Freshman notebook: Ready to contribute

It's still undecided how much the four-man freshman class for the Gators will see the floor for Florida this season, but there's plenty of excitement as they go through their first college practice this weekend. It's an ideal situation for the Florida coaches with a veteran team that doesn't need much production from the newcomers.

Billy Donovan still isn't sure how much he'll get from the freshmen—Michael Frazier, Dillon Graham, Braxton Ogbueze and DeVon Walker. He hasn't seen much of them because he has spent a majority of time recruiting since the coaches were allowed to be on the road as of September 9. That schedule won't keep up with practices starting this weekend, but it did keep Donovan from getting a good feel for the freshmen going into the weekend.

"I would say this, our guys are working very hard," Donovan said. "Their attitude is very good. I think we've made some significant progress in the weight room. I usually find out a lot more once we start getting to practice, and it's an every day deal that we're going through. From the weight room to their attitude on the court, it's all been good.

"I think the freshmen have brought a competitiveness. They've worked very hard. One of the things you always worry about as a coach when freshmen come here is can they handle the workload in the weight room, on the court, conditioning, class, study hall, tutoring and all that stuff. Our guys have really done a pretty good job of handling all that so far."

DEVON WALKER RECRUITMENT: Walker grew up wanting to come to Florida, but it wasn't always the case. He felt like the Gators wanted him early in the process before the interest died and he committed to UCF. Walker decommitted from UCF when Alabama and Florida started to pick up the interest.

One month before he wanted to make his final decision, the Gators got back in the race. Once that happened, there wasn't much doubt where he would sign.

"It was a long road," Walker said with a smile. "I went through UCF, Alabama and a lot of those schools. In the end, I ended up coming here. I always had a want to come here."

Part of the wait was good for Walker. He was looking at team rosters across the country, and that included keeping an eye on what decision Florida guard/forward Brad Beal would make. Once Beal elected to go to the NBA, Walker's mind was made up.

"I wanted to make sure I didn't go into a situation where I was in a jam and didn't have a chance at all," he said. "I waited on that."

OBGUEZE READY TO PLAY: Ogbueze kept an eye on depth charts, too. He knew that senior point guard Erving Walker would be gone during his freshman season, and he would be able to get on the court early.

However, he also fell in love with Gainesville on his trip.

"The main thing for me was that I looked at the school, Coach Donovan and the coaching staff," Ogbueze said. "It seemed like a great opportunity to learn. That's what I'm about. Since I've been here, I've been getting great teaching."

Ogbueze, who credited his work ethic and pull-up jumper as strengths, said he and junior Scottie Wilbekin have competed hard in pickup games. Wilbekin is expected to win the starting point guard job, but the freshman continues to learn.

"We're both getting better," Ogbueze said. "That's all we can do is push each other and stay focused on the main goal. Every time you come in the gym, you know you're going to get better (against Wilbekin). He's going to push you and make you work hard. Nothing is going to be easy."

FRAZIER LEARNING FROM BEAL: Frazier has watched tape of the small forward position that Beal played last season and thinks he can fill the role if needed. Frazier's reputation as a shooter follows him to Gainesville, but he's also a big-bodied player that can play in the paint.

"It helped me a lot," Frazier said of watching Beal. "Just seeing that he can fit in with the style of play and be a smaller three."

Also like Beal, Frazier's favorite player and the player he's most often compared to is Ray Allen. Frazier was the earliest commitment in this recruiting class, and a big reason in that was the certainty he had about playing for Florida.

"I've always wanted to come here, ever since I was little," he said. "It's always been my dream school. Even if I didn't play basketball, I was still going to come here. I just felt honored that Coach Donovan offered me a scholarship."

GRAHAM BUILDING A BOND: The four freshmen have been leaning on each other in recent months since getting to Gainesville. They're all in a similar situation away from home, and Graham said it has been a good learning experience.

"I've grown to know these guys in the last two, three months real well," Graham said. "They're a great bunch of guys, hard-working, and they're hungry to get better and play a lot."

It's a close group of freshmen that understand the opportunity given to them. The three instate signees—Frazier, Graham and Walker—all grew up wanting to play at Florida and are happy about the opportunity.

"This is definitely a dream come true for me," Graham said. "It's my dream school and it's just a blessing. I'm excited to be here, excited to work hard, and see what the future holds.

"You all have no idea how excited I am. This is awesome. Truly awesome."

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