Gators off to Good Start

It had been seven years since Florida lost an exhibition basketball game and Monday night the streak continued big for the 2008-2009 version of the Gator round ballers. Taking on Warner, the Gators started early and never looked back. After a convincing 108-49 win, Billy Donovan found some good and some bad things with his still young group that he will have to mold as the season goes on.

The Gators had six players score in double figures and sophomore forward Alex Tyus had a double-double netting 16 points and 14 rebounds. Warner was led by 6-7 junior Derell Henderson who led all scorers on the night with 19 points and also added seven rebounds.

Junior forward Dan Werner scored 17 points including going 3-4 from the 3-point line. He was one of six Gators in double figures and led the Gators in scoring as he also continued to do all the little things. Werner finished with six rebounds, two assists, a block, and a team leading three steals in his 21 minutes of play.

Werner shot 67 percent on the night, up from his 44 percent a year ago. He has been working on his shot in the off-season adjusting his shot for a higher arch.

"The last couple of weeks in practice I felt like I was shooting pretty well," Werner said. "I just have confidence and just hope that I can continue it."

Gator Head Coach Billy Donovan was pleased overall with the play of the team in its first live action this season against someone else.

"Overall I thought our guys came in with right mindset and played for the right reasons," he said.

One concern that will be there for the entire season is rebounding and controlling the interior of the game. Donovan is going to have to rely on freshmen to really play some considerable minutes in the paint this season. He saw a lot from a couple of his young guns in the middle. Forward Allen Chaney played 13 minutes, scored eight points and hauled in four rebounds on the night, while freshman center Kenny Kadji played 16 minutes, scored six points and hauled in nine rebounds against Warner.

Despite the successes listed above, Warner was able to manage 16 offensive rebounds and that number is something that pops right out at Donovan on the stat sheet. He also knows the Gators have to stay away from the whistles, especially from their big men, where the numbers and experience are thin.

"I am concerned," he said of the rebounding this season. "We out rebounded them by 18, but I am anxious to see how they got their 16 offensive rebound. It thought we fouled too much in the game. Twenty-two times in the game is way too much, that and giving up offensive rebounds. We have to get better than that.

"The biggest thing is that we have to get more physical up front. There were a lot of times that we came down with rebounds that we should have been a little bit more cleanly picked off of the back board. That is an area we have to do a better job, physically."

Sophomore Alex Tyus started at center and had a very promising game for the Gators. With his double-double, Tyus blocked a shot and altered a few, and also collected two steals. Donovan knows this isn't going to be easy for Tyus, and that the big guy is playing out of position to help the team. Tyus needs to hold down the fort until these younger big men can step in there and help him out.

"He is out of position and needs another front court player to go with him," Donovan said of the light but athletic Tyus. "I think he is the one guy right now that we have to continue to get him in to develop and get more physical. There is no question he is out of position playing the center spot. Kenny (Kadji), being a freshman looks physically (the part), but he's not nearly as experienced as Alex is. You get Alex playing with (Kadji) then all of a sudden he becomes a more energy guy and does the things that he does (well). We have to find a way to let him be effective with his athleticism and his quickness."

The Gators actually came out of the gate gunning the ball. Seven of the first eight shots were from beyond the three point line. Unlike a year ago, they made a good deal of them and the long shots helped create the huge lead for the Gators in the game.

"We have to look at the quality of shot," Donovan said iterating that he was happy with the shot selection. "Its hard when a guy is wide open to say not to shoot. We definitely didn't have balance, but that has to be our team. We aren't a jam it inside and pound it to the basket (team), so we have to take what they give us. We were a poor three-point shooting team a year ago. I was a little concerned with the line moved back and how it would effect us, but if we shoot that (46 percent) for the rest of the year I will be very happy."

One surprise on the night was that the lone senior on the team did not start. Walter Hodge is the most experienced player on the Gators and Donovan has decided that his talents and experienced would best be used coming off the bench than starting. It is something Donovan said could be a very touchy situation for almost any other player.

This is great lesson for our team," Donovan started about Hodge. "He is a guy that was on two national championship teams and started on the team last year. He is on a team with a lot of guys that can start. He's the sixth guy. I talked to him about it and he said 'coach, whatever you need me to do'.

"I felt like him coming off the bench would be better for our team. He's a senior and you don't really want to have someone come off the bench that doesn't provide a spark for you. He is a guy that can knock down some shots, change the game, he can do some of those things and he plays hard.

"I am going to use this as an example many times over the course of the season. Whenever you are talking about a team sport, selfishness in one form or another always has a way of creeping its way in.

Hodge finished the night shooting 50 percent and scoring 12 points in 19 minutes of play.

"I was happy for Walter because he played well tonight," Donovan said. "He shot the ball well, got off to a great start. He made some things happen and played great."

Freshman guard Erving Walker stands all of 5-8, but is one of the more relentless players on the court. Walker is not afraid and showed his fearlessness Monday night. Despite his size, he is able to create his shot and so, he is not limited to just being labeled a point guard in the Donovan scheme. Walker went 3-5 from the three point line and finished with 13 points in 24 minutes.

"Erv to me is just a basketball player," Donovan said. "I probably had him more off the ball (shooting guard) than on the ball (point guard). He just plays and knows how to play and he just fits in. It was a game where he made some shots. Six assists and two turnovers. For him, he was a little bit calmer than some of the the other guys. He was a little tight early, then settled in and played. He doesn't have to play the point, he can create, he can pass, he can do a lot of different things. One of the things he has to do at his size, he has to apply a lot of pressure to the ball and he did that tonight."

Donovan thought all the freshmen played well as the game went on and they let the game come to them. Walker got the quickest start because he made two long shots to start his night.

"When your a freshman and you make your first two shots, it just gets a little easier for you." Donovan said of Walker. "(Ray) Shipman gets into the game and the first time the ball is passed to him and gets wide open for a three and misses everything. For those kids, being freshmen. It is the first time in a long time they came off the bench in a game. It was their first college experience and did a pretty good job. I thought they did a better job in the second half than in the first one. The only thing that was a little bit unrealistic is the level of play of the competition."

The Gators started Werner and sophomore Chandler parsons at forward. Parsons finished the game with 14 points, six assists, six rebounds, two blocks and a steal for a very good night himself. All-SEC sophomore Nick Calathes started alongside sophomore Jai Lucas at guard. Alex Tyus finished up the starting rotation at center. Calathes led the Gators with nine assists and and also scored eight points while shooting 2-3 from the three point line. Lucas struggled with his shot going 1-9 on the night and finishing with four points. He did add four assists and a steal to his numbers while playing 20 minutes.

Freshman guard Ray Shipman showed his explosive play a number of times in the game. Shipman dunked the ball once and had an acrobatic steal in the middle of the court, drawing ooohs from the crowd in attendance. Shipman finished with 10 points on 50 percent shooting and going perfect from the free throw line (4-4) in 15 minutes of play.

At 6-4, Shipman could team with the 6-6 Nick Calathes and create a very big back court combination the Gators haven't seen in quite a while. While all of that looks good on paper, Donovan isn't so sure about rushing into it with the young guys on the team.

"With Ray back their defensively, we could play Ray and Nick and even Chandler and be pretty big across the back court," Donovan said. "If you look at our team there are an enormous amount of options. But really those options will only come to fruition if our freshmen are reliable. Most of these unorthodox lineups include freshmen. If you cant rely on the freshmen, some of those lineups we are looking at are not something you can go with for a long time."

The Gators will be counting on the freshmen this year and if tonight was any indication of how things will go, it could be a very good year indeed.

The Gators host Rollins College for their final exhibition game of the season on Thursday.

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