Gators Ready for Exhibition Opener

Ten days ago we got a sneak preview; but Thursday night the Florida Gator Basketball team will give us the first real look at this season's squad. Florida will take a break from the grind of pre-season practices for a 8:00 exhibition game against Flagler College.

The opponent is irrelevant, though. This competition is all about the Gators getting a chance to face some outside competition and experiment with different combinations on the floor. The tentative starting lineup calls for three guards (Walter Hodge, Jai Lucas and Nick Calathes) along with forward Dan Werner and center Marreese Speights, but don't put too much significance in that. Florida's nine scholarship players are all likely to play at least 15 minutes in the first night of the season.

Florida Coach Billy Donovan talks about his plans for Thursday night:

"We have several things we want to look at like the three guards with Jai, Walter and Nick playing together. We also want to look at some bigger wings with Adam Allen and Jonathan Mitchell. We may take a look at a smaller front court with a Werner and maybe Chandler Parsons, and then you have maybe sliding Alex (Tyus) to the power forward spot even though he hasn't played much there and I don't want to overwhelm him mentally."

Donovan talks about other things he'll be looking for, considering Flagler has a big front line (6-11, 6-10, and 6-9):

"Well I think every front line against us is going to be a big front line, so I don't think that's not going to be the case in any game that we play. I want to see us first of all play with great energy and passion. Because of our lack of depth our ability to maintain the right level of intensity for an entire game is also going to be important. Then how well we work offensively, cohesively as a group and then I think defensively, because we are going to be going up against bigger people, can we rebound the basketball? Can we limit teams to just one shot? Those things are the areas we will probably place the most focus on."

Another area Donovan will focus on is turnovers. When you are young and undersized turnovers are much more magnified because you simply must maximize your possessions.

Billy Donovan discusses his team's need to limit turnovers:

"I think that's critical right now because we still want to fast break, we still want to play up tempo and we still want to push the ball very hard. Generally when you have freshman guys there in the back court against pressure and quicker stronger athletes or the game's moving at a faster rate; a lot of times turnovers become a major problem. We've been pretty good at practice so far, but I would not classify our team as an overly athletic, quick, fast team. So we're going to see a different level of speed as we start to get into the season, but there's no question that has been an emphasis for us."

Talking with the Florida players it's pretty obvious they are sick of practicing against each other, and that's true every year at this time. There is one other thing that I know I'll be watching carefully. That is to see is how Speights and Tyus work on the defensive end of the floor. The Gators need those guys to defend, block shots and rebound without fouling.

Questions or comments? Contact's Larry Vettel

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