Rosario earns spot in starting lineup

Mike Rosario has been waiting for his chance. It won't count officially in his career statistics, but Thursday's exhibition game against Nebraska-Kearney will be his first step in the right direction. After not starting a game in his Florida career, head coach Billy Donovan will give Rosario that chance on Thursday. It's an honor Rosario has earned by his improved play during preseason practices.

"This has been the opportunity and the challenge that I've been waiting for," Mike Rosario said. "I'm really excited."

It might not seem like much to outsiders, but the honor is one that Rosario takes seriously. After playing as a redshirt junior last season, the guard averaged just 14.4 minutes per game and just 6.6 points. It wasn't the dazzling debut of a season he expected after transferring from Rutgers.

Last season was laced with inconsistency for Rosario.

There were multiple injuries and an inability to handle himself off the court. He wasn't as dedicated as Donovan wanted him to be, as the head coach even said that Rosario missed ten practices with a hip pointer, and that "my daughter could work through that."

Rosario let the comments roll off his back, but they also served the purpose Donovan wanted.

"I guess that's his motivation towards me to get me going," said Rosario with a laugh, adding that it pushed him to work harder.

Rosario spent the offseason playing with the Puerto Rican national team, where he sat behind NBA players Carlos Arroyo and JJ Barea. It gave Rosario a chance to learn about what it takes to be successful in the NBA.

It also helped him mature. Rosario has been a different person in the basketball facility since returning after that experience.

"From a consistent standpoint of him coming in every day, I feel like we're not all over the place," Donovan said. "He's come in pretty much the same guy every day and is taking care of his business. He's trying to be positive with his teammates and uplifting. He's building trust in his teammates.

"His behavior, accountability and being responsible. It has carried on through. He has a better understanding of the expectation level here on him."

Consistency was exactly what Rosario worked on in the offseason. This season is the last chance for the fifth-year senior. He has to show NBA scouts what he can do this season or could lose his lifelong goal at a chance to play at the next level.

The change is easy to see by the Florida coaching staff. Rosario is spending more time taking care of his body to prevent injuries. He's on time and taking care of his responsibilities on and off the court.

"It's about trying to be a consistent guy," Rosario said. "That's something that coach speaks about every day with all the players — coming in and having the same mindset to work every day and being a consistent player. That's in all areas — on the court and off the court. I've been doing a great job of that the last two months."

Thursday's start doesn't guarantee a spot in the lineup when the Gators open the season against Georgetown on November 9. It's a sign of progression by a player that is starting to grow up. It's a big moment for Rosario.

"I want to throw Mike out there because he has played well," Donovan said. "He earned it. I thought it would be important to keep Mike on the right path, and that would be something to encourage him to do that."

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