Replacing a star

The Gators didn’t need much from Kasey Hill last season. He came off the bench to relieve SEC Player of the Year Scottie Wilbekin, and the two played together in the backcourt some, but Hill was mostly just a reserve for Florida last season.

The challenge this season is to be become a more consistent player capable of handling the offense the way Billy Donovan expects his point guard to. When Hill has an off night, there’s no alternative capable of putting up numbers like Wilbekin did last year.

The pressure isn’t as much about Hill’s play as it is his leadership. Wilbekin grew into a trusted leader. Even though he wasn’t vocal, he ran the offense and created opportunities for teammates. The sophomore has to become that this season.

“Definitely be more vocal,” Kasey Hill said of his goals. “Definitely working on my mid-range jump shot and just becoming a more vocal person, somebody they can depend on.”

There are no questions about what Hill can do with the basketball. He’s fun to watch in the open floor with his elite speed and moves to get past defenders. He’s a nightmare in transition and is crafty around the basket to still be able to get to the rim despite being 6-1.

He sees the floor well and can create opportunities for teammates in transition.

“One of the things with Kasey is he's really obviously explosive in the open court; he's great when he gets in the lane,” Donovan said. “I think the biggest thing for him is he needs to be more of a physical point guard – especially on the defensive end of the floor – than he's been. Last year he had some really, really incredible bright spots and then I thought he had some spots where he learned a great deal.”

There should be more opportunities for the Gators to run this year. It’s an athletic roster with depth, once players get healthy, come off suspensions or are cleared after sitting out because of transfer rules.

“We have a lot of guys who run and stretch the floor,” Hill said. ‘That will be a little different.”

The defensive end is where he needs to improve. Wilbekin was a lockdown defender for the Gators in recent years. Florida knew who would be covering the opponent’s leading scorer on the perimeter, and more often than not, Wilbekin took that scorer out of the game.

Hill isn’t there right now. He isn’t the physical defender that Wilbekin is, but with his quickness, Donovan thinks he can get to the point where he’s a good defender.

“The biggest challenge that I see in Kasey is, what kind of jump can he make defensively? That's going to be really, really important,” Donovan said. “He is a great kid. I love coaching him. He's coachable. He wants the truth. I think a lot of players sometimes don't like hearing the truth. I think he does. I think that's what gives him a chance to grow and get better.”

Hill ended the season 5-35 from behind the three-point line, and opponents gave him more space on the perimeter as the season continued. The scouting report started to circulate that Hill wasn’t a threat from behind the three-point line.

It was a focus for Hill this offseason, but Donovan thinks there are bigger issues on the defensive end that need to be Hill’s priority first.

“I'm really not that worried about his shooting,” Donovan said. “I think he needs to take good shots. I think he's gotten better as a shooter, but he needs to play to his strengths and we need to try to help him do that.

“From an offensive standpoint, because our team is a little bit different, we're going to have to do some different things, offensively, for him and other guys than maybe we had to do the last couple years.”

Hill doesn’t ever expect to be a shoot-first point guard. He’s too talented in other areas to focus exclusively on scoring, but when the open shots present themselves this season, he’s more confident in his ability to hit them.

“If I have an open shot, I’m going to take it,” Hill said. I’m just worried about helping my team, getting my teammates involved and listening to coach.”

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