Donovan open to transfers that fit

The Gators have supplemented their high school recruiting with transfers in recent years. It was Vernon Macklin and Mike Rosario transferring in from Big East schools that started the trend, but the Gators have both Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris sitting out this season after transferring to Florida. The decision about whether or not to take a transfer is always based on the fit.

"It's got to be a good fit," Billy Donova said. "With all these guys that have transferred, there has been some tie, whether through recruiting them through high school or a coach having a relationship with the head high school coach."

Vernon Macklin got the ball rolling with Donovan accepting transfers. He wanted to leave Georgetown and started to look at Florida. Rob Lanier, a Florida assistant at the time, was previously at Virginia and knew about Macklin's situation and also spent some time recruiting him.

Donovan was familiar with Mike Rosario's situation after recruiting St. Anthony High School and having a relationship with head coach Bob Hurley.

Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris were both easy decisions for Donovan. He recruited both players out of high school and saw needs at their position during the 2013-14 season, when they would be eligible, so they were given the green light to transfer.

"I think it has worked out well for both us and them," Donovan said.

The challenge is always the first year after the transfer. NCAA rules force a player to sit out their first season on campus. The coaches have learned a few ways to keep players focused on practice and not become discouraged while sitting on the bench during games.

One-on-one workouts with the players are important. Donovan and assistants spend individual time with the transfers to improve their game, but also make them feel a bigger part of the team.

"You try to talk to them to understand the importance of trying to get better every day," Donovan said. "Even though they're not involved with the scouting, they should put themselves in a position where if they were playing and understanding those kind of things. We try to talk to those guys a lot. There's a lot more individual time spent with them because you're dealing with a long season and a lot of games."

No matter what the coaches and teammates do, it's always hard for the player to sit out and watch. They put in effort on the court in practice and can't see the results of their improvement on the court during a game.

Finney-Smith said Rosario took him aside soon after getting to Gainesville and talked to him about the importance of continuing to work hard. Even though the players don't get to play, they can continue to bring energy to practice and the bench during games.

"It's hard because practice every day is difficult and challenging," Donovan said. "Our guys look forward to the opportunity to put the uniform on and go out there competing and playing. When you're sitting out, there's a level of maturity you have to have to understand this is an opportunity to get better and improve.

"You get to the point where you've got the excitement with the start of practice and have the new system you're learning. There are a lot of news. By the time you start playing games and get into league play, you can kind of hit the wall there where you feel like you're not even included because there's so much preparation playing twice a week."

DECISION MAKING LACKS FOR PRATHER: Junior small forward Casey Prather got hot in the NCAA Tournament for Florida last season and was a big boost off the bench. With Brad Beal now playing for the Washington Wizards, there's an open starting position available for Prather.

But the same problems still exist.

Stories of Prather's practice dominance have been circulating since he stepped on campus. He can shoot from the outside or dunk over any player on the team. His athleticism also makes him an elite defender.

He just has to be smarter.

"The biggest challenge with him is just his assist-to-turnover ratio," Donovan said. "Even still in the first four or five practices, it's still an issue. It's still a problem. He's got to limit those things right now. That's an area that looking from last year to this year, it has not improved. That's a problem."

When there's an open player or an obvious passing situation, Prather doesn't have problems delivering the ball where it needs to go. The issues arise when he has to make a split-second decision. When there isn't time to think about where to go with the ball, he can stumble and make a mistake.

"It's not that he's not passing the ball well, as much as his decision making," Donovan said. "He's got to make better decisions when the ball is in his hands—when to drive, when to make the extra pass."

He's still an important part of this year's team. Donovan pointed to his size at the small forward position and his perimeter quickness as a power forward. The Gators will use him at both spots this season. How much he plays will be determined by how much more he takes care of the ball.

Rebounding also plays a part in it. It's an area Beal excelled at while playing the small forward spot, and Prather could, too, with his size. Replacing Beal's scoring isn't a major concern to Donovan. It's about the lost rebounds from his position.

"Casey can rebound like that," Donovan said. "Beal was just so secure with the ball and could make plays and had a great IQ of passing the ball. Casey has to be able to do that."

The rebounding challenge comes when the Gators are in a three-guard lineup of Kenny Boynton, Rosario and Scottie Wilbekin. Donovan mentioned that the coaches could send Wilbekin to the glass while Boynton and Rosario focus on getting back to the defensive end.


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