Freshmen Adjusting in Practice

The Gators aren't even a week into the practice schedule, but head coach Billy Donovan has seen progress from the two newcomers. Guard Brad Beal and forward Walter Pitchford are going through the normal ups and downs that freshmen have. The rigors of a college practice haven't stopped them. As they begin the find their roles on the team, Donovan expects to see them improve.

The first days of practice can overwhelm any first-year player. Billy Donovan and his staff have been focused on installation. Every player on the team besides Beal and Pitchford practiced with the Gators last year, so naturally they had an easy time picking up the plays.

Donovan said Florida has focused on putting in out of bounds play, zone defenses, zone offenses and two different press defenses. The older players are familiar with them, but the newcomers are forced to cram on the fly.

The transition has been simple for Brad Beal. The Gatorade National Player of the Year isn't just talented on the court. Donovan has praised his knowledge of the game and intelligence on and off the court.

"Brad has been able to pick up everything very, very well," Donovan said. "Brad is probably more advanced than most freshman I've been around and that has come through here that I've coached in terms of his basketball intelligence, his IQ, his understanding and how quickly he grasps things. It's pretty impressive to me so far. We're three or four days into this and he can pick up a lot of the stuff."

It didn't take long for Donovan to figure out why that is. The Florida coaching staff usually encourages the incoming players to watch film in the summer and early fall sessions, before the team can practice together. That eases the transition to the college game, despite the fact that the freshmen don't always do it.

Beal didn't take the film study lightly. He submerged himself in Florida's game film from last year.

"He was trying to study some things and trying to get a head start because he knew coming he would be coming in with some older guys that would know what was going on," Donovan said. "I think Brad probably did some of that on his own, which helped him."

In order to be a consistent freshman on a team Donovan coaches, he looks for three key things. He wants a player to have no fear to be physical and sacrifice his body on plays, be highly competitive and have a high basketball IQ. From what Beal has shown in practice so far, Donovan has seen all three of those things.

"He's willing to put his body in plays physically," Donovan said. "He has a cerebral understanding of what we're doing, and I think he's highly competitive. My feeling of watching him the first four days here is no question in my mind he's gong to be able to contribute and help our team."

Pitchford's progress has been encouraging, even if it isn't as quick as Beal has picked up things. The bar was set so high by Beal, who Donovan has said is the most mature freshman he has ever coached, that it would be unfair to hold Pitchford to the same expectations.

"I think Walter is still learning and growing," Donovan said. "I think things have come pretty quickly. I don't think Walter is any different than a lot of freshman that come in, in terms of trying to figure out how hard they've got to play.

NO CHEMISTRY ISSUES AT GUARD: It's still early for Florida, but Donovan likes the way his guards are handling the depth charts. The return of Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker paired with adding Beal and Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario creates a crowded backcourt.

Add in Scottie Wilbekin and Casey Prather, the number are staggering. It's depth that the Gators haven't had in recent years.

The perception might be that chemistry issues are bound to happen, but Donovan thinks his guards have used that expectation to mesh.

"I think maybe one of the things that has happened is because there's been so much talk about it, they've gone the other way in trying to even prove how unselfish they are," Donovan said. "I'm noticing in practice that's been encouraging to me is we've got guys right now that are passing up shots that they normally would take to make an extra pass."

Donovan pointed to the stats to back up what he has seen. Cody Larson and Casey Prather are the only two players that have taken less shots than Walker. Donovan challenged Walker to lead the SEC in assists because of all the talent around him, and the early indications have Walker changing his style.

"I think that he really has tried to grasp and understand who he's playing with on the floor," Donovan said. "His assist to turnover ratio in practice has been very good, I think he has an idea and an understanding of the challenges in front of him. I feel like he's really trying to do that."

The Gators have also used different lineups so far. Donovan has used separate three-guard lineups, one that featured Walker, Boynton and Beal and another that used Walker, Rosario and Beal.

Donovan acknowledged that it's the start of practice and unselfishness is expected from players who are trying to make a positive impression with the coaching staff, but it will be expected to continue.

"I feel like the one thing we're doing well right now is they are moving and passing the ball, and they're sharing the ball and it's not getting stopped," Donovan said. "When you start playing games and you start playing sometimes that's tough, but I think that they really feel like they've got to do that to make each other better. And that's been very, very pleasing to me to see that so far, that unselfishness."

YOUNG EXPECTED TO MATURE: After Patric Young brought energy off the bench last year, he will be expected to have a bigger role this season. He will start at center for a guard-heavy team, making his production even more important so defenses have to respect him with the ball in his hands.

Young's emotion off the bench last season gave the Gators a spark, but the coaches are trying to get him to be smart about it this season. Donovan said Young was "a little bit emotional" and "pouty a little bit" during the team's first workout, but they're happy with how his game has matured.

"The biggest thing I feel with Patric and these guys is that I feel like our team right now is locked in on what we have to do, and I feel like it's not a group that's focused on me," Donovan said. "I think that it's a group that's focused on what do I have to do to help the team."

In order to help Young keep his emotions under control, the Florida coaches have done a few things. When Young is fouled in practice, they won't always call it, knowing that the foul won't get called every time during a game. To drive the message home, Donovan showed Young some moments from last season when his emotions got the best of him.

"I was in disbelief," Young said. "It wasn't pretty."

The Florida center knows it's something he'll have to get used to this season.

"It's all a part of maturity," Young said. "When you linger on a play that affected you five minutes ago and you still are letting it affect you, then it's affected that five minute period of your game where it could have made some huge impact, you could have made some huge impact in the game. You just have to live in the right now and forget about the past and go onto the next moment how you can help your team."


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