BASKETBALL: The Shyatt Effect

The breakdown was disheartening. Perhaps what was even more troubling was the lack of confidence from both the fans and analysts that knew the Gators would have their hands full against No. 12 Manhattan.

The 2003 UF men's basketball team received the label of soft after being out muscled by several teams in the Southeastern Conference. The white jerseys the Gators donned weren't made to symbolize "Marshmallow Men," but after consistent defensive lapses UF needed to improve and quick. From Mississippi State's Lawrence Roberts (21 points 14 boards) to South Carolina's Rolando Howell (22 points 10 boards), the Gators struggled underneath the glass and on the defensive side of the game.

While Coach Billy Donovan's off-season haul included the likes of Taurean Green, Joakim Noah and McDonald's All-American Corey Brewer, the short guy in the suit could have the biggest impact in 2004. Enter coaching staff acquisition Larry Shyatt. Shyatt brings to the UF program 27 years of coaching experience, with his last job featuring coaching the Clemson Tigers in 2002-2003. After resigning from his spot as head coach, he took a year off, but it wasn't until a visit to Gainesville that he decided to get back in the mix.

"Thirteen months ago I said I would never jump back into college coaching unless it was a perfect fit - the opportunity to work with someone that I knew and trusted," Shyatt said. "When I went down there last week, I was so impressed with Billy, his supporting cast and the commitment of the administration. I've known Billy for a long time and I'm extremely excited about the opportunity to be a part of Florida athletics and the great tradition he, his staff and the administration have established."

In 1988-89 he joined current University of Texas coach Rick Barnes at Providence College, beginning a six-year run where the Friars won 108 games and their only Big East title in ‘94. When Barnes left to coach Clemson, Shyatt followed suit and Barnes' opportunity to go to Texas paved the way for Shyatt.

In his first season he led the Tigers to the NIT Championship game, becoming only the fourth first-year coach in ACC history to guide his team to a 20-win season. What is more important to note about Shyatt is what he will bring to the table for the Gators' -- a fresh defensive mindset. Coach Donovan wasn't shy to address this issue at earlier this month at Media Day.

"I think Larry brings some newness, some freshness, some different ideas, and I think Larry got a lot of credit, and rightfully so, in some circles from working with Rick Barnes at Texas and what he's done defensively," Donovan said. "People look at Larry as someone who's defensively-minded coach, and there's no question he's done a great job in that respect, but I think that I'd be limiting him to a very, very small area that he could really be effective in our program."

One thing that Shyatt has injected to the program is energy and excitement from the players who have benefited from working out with him over the summer.

"Coach Shyatt has been great, and I'm really excited to have him around here," said junior Matt Walsh during media days. "I think it's going to add a new flavor to the team. He brings a whole different defensive concept and tie that in with Coach Donovan's aggressiveness and press, I think it's going to be great. We have at least one, maybe two individual workouts a week, and I've never had an individual defensive work out since I've been here."

The individual attention to defense should benefit the Gators in 2004 when faced with the daunting schedule that includes defending SEC Champion Kentucky and out of conference Louisville. While Shyatt can't reinvent the entire concept of defense, his work with Donovan on improving that aspect of the game could change the way the Gators approach opponents all together in 2004.

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