Vernon Macklin Ready to Play

There's an old adage that says the most popular athlete on a college campus is the backup quarterback. After all, he is often the perceived cure for all that ails the team. Well, obviously that doesn't fly in Gainesville, but perhaps the second most popular player at the University of Florida is a guy who many haven't seen do anything on the basketball court.

Vernon Macklin, the 6-10 center who transferred in from Georgetown is a guy many felt could have made a major impact for this Gator team if he didn't have to sit out the year under NCAA transfer rules.

Macklin posted very modest numbers for the Hoyas last season, averaging 3.4 points and 2.1 rebounds in about 13 minutes a night. After backing up Roy Hibbert for two years he wanted a fresh start at a school where there was more full court activity and less of the half court game he was saddled with at Georgetown.

Macklin was a teammate of Marreese Speights at Hargrave Military Academy and earned McDonald's and Parade All-American honors. Florida is hoping he can earn accolades in the SEC in the 2009-2010 season. I spoke with him after Florida's season ending loss to Penn State and asked him if he felt he could finally turn the page on his season in purgatory.

VM: "Yeah, but every day even though I couldn't play I was still turning pages by just practicing. The guys really helped me through it because it was really tough at the beginning. I didn't let a day go by without trying to get better and help the team out."

LV: How did you cope with it? It had to be difficult wanting to play and knowing the team could use a big guy out there.

VM: "It was definitely frustrating but there was nothing I could do about it. All I could do is try to help the team out by practicing hard and trying to be a vocal leader, so that's what I did the whole year."

LV: Does it aggravate you that the rules made you sit out the season when coaches and everyone else in college athletics can change schools without any such restrictions?

VM: "No, I don't think it was ever aggravating. I think this year sitting out gave me a chance to sit back and get a better understanding of the game of basketball. So I think the year will end up helping me a lot."

LV: How would you assess where your game is and what you can add to this program next season?

VM: "I think I can really run the floor and get key rebounds and play defense. That's what I bring to this team."

LV: Physically do you think you can give the Gators a tougher, strong presence in the paint?

VM: "Yeah, I sorta like to bang in there, and this time next year other guys will be bigger and stronger just like me. I definitely think we'll be a better front line."

LV: Do the Gators get back to the NCAA Tournament next year?

VM: "That's the plan."

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Florida coach Billy Donovan has to be looking forward to putting Macklin on the floor and improving the Gators' size and strength in the paint. However Donovan is also quick to caution against expecting too much from the junior center.

"I think it's very unfair to Vernon going into next year that people think he's this dominant (guy). No, he's not. He's a good player. He transferred from Georgetown but he didn't play a lot there. He's a good player, but he has a long way to go to be that."

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There's no question that Vernon Macklin will give Florida more physicality in the low post next year but it's way to soon to fully understand just how much improvement that will bring. If people are expecting a double-double machine they are likely to be disappointed. More realistic would be to get something along the lines of 10/8 a night. Certainly he would have been a big plus this past season, particularly against Penn State when the Gators were getting pounded (21-9) on the boards in the second half. The Gators were beaten by an average of three rebounds a night in SEC competition. Turning that stat around would be a big step toward returning the Floria program to the nation's elite next spring.


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