On Saturday, the Gators added forward Jon Horford to the roster according to national reports. While we haven't gotten the official word, this is nothing new to Billy Donovan and crew. As a matter of fact, Horford would be the fifth transfer inhabiting the Gator roster for the 2014-2015 season, continuing a trend that Donovan has had since the year after the Gators last national championship in 2008.
Horford brings a needed presence in the front court where the numbers are lacking on the roster. He along with sophomore-to-be Chris Walker along with suspended junior Damontre Harris from South Carolina all stand 6-foot-10 and would provide plenty of size across the front court for the Gators next season if all are ready to play.
Horford, Harris and transfer forwards Dorian Finney-Smith from Virginia Tech and Alex Murphy (Duke) who both stand 6-foot-8, constitute most of the fire power in the front court that should be available to Donovan and company next year. In fact Walker and true freshman Devin Robinson are the only front court scholarship players that should be on the Florida roster that have come directly from the high school ranks.
While the transfers aren't a new thing to Donovan, they are becoming more and more common and he has been pretty successful with those showing up on campus. Donovan's first transfer was high flying point guard Jason Williams who followed Florida's winningest coach in history from Marshall where Donovan coached previously and Williams played.
From that point, Donovan stayed away from transfers almost exclusively, relying on terrific recruiting to get the Gators to the 2000 National Championship Game and the two National Championships in 2006 and 2007. But a flirtation with the NBA that saw Donovan commit to a new job and then back out along with the junior stars of the last national title team opting to get paid instead of playing their senior year, saw Donovan have to push for more than just the high school ranks to fill his roster.
After a few years of rosters well under the 13 scholarship limit, Donovan has finally been able to field complete units most of the last few years. Using strong high school recruiting and the newly successful route of adding transfers from other programs, Donovan has been able to.
Georgetown transfer Vernon Macklin was the first transfer to join Donovan's teams since the new Millennium. Macklin wasn't available to play until the 2009-2010 season, which coincided in the Gators first return to the NCAA tournament after two years off. Macklin started all 34 games in his first season as a Gator and was a big part of the return to the big tournament.
That year the Gators added guard transfer Mike Rosario from Rutgers, he would have to sit that year before being able to play in 2010-2011. Staring 30 games in his first two years at Rutgers, Rosario wouldn't start a game as a red-shirt junior in 2011, but played in 31 games playing an important role in another NCAA Tournament team. As a senior, he would start all of the 36 games he played in and second team All-SEC recognition operating in a three-guard lineup.
Macklin and Rosario both played big roles in the 2010-2011 season, the first of four straight runs to the Elite-8 or beyond for the Gators.
The Gators would add two more transfers in 2012-2013m both Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris would have to sit and red-shirt.
The Final-4 run this past season saw a big impact from Finney-Smith who won the SEC's 6th-man award and will play an even bigger role next season. The Gators were also helped in practice with the addition of Murphy from Duke and guard Eli Carter from Rutgers.
As much as all of the new bodies haven't worked together, Donovan and company have shown the ability to get the most out of players they have that have come from other programs.
Finney-Smith should be inserted into the starting lineup next season. Harris has to stay out of trouble, but will push to start as well. Horford will be expected to push the starters as well, and then you have Murphy who won't be sitting on the bench permitting he is able to appeal the fact he played in a few games this past season at Duke.
Eli Carter will provide instant depth in the back court as well, a place that will see an infusion of young talent, but he will provide some experience and the ability to put the ball in the hole. Carter could have played this past season, but he nursed an injury for most of the year and red-shirted.
Of course Florida has had its own attrition over time, guys that have transferred out with varying success rates. In the same time frame that started with the Macklin transfer into Florida, the Gators have seen Jonathan Mitchell, Jai Lucas, Kenny Kadji, Braxton Ogbueze, Walter Pitchford, Cody Larson, Ray Shipman, Allen Chaney, and Eloy Vargas transfer elsewhere for one reason or another. Mitchell, Lucas and Kadji were probably the most successful of that bunch.
The Gators have had three success stories after transfer in Macklin, Rosario, and Finney-Smith. The jury is still out on Harris, Carter, Murphy and now Horford. Expect most of them to do good things and a possibility of 100%.
If that is going to happen, the Gators will be in for a big year. The athleticism of this bunch is one of Donovan's best ever. The three big men in Harris, Walker, and Horford are all athletic guys with long wing spans and great quickness. Harris and Walker have a chance to be huge at-the-rim defenders and can jump out of the gym.
Finney-Smith is also quick and very long, a really good defender with moves to take the ball to the basket. Murphy can score outside and inside. Junior Michael Frazier is super long as well for a two-guard and his length can be big on the defensive end. We all know about his shooting ability.
Sophomore Kasey Hill is as fast as any guard that has played at Florida and he has full court defensive skills. Eli Carter is expected to provide instant fire power to the back court. Freshmen Chris Chiozza and Brandone Francis both add quickness while Francis adds another long body to the mix on defense whole being a dynamic shooter.
DeVon Walker and Dillon Graham are both swing guys that can shoot the ball while the Gators also add freshman Devin Robinson who has skills to play both forward positions and the length to be a big benefit on defense as well.
Five transfers out of 13 scholarships on roster right now and the Gator staff has been able to manage the roster with quality personnel at varying ages and experience levels. Four strong NCAA Tournament runs and there seems to be room for more to come. In the end, the Gator staff has been able to manipulate the roster to possibly be its most well rounded unit since the championship years. Most of the recent teams have been either backcourt or front court heavy, while this squad, if everyone is healthy and eligible, looks to be as well rounded as any in recent memory, transformed by the transfer process.