"It was a long time coming. I was real excited," Brad Beal said after helping the Gators to a 114-57 win over Catholic University. "Just having a sense of the whole crowd, it was something I've been dreaming of that finally came true. I was just real excited, and I had fun out there."
The nerves were still there. When Beal came out of the locker room over an hour before tip off, he took a few looks around the O'Connell Center, soaking in the environment. It may have been an exhibition game, but to him, it was the first game of his Florida career. He would finally be playing on the court that he watched on TV and visited as a high school player.
The nerves were there, but they didn't keep him from being productive.
"When we first went out, I did (feel nervous)," Beal said. "Once I started warming up, I just starting getting in the zone."
The first shot of his career actually didn't go in. It was from five-to-seven feet behind the three-point line on the right side of the lane, but it clanged out for a miss. After he got that out of the way, he got in a groove.
The freshman then used the next two possessions to hit back-to-back three-pointers and get in a rhythm he wouldn't fall out of all night.
But it wasn't just him. The Gators nailed 14 three-pointers in the first half, including a streak of eight in a row where five players hit at least one.
"When everybody does that, it's just beautiful," Beal said. "Everybody is having fun and you see us jumping around (on the bench). It's really what makes us a team. We're very unselfish and everyone gets shots."
The freshman also showed an ability to adjust. He went 4-for-7 from behind the three-point line in the first half, so he knew the defense would be stretching to cover him in the second half.
On his first touch in the second half, Beal used a pump fake from behind the three-point line to create space for him to glide through the middle of the lane and lay one off the glass.
"Coach D told us at halftime to start attacking more because they'd start closing out on the threes," Beal said. "He told us to shot fake and start going around the guys."
Beal scored his 20 points on eleven shots from the field while recording five assists and not turning the ball over once. Florida head coach Billy Donovan credited him as the most advanced freshman he had been around in his coaching career, and it wasn't hard to see Beal's advanced feel for the game.
"What you saw tonight is what I've seen since he came to campus. He has a high basketball IQ and is an efficient scorer. He does a lot of different things. He gets the team and the chemistry. When you have self-awareness and are concerned about trying to play the right way because you care about the guys on your team, that's a good thing. Brad has that."
To open the second half, Beal was noticeably aware of getting the big men involved. He threw the ball down low to the post players to give them a chance to get into rhythm.
"We needed more points in the paint," Beal said. "It was basically just going inside then back outside. We threw it in to Pat (Young) and (Erik Murphy) to let those guys get some work out."