Basketball Watch List: Centers

With the passing of Memorial Day weekend, the basketball recruiting trail begins to intensify. Over the next few weeks, prospects across the country will be making unofficial visits to schools before one of the most important periods of their careers – the July evaluation period.

In July, you have the sneaker camps and the AAU Nationals where the nation's best talent goes head-to-head to demonstrate what they can do with most of the college coaches in attendance.

With the onset of the summer months, it's time to begin formulating the FightinGators.com basketball watch list for the class of 2008. With the loss the four juniors and seniors Lee Humphrey and Chris Richard, it's time for Billy Donovan to start from scratch. Only five scholarship players return, and of those five, only Walter Hodge saw significant time in the NCAA Tournament.

In Florida's last four games, Hodge averaged just more than 10 minutes a game, while no other returning player saw more than 10 minutes combined in those four games. All is not uncertain, however. In the national championship game against Ohio State, Marreese Speights showed toughness and strength inside and also showed that he could be a scoring threat. Still, Donovan will face questions beginning next October similar to what he heard two years ago – how will the Gators cope with losing 83 percent of their scoring?

Some of the pieces are in place after Donovan and the Gators pulled in one of the top recruiting classes this year. Led by two-time Florida high school player of the year Nick Calathes, the Gators bring in five new faces that have experience playing basketball at the highest level. Calathes and newly committed point guard Jai Lucas both were McDonald's All Americans and Calathes' teammate at Winter Park (Fla.) Lake Howell Chandler Parsons played with both of them at the Jordan Classic in April.

Alex Tyus spent all of last summer playing with O.J. Mayo and Bill Walker on the D1-Grehounds, capturing the AAU national championship. Tyus is a 6-8, 200-pound forward who likes to run the floor, but don't count on him to bring a lot of inside presence to the Gators. And the same holds true for Parsons. At 6-8, 180-pounds, Parsons is more of an outside threat than an inside threat.

That only leaves the Gators with two players who can be imposing figures in the paint next season – Speights and Jonathan Mitchell. At 6-7, 243-pounds, Mitchell has the physicality to play inside and could be a rebounding force, but the Gators will still lack an intimidating inside player to join Speights. That's why the focus for the class of 2008 will be to land a top-notch post player.

CREAM OF THE CROP:

Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy center Kenny Kadji is a must-have. At 6-10, 255-pounds, Kadji is a five-star prospect and is one of the top centers in the country. Just last week, Kadji narrowed down his list to three and it includes the Gators. He plans on making his final decision in July.

Kadji has great potential and is a tremendous rebounder. Plus by attending the IMG Academy, he knows something about a disciplined program. Landing Kadji will not only be good for the Gators in terms of filling a hole on the roster, but it also maintains UF's momentum of landing the top prospects in the state of Florida. Three of the Gators recruits from the class of 2007 are out of Florida, which follows a small drought for Donovan on landing the top Sunshine State talent.

This summer will be a telling time for the Cameroon native. After moving to the United States last year, he has consistently improved as he better learns the game.

OTHERS TO WATCH:

  • New Jersey center Samardo Samuels tops the list of others to watch. At 6-8, 240-pounds, Samuels is the nation's top rated center from the class of 2008.

    In April, he narrowed his list to five, which included the Gators, but Florida's style may not fit his game. Samuels is a punishing post player who relies on his strength and athleticism to score. He has a solid mid-range jumper and can defend, but at this point his specialty is not going up and down the floor, which is essential to Donovan's success.

  • Dothan (Ala.) Northview center Xavier Gibson is also one to watch, but at 6-9, 190 –pounds, he doesn't really bring the presence that the Gators may be looking for inside. Gibson's length makes him a great inside defender, and he is one who likes to get out on the open floor. He's a solid rebounder and a great finisher.

  • Rome (Ga.) prospect Tony Woods is another one to keep a close eye on. The 6-11, 230-pound center has great finishing ability and can run the floor. He's a strong rebounder and has some touch from mid-range.

    Next, we will evaluate what forwards from the class of 2008 are on the FightinGators.com watch list.

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