The outcome of Thursday night’s exhibition opener won’t play into Florida’s record this season, but it will provide a chance to experiment with some different combinations on the floor. Head coach Billy Donovan started to toy around with different lineups in a scrimmage over the weekend. Not all of the combinations will make it to the regular season, but Donovan hopes to find something that works.
Billy Donovan used one lineup in the scrimmage with Patric Young and Vernon Macklin together. Macklin played power forward while Young stayed at center, since he is a freshman and still trying to master one position.
They also ran one team with Scottie Wilbekin, Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton on the floor together. The added depth to this season’s team gives Donovan a chance to try things out, and that will start when the Gators host Florida Tech on Thursday at 7 p.m.
The Young and Macklin combination gives the Gators plenty of height and toughness around the basket, but it has some time before Donovan will trust it in the regular season.
“Because Patrick and Vern have gone against each other, that has been very good, but they probably haven’t played many reps with each other,” Donovan said. “I would say right now there’s a little bit of getting in each other way, not in a bad way, but they’ve got to understand spacing together. It’s not great right now, but it’s something I’m committed to trying to help get better. I do think both of those guys can play together.”
Donovan will try to spread the minutes out to get his young players into the game. The ideal situation would be eliminating nerves before they go into the regular season.
“It’ll be a game for us that you’ll probably see all these guys for 15-25 minutes, depending on how the game goes,” Donovan said. “Our first priority is to go out and win.”
FRESHMEN STAND OUT: It didn’t take long for Donovan to realize his group of freshmen was special. During early season workouts before the team was allowed to practice together, they all had instances where they would flash the basketball instincts the team needs.
“When you have a freshman group come in, there are things that happen instinctively in your workouts before they ever get coached,” Donovan said. “We start playing two-on-two or three-on-three in August and September. We haven’t gotten to put any offenses in or hadn’t talked about a lot of stuff, just teaching fundamentals.
“When they start to play live, things happen physically and you can see how a guy reacts instinctively,” Donovan said. “A guy drives in practice in August, we’ve got freshmen stepping in to take charges without ever being told to do that. It’s forced some of the older guys to also do those things because the young guys are willing to. There are things our freshmen have brought to the table as intangible things that I think at best we were okay at (last year).”
MACKLIN PRODUCTION: Vernon Macklin is heading into his second and final season with the Gators, and Donovan is expecting him to take the next step.
“Last year at this time, I sensed a guy who was unsure of himself,” Donovan said. “When you go through not playing a lot at one school and you sit out after transferring with this huge reputation as a McDonalds All-American, can he live up to this hype?”
The Gators don’t need Macklin to be an elite scorer for them, as most of his points will likely come on offensive rebounds and put backs. They do need him to provide energy and be a defensive presence.
“What we need from Vern is for him to rebound the ball, run the floor and be a presence for us,” Donovan said. “I think he’s better offensively now than a year ago. Is he a guy that when we need a basket we can throw the ball inside to? I don’t know that yet.”
INJURY REPORT: Erik Murphy missed a few days of practice last week with a sprained ankle. Cody Larson was sick and missed a couple days last week. The initial thought on Larson was that it might be “more significant than the flu,” but the tests came back negative.
Both players have been practicing since Sunday
PARSONS PROGRESSION: The improvement in Chandler Parsons on the court during his four years mirrors the maturation he has experienced off it. He came in with an inflated view of his talent, but he was humbled in the offseason after his sophomore year.
“He has grown as a person and player as much as any player I’ve ever coached,” Donovan said. “From where he was at to where he is now, a lot of it for Chandler was an unrealistic expectation of who he thought he was. The crossroads came after his freshman year, when he thought it’d be easy and had it all figured out. Then he got really humbled. He didn’t have a great sophomore year and was really up and down. He wasn’t a guy we could rely on. After that year, he came to a crossroads, looking deep inside himself to see where he had to get better. It wasn’t so much about work ethic. Chandler’s work ethic has always been great.”
The struggles have never been related to his effort. Donovan saw areas where Parsons needed to mature in expectations for himself, but it never slowed down his approach off the court.
“I’ve never had one time in practice where I had to get on him for effort,” Donovan said. “But it was his mind that wasn’t in a realistic place. It was in fantasyland a little bit. He has a much better understanding of who he is. I’m so proud of him and how he’s grown. I give him credit that when it got hard, he came out fighting. That’s one of Chandler’s great qualities.”
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