entirely upbeat. Junior forward/center Damontre Harris, the transfer from South Carolina, spent most of the practice in the training room getting treatment on his sore hamstrings. Werner intends to proceed with caution there, too.
Also, sophomore guard Dillon Graham rolled an ankle during practice, was carried off the court and did not return. The swelling was substantial, so his status will be evaluated again Friday.
Updated: 8:57pm, October 17
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Florida basketball team checked in at No. 8 in the USA Today Coaches' Poll released Thursday.
Hey, that’s better than where CBS analyst Doug Gottlieb put the Gators. CBS had its six college basketball experts pick their top 25. Five of them had Florida no worse than 12th.
Gottlieb had the Gators unranked.
Check out for yourselves here.
[Note: Earlier today, the above link was disabled. I thought maybe Gottlieb realized he'd made a mistake, but it's also possible the site was crashed by irate Kentucky fans who wanted Gottlieb drawn and quartered for ranking the Wildcats -- armed with a freshman class some recruiting experts are calling the best ever -- all the way down at No. 7.]
Kentucky is the USA Today poll’s choice at No. 1 with 767 votes, out-pointing Michigan State (749) by 18 votes. The Wildcats are the first team in the history of the coaches' poll to start a season No. 1 after being unranked the previous year. UK, which debuted at No. 4 a year ago, did not make the NCAA Tournament, then lost in the first round of the NIT at Robert Morris.
No other Southeastern Conference team made the coaches' Top 25, though Tennessee (73), Missouri (4), LSU (2) and Georgia (1) received votes.
The Gators, of course, advanced to the Elite Eight for the third straight year in 2013 -- the only program in the nation to do so -- but were destroyed by Michigan in the NCAA South Region final at Arlington, Texas.
UF said goodbye to its three leading scorers (Mike Rosario, Kenny Boynton and Erik Murphy), but returns the next five from the rotation (center Patric Young, guard Scottie Wilbekin, wing Casey Prather, forward Will Yeguete and shooting guard Mike Frazier) and adds a trio of transfers (forward Dorian Finney-Smith, center Damontre Harris and guard Eli Carter), plus a decorated freshman point guard (Kasey Hill).
Illnesses, injuries and suspensions will impact the Gators early in the season, but this team could potentially blossom later in the year as it finds its chemistry. It may even add a player in McDonald’s All-America forward Chris Walker, who is looking to become academically eligible for the second semester.
These issues (and plenty more from the league’s 13 other teams) were kicked around at Southeastern Conference Media Days in Birmingham the last couple days. Here are some hits from Thursday morning’s session, which featured the Coach Billy Donovan, courtesy of Twitter.
A gallery of photos from #SECMD13 is available on the #SEC Pinterest page here: http://t.co/qhrY2f2dbi
— SEC Sports (@SEC) October 17, 2013
UF hoops' motto this season is "SWAG" (Strengthen When Adversity Grows). Would have been more fitting when Rosario was there.— Landon Watnick (@LandonWatnick) October 17, 2013
Added Pat Young: "When they play real top teams, they'lls ee it's not a walk in the park. 1-and-done is not for everybody."— Jerry Tipton (@JerryTipton) October 17, 2013
Tough schedule for @GatorZoneMBK - six games with teams in top 21 - No. 1 UK (2x), No. 6 Kansas, No. 13 Memphis, 19 UConn, 21 Wisconsin— Florida Gators (@GatorZoneNews) October 17, 2013
Florida testing guard Michael Frazier III for mono http://t.co/wO8Bo7q7HO— CollegeBasketbllTalk (@CBTonNBC) October 17, 2013
Florida will get that rematch with Trae Golden in a secret scrimmage on Oct. 26, per ESPN Insider - http://t.co/EsvYKn9HaI— Thomas Goldkamp (@Goldkamp247) October 17, 2013
Updated: 10:12pm, October 14
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- After a grueling offseason of workouts, each Florida basketball player had to clear one last hurdle before strength and conditioning coach Preston Greene signed off on their participation in the start of practice last week.
A physical and demanding hurdle.
“Five down-and-backs,” Greene explained. “That’s the final exam.”
Doesn’t sound so bad, right.
Five wind sprints. Baseline to baseline. These are college basketball players. Running is what they do. Big deal.
Except those five down-and-backs need to be run in 60 seconds for guards and wings; 62 seconds for post players.
And they need to do it five times each, with two minutes of rest of between.
Greene staged his “final exam” each of the last few Fridays, giving players a chance to knock it out and officially be cleared well before the first practice Oct. 11. Some made it. Some didn’t. Some came close, like freshman point guard Kasey Hill, who hit the last line at 61 seconds.
That was one second over his required time, but surely it was close enough.
“No,” Greene said. “He had to do it again.”
Hill made it the next time. In fact, all Gators hit their requirements by the time the first ball was rolled out, including 6-foot-10 junior center/forward Damontre Harris. Due to a run of injuries, the transfer from South Carolina and defensive specialist struggled with conditioning during his sit-out year, but ultimately made some remarkable strides and impressive gains with his body this summer, making him a good sample case for what Greene achieved with his group.
Harris arrived at UF in the summer of 2012 weighing 220 pounds. Of that weight, 190 were those as lean mass versus 13.7 percent body fat.
Now, 15 months later, Harris checked in at 239 pounds, but 212 was muscle and only 11 percent body fat. So Harris gained 19 pounds, but lost 2.7 percent of his body fat. That was the best among his teammates (check out the Mass vs Body Fat gaines in chart to the right).
“He did great,” Greene said.
The same could be said for Greene and his staff, including assistant Collin Crane. Greene arrived at Florida in 2011. He believes the 2013-14 team reported for Day 1 of practice in the best shape of any of his three UF teams.
Coach Billy Donovan was pleased.
"They're not in game shape yet, not even close," he said. "But they will be."
For a more visual appreciation of how the Gators have slimmed, carved and buffed their bodies over the course of their time working with Greene, we offer Before & After samples of four of the UF's 13 players below.
[Note: No, we did not include Patric Young. His shoulders get enough pub]
CASEY PRATHER (2010)
CASEY PRATHER (2013)
DeVON WALKER (2012)
DeVON WALKER 2013
JAKE KURTZ 2011
JAKE KURTZ 2013
DORIAN FINNEY-SMITH 2012
DORIAN FINNEY-SMITH 2013
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Connectivity.
That word and all variations of it, all the concepts associated with it, figures prominently with the Florida Gators as they head into the 2013-14 basketball season.
“We need to be a closer team this season, a more connected team,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said. “We will be a closer team.”
The Gators rolled the balls out for the first practice of the season Friday, but the steps toward getting become a tighter, more cohesive group commenced during the offseason, continued into the preseason and figures to be an on-going theme in the weeks and months to come.
This UF team will not be cliquey. And there won’t be any individualists.
Donovan hopes intimate player talks and exercises to promote team-building will fortify a closeness that will fortify and bond the Gators over the course of a season and better prep them to take on the trials and tribulations of a long season.
“The better you know a person, the better you can help them deal with adversity,” Donovan said after Friday’s first practice. “Sometimes, when a guy is upset about something, what’s your first instinct? Probably to leave him alone, right? A lot of times, it’s no different in a practice or a game.”
It will be this year.
“Coach D has really done a good job of bringing us together as a team and making us get to know each other better and getting us better connected,” sophomore guard Dillon Graham said, echoing his coach’s top talking point. “I feel we understand each other, that we’ve learned about each other, and really love each other so much more than last year.”
A tighter team figures to be better prepared to deal with the sort of meltdown moments that so thoroughly aggravated the coaches and players last season. Does anyone remember Arizona. Or Missouri? Or Kentucky? Or Ole Miss?
Does anyone not?
“We want to be more focused and together, especially when it starts getting tough,” senior forward Will Yeguete said. “We fell short there last year because we didn’t stay connected as well when it got tough.”
There’s that word again.
Get used to it.
Because my flight to Baton Rouge, La., wasn’t until Friday night (there’s a football game there Saturday, in case you had not heard), I was able to pop by the first practice. Here are some Day 1 items and observations:
> Though still not cleared for contact, Yeguete (knee) and guard Eli Carter (leg), the transfer from Rutgers, took part in UF’s non-contact drills. When it was time for the banging around, the two players took their turns shooting free throws.
> Senior guard Scottie Wilbekin, reinstated from a suspension that lasted nearly the entire summer, practiced and was matched often against freshman point guard Kasey Hill. Like everyone else, Wilbekin took turns running with the blue (first unit) and orange (reserves) teams. Another name that needs to be mentioned in the point-guard contest is Billy Donovan, not the coach, but coach’s son and transfer from Division III Catholic University. While Wilbekin is out (however long that may be), somebody will have to back up Hill and the younger Donovan may very well be the Gators’ best option. By the way, young Billy D is neither “Junior” nor “III,” in addition to getting used to reading about “connections,” you might want to get used to reading about two Billy Donovans.
> Yeah, it’s early but sophomore guard Michael Frazier II looked terrific, having clearly taken advantage of the offseason to expand his game. He now has the ability (and confidence) to ball-fake and drive the lane, which will only make his 3-point shot -- and everyone around -- more dangerous. Plus, he’s a great free-throw point shooter, should he get hacked on the way to the rim. Frazier, like every other Gator, has altered his body significantly. Get this: He weighed an even 200 pounds when he arrived at UF in July 2012. On Friday, he weighed in at 202, but at 11.8-percent body fat versus 14.5 his freshman year. Take a bow, strength and conditioning coach Preston Greene.
> A couple times Friday, players who beat their man for layup attempts were surprised to find the out-stretched hand of junior center/forward Damontre Harris coming with weak-side help to swat the ball away. Harris, the 6-foot-10 transfer from South Carolina, finished second in the Southeastern Conference in blocked shots (2.3 per game) two years ago (only Kentucky’s Anthony Davis had more). Harris is a defense-first low post player and will give Donovan and his staff some interesting options (such as perhaps playing him with Patric Young, one of the best post defenders in the country).
> Transfer Dorian “DoeDoe” Finney-Smith probably can play four positions (all but point guard), if the Gators want/need him to. He’s a threat (not great) from the 3-point arc and can do some things -- like finish -- around the basket due to his athleticism. He averaged 7.1 rebounds per game in the Atlantic Coast Conference at Virginia Tech two years ago. Last year, when Harris suffered a torn labrum in the season’s third practice and could not practice nearly his entire transfer year, Finney-Smith was forced to play mostly center for the scout team and got to know Young very well. “Too well,” he said. He can mix it up down there, though, and will be comfortable at either small or power forward spots.
Updated: 8:43pm, October 8
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Just in case the Florida wide receivers didn’t hear enough about their lack of production the last few years and the uncertainty of their playmaking ability coming into the 2013 season, the Gators coaching staff left a few reminders around the south end zone football complex this summer.
Xerox copies of ESPN.com’s rankings of SEC units were taped to walls and windows in the locker room, training room and SEZ hallways. Dozens of them.
The Gators checked in at No. 11 on the list of best receiving corps (ahead of only Mississippi State, Kentucky and Tennessee), with no UF wideouts ranked among the site’s top 10 individuals. Given their numbers the last few years, the assessment was tough to argue.
That didn’t make the evaluation any less grating to Gators going out for passes.
“Since I’ve been here, that’s all I heard about,” senior wideout Solomon Patton said. “[That] we didn’t have any receivers who could catch and make the big plays that those guys used to make.”
Going strictly by the numbers, the Gators’ 201.4 yards passing per game is not going to wow anyone. It ranks 11th in the conference.
But since Tyler Murphy took over at quarterback for injured starter Jeff Driskel, the UF passing game has made strides, with 72.2 percent completions – and an efficiency rating of 181.5 -- and achieved enough of a balance to convert 22 of 41 (53.6 percent) third-down situations.
Meanwhile, utility man Trey Burton (23 catches, 282 yards, 1 TD) has found his niche as a full-time wideout. Patton (19-348-4) has gone from basically a slot running back to a major yards-after-catch threat in averaging 18.3 yards per reception. And junior Quinton Dunbar (18-274) has made several big plays (a couple acrobatic ones, too) in taking his game up a notch.
Through five games, UF's top three wide receivers -- Trey Burton, Solomon Patton and Quinton Dunbar -- have combined for 60 receptions. In 2012, the trio totaled 55 catches. At their current pace, check out their season's projections (receptions-yards) compared to their previous seasons.
It’s a receiving corps that fits nicely with what the Gators want to do on offense.
And one determined to refute its preseason projections.
“I never directly talked to them about it,” UF offensive coordinator Brent Pease said Tuesday. “I think it’s just a matter of getting comfortable and playing the position in a throwing situation.”
When Pease took over the offense in the spring of 2012, the Gators were introduced to their third offensive scheme in as many years, with the former Boise State coordinator following Charlie Weis (2011) and Steve Addazio (2010).
UF coach Will Muschamp used the phrase “instant coffee society” Monday, alluding to the need for people to see results immediately. In the case of the Gators, maybe it was some continuity (this is the first season since 2009 the Gators had the same offensive coordinator as the previous year) and a quarterback with the right mindset to manage the game and find his rapport with his receivers.
And don't forget the addition of receivers coach Joker Phillips, the former Kentucky head coach who joined the staff in the offseason.
“These kids are kind of now blossoming,” Pease said. “[Football] is a developmental sport. Look at Solomon Patton – performing. Quinton Dunbar – performing. Trey Burton, who has been around for four [years], playing pretty well. … That’s how you’ve got good teams; when you’ve got experience teams in the end.”
A chip on the shoulder – 11th best out of 14 – sometimes doesn’t hurt, either.
“We’ve taken advantage of our opportunities,” Patton said. “Everybody is buying in and we’re all on the same page. Basically, everybody is getting an opportunity to make a lot of plays.”
Updated: 10:40am, October 8
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Tim Walton knew he had two game-changers joining his Florida softball team this year and really didn’t need Sunday’s fall debut to confirm as much.
But it did.
Remember these names: Delanie Gourley and Justine McLean.
The Gators have had a slew of decorated prep All-Americans enter the program in Walton’s remarkable eight-year run -- a stretch that includes five College World Series berths the last six years -- but the addition of this dynamite and diminutive freshman duo has the clubhouse and the diamond at Seashole Stadium all abuzz.
And it’s barely October.
“If you can turn the volume up on a team, that’s what we’ve done,” Walton said.
Let’s start with Gourley (pictured left), who at San Diego El Capitan High set the California Interscholastic Federation career strikeout record with 1,352 and as a junior led her school to the 2012 state championship.
Gourley goes just 5-foot-4, but throws a hard riser ball rivaled only by her wicked change-up. She gives Walton the rare luxury of a pitcher with two “out” pitches. Oh, and she's a lefty.
In UF’s 23-0 win over Santa Fe College to open its fall schedule Sunday, Gourley pitched four innings, gave up one hit, struck out eight and walked one.
“Ultimately, she has the tools to be a strikeout pitcher,” Walton said. “And when I say strikeout pitcher, I mean, realistically, she could be a double-digit strikeout kid per game ... potentially.”
Gourley’s range of speeds had her coaches and teammates calling her “Bugs Bunny” in reference to the famous cartoon -- titled “Baseball Bugs” -- where the iconic Looney Tunes hare conquers the mighty Gas House Gorillas by himself.
“You’ve seen that one, right?” Walton asked.
Yes, but it had been a while.
Here it is (around the 2:40 mark or so).
And then there’s McLean, who’s actually an inch shorter than Gourley and is -- Walton is already declaring -- the fastest player ever to come through the program.
Are you listening, Michelle Moultrie and Kelsey Stewart?
McLean (pictured right) starred at Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) High, where she batted .580 as a senior. In the Santa Fe game, the lefty went 9-for-10 and scored seven runs in the Santa Fe game, but it was the blur of her racing the base paths that shocked her team.
[Note: In high school, she was succesful on 68 of her 72 stolen-base attempts (94.4 percent)]
“She hit a ground ball back to the pitcher and beat it out,” Walton said. "She hit one in the hole between short and third and ended up on second base."
What fires up Walton as much as what these newcomers -- the incoming rookie class also includes utility fielders Chelsea Herndon and junior college transfer Francesca Martinez -- might do on game day is how they’ll help his own team get better during practice. If a Gator can hit Gourley or throw out McLean, they’re way ahead of the game.
Again, it’s only the fall season and UF’s next exhibition game isn’t until Oct. 20 against Georgia Highlands College.
But spring will be here soon enough.
Walton can’t wait.
“This group we have is dialed in. They understand,” he said. “I love how hard they’re working right now.”
Updated: 5:57pm, October 7
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Senior guard Scottie Wilbekin, suspended since June for violating team rules, will rejoin the Florida basketball team for the start of practice next week.
Gators coach Billy Donovan told reporters Wednesday night at a Jimmy V Foundation event in New York that Wilbekin was definitely going to miss some games, but UF’s most seasoned backcourt player and best perimeter defender will be with the squad for the first official practice Oct. 11.
Wilbekin’s suspension was his second in seven months, the previous coming down last November at the start of his junior season.
“When I allow him to play, that is an unknown right now,” Donovan told GatorZone.com earlier this week “But he’s done everything I’ve asked him to do through the summer and now into conditioning. He’s not quite back on our team yet, but right now he’ll be back to start practice.”
Wilbekin averaged 9.7 points on 45.3-percent shooting and 4.9 assists per game last season.
The Gators will be down in numbers when they take the court next week.
Though junior guard Eli Carter was ruled eligible to play this season by the NCAA, the Rutgers transfer has not be cleared to practice as he remains on the mend from a season-ending broken leg last February.
Senior forward Will Yeguete, who underwent knee surgery during the offseason, also has not been cleared to practice, but the training staff remains optimistic the 6-foot-8, 230-pounder from Bordeaux, France will be ready for the regular season. The Gators will be careful with Yeguete, though, given his injury track record each of the last two seasons.
“Starting the season, the team that’s on paper will not be our team. It’s just not,” Donovan said. “So I think trying to get our guys to come together as a team is the biggest challenge. We’re kind of disconnected right now, so this preseason, these first practices, we have to do some team-building.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- You never know who you might run into at the Florida basketball complex during the offseason. Several times this summer, I bumped into Lee Humphrey, the shooting guard who helped take the Gators to unfathomable heights.
Tuesday I saw one of the original Billy Donovan building blocks.
“I’m proud of that,” Brent Wright said with the a smile.
Wright (pictured with me to the right) was a 6-foot-9 forward from Miami Senior High and was the first person to pledge to the 31-year-old Donovan and his youthful and unproven staff. Wright and Major Parker, out of Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons, made up Donovan’s first signing class; the one who pitched as the foundation for great things in the future.
Two years later, the Gators were playing in the NCAA championship game.
There’s a reason Wright’s jersey was one of the select few -- along with Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, Joakim Noah, Al Horford, etc. -- whose giant jerseys decorated the practice facility for years as odes to what they meant for a program that under a future Hall of Fame coach has mushroomed into one of the best in the nation.
Wright, now 35 and set to enter his 13th professional season overseas, went through shooting drills Tuesday, got in a lift in the gym and visited with longtime trainer David “Duke” Werner, who stretched out his former player’s stiff back. In his offseasons, Wright lives in Miramar, Fla.
“Our seasons are so long and usually Coach [Donovan] is recruiting when I come to town,” said Wright, who in his UF days averaged 8.8 points and 5.2 rebounds in 112 career starts, and is one of five players in Florida history to serve as team captain in multiple years (2001, '01). “It was nice to catch up with him. It’s always great to come back here.”
In his 12 pro seasons, Wright has won eight championships, including four straight in the Belgium league. His last two titles came with Telenet Oostende, for whom he averaged 9.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last season. He’s also played in Iran, Croatia, Ukraine and Russia.
Wright's plan is to play at least two more years.
“The young guys on the team tell me I should keep playing,” Wright said. “I think I could play another two years, for sure, as long as my body holds up. People tell me to play as long as i can. And I actually feel great.”
Looks great, too.
Updated: 10:58pm, October 3
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- The anniversary was actually nearly three weeks ago.
Sept. 11, 1993.
DOERING HAS A TOUCHDOWN! DOERING HAS A TOUCHDOWN!
Yeah, Chris Doering had a touchdown all right. Redshirt freshman Danny Wuerffel fired a 28-yard miracle scoring pass to the walk-on from P.K. Yonge with three seconds left to give the Gators a 24-21 victory over the stunned and bummed Kentucky Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium.
In the 10 years I covered UF athletics as a beat reporter for the Tampa Tribune then Orlando Sentinel -- a run of 125 games from 1990-99 -- it was as significant a regular-season victory as any in the Steve Spurrier era, given that it helped kick off (in rather dramatic fashion) a run of four straight Southeastern Conference titles.
Not to mention Wuerffel’s legendary career.
What a game. What a night.
Oh, and I missed it.
Made the other 124 games that decade, but not that one.
At the time, my wife was pregnant with a daughter that wasn’t due until the first week of November. Or in Gators hack vernacular: Florida-Georgia week.
But Molly Page Harry decided to check into the world nearly two months early. She was born at 4:05 that afternoon. UF-UK kicked off at 7 and I was listening to Mick Hubert when he made his signature call late night.
A year later, three days shy of her first birthday, I had Molly with me at UF football practice (they were open back then, by the way). Wuerffel and Doering stopped by after practice for the money shot to the right.
Has made for a nice conversation piece the last 20 years.
Anyway, happy anniversary fellas ... and little girl.
Updated: 4:46pm, September 27
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Where were you Nov. 15, 1986?
I was writing high school sports for The Tampa Tribune, still four years from my first go-around covering the University of Florida. One thing I know for certain: I was not watching the Gators football team that day because they weren’t on television, thanks to NCAA probation sanctions.
For Florida fans, perhaps that was for the best.
Kentucky 10, Florida 3.
It marked the last time in the series that dates to 1917 the Wildcats defeated the Gators. The streak of UF wins, which began with a 27-14 victory at Gainesville in 1987, stands at 26 straight. That’s tied for the longest run in Southeastern Conference history (Tennessee beat Kentucky every year from 1985-2010) and also tied for sixth-longest in NCAA history.
After that game, UF's edge in the series was just 20-17.
Now it's 46-17.
Such staggering mastery cries for one of my trips down Memory Lane.
If you don't believe me, ask The Lexington Herald-Leader, which ran the actual game story from that day on its website Friday. That's UK quarterback Bill Ransdell (left) on the move against the Gators.
Like I often say, not all memorable games are memorable for good reasons, but they’re in the history books and going nowhere.
To the time machine we go.
FOR HISTORICAL CONTEXT (Headlines of Nov. 15, 1986)
* When President Reagan signed the Tax Reform Act of 1986 into law the month before, he set into motion the most sweeping restructuring of the tax system in at least a generation. The signing spurred what had already been an intense race against the clock by taxpayers looking to take maximum advantage of the transition from the old system to the new system.
* The Islamic Jihad group said it would not release the remaining American hostages in Lebanon until its demands were met, dashing hopes for a quick release of the captives. A typewritten statement to the U.S. embassy in Beirut was accompanied by a black and white photograph of Terry Anderson, one of the group’s two remaining hostages.
* The transition of the Senate from Republican to Democratic control began the week before as legislators from each party gathered to pick their leaders for the 100th Congress that would convene in just over six weeks. Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) was set to take over as majority leader, while Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), who had served as majority leader, would assume the minority role. Democrats would have a 55-45 Senate advantage following the mid-term elections when Republicans lost eight seats.
* The hit movies at the time were “Children of a Lesser God” (with William Hurt and Marlee Matlin, who would win an Academy Award for Best Actress), “The Color of Money (with Paul Newman, who would also win an Oscar for Best Actor, and an up-and-comer named Tom Cruise), plus “Peggy Sue Got Married (starring Kathleen Turner and Nicolas Cage).
* On the tube, “Designing Women,” “L.A. Law” and “Matlock” were in their debut seasons, while Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman and Kevin Nealon were newcomers to the cast of “Saturday Night Live.”
* The biggest hits on the radio were “True Colors” by Cyndi Lauper, “Amanda” by Boston and “Human” by Human League.
The Gators had won four straight, including back-to-back defeats of rivals Auburn and Georgia, the former an 18-17 win at Florida Field that many a UF diehard still recall as one of the greatest wins -- certianly comebacks -- in school history.
Florida, after starting the season 1-4, was on a role.
A year after the NCAA’s postseason ban kept the 9-1-1 Gators home for the holidays, Florida (5-4, 2-3) went to Kentucky (4-4-1, 1-3) knowing it was the No. 1 choice for the upstart Hall of Fame Bowl in Tampa.
All the Gators had to do was beat the Wildcats.
The game marked the first trip to Lexington since UF celebrated a 25-17 win there in 1984, a victory that clinched the first Southeastern Conference championship in school history. That title, of course, was eventually stripped seven months after the fact by league presidents, who cited the NCAA sanctions and order the title vacated.
The stakes in this game weren’t nearly as high, but Coach Galen Hall and his players, especially the seniors, wanted to exit the SEC season on a winning note and guarantee themselves the first postseason game since 1983.
For the Gators, it was a cold, wet and miserable day all the way around.
As if the 36-degree temperatures at kickoff and constant drizzle throughout weren’t bad enough, Florida did next to nothing on offense, while a backup UK running back had a breakout game in a thoroughly frustrating eyesore of a defeat at Commonwealth Stadium.
Reserve tailback Mark Higgs ran 27 times for 97 yards, including the game’s lone touchdown, and also caught six passes for 52 more yards. Higgs’ TD in the first quarter gave the Wildcats a lead they never relinquished.
A field goal from UF’s Jeff Dawson in the second period marked the only points for the Gators and were countered by a Joe Worley field goal in the fourth.
Florida had one last chance for a miracle drive -- and tie -- but wide receiver Ricky Nattiel fumbled on the back end of a 17-yard completion. Kentucky recovered to ice the game.
UF quarterback Kerwin Bell, who hit just one of his first nine passes in the opening half, finished seven of 24 for 145 yards and two interceptions. The Gators, befuddled by Kentucky coach Jerry Claborne’s signature “Wide-Tackle 6” defense, finished with just 220 yards of total offense, held the ball just 18 minutes, 58 seconds and ran only 49 plays to UK’s 79.
The Wildcats were playing without star running back Ivy Joe Hunter, out of Gainesville Buchholz, who a week earlier had rushed for 238 yards and four touchdowns in a win at Vanderbilt before a late-game injury.
Exit the Gators ... with the loss.
> “I have to say this is the worst loss I’ve ever been through. You have to play this game with a lot of emotion and we’ve had trouble in the past getting up for Kentucky. I didn’t think it would be a problem this year, but they just wanted it a little more than we did.” -- UF offensive lineman Scott Armstrong
> “It was wet and cold and the ball had a slick film on it. Two of the passes got away from me and I was never able to get my feet set on the slippery field. Give Kentucky credit. They played a great game and we just couldn’t get anything going.” -- Bell
> “You can’t ever be surprised in college football. Everyone has good players and sometimes those good players can be great players.” -- UF safety Jarvis Williams
> “Kentucky is just like Mississippi State. There is no way we should lose to them. Once again, we just beat ourselves.” -- Nattiel, referencing a 16-7 loss earlier in the season at Mississippi State.
> “Over the years, we’ve been so close to beating Florida. A lot of the Florida players talked a lot of trash. They told me I wouldn’t be able to do anything against them. I think I proved them wrong. ... Florida always thinks they are so big and strong and that they can bully us out there,. They sure didn’t do that today. This game made our season.” -- Higgs, clearly enjoying the moment.
> “Sometimes you have to win on your own. You’ve got to go out and rack it up. You have to shake off the weather and go out and win the game. ... I had no idea we wouldn’t play well. I have no idea why we didn’t.” -- Hall
> "Georgia is a tough, tough football team." -- Claiborne, who was reminded he played Florida. " 'Scuse me," he added.
In case you’re wondering what happened from there (and assuming you didn't stop reading about 20 paragraphs ago), the Gators went to Tallahassee the next week and stunned Florida State 17-13 to finish the season 6-5. The Gators, however, were not invited to the posteason. As for the Hall of Fame Bowl, Boston College defeated Georgia 27-24 in that one.
Updated: 11:25am, September 27
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The first basketballs of the 2013-14 season officially roll out two weeks from today -- Oct. 11 -- with the first men’s practice of the season.
Dates for the first practice of the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons are undetermined.
Don’t worry. I’ll explain.
A group of talking heads and typing hands at ESPN.com college basketball “Insiders” got together for a project they dubbed the “Future Power Rankings” that assess which programs are best positioned for success over the next three seasons.
Billy Donovan (pictured right) and the Gators checked in at No. 5, behind a quartet of basketball blue bloods in Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and Louisville.
The panel -- made up of Paul Biancardi, Jay Bilas, Fran Fraschilla, John Gasaway, Jeff Goodman, Seth Greenberg, Andy Katz and Miles Simon -- rated each program on a scale from 1-to-10 in five categories to arrive at their ratings.
* Coaching (25 percent), which took into considering the assistants staff, but put the most emphasis on the head coach. Gators: 9.5
* Current Talent (25 percent). Gators: 9.1
* Recruiting (25 percent), which examined the projected quality of the 2014 and ’15 recruiting classes and momentum. Gators: 9.1
* Program Power (15 percent), which included internal and external support, facilities, resources and tradition. Gators: 9.1
* Stability (10 percent), as in potential roster and coaching staff turnover. Gators: 8.9
Florida’s rating was 92.31.
Here are a couple sample quotes from the UF evaluation:
“What's quietly most impressive is that Billy Donovan has the Gators this high despite the fact that Florida is clearly a football school,” Goodman wrote in the “Why they’re here” analysis. “Donovan is one of the top coaches (he checks in fourth on the list), having won back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007 and gone to the Elite Eight each of the past three seasons. The Gators are extremely deep this season and should be in the mix to go far in the tournament again. The future will be bright because Donovan is a relentless recruiter who gets results, and he's done it lately primarily with four-year players.
Katz checked in on “What could change” with the program: “The Gators have had a few years where they have missed in evaluations of recruits, and it took Donovan two years to get the Gators back to elite status after the consecutive national titles. Donovan is headed toward the Hall of Fame, but Florida still has to outwork a number of its competitors on the trail. If the Gators fail to make the right selections, there is a chance things could go sideways for a season or two.”
In case you were wondering about the entire ranked field, here you go:
1) Duke 95.19; 2) Kentucky 94.88; 3) Kansas 94.31; 4) Louisville 93.44; 5) Florida 92.31; 6) Michigan State 89.81; 7) Arizona 89.31; 8) Syracuse 88.44; 9) North Carolina 88.13; 10) Ohio State 84.13.
The rest of the top 25 looked like this: Michigan, Gonzaga, Indiana, Wisconsin, Georgetown, VCU, Oregon, Maryland, Marquette, Notre Dame, Memphis, Wichita State, UCLA, Virginia and Iowa State.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- So now that the Tyler Murphy era is underway, I figured it’d be a good idea to get know a little more about Florida’s new starting quarterback than what’s in that 147-word bio in the UF media guide.
So I started by Googling Murphy’s hometown of Wethersfield, Conn., a small borough that buttresses the state capital of Hartford.
It’s not a big city -- with a population of just 26,668, according to the 2010 Census -- but every town is notable (if not famous) for something.
For example, in the 1600s three women were convicted of witchcraft and executed in Wethersfield. Good stuff.
In 1781, Gen. George Washington and French Gen. Jean-Baptiste Donatien deVimeur Comte de Rochambeau plotted what would become the Battle of Yorktown that led to the surrender of the British in the Revolutionary War. The site of that meeting is now a museum.
The horror novel “The Other” was written by Wethersfield homeboy Tom Tryon and set there, too.
And Wethersfield is also the “red onion capital of the world.”
[Irrelevant note: Regarding that last item, hey, somewhere has to be red onion capital of the world, right? I once spent two days in Gilroy, Calif., to do a massive story on Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jeff Garcia and his hometown. Gilroy is the “garlic capital of the world” (and smells like it in certain places)]
Go to the Wethersfield Wikipedia page and you can find a list of 18 “Notable people, past and present.” It includes:
* John Deming, an early Puritan settler and founder of the city.
* Tony DiCicco, who coached the USA women’s soccer national team from 1994-99, including the World Cup win best remembered for Brandi Chastain’s sports bra.
* Thomas Ian Griffith (pictured right), who played that two-faced martial arts instructor in “The Karate Kid, Part III.” I did not like him.
* Annabella Sciorra, of “Reversal of Fortune,” “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” and The Sopranos” fame.
* John Pinone, the only freshman in Villanova basketball history to lead the Wildcats in scoring (his ‘Nova jersey No. 45 is retired.
* Benjamin Wright, the chief engineer behind the construction of the Erie Canal.
Oh, and guess who is the last name on the list.
Tyler Murphy, starting quarterback for the University of Florida Gators
I chatted briefly with UF’s new QB on Monday to try and get a little more sense about Tyler Murphy, the person, as opposed to the guy trying to beat a single-high safety defense.
Below is some stuff I found interesting. And for more, look for a BIG-picture piece from my colleague Scott Carter later this week.
DID YOU KNOW?
> Peter Murphy, the quarterback’s father, was a walk-on basketball player at Providence College in 1982-83. That was the year before Friars icon and UF coach Billy Donovan showed up. Peter left the basketball team to play football for the Friars (the program has since disbanded), but apparently squared off against “Billy D” in some pickup games at Memorial Gym. Said Tyler: “He always talks about how he used to “D” up Billy Donovan. I’m like, ‘Dad, I’m sure he doesn’t even remember you.’ ” I went to see Billy D and asked him. “Maybe if a saw a picture of him,” he said.
> Murphy’s younger sister Morgan is a 5-foot-10 forward at Binghamton (N.Y.) University. As a freshman last season, she averaged 7 points per game and was named to the 2014 America East Conference All-Rookie team.
> On TV, he likes to watch “Burn Notice,” “First Take” and “Scandal.” Said Tyler: “I love ‘Breaking Bad’ too, but I’m a few episodes behind. I definitely have to find time to catch up.” Don’t worry, Gator fans, the only DVDs he’ll be nose-deep in this week will be Kentucky’s defense.
> On the big screen, Murphy is a big “Batman” guy and loves sports movies too. “Friday Night Lights” and “Glory Road” were two of his choices.
> Murphy’s first job was as a bus boy at Carbone’s, “A little Italian restaurant right down the street from our house,” he said.
> Murphy, despite his proximity to New York and Boston, doesn’t root for any pro teams, but rather locks in on players and pulls for their respective teams. He loves Drew Brees, Michael Vick, Russell Wilson and Peyton Manning. On the court, he’s a Kobe Bryant guy. On the diamond, he cheers for Derek Jeter.
> As far as memorable achievements as an athlete at Wethersfield High, Murphy (pictured left) recalled how he was forced into action when the starting quarterback got hurt and helped lead the team to a stunning win -- sound familiar? -- over local power Glastonbury. He also score six touchdown in a game (all on runs) and won the triple-jump at the Connecticut state track and field championships when he popped one of 46 feet, 7 inches. Murphy played three years on the basketball team, but claimed to be a hustle and defense guy more than a scorer.
> As for being the most famous football player from Wethersfield, “No, we had a guy way back who played against O.J. Simpson in the Rose Bowl,” he said. “I don’t remember his name.”
Well, there’s where Murphy and the what’s-his-name who chased O.J. differ.
In Hartford and all over the state of Florida, everybody knows Tyler Murphy’s name.
And everybody is talking about him this week.
[Check out his high school highlight tape below]
Updated: 2:35pm, September 20
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- We know the 19th-ranked Florida Gators (1-1) will want to run the football in their Saturday showdown at the “Swamp” against Southeastern Conference East Division rival Tennessee (2-1).
A physical team with a power ground game; that's the identity Coach Will Muschamp has sought since arriving at UF three years ago.
It’s also been the virtual linchpin for success in the Florida-Tennessee rivalry dating to 1990, the first year the two programs started playing annually.
In the 21 of the 23 meetings since 1990 -- all but the 2000 and 2002 meetings -- the team that has rushed for the most yards in the game has been victorious, with the most recent example last year’s Gators trampling of the Volunteers at Neyland Stadium. After struggling on offense the first two games of the season, UF ran it 43 times for 336 yards on the way to a statement-making 37-20 road win.
Yes, it’s early in the 2013 season, but heading into Week 4 the Volunteers rank fourth in the SEC in rushing offense at 244.3 yards per game, compared to the Gators, who check in 12th at 192.0.
Defensively, UT has given up 155.3 yards rushing per game (thanks to Oregon’s 216 in last week’s 59-14 debacle), while UF is the nation’s No. 1-ranked defense against the run at just 50.0 yards per game.
With that, here’s a run back through the last 23 Florida-Tennessee games.
Updated: 11:52am, September 19
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Friday will be a good day for all things University of Florida, courtesy of the “Good Day” folks at WOFL Fox 35 in Orlando.
The station’s morning show will air live from the Plaza of the Americas on the UF campus from 7-10 a.m. On the eve of the Gators’ big Southeastern Conference opener against Tennessee, “Good Day” will feature stories from various walks of the university.
The show can be seen locally in Gainesville (via Channel 13 on Cox Communications) on Ocala’s Fox 51.
Among the notable Gators stopping by the “Good Day” anchor desk for live check-ins will be 2012 Olympic Medalist and current UF senior All-America swimmer Elizabeth Beisel, Gators play-by-play voice Mick Hubert, plus cameos from cheerleaders, Albert and Alberta and the UF marching band.
Among the wide-ranging list of pre-recorded segments:
Updated: 4:55pm, September 18
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Hunter Joyer shrugged his shoulders.
“It’s been so long since I’ve seen him out there,” the UF fullback said. “Did he even practice in the spring?”
No. Offensive guard Jon Halapio missed spring workout recovering from knee surgery after the Sugar Bowl. Then, about a week before the Florida Gators reported for fall practice, the preseason All-Southeastern Conference lineman suffered a pectoral muscle strain while bench-pressing and was limited throughout practices in August.
Now after being sidelined for two games -- including that infuriating loss at Miami -- Halapio will return to his right guard spot Saturday when the No. 18 Gators (1-1) square off against Tennessee (2-1) in the league opener for both teams at Florida Field.
“It’s been a long time and feels great to be back,” Halapio said Wednesday. “It’s my senior year, so this will be my last first game. It’s gonna be special.”
Not only does that “last first game” come against the Volunteers, but at a time the Gators need to amp up their offense and get back to being the type of physical, tone-setting unit Coach Will Muschamp expects on that side of the ball.
Halapio goes 6-foot-3, 320 pounds, is one of the strongest players on the team and has more career starts (33) than any other Gator. So, yeah, he should help.
The UF offense was limited to just 122 rushing yards on 44 attempts -- only 2.8 per carry-- in the Hurricanes defeat and repeatedly was stymied when trying to run the ball between the tackles. Now comes some muscle, some power and some pop at the point of attack.
“We need movement up there and we’re going to get it with Jon,” UF offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. “He’s going to cover up a [defensive lineman] and move him two or three yards. He knows how to put leverage on blocks and get in position better on zone schemes.”
It killed Halapio to miss the UM game.
“It killed me to miss the Toledo game, too,” he said.
Halapio’s return not only gives the Gators more brute force off the snap, but more depth. The line was down in numbers against the Hurricanes after starting left tackle D.J. Humphries (knee) and starting right tackle Tyler Moore (ankle) joined Halapio on the sidelines. Humphries has returned to work and Moore has progressed enough that he's likely to be out there against the Vols.
If that's the case, when the offense line breaks its first huddle Saturday, it’ll be the closest thing the coaching staff envisioned to a full-go offensive line -- minus right tackle Chaz Greene, who is out for the year with shoulder injury -- since the team convened for the 2013 season on Aug. 1.
Just what that means for the rest of the offense, one that struggled to finish drives and convert on chances in the UM red zone, remains to be seen. The Gators enter the game ranked 11th in the SEC in total offense and last in scoring offense.
“We know the potential that we have and we know we can more successful,” Halapio said. “But like Coach Muschamp says, ‘If all you got is potential, you don’t have anything.’ This is our first conference game. It’s a new season. So it all starts with this Saturday.”
Updated: 12:26pm, September 12
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In 1990, Harry Wilder and his wife lost their only daughter in a car crash. The first person the grieving parents heard from was Bill Harlan, the former University of Florida swimming and diving coach who guided the Gators to prominence in the 1960s and ‘70s.
Nearly three decades had passed since Wilder swam for Harlan.
“He called me regularly after that, just to check on how we were doing,” Wilder said this week. “I don’t know that that was very unusual because I’m sure there are a lot of coaches who keep up with the people they had an influence on. But I know how much influence Bill had on so many of us. He touched so many lives at Florida; and long after those people moved on.”
That very impact of which Wilder spoke was the impetus of his mission to pay homage to Harlan, the six-time Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year and member of the UF Athletic Hall of Fame, with something of significance to the program he helped guide to prominence.
So next week, Coach Gregg Troy will be at Wilder’s side when UF officially dedicates the Bill Harlan Swim Team Meeting Facility in memory of the beloved coach who died in 2004 at the age of 83.
The 3,900-square foot project, built at a cost of $1.4 million, will link the outdoor pool with an atrium area into the main pool at the O’Connell Center and include meeting space, complete with an audio-visual system, and additional storage space.
“There was a definite need identified for the swimming and diving program,” said Chip Howard, executive associate athletics director for external affairs. “Up until the project completion, the meeting area had been on the lobby floor of the upstairs offices. Coach Troy and his student-athletes will appreciate having their own dedicated space.”
They’ll have Wilder, 73, and Richard Ahrens, 65, another Harlan protege, to thank. The two provided the bulk of the financial backing because they wanted their coaching and Gator Great to be remembered by the new guard of Florida swimmers.
"He was like a father figure to all of us,” said Ahrens, an All-American breaststroker in ’65 and ’66. “Being away from home for the first time was hard for me, but Bill became my guiding light.”
Harlan (pictured right) was a lifelong Gator who grew up in Gainesville, attending football games a young boy and eventually lettering as a member of the diving team after serving in World War II. After four years as an assistant, Harlan became head coach of the swimming and diving team in 1963 and over the next 14 years won eight SEC team titles and placed the Gators in eight NCAA meets.
Wilder, out of North Miami, was a freestyle specialist on those early ‘60s teams. He recalled Harlan as disciplinarian more than a technician.
“He worked our butts and didn’t put up with any slackers,” Wilder said. “He always thought we could be better than we thought we could be ourselves. And damn if he wasn’t right.”
Those were the days when all practices were held in the outdoor pool just east of Florida Field.
“When I got my scholarship [in ’63], Bill said we’d have an indoor pool by my junior year ... and I think the O’Dome opened in 1981," Ahrens said with a laugh. "But being outside all the time -- two practices a day -- that toughened us up.”
And they remembered their coach for it.
After college, Wilder became a journalist (first with The Miami Herald, then with a South Florida television station) before taking an investing tip from a restaurant chain looking to open franchises in Northwest Florida.
McDonald’s, as it turned out, did pretty well in Pensacola.
Wilder sold his seven franchises and retired seven years ago.
“Back in 1996, I endowed a scholarship in Bill’s name,” he said. “Now, I was in the position to do a little more.”
For UF swimmers, both present and future, this tribute to Harlan will mean so much more.
Updated: 11:14am, September 11
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Season tickets and premium-game packages for one of the best home schedules in Florida basketball history are going fast.
The UF ticket office sold more than 800 three-game packages Tuesday -- the first day single-game seats went on sale -- for the Gators regular-season finale March 8 against Kentucky and another 600-plus for the pack that features a Dec. 10 showdown against powerhouse Kansas in ESPN’s Big 12/SEC Challenge.
The only way for Gators fans to get tickets to the Kentucky or Kansas games is through the special 3-game offer or by purchasing season tickets. Both UK and KU are expected to be top-5 teams, with the Jayhawks boasting freshman forward Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1-rated prospect in the nation last season.
Florida’s home schedule, the non-conference portion of which ESPN.com rated a 10 on a scale of 1-10 for degree of difficulty (tying for the toughest in the league along with Kentucky), also includes a Nov. 29 showdown with rival Florida State the night before the Gators-Seminoles football game, plus Southeastern Conference dates against Tennessee, Missouri and Alabama.
“This non-conference schedule is a beast,” wrote ESPN.com college basketball analyst Myron Medcalf. “Billy Donovan’s program might be the only legitimate obstacle in Kentucky’s path to the SEC crown and the Gators will face a variety of contenders before they collide with Kentucky and the rest of the league. The Kansas matchup could move Florida into a top-five ranking or higher if it gets the win.”
On Sept. 21, UF will host a Select-A-Seat event for basketball season tickets at the O’Connell Center from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., in advance of the Florida-Tennessee football game, set for 3:30. The arena will be set up in basketball configuration, with available seats marked by colored tape signifying their price. Season-ticket holders can also swap out their current seats for better ones.