HOOPS: Donovan Wants Humphrey To Let It Rip

The coach is a New Yorker who sounds as street savvy now as he did 18 years ago when he was banging home one three-ball after another for Providence on a Cinderella run to the Final Four. The protégé is a country boy from Maryville, Tennessee, whose yes sirs and no sirs are distinctively twanged in southernese.

They are an improbable pair, Billy Donovan and Lee Humphrey, as different as night and day, but their ability to fill up the basket from long range makes them the perfect fit.

Donovan never met a three-point shot he didn't like to take when he was playing. Now that he's coaching the Florida Gators, one of his toughest tasks is to coax this baby faced assassin from the Tennessee hills to load it up and led it fly. There is real similarity in their games in that there is not overwhelming quickness but an uncanny ability to find open seams to get a shot off from the perimeter. When Donovan played, he forced opponents to attempt to defend the perimeter as tightly as the paint. Humphrey has that same ability to change the dynamics of the game with his long range bombing.

In the first two games of the season, Humphrey, whom Donovan calls the best pure shooter he's ever coached, is 9-13 from three-point range --- a sizzling 69 percent --- but still, the coach is complaining.

It isn't that Lee Humphrey is taking ill-advised shots that are somehow, luckily find their way to the bottom of the net or that he is a ball hog that shoots even when the shot isn't there. Humphrey is too unselfish for that to ever be a problem but unselfish is at the heart of the problem as Donovan sees it.

"I think Lee is one of those kids in the truest sense of the word is a selfless kid," said Donovan, whose Gators face Wake Forest Thursday night in the semifinals of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic at Madison Square Garden. "It's always about the team with Lee, always something bigger than him. If I pulled him out of the starting lineup against Wake Forest and said we're going to play you over here he would say okay Coach that's fine.

"In today's society and today's day and age when it's about me, about what I'm getting, about what I'm doing, about how many points I'm scoring, how many minutes I'm getting, it's always been winning about Lee and a kind of trust about 'Coach how do you want to use me? I'll do whatever you need me to do to help us win. I think sometimes he's deferred too much. I'm trying to get him to step up even more."

In terms of natural shooting ability, Humphrey might be the best that the University of Florida has had in a long time, maybe the best ever. He shoots a feathery soft, high arching jump shot that always looks like it is going in the moment it leaves his hands.

His shot is so good, so dead on so often that Taurean Green doesn't even wait to see what happens when Humphrey goes up for a shot.

"When Lee shoots it, I just turn around and find my man on defense because I know most of the time it's going in," said Green, who says that Humphrey is the best shooter he's ever seen.

"I think he's the best shooter in the country, him and J.J. Reddick (Duke All-American)," Green continued. "I haven't seen anybody who can just let it go like that."

Humphrey earned occasional starts his freshman and sophomore years but it was coming off the bench to give the Gators an added shooter when either Matt Walsh or Anthony Roberson was out of the game that earned him his stripes. As a freshman he hit 43 percent of his three-pointers but it was a two-point shot he hit from the baseline in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals against Alabama that will always be remembered. That 17-footer in the final seconds sent Florida into the tournament semifinals.

As a sophomore, Humphrey started six games when Walsh went down with a severely sprained ankle. He had 15 points against Florida State and was double figures in two other games.

With Roberson and Walsh, Florida's two primary offensive weapons the last three years, departing for the NBA after last season, Humphrey's role has been expanded. In his first two years, he was a spot player who deferred always to Walsh and Roberson when he was on the floor with them. Now, he's a primary option for the Gators whose assignment it is to stretch the defense so there is room for Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Chris Richard to operate down low.

He's such a good shooter and so vital to opening up the inside game that Green says the entire team gets on Humphrey when he passes up an open shot.

"If he passes up a shot we get on him because we know he can knock down shots and that's his deal," said Green.

It's not only his teammates that get on his case, so does the coach.

"Any time that he thinks I pass up a shot he'll let me know about it," said Humphrey, who added that Donovan's tone is "not nice if it's pretty bad that I missed the open look and didn't take the shot."

Donovan never had to be encouraged to take a shot and he wants Humphrey to have a similar mentality.

"Hopefully he shoots the ball better than I did," said Donovan. "I think the big thing with Lee is just getting him to understand and continue to understand that he has to shoot the basketball when he has a good look at it and he's been doing a pretty good job. As long as his confidence stays high, that's the biggest thing I can instill in him."

In high school in Tennessee, Humphrey earned Mr. Basketball in 2003 when he averaged 21.3 points per game while leading Maryville to the regional championship. He came out of high school with a reputation as a square up jump shooter that had great range and he's done nothing at Florida to tarnish that reputation. What he's done since he's been in Gainesville, however, is to expand his game. He's become a hard worker on the defensive end to the point that he's a very dependable defender. He spent the summer working on his ball handling so he can do some spot duty at the point behind Green. He's also improved his ability to go to the hoop off the dribble, and that's perhaps been the biggest surprise.

"He's been doing some more things off the dribble," said Donovan. "The thing I've been pleased with is that Lee came in here with a great reputation for shooting the basketball and he's always shot it well since he's been here. The thing I'm getting pleased about is he's starting to put the ball on the floor a little bit more, starting to penetrate a little bit more and he's gaining more confidence.

"Our guys have been encouraging him to shoot the basketball and shoot it with freedom. Any time you have that support around you there's going to be a level of confidence raised."

The confidence is growing and so is his range. He said he's confident anywhere around the arc to the NBA-three point line but even at 25 feet he says he believes he can knock shots down on days when he's feeling good.

"You can kind of tell when you hit a couple in a row in warm-ups and your shot is really feeling good," he said. "If I'm feeling good I would take it [25-footer]."

That's the attitude Donovan wants him to take the rest of the season. When the shot is there, no matter where it is, let it fly.

"When he shoots, we know it's going in," said Green. "It's kind of like radar."

HOOPS NOTES: The Gators got their final commitment of the recruiting class Monday when Doneal Mack of Statesville (NC) Christian signed with the Gators, accepting Florida's scholarship offer over Boston College, Virginia Tech, North Carolina State and others. Mack is a silky smooth 6-5 shooter from the wing who has the ability to slash to the hoop … For Humphrey and Corey Brewer, this will be their first trip ever to New York … Joakim Noah, the Gators 6-11 sophomore power forward, is looking forward to being the tour guide for the team. Noah has lived in Manhattan the last few years but he played his high school basketball in Brooklyn … When Taurean Green takes a breather, Donovan will go with freshman Walter Hodge and Humphrey as the backups … Donovan said his greatest concern with the team right now is the poor free throw shooting. The Gators shot only 58 percent in the first two games.

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