Rosario accountable, scoring for Florida

From the moment Mike Rosario stepped on campus in Gainesville after transferring from Rutgers, Florida head coach Billy Donovan has been on him. He has spoken publicly about Rosario's inability to be trustworthy and responsible on and off the court, while questioning his ability to push through injuries. Donovan's coaching style has shown signs of paying off with Rosario in the last three games.

"For him, it has been more about not bending. It's setting a certain standard of what we're going to have here and not bending on that," Billy Donovan said. "He has really conformed and worked, and it showed in his play. He's much more disciplined and much more responsible. He's much more accountable.

"I feel like I know what I'm getting from him."

At any point last year, those words never crossed Donovan's mind. Mike Rosario didn't earn anything that would have made him feel that way. He missed ten practices last season with a hip pointer, prompting Donovan to joke that his daughter "could work through that" and get back on the practice court.

The small injuries never seemed to be a problem when it was game time. Rosario would complain about the injuries on days during practice but expect Donovan to put him on the floor during games. He soon learned that wouldn't be the case.

"Getting him to see his individual talent and then getting him responsible and holding him accountable has enabled him not to make excuses," Donovan said.

Now in his fifth year of college basketball, the senior is finally starting to see what Donovan wants out of him. He scored 20 points, the most in his career at Florida since transferring from Rutgers, on Wednesday night against Southeastern Louisiana, chipping in with six rebounds and four assists.

It wasn't much of a surprise, either.

Rosario has been playing well in recent weeks. In Florida's last three games — at Florida State, at Arizona and home against Southeastern Louisiana — Rosario is averaging 16.6 points, shooting 61.3% (19-31) from the field and 57.1% (8-14) from behind the three-point line.

"I'm just using what I know I do best," Mike Rosario said. "I can score the ball. I've been proving that and being aggressive on offense. It's creating offense for me. I've been trying my best to knock down my open shots, and I've been knocking them down."

The more consistent Rosario has become off the court and in practice, the better Donovan feels about putting the ball in his hands on the floor.

"The most difficult thing to deal with as a coach is when you have a talented player but don't know who's showing up or what you're going to get day-to-day," Donovan said. "That's who he was a year ago. To his credit, he has put it together and become more responsible and reliable."

It's a rare situation for Donovan to be in. He pointed to Teddy Dupay and Jason Williams as players he coached in somewhat of a similar manner, but it's hard to find an exact situation like his handling with Rosario.

The talent has never been a question. Rosario was a McDonald's All-American out of high school and could've named any school in the country that he wanted to attend for college. Instead, he chose Rutgers. It was about staying home and trying to bring his hometown team to a level it had never experienced before.

But it didn't work.

Rosario grew tired of the losing and exhausted from trying to carry the weight and burden of making Rosario the powerhouse he envisioned when he signed out of high school. When he got to Gainesville, Donovan didn't care about the reputation. He cared about the type of person and player that Rosario was when he first got to Gainesville.

"When you have a McDonalds All-American that, coming out of high school, could go anywhere in the country, he goes to Rutgers and then transfers here," Donovan said. "The perception is that he scored 1,000 points in two years and averaged 18 a game, so why isn't he playing? I just try to give it straight. This is what it is. This is why he isn't playing and it has been a problem.

"As much as I was open and honest about those things, I'm just as honest that he's putting some really good things together. The biggest thing for Mike is he's practiced every day. He hasn't missed one practice. He has come ready."

The type of player Rosario is won't change. He'll take some crazy shots. He'll launch some off-balance passes into the stands. But he'll also create some eye-popping shots near the basket and pass the ball with the best players on the team. It's always interesting, and there is never a boring moment with Rosario on the court.

The challenge he presented Donovan was one of the most interesting moments of his coaching career. He's a unique player to deal with, on and off the court, and Donovan finally feels like he is breaking through and Rosario is producing to his capabilities.

"I've had a bunch of McDonald's All-Americans," Donovan said. "That doesn't really mean anything to me. That's great you scored all these points in the Big East, but what have you done? What have you won? For the first time for Mike, there were times when he didn't want to work. He wanted it to be a little easier. But he has responded very well.

"He's playing in an area where I kind of feel like I know what I'm getting from him, which is what I always wanted."

The way Donovan has handled coaching Rosario is something the senior understands. He has been the first to admit that he lacked accountability last season, and the coaches have found the buttons that work.

"Coach Billy keeps the heat on me every day," Rosario said. "I'm a fifth-year player. I'm experienced. I've been through he Big East and a lot of challenges in my life. Coach Billy challenges me every day. I look forward to it because this is my last go-around. I feel like my teammates need me to bring that consistency every day."

His teammates are seeing the difference, too.

When Rosario was healthy and performing in practice, there were times in recent years when even his teammates wondered why it wasn't translating to the court. During the 2010-11 season, Rosario was forced to sit out but still went through practice with the team. The reports were impressive. Rosario dominated some practices and expectations for his career started to grow.

Now that he has become more consistent, his teammates feel the trust with him.

"He's more confident this year," point guard Scottie Wilbekin said. "It helps to be out there more. We all knew he could do that. He has been doing it in practice for two years. It's translating into the game. It makes us a lot better. When he can create shots like that off the dribble when the clock's winding down, it really helps our team out a lot."


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