Rosario consistent, living up to expectations

When last season came to an end, Florida head coach Billy Donovan sat down with Mike Rosario to decide the future. It wasn't secure that Rosario would be back in Gainesville. After disappointing in 2011-12, Rosario had to become more dedicated to the program or find another place to play. Donovan left the decision up to his guard. Now the team's second leading scorer, Rosario has changed his game.

"He really got to a crossroads at the end of last year where, in my opinion, am I going to do what's being asked of me or do I want to move on and do something else," Billy Donovan said of the questions Rosario was asking himself. "The ball was put in his court. It was pretty clear. You need to practice every day. You need to play the right way. You need to take care of your responsibilities off the court. If you can't do those three things, you're not going to play, but it's in your court.

"If you do those things, then with your ability, your talent will get a chance to help our team and you're be in position to play as much as you want to play."

Donovan didn't want to have a conversation to make Rosario feel good about want to return to Gainesville the same player. He demanded change. If that change didn't happen, Rosario could play with his same lack of defensive effort and bad practice habits at another program.

Rosario missed 25 practices and five games last season. Some of the reasons were legitimate. There were injuries that kept him from practicing that needed rest. Other times, it was Rosario who made the call that his nagging injuries were too much to push through. In their four-year careers, Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton only missed one practice a piece.

While they were on the floor going through lengthy practices, Rosario was watching. He was waiting for his smaller injuries to heal, and then when game time rolled around, he couldn't understand why he wasn't on the floor.

Donovan was quick to answer. His consistency on and off the floor wasn't there.

"How he needed to play and the expectations that were on him, I had to lay out very clearly," Donovan said. "I think one of the disconnects of the year he got eligible to play. I'm just going to rely on talent and go out there and score. I can miss some practice, not practice and you've got other guys out there."

Rosario spent the offseason playing with the Puerto Rican national team around professionals like Carlos Arroyo and J.J. Barea. It changed his outlook on the game and his habits on the practice court. He got to see how successful professionals worked.

The conversation with Donovan had already sold Rosario on his new work ethic. Once practices began, he wanted to showcase a new player.

"I understood where (Donovan) was coming from," Mike Rosario said. "I knew last year I didn't really bring nothing to the team. That's what really bothered me because I'm a competitive guy, I love to compete, I love for my teammates to reach out for me. And I felt like last year I didn't play my role and do my job how the coach would explain to them."

This year has been different. Rosario isn't just contributing — he's dominating. He's shooting well from the floor, averaging 12.5 points per game. That's not where the change is most noticeable.

He's a different player on the defensive end of the floor.

The Gators have built this year's team around defense. There are experienced players all over the court that know what Donovan's teams want to do. They understand the press and have tormented teams with it so far this year while running out to a 14-2 record and 4-0 start to SEC play.

There are talented individual defenders on the team. Scottie Wilbekin and Kenny Boynton are good defenders on the perimeter and Patric Young is a strong, talented body in the paint. But no one expected to see Rosario's name involved in those playing good defense. He has never been a positive for a team's defense in his college career.

That was a prerequisite of buying into what the Gators are doing on the floor. He had to defend and bring energy when his team didn't have the ball. And he's holding his own so far this year.

"It's been incredible for me to just have that mindset on just locking in on the defensive end, and I feel like I feed off that positive energy from Casey, Kenny, Pat, Will and Scottie," Rosario said. "Those are our best defenders. I'm the next guy that they need to buy in on the defensive end, and I feel like I've been taking on that challenge and I'm embracing it."

Embracing the challenge and continuing to embrace it are two different things. Through 16 games this season, Rosario has responded exactly how Donovan wanted him to. He's taking good shots, playing good defense and creating offense for his teammates. The challenge now becomes continuing to do that.

He hasn't shown that ability yet in college. Rosario was mostly a scorer during his time at Rutgers, and with the Florida team being built around a strong defense, Donovan is pressuring him to keep up a high level of intensity.

""I'm not so sure Mike's ever done this for an entire year in college, so we've obviously got a long way to go," Donovan said.

The turnaround hasn't been hard to notice on the practice floor, in the locker room and the weight room. His teammates have seen a different player, and it's translated to the court during games.

"His mental focus," Murphy said. "He comes in every day and works. He's been great coming in working every day. He's been in the weight room a little extra, just trying to get his body right. He's in there taking care of his body every day. His mental focus is pretty much him wanting to do everything he can to be the best he can."

The results are matching the effort for Rosario. That's a big part of why the season has been so enjoyable for the redshirt senior, but he's mostly excited about how the team is doing. The Gators head into this week ranked No. 8 in the country and have a 14-2 record while serving as the favorite to with the Southeastern Conference.

That's why Rosario left Rutgers after two years. He wanted to be a part of a winning program. In his final year, he's having the season that he transferred to Florida to be a part of.

"Me personally, I'm having so much fun," Rosario said. "Like words can't even explain how hard we work as a team. We go out there every day and just leave it on the line. We sacrifice for one another. That's one thing I like about this team."


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