BASKETBALL: Avoiding the Sophomore Slump

"There is always next year." A sports cliché that rings ever so true for plenty of fans across the nation couldn't be more fitting for a hoops recruiting class that came in with heads high, but finished last year on a somber note. Coach Billy Donovan's 2003 class arrived in Gainesville as a well-heralded group looking to make an impact, but flopped as a whole for the most part as the year went on.

For the freshman quartet, the hardships of Southeastern Conference basketball took a toll. Point Guard Ryan Appleby came with plenty of hype, but no bite. A touted basketball player that earned runner up for Mr. Basketball in Washington, Appleby was supposed to be like Billy D was back in his day-- a solid perimeter shooter with great court vision.

The fall of Appleby was noticed by fans, coaching staff and players alike as he struggled with the tough SEC play. Appleby started the season off as Anthony Roberson's backup, even starting in the Gators first game of 2004. At seasons end, he notched five minutes in the 75-60 loss to Manhattan. Appleby's inability to play was noticed by teammates alike.

"When Christian (Drejer) left last year I had to play the point because (Ryan) Appleby couldn't cut it," Matt Walsh said after beating Florida Southern.

Appleby's transfer to Washington has opened up the door for a 2004 freshman, Taurean Green, to successfully take upon the backup role. Green showed great court presence against Florida Southern (Division II team) with 13 points, 5 assists and 6 steals in 23 minutes.

In addition to Appleby in the frontcourt, Lee Humphrey came to the Gators as a pure perimeter threat. Unlike his west coast counterpart, Humphrey excelled as the season went on evolving from a sixth man to a starter.

Humphrey is looking to avoid the sophomore slump after an above average freshman year in which he shot 43.9 percent from 3-point range and gave UF some great momentum in draining a 17-footer from the baseline at the buzzer in overtime to lead the Gators past Alabama in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals. Look for him to see plenty of action at the two spot, especially with his reputation of being a good defender.

Chris Richard, who in 30 games averaged around 13 minutes, spent most of his off-season recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in June. A former Florida Mr. Basketball, Richard is a big body that has been compared physically to former Gator Udonis Haslem.

As a result of his surgery, Richard had been limited in the first practices and is less conditioned than the rest of the basketball team. He logged 22 minutes in the first exhibition game, and should get better as the season progresses.

In order for Richard to avoid the sophomore slump, getting 100% healthy should be the first priority. With that in mind, Richard needs to assert himself more as a solid offensive and defensive rebounded with the likes of the other SEC big men.

Perhaps the most potential out of the sophomore group lies in 6'10" Mohamed Abukar. Most fans wondered why Abukar was limited so much towards the end of 2003, and the answer became apparent when the season ended. He underwent shoulder surgery a week after the loss to Manhattan, but the forward said recently his shoulder and his shot are fine now, and he actually became stronger from his reconditioning.

With only one game out, the results from his surgery were impressive as he notched 15 points, 4 boards and 2 blocks in only 17 minutes. If Abukar can be continue this trend when the SEC schedule comes into play, he can be a valuable sixth man to Donovan's squad.

Fightin Gators Top Stories