Big front court leads Gators into opener with JIU

Now is when it all needs to come together. For the University of Florida's men's basketball team, the past three weeks has been the normal preseason gauntlet of getting into shape and Billy Donovan's tough daily practices. Two wins in preseason games against Division II opponents have brought the Gators to the point of readiness as they take to the road to face the Jacksonville University Dolphins tonight (Sunshine Network).

Number 23 Florida will take to the road for its first game of the season a week after a sluggish performance against Eckerd College in the Gators second exhibition game of the season. Jacksonville, of the Atlantic Sun Conference, will pin its hopes for an upset of the Gators on the shoulders of its preseason all-conference forward Haminn Quaintance and senior shooting guard David Lee.

"David has improved in all areas of his game," said Jacksonville Head Coach Hugh Durham. "He can take the ball to the basket and is one of the best shooters in the Atlantic Sun. David has really been a leader with his work ethic and approach to the game during the preseason."

To counter Jacksonville's David Lee, the Gators will take the court with a David Lee of their own, the 6-9, 240-pound senior from St. Louis who is a proven commodity in the paint area. Lee enters the season lighter and than 2003. He is being asked to play tougher and to provide a stronger rebounding presence this year.

"Last summer I concentrated on putting weight on. I didn't scrimmage as much in the off season," Lee told the Florida Times-Union on Thursday. "I didn't really play that much basketball, except for concentrating on my jump shot. This summer, going to the Nike camp, going to the Jordan camp, doing a lot more full court drills by myself, I concentrated on staying in shape rather than saying, 'I'll wait until August."

Lee is a proven performer but for the Gators to succeed he will have to have complementary help from his mates in the front court. Sophomore Chris Richard (6-8, 245) continues to acclimate himself to the game after off-season knee surgery. Al Horford (6-8, 235) was extremely impressive in the Eckerd win, but is a freshman nonetheless.

Mohamed Abukar (6-10) will be stronger with the end of Ramadan and will no longer need IV treatments to keep his stamina up. While it may be weeks before he sees any minutes, freshman Joakim Noah (6-11) has been cleared to play after a lengthy bout with mononucleosis.

However, it's the return of starting center Adrian Moss (6-9, 245) to the lineup that should benefit the team the most. Moss is fully recovered from an ankle sprain that held him out for most of the preseason. He's looked at to expand his roles as the team's inside enforcer, rebounder and defensive stopper.

"Adrian is a guy that's got to play his role," Donovan said. "Adrian has a great, great ability to affect the game in a lot of ways --- hustle-wise and emotionally."

The Gators will play their home opener Tuesday night against Florida Atlantic.

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