Plenty of Promise for 2008-09

After the first season in a decade without an NCAA Tournament bid, the Florida Gators head into the off-season with a pretty clear situation. The Gators have nine potential returning players and a recruiting class of five to make up the roster for next season. At least one of those 14 players (and possibly more) won't be part of the picture.

The Gators can spend the next six months focusing on individual improvement in getting prepared for another season. Here's one opinion about what each of the nine current Gators need to do in order to take their game up a notch or two.

Marreese Speights --- Speights ended up with good numbers (14.5/8.1) in his first season as a starter and some projections have him as a first round pick if he chooses to turn pro. Frankly the idea that he's NBA caliber is astounding to me, but big guys who can score have exaggerated value. I think that it would be a huge mistake for him to go, because he has the potential to be a high lottery pick in a year. Speights must improve his conditioning and physical strength, but more importantly has to become a factor on the defensive end. For a guy with good footwork on offense he never displays it on defense. He averaged 1.40 blocked shots a game, that's just eighth in the SEC and far from adequate.

Nick Calathes --- The SEC Freshman of the Year also needs to improve his strength (you'll be reading that a lot!) so he can better fight through the ridiculous man handling that officials allow in today's game. He also must become an even better (.724) free throw shooter and cut down on his turnovers (104).

Walter Hodge --- He'll be a one man senior class if he turns down the chance to play professionally in his native Puerto Rico. Hodge will finally be able to concentrate full-time on the two-guard spot with Florida having adequate numbers in the back court. His overall game is solid without any major flaws, but consistency remains elusive.

Dan Werner --- Werner came in with the reputation as an outside shooter, but his value to the Gators has been more of a Brent Wright type player who does the little things. Werner's averages (9.1/6.4) aren't likely to improve, but his three point percentage (.309) needs to. Werner also needs to cut down on turnovers (69) after finishing second on the team in that category.

Jonathan Mitchell --- Many expect the native New Yorker to transfer closer to home, but whether or not he does, he has much work to do on his game. I've seen Mitchell play at a high level, but only in spurts. However his confidence seems very shaky, and once something goes wrong it seems to spiral downward. Mitchell has the best build of any Gator player, but his game has not kept up.

Jai Lucas --- The undersized Lucas was third on the team, playing more than 1,000 minutes this season. He too needs to build up his strength, and improve his free throw shooting (.714). Lucas shot an excellent .435 from beyond the arc and can build on that to be more of an offensive threat.

Chandler Parsons --- Size and strength, size and strength, size and strength, size and strength. Parsons has a high ceiling with his athleticism and skills but needs muscle. He should focus his energies on trying to nail down the "3" spot so the Gators don't have to continue starting an undersized three-guard lineup. To do that, Parsons also has to work on his free throw shooting (.627) after finishing the season just 6-for-17 at the charity stripe.

Alex Tyus --- Ideally Florida's best athlete will get to focus full-time on playing the big forward and not have to play center at all. It's hard to evaluate his game with so much time being spent out of position, but .543 at the free throw line stands out, as does his 11/19 assist/turnover differential.

Adam Allen --- Like Parsons, Allen needs to focus on the "3" spot, but his need area(s) are different. Allen needs to slim down his lower body and work on lateral and direct speed and quickness. He needs to undergo a transformation like Greg Stolt did in remaking himself to play for Donovan more than a decade ago.

That's an assessment of the returning players. Coming up in a day or so a look at the five recruits Florida has signed for next season.

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel


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