As the Gator football team heads into the second half of its schedule, another Florida sport is just starting up. The Florida men’s basketball team held its annual Media Day on Wednesday, unofficially kicking off the basketball season.
It wasn’t all good news from Florida head coach Billy Donovan though. Sophomore Chris Walker is suspended for three games (including the pre-season exhibition against Barry) for a violation of team rules, and freshman Brandone Francis is out for the year due to an academic problem. All of this on a team that only has one returning starter from last year, and three transfer players on scholarship in Alex Murphy, Jon Horford, and John Egbunu.
Egbunu transferred from USF this off-season after the firing of head coach Stan Heath. Donovan said that Florida would ask the NCAA to grant Egbunu immediate eligibility for this season (there have been some cases where this happened for players who had their coach/recruiter fired), but regardless of the NCAA’s decision, Donovan said he’s very happy to have Egbunu in the program.
“John is gonna be a very, very good player. That’s a guy that whether or not he plays this year, he’s 6 foot 10, 250 pounds. He’s a big strong physical presence at the basket, he’s a great kid and I think he will help us in practice even if he doesn’t play.”
Egbunu is just one of seven new faces on the Gator roster, with four new freshmen (including the ineligible Francis and the walk-on Zach Hodskins) and the three transfers. This new mix of talent can do some different things offensively than past Gator teams.
“The one thing that’s better with this year’s team than a year ago is that we may have more shooting than we had the previous year, and we might be better passing the basketball than we were a year ago. But we don’t have that defensive nastiness that we had a year ago, and we’re gonna have to work hard to develop it,” said Donovan.
Last year’s Gator team made it to the Final Four, but also sported four seniors in the starting lineup. The only returning starter is guard Michael Frazier II, who will now be a focus for opposing teams.[Frazier] has been a guy that’s been in the background a lot, and was able to do the things he does well, and that’s shoot the basketball. But this year’s gonna be different for him. I think he has worked hard in understanding that, he understands what he’s up against this year. It’s different when you take the floor and you’re the fourth or fifth guy on the scouting report, and then possibly moving to the number one guy on the scouting report,” Donovan said.
But while Frazier is the only returning starter, a variety of role players return for the Gators this year as well, now in the spotlight of the starting role. Point guard Kasey Hill and forward Chris Walker enter their sophomore seasons seeing their role change from support off the bench to key pieces of the puzzle for Donovan, trying to fill the shoes of seniors who led last year’s team to the Final Four. But Hill does not feel any pressure.
“I don’t feel any pressure at all. Scottie is a great player but he’s his own self and I’m my own self. I’m just worried about this year’s team.”
“We’re a close team. Last year doesn’t really matter, that’s in the past, we’re just focused on right now and getting closer and becoming a better team,” Hill added.
One other returning player is junior DeVon Walker, who will miss this season with a torn ACL. But Donovan noted that Walker may be able to return to practice in January.
Florida opens up its schedule with an exhibition against Barry University on November 6th.
For audio from the Gators’ media day, check out the links below.