Hill steals the show

With his normal shy grin, freshman point guard Kasey Hill walked off the court under the arm of assistant coach John Pelphrey. Multiple players came up to congratulate him, but Hill didn't break stride to celebrate. He kept his head down to the ground, still flashing a reluctant smile after his standout night while running the Florida offense in a 110-88 win over Florida Southern.

Part of it is who Kasey Hill is. Since the minute he stepped foot on campus in Gainesville, Billy Donovan has raved about the freshman's desire to be coached. He's quiet, soaks up the coaching and puts it into use on the court without saying much.

But even he had to crack a smile while leaving the floor of the O'Connell Center on Friday night -- even if he was trying to keep anyone from noticing it. No one was able to miss how well he ran the Florida offense and made an impact on his first game at Florida.

"He's fast -- we knew that. I'm glad everyone got to see it now," said Florida forward Will Yeguete, who pulled down nine rebounds in 18 minutes. "He's fast and can finish, especially in transition. He makes plays. He's going to be a really good player this year."

There were only a few times that Hill didn't look like he was living up to his five-star billing. He had three turnovers on errant passes, but after staying quiet and staying off the scoreboard for the first eight minutes, the remainder of the first half served as the Kasey Hill show.

In the open floor, he was deadly. When attacking the basket, the defense didn't have much hope. Even against a smaller, athletic Division II team like Florida Southern, there was no one on the floor that could keep up with Hill in transition.

"He showed some real great glimpses in transition, open floor passes," Donovan said. "His explosiveness in the open floor showed out when he got a head of steam."

The Gators forced a steal late in the first half, and the ball was immediately put into Hill's hands. With one man between him and the basket, Hill went left at the top of the key before stopping on a dime and crossing over behind his back and to his right, leaving the defender trying to regain his balance as Hill elevated to the rim for an easy layup.

His skills in transition aren't like a normal freshman. He hangs in the air when going to the rim, buying time to find the perfect angle to put the ball off the glass.

Friday night wasn't much different than what he has done in the past -- or at least that's what he says. Playing at Montverde Academy put him against stiff competition and in front of big crowds. Friday night in the O'Connell Center was no different than what he has seen in the past, and that's what kept the nerves away.

"The coaches told me I was going to be thrown into the fire, so you can't show emotions," Hill said. "You can't show that you're nervous."

His teammates saw the same thing in the locker room before the game. Hill's demeanor was no different than it was in practice -- calm and relaxed, ready to start his career.

"Did you see how he played? No way," Yeguete said when asked about Hill's nerves. "It felt like he had been playing for years with us."

For most freshmen, Friday would've been the first step in easing them into the mix to help the team. That's not an option for Hill. With Scottie Wilbekin set to serve an indefinite suspension to start the season, the former five-star freshman will start at point guard and carry the load of the offense at the position Donovan puts the most pressure on.

Without Wilbekin, who wasn't even in the building on Friday, Donovan wants to make sure he manages Hill's minutes. He was noticeably fatigued at times on Friday while playing 26 minutes. Donovan said he'll have to learn quickly how to read Hill's body language when he gets tired.

But when he gets in the open floor, stamina doesn't matter much. Hill has an extra gear that no one else on the floor had on Friday. He anticipates the court, throwing two alley oops to center Patric Young that were in the perfect place. He may be a freshman about to start his Florida career next Friday against North Florida at 3 p.m., but Hill showed in the exhibition win that he's ready to carry the Florida offense.

"He can get it and go," Casey Prather said. "He's so fast with the ball. He beat me down the court when I'm running beside him. It's fun to see what he can do."

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