Transfers Aid Future of Florida Big Men

Billy Donovan hasn't struggled at much during his time at Florida, but the recruitment of frontcourt players hasn't been as strong in recent years. To counteract that, the Gators hit the market for transfer players this offseason. It's not that Donovan reinvented the wheel in building a program, but the two transfers Florida added this summer have the future of the program looking bright.

The lack of big men attending Florida out of high school has changed the way Donovan has built his program. His track record of development with NBA big men such as Joakim Noah, Udonis Haslem and David Lee to name a few show how far some players have come in their times under Donovan at Florida.

The Gators return all of their big men for the 2012-13 season. Patric Young was the biggest question mark because of his NBA Draft stock, but he elected to return for his junior year and his second as the team's starting center.

Florida returns senior Erik Murphy, junior Will Yeguete, junior Casey Prather and redshirt sophomore Cody Larson. The Gators also signed 6-6 guard/forward DeVon Walker, but he is unproven at the college level. The five returners provide more than enough depth for the Gators to make another deep NCAA Tournament run this season.

It's what could happen after the 2012-13 season that was raising questions.

Young is capable of putting together an All-SEC or even All-American caliber season as a junior, which would mean he could head to the NBA at the conclusion of the year. Murphy will graduate and is the only definite to be gone after this season.

If Murphy and Young are gone, it gets thin on the frontcourt for the 2013-14 season.

Larson, Prather and Yeguete would be the only returners. Prather is a better fit playing on the wing, and Larson hasn't proved enough yet in his career to show that he's capable of handling big minutes in the paint. Yeguete is undersized and depends on his instincts and knack for the ball to be in position. Walker has the potential to grow and improve, but he won't be able to bang in the paint.

That's why the transfers were so important.

Damontre Harris gives Florida a dominant post defender. Whether Young elects to go to the NBA after his junior year or not, Harris will see plenty of time on the floor when he is eligible in 2013-14. He came out of high school as the 12th ranked center in the country. His game has developed and improved on the defensive end—named to the SEC All-Defensive Team in 2011-12— but he doesn't contribute much on the offensive end.

Harris averaged 6.8 points and 5.5 rebounds last year at South Carolina. He did shoot 55% from the field last season. Harris' specialty is shot blocking, where he swatted 71 shots in 31 games last season.

The long term potential of Harris gives Florida a better idea of its future roster, but there are also immediate benefits. He'll be forced to sit out during the 2012-13 season because of NCAAA transfer rules but that won't limit him from the practice court.

For the first time since he stepped on campus, there will be a dominant defender for Young to face every day on the practice floor. He faced mature players like Vernon Macklin as a freshman, but last year's team was thin on the front line.

Now, Young's potential will be tested every time he steps on the floor at the Florida basketball practice facility as he faces Harris.

Dorian Finney-Smith is a familiar name to Florida fans because of Donovan's interest when the former Virginia Tech forward was in high school. Finney-Smith was a talented player out of high school, but the athleticism that made him a dominant high school player didn't immediately translate to college.

The NCAA transfer rules will force him to sit out the 2012-13 season, but it will force him to spend more time in the weight room getting stronger and on the practice court perfecting his game.

His 6-8 frame has helped Finney-Smith have the potential to be a versatile player. He was fifth in scoring on a Virginia Tech team that didn't make the NCAA Tournament, but Donovan accepted his transfer for more reasons than that. Finney-Smith, who was the highest ranked basketball recruit to ever sign with Virginia Tech, has the potential to be a dominant small forward.

Even if Young does elect to go pro after the 2012-13 season, the frontcourt will still have plenty of bodies and potential. Donovan and his assistants have shown more than capable of developing big men.

The 2012-13 season will be one of development for players on the court, but even more so for players sitting out because of the transfer rules.

Add a player like five-star Chris Walker to a frontcourt group of Yeguete, Harris, Finney-Smith and Walker in 2013-14, and it's a group that can compliment each other well. Not a bad group for a unit that once looked to be short on bodies.


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