Help is on the Way

The Florida Basketball Team played the entire season with just nine scholarship players, four below the NCAA limit. That wasn't really by design, but Billy Donovan couldn't make commitments to prospects until he knew for certain which, if any, of the four man junior class, the "'04s" would be leaving for the NBA. When all four departed at once, Florida was guaranteed a short roster.

The Gators survived reasonably well, winning 24 games, breaking even in the SEC and putting together a nice run to the NIT Final Four. Now the Gators look to reap the benefits of this transition season. Florida will not lose any seniors, potentially returning the top nine scorers a year after losing the top six. The Gators will also get help from a five-member recruiting class that gives the Gators one of everything. The class is ranked eighth by Scout.com, the highest ranking for any SEC team.

Not all 14 players will be part of the 2008-09 Gator Basketball season. The NCAA limit of 13 will see to that. One of the incoming players might not qualify, two Gators are considering professional opportunities (Hodge, Speights) and many speculate Jonathan Mitchell will transfer back up to the Northeast. Only one of those things needs to happen, so that's an issue that should take care of itself.

But how will the newcomers help the Gators? Well, after consulting with a number of people in and out of he program as well as Scout.com national basketball analyst Dave Telep I think I have a pretty good idea about the talent that's coming in and how it will fit. Here are my thoughts and Telep's on this year's incoming freshmen.

Kenny Kadji ----- The 6-11 big man form IMG Academy will give the Gators the ideal backup for Speights. Kadji is considered to be further along as a defender and shot blocker but has nowhere near the offensive game that Speights has. If Speights moves on, Kadji may have to play more minutes than would be ideal. If not, he'll settle into a 12-18 minute a game guy.

Telep: "There's a big time player in that body. Kenny's been up and down and that's an area that needs work. To be the guy we think he can be, he's got to bring it each time out. He's shown flashes and had nice games but it's time to make it translate each time out. He's got the ability."

Eloy Vargas ----- The 6-9 forward from American Heritage is an excellent athlete who looks a bit like Tayshaun Prince. Vargas has outstanding shot blocking skills and loves to run the floor. He's probably a "4" at the next level, but might have to play some center if Speights does not return. He'll give Florida a more athletic alternative to Dan Werner at the "4" and he should be effective in the press.

Telep: "This kid has the talent to be quite the weapon. Defensively he chases shots and gets rebounds out of his area. Physically he's going to need half a season to bulk it up. He's a skilled kid and has been much more consistent and diverse with his offense in the last year. It's time for him to cease deferring and be the man. Florida's weight room may empower him."

Allan Chaney ----- Chaney is a kid who burst on the scene last summer and Florida snatched him up quickly. He spent his senior season at New London High School trying to broaden his game so he could play the "3" at 6-8, 225. Corey Brewer showed what size at small forward can do for a team.

Telep: "Last summer's big time sleeper finished his year strong and he'll be physically ready to compete. Like the inside-outside combo and this guy is an eventual starter for the Gators in time."

Ray Shipman ----- In my view the shooting guard from Monsignor Pace in Miami is the star of this class. Shipman is a natural at the "2" spot and can score from anywhere. He also is advanced physically with a body that has been compared to that of Kentucky's Joe Crawford. Shipman can create his own shot and he is a capable defender. You gotta believe the Gator staff is salivating at the thought of a Shipman (6-4) Calathes (6-6) back court after being so undersized this past season. I'm not saying Shipman will start, but I do think he will play a lot from day one.

Telep: "Not the best prospect but the most complete player and maybe the guy most ready to play a college basketball game. A history of winning is in his background and he'll be a junk yard dawg. Credit him for working on his shot but we value his toughness and winning mentality above anything else."

Erving Walker ----- Speaking of undersized, Walker is the personification of the term at 5-6 or thereabouts. The New York City prep star has been described to me as a "Cat Quick" version of Ted Dupay. Walker averaged around 20 points a game for noted prep power Christ the King High School and is a fiercely competitive kid. It'll be interesting to see him come in here and battle for playing time.

Telep: "When Billy D goes to the bullpen he'll have a small, aggressive floor general to bring into the game. Another winner, Walker doesn't have the size to be the full time starter but he'll be a valuable backup who can make a shot."

While I'm convinced Shipman will have the most impact next season, there are two real keys for next season. The first is the status of Speights whose return would stamp the Gators as favorites or co-favorites in the SEC East. The other is the small forward position. Whether it's Chaney or Chandler Parsons (the best two candidates), if they can solidify the "3" spot than the Gators' guard can focus on being guards and Florida will no longer have one of the shortest starting fives in the SEC.

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


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