VETTEL: Hoops Freshmen Made An Impact

We've had a few days to get past the end of the Gator basketball season and will spend this column looking at this season, and some other issues in college hoops.

The thing that stands out most to me about this season is the tremendous play Florida got from its freshman class. Led by Al Horford and Corey Brewer, the Gators' first-year players provided the team with excellent play on both ends of the floor and were the difference in this season being a significant upgrade over last.

This group was unusual in that most times when freshmen play a lot the team is awful, or the kids are bringing much needed scoring ability… but not these guys. Most freshmen enter college either indifferent or inept on the defensive end of the floor… but not these guys. Most freshmen cause tension on the team because they fail to adjust to a diminished role from their years of high school stardom… but not these guys. Horford, Brewer, Taurean Green and Joakim Noah may well be the second-best freshman quartet UF has ever put on the floor. No offense to Cornelius Ingram, but he played just 108 minutes and most of them were in December.

The Numbers Help Prove The Point

Florida's rookies combined to give the team 20.2 points and 13.2 rebounds a game. They chipped in 5.5 assists, 3.4 steals and 2.6 blocked shots. The Gator freshman class contributed 43 starts and averaged 75 minutes per game, which is 37.5 percent of all the playing time.

Each guy had a significant impact on his own way. Brewer was "Spiderman," giving Florida great effort and aggressiveness on the perimeter defensively. Horford was a shot-blocker (51) and rebounder who made life much easier for David Lee in the paint. Green showed promise at the point and Florida was a better team in the last few games when Taurean was on the floor. Noah provided energy, enthusiasm and showed glimpses of his immense potential.

How much Florida needs from these guys next year depends somewhat on Anthony Roberson's status, especially Green. All should be better players with a year of experience and an off-season of getting stronger. While Noah probably is in the most need of added strength, Horford and Brewer will be more effective with more muscle.

The 2000 Freshmen Still The Best

As impressed I have been with those guys and as confident as I am in their potential, the four rookies of 2000 still get top billing. Florida went to the National Championship Game with a ten-man rotation and four of those ten were rookies.

Donnell Harvey was simply the most awesome athlete I have ever seen in a Florida basketball jersey. D-Harv averaged 10.1 points and 7 rebounds in his one and only Gator season. And he did it in just over 20 minutes a game. I still wonder how good he could have been had he learned the game at this level instead of jumping right to the NBA were he's been a five-year journeyman.

Brett Nelson scored eight points a game, led the Gators with 60 steals and knocked down 49 shots from behind the arc.

Matt Bonner was good for about five points and three boards each night while Justin Hamlton ran the half court offense more and more as the season wore on.

This group outscored the 2005 Gators by more than seven points a game despite playing about seven fewer minutes each night. Most of the other numbers ended up very close. This group warrants the edge because of their point productivity as well as their role in five NCAA tournament wins.

Those four guys ended up helping the Gators win a lot of games. This year's freshmen have three years to try and live up to that legacy.

Vols Have Good Coaches In Sights

I thought Buzz Peterson would have a lot more success at Tennessee, so my endorsement of the candidates they are looking at may not mean much. Still, it appears Tennessee has a pretty good list of interested coaches to work from. Bobby Lutz (Charlotte), Dana Altman (Creighton), Bruce Pearl (Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and UAB's Mike Anderson have reportedly been contacted and expressed interest in the post. I would suggest they add West Virginia Coach John Beilein to the list as well.

Whoever gets the job is taking over one of the most under-achieving programs in the nation. Tennessee has every resource to be great in hoops (just ask Pat Summitt), yet rarely has been.

Speaking Of Summitt

The legendary Vols women's coach now has won more games than Dean Smith did, but please don't try comparing the two. For much of her career Summitt would face maybe a half dozen teams a year with enough talent to beat her. Women's basketball has only begun to approach the kind of parity the men's game has. Her 800 wins is a remarkable achievement, and at age 52 she might well reach 1,000. She has outlasted six men's coaches on Rocky Top as well as five presidents and two athletic directors.

Once again a number of media types are suggesting Summitt would be a great choice to coach the Tennessee men. Those people are idiots.

I'm not saying Summitt could not do an acceptable job of the "X's and O's", of course she could. But coaching is about relationships with the players and it's about recruiting. Could Summitt recruit elite male athletes to play for her? Not a chance.

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Have a great week.

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