Gators Open Season Sunday

Billy Donovan's 14th season with the Gator Basketball team gets underway Sunday at 4:00 when the Gators host the Stetson Hatters in their season opener. Florida enters this season looking to put an end to a two-year absence from the NCAA Tournament. To do that, Donovan's team will have to stay healthy and continue to improve defensively and on the boards.

Donovan enters this season with a group of ten players all of whom played in both of Florida's exhibition games. Keeping a deep rotation could well be the key to Florida avoiding late game and late season fades. Last year's Gators started out 18-3 but went 7-8 the rest of the way. The Gators' inability to win close games was a big factor since eight of their eleven losses were by six points or less.

Stetson comes to Gainesville with just one starter back from last year's 13-17 squad. That start is guard A.J. Smith (12.6) who is a good long range shooter. They also return two forwards who played a lot off the bench in Olivier Dupiton (1.5/1.8) and Sheldon Oliver (5.6/5.0). That tandem combined for 12 points and 11 rebounds against the Gators last season. The Gators beat Stetson in that game 78-57 behind 23 points from Nick Calathes and a double-double (16/10) from Alex Tyus. They are coached by Derek Waugh who is in his 10th year on the Deland campus.

Donovan talks about his opening opponent, what he saw in the exhibition games and the potential of having a three-guard look with Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton and Ray Shipman on the floor at the same time.

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On facing Stetson:

"Well I think Derek's teams have always been tough, they've been physical. I think they run a lot of really creative things on offense. They've got a team that's a very capable three point shooting team. Oliver is one of those front court players that's undersized at 6-5, 6-6 but he's strong and he always plays well against us. I think any time a team takes 36 three point shots in an exhibition game clearly states that they have confidence in their shooting."

On challenges all those threes create:

"The 3-point line is a great equalizer in a lot of ways. So I think our ability to transition to transition out of pressure, transition out of missed shots and get back and try to stop the line is going to be important. (Also) our ability to be able to guard them off the dribble because I think they do have good speed and quickness. Because some of their posts are undersized they're really good when they do catch the ball at 15, 17 feet at putting it down and driving us. Our bigs are going to have to do a good job of guarding the ball."

On playing the three quick guards together:

"That's going to happen some over the course of the game. Ray has done a good job in the exhibition games. He's played well. He played, I thought with a really good motor, but one of the concerns I've discussed with Ray is can you play like that when your shot's not falling? We need that kind of energy. I have no problem playing those three guys back there. We (also) played Chandler (Parsons) at the two some and went pretty big and played some zone. We can certainly play the two guards and Ray there. We can also move Dan (Werner) in there so I think we have some options."

On some positives from the exhibition games:

"I think Kenny Kadji gave us some good minutes. I think we have a deeper bench than maybe we had a year ago. We have more guys we can rely on, which is good. I do think those guys are trying to focus on getting better defensively. I think we're moving the ball around well, but it's all going to be different starting Sunday when we play a regular season game and start playing Division I teams.


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