HOOPS: Gators Kick Off Season Tonight

The Florida Gators men's basketball team finalized preparation Monday for the first pre-season game of the 2006 season, a 7 p.m. Tuesday evening game with Embry-Riddle at the O'Connell Center. This will be the earliest start of the basketball season in school history and it begins Billy Donovan's tenth season as the Florida coach.

Embry-Riddle, from the Florida Sun Conference, has four starters back from its Division II team that went 26-8 last year. The Gators went 24-8 last season and won the SEC Tournament but the loss of senior David Lee and juniors Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh, all to the NBA, leaves Florida with more questions than answers at least at this part of the season.

The Gator Nation is looking to see what the strengths of this team will be this season. Donovan says, "The strength of this team is their energy; they play hard and with passion."

Probably the greatest question for the Gators is how to replace the nearly 50 points per game that Lee, Roberson and Walsh provided. Corey Brewer averaged about eight points per game last year and he is the leading returning scorer.

In practice so far, Donovan's main focus is not individual scorers but developing team chemistry.

"This is obviously our last week to get ready for the season," said Donovan. "We have an exhibition game tomorrow (Tuesday) and Friday. We then have the weekend to get prepared to play St. Peter's College.

"This is a big week for us in terms of getting better with our execution in every single faucet of the game. I don't think we are ready and I don't necessarily blame those guys, because we've gone pretty quickly."

Florida is going to be a very young team this year, but even though the Gators are young, they are very talented. Donovan is hoping to mold a team that gets back to the defensive pressure style that he employed early in his tenure at Florida. With the size and athleticism up front, the Gators should be able to improve on last year's 90-blocked shot total with 6-8 Chris Richard, 6-9 Al Horford and 6-11 Joakin Noah.

In last week's scrimmage, Richard played with more confidence on the offensive end than he's shown in his previous two seasons. Noah also played with more control. Last season Noah was a bundle of energy but often out of control. Noah could be a real factor offensively because of his size and quickness. Horford was rarely an offensive option last year. Most of his points came on stick-backs and garbage plays, but he'll have to become an integral part of the offense this year.

Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey are scheduled to begin the season as the starting back court. Green is a true point guard who does have the ability to score from the outside or off the dribble. Humphrey spent the offseason working on his ball handling skills so that he can become more of a factor in the offense than just a stand-up shooter.

The freshman class of Jimmie Sutton, David Huertas, and Walter Hodge will have to contribute immediately. Hodge will back up Green at the point while Huertas will see most of his action as a shooting threat beyond the arc. Due to swelling of Sutton's injured knee, he was kept out of practice this weekend. Once Sutton is healthy he can provide size and defensive presence. He's 6-10, 250, and has great presence in the middle.

Adrian Moss's superstition may have taken on a new twist as of last week. Moss did not want his picture to be on the team media guide, because of the back injury that was suffered last season. Moss will be out 4-6 weeks with a knee injury. Moss might need to ask the team to retake the pictures for the media guide and the team poster.

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