Gators Face Early Season Test

Billy Donovan couldn't have drawn up a better test of his team's toughness. He spent the exhibition season wanting the physical and mental toughness of his team to improve. Both will be tested Tuesday night as the Gators welcome Ohio State to the O'Connell Center.

The Buckeyes opened their season last week with a 102-61 thrashing of North Carolina A&T. Ohio State won the rebounding matchup 60-22, with 30 of their rebounds coming on the offensive glass. The competition may not have been where it will be Tuesday night, but the numbers still opened plenty of eyes in the Florida program.

"30 offensive rebounds is impressive regardless of who you're playing," Billy Donovan said. "They're a team that a year ago maybe wasn't as good of a rebounding team, but now I think they have the potential to be one of the best rebounding teams in the country."

The rebounding was led by freshman Jared Sullinger, who had 19 points and 14 rebounds in his collegiate debut. Dallas Lauderdale contributed with 13 rebounds, and three other players had at least seven.

"This is a great test and opportunity for both of us," Donovan said. "It's so early in the season. You find out more about your team. There's no question we're going against a physical frontcourt. That poses great challenges for our frontcourt to be more physical and better in those areas."

It's rare to have two top-ten teams face each other this early in the season. The Gators have made an effort in the last two years to bulk up the out of conference schedule to aid their NCAA Tournament fate.

This is one that both coaches would likely prefer to play later in their season when more aspects of the team are set in stone. However, the Gators' schedule doesn't lend that option. They play at Florida State November 28 and against Kansas State December 18.

"Part of me likes that it's this early," Donovan said. "It's the opportunity to play against a team that returns four starters and guys that won a Big Ten championship. They're seasoned veterans, and then they add the best recruiting class in the country, then Sullinger, who is arguably the best player in the country."

MACKLIN KNEE TROUBLE: Center Vernon Macklin has been limited in practice over the last week because of bone spurs in his right knee. The injury has Donovan concerned, but it shouldn't affect his status for Tuesday night's game. With the Buckeyes having an advantage on the boards, Macklin's play is even more important.

"He's been in and out of practice the last couple days," Donovan said. "He's dealing with some knee issues, but nothing that's going to prevent him from playing. Going forward, it is a concern for me. He's been battling for a week to ten days. I think it's affected him some."

LARSON LIKELY REDSHIRT: The available bodies on the frontcourt will allow Donovan to redshirt one of the freshmen. The most likely candidate at this point is Cody Larson.

"With the depth in our frontcourt, we're going to look at redshirting him," Donovan said. "There's a possibility it could happen. In talking to him, I've felt like you need to give a player an option. I think he sees that with our frontcourt being seniors, he's probably a guy who will be a very good player, but I'm not going to throw him into games because the one I play him in, the opportunity (to redshirt) is over with."

Larson has understood with Donovan's suggestion to sit out this season.

"He's fine with it," Donovan said. "If it works out with him, we're telling him that he's going to be a very good player and we're invested in him."

BRAD BEAL SIGNS: The Gators received five-star shooting guard Brad Beal's letter of intent last week. Donovan was careful with his words, not wanting to put unnecessary pressure on Beal, but there's no doubt he is a special talent.

"I've had a chance to recruit a lot of good players," Donovan said. "I think he's special. He's a special winner. Besides his talent level with the way he can shoot, there are certain guys when you look at them, they have the "it" factor. He is in that mold."

While Beal may be the best high school shooter in the country, it's the intangibles that make him rank so high in Donovan's mind.

"He has an incredible ability of understanding how to win," Donovan said. "The one thing he'll be able to do is stretch defenses because he is probably as good of a shooter as I've signed coming in here as a freshman."

Signing Beal out of St. Louis was made easier by a previous signing Donovan made. When David Lee inked with the Gators out of Chaminade College Prep School, it put the Florida name out in the area. It's the way Donovan and his staff work. They go back to areas where they have had success recruiting because of the comfort level the city already has with the Florida program.

"The same thing can be said about David Lee," Donovan said. "Brad is from the same high school, same coach and same AAU program. There's an understanding of the things we do here and the relationship is built.

"Because David has done so well at Florida and then being a first round pick, and then doing what he did contractually a few months ago, all those things are positive influences in the area. It's an area that, because David did so well, we'll keep going back there. If Brad has the career we think he's going to have, we'll continue going back there."
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