Roundballers Traveling Wounded

The Florida Gators will play in South Florida on Saturday and head coach Billy Donovan said they are fighting a few more injuries than he would like. The Gators are ranked No. 13 in the latest polls and have played above expectations so far this year. A couple of newcomers have played huge roles and as they head off to play Richmond in Sunrise, Fla. Donovan expects his guys to be ready.

As they prepare for Richmond, the Florida Gators will head south and in to a pretty good hotbed of talent that has produced some of Billy Donovan's finest players while at Florida. Udonis Haslem, Brent Wright are a couple from the past, Kenny Boynton and Ray Shipman are currently major players on the team. Brandon Knight is a huge recruit the Gators are looking at for the 2010 class. Donovan likes being able to showcase his team down south in the Orange Bowl Classic.

"We have had some players over the years from south Florida," Donovan said Thursday to a large media contingent. "It's a great opportunity for us to get down to Broward and Dade County and play."

With his team ranked No. 13 in the polls, Donovan isn't worried about their mindset and them thinking about that ranking.

"I don't think our guys are really focused on that," he said. "They are focused on exams and getting healthy and trying to get better. I think they know they are playing a very good team on Saturday. I think our guys focus is trying to figure out how to get better in our next game."

One thing this group if Gators will have to focus on right now is depth. Three players will miss a significant amount of playing time this week and a fourth is still recovering from a foot injury.

"We have some depth issues," Donovan said. "Going back to Ray Shipman's (foot) situation, the Chandler Parsons, Kenny Kadji, and Erik Murphy. We are down to six guys right now. It makes it challenging. We are hopeful Erik will be back playing."

"Kadji had limited practice yesterday. Murphy has not practiced since the Syracuse game and will not practice Thursday. He is getting better and what his status for the game is I do not know. "

"Chandler has been out the last couple of days with a torn muscle in his leg. We expect him to be able to play but he has not practiced for the last three days. He did practice some with the injury, we are trying to calm it down a bit right now and use him sparingly in practice. I fully do expect him to play on Saturday."

For Parsons, it is a torn interior tibialis that is the issue. According to Donovan, he can play through it and actually doesn't know how it happened.

"We don't know if he got kicked, hit, he doesn't remember even doing it," Donovan said. "It will probably take him a good solid month to get healed. That is the trick for us and our medical staff...the balance between how much he practices and plays. He won't do further damage to it, it will just prolong the healing process. He is a tough kid and that is why I say he will play. He practiced for three days before we looked at it. I don't think it is so significant to him.

"I have not been told by the trainer or the doctor that his minutes will be limited. The pain is not that severe. I think if he practiced a full practice he would be in a lot of pain. He said it isn't something he can't deal with, but it was painful enough he had to go get an MRI."

Parsons is key to this team even though he hasn't started a game all year. He is second on the team in points per game, first in rebounds, second in steals, and fourth in assists...he has been a huge boost off the bench and any time off the court would be missed.

One area Parsons has been a benefit to this team is three point defense. With his quickness and length, Parsons can challenge many more shots than most. Teams overall are shooting just 21.5% from the 3-point line, but Donovan thinks he can get more from his team in that regard.

"We've done a better job there," Donovan said. "I think we have had some games against high level opponents that I think were overshadowed because we won the game. Michigan State shot an incredibly high percentage (from 3), Syracuse shot 52%. In the Troy game, we gave them some very good looks that didn't go down."

Donovan's latest star South Florida prospect is Kenny Boynton of Pompano Beach. Boynton is a big time scorer and can shoot from anywhere on the court. But, Donovan loves his play on defense.

"One thing with Kenny, coming out of high school everyone focused on his scoring," Donovan said. "I think there are a lot of parts of Kenny's game that went unnoticed. He is a very good defender. He is beyond where I thought he would be mentally in terms of understanding (the game). He has done a terrific job of making the extra pass, making good decisions, and taking care of the basketball. In the last three games he has 22 assists and one turnover."

"He is also playing pretty good defensively. A lot of guys that come out of high school as great scorers, they spend most of their time on defense taking it easy. I don't think he has been like that. I have a lot of confidence in him defensively in terms of putting him on someone else's best perimeter player, because I think he has that kind of potential, defensively."

One other bright spot on the team has been the play of center Vernon Macklin. The transfer from Georgetown is the banger inside and plays with a lot of emotion. That is something that Donovan wants him to scale back a bit.

"I think for Vernon, he has been through a lot emotionally," Donovan said. "I think with the front court they had their at Georgetown, I am sure he had the illusions that he was going to be in college for a short period of time...I think when you have that kind of pressure and expectation on you, you try and do things that you aren't capable of doing that can put you in a position of not being effective as a player."

"Vernon is a very coachable kid that wants to do well who puts an enormous amount of responsibility on himself. The biggest thing with Vernon is he needs to keep his attitudes and emotions channeled the right way. The thing I am trying to do with him is hold him accountable and responsible for things I know he is capable of doing."

"He can't worry about scoring points, trying to become a 17-foot range jump shooter. He needs to working on making sure when he gets fouled he is a good free throw shooter. He needs to develop a game 4-5 feet from the basket, and he needs to be an energy guy in our press, running, being active, rebounding and blocking shots. When he keeps it simple like that he can control them and do a good job."

One thing Macklin has brought to the team is his ability to play in the post, guys like Alex Tyus, Dan Werner, Chandler Parsons and others can play more natural roles and not have to bang with bigger players.

"Position wise he has brought an opportunity to play some natural positions (for others)," Donovan said of Macklin. "More than anything else, when young guys come into college and have an illusion of how good and talented they are. I think he has been able to put it in perspective for Kenny Kadji in how hard it is to be a good college player."

The additions of Boynton and Macklin have done more for this team than many would have envisioned. Their play has been very good for their inexperience with this team, but they have allowed other to excel at places they are more prepared to play at a higher level. With the relative newness to all of this, these young Gators are still learning by fire, but they aren't getting burned doing it.


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