BASKETBALL: Breakdown on Small Forwards

Part two of our preview takes a look at the versatile small forward position. <p> The sports cliché of playing through pain is used day in and day out. Athletes constantly live with the bumps, bruises and breaks of playing their sport. If the athlete doesn't perform he is considered soft by his teammates and ever more importantly, the fans. While some guys toughen out the pain of a sprained finger or sore arm, try playing basketball with a shooting pain in your left foot.

This is what junior small forward/ shooting guard Matt Walsh had to deal with towards the end of 2003. Not just any little nagging injury, Donovan said Walsh is suffering from tendonitis under the ball of his foot as well as a bruised bone. This translated into Walsh having no skin or calluses under left foot and a sock drenched in blood.

Despite the injury, the gritty Walsh led the team in both scoring and rebounds with 17 points and six boards and scored 13 points and four rebounds in the loss to Manhattan. A couple months later, Walsh is ready to play ball.

In 2003 the orange and blue faithful noticed a team that just could not defend the other teams go-to-guy. Kentucky's Gerald Finch, Vanderbilt's Matt Freije and Mississippi State's Timmy Bowers were just a few of the guys that torched the Gators. The departure of Justin Hamilton never hurt so badly. This off season Walsh, ever so talented offensively, has been focusing on priming his defensive game under new assistant coach Larry Shyatt.

"He brings a whole different defensive concept and tie that in with Coach Donovan's aggressiveness and press, I think it's going to be great," Walsh said. "We have at least one, maybe two individual workouts a week, and I've never had an individual defensive work out since I've been here."

With Walsh bumping up his defensive game, this could equate to ever more minutes for the gritty junior.

"Defense is a lot about effort. And just a mentality and I think they're trying to build that mentality," he added. "Plus, we're learning the fundamentals and we're going be more disruptive this year. I don't think it can do anything but help."

One area that Walsh needs to key in on is being less disruptive at times on the offensive side of the ball. The ever gifted passer and slasher, Walsh became turnover prone at times in trying to do much with the ball and having it skirt away from him or being tossed out of bounds. By settling down on offense and improving his 16 points per game average, he could be an even bigger force in 2004.

Walsh needs just 107 points to join the 1,000- point club. Combined with David Lee (already a member) and Anthony Roberson (56 points shy), UF could have three 1,000-point club members for the first time since 2001-2001 when Udonis Haslem, Matt Bonner and Brett Nelson accomplished the feat. Not bad company to be in.

Providing a much different look to opposing teams at the small forward slot, Mohamed Abukar's 6 foot 10 inch body could provide some trouble for match ups. In 2003 Abukar's season was marred by a shoulder injury that affected him much of the year. With off season shoulder surgery and increasing his weight 20 lbs, Abukar should be in full form when 2004 tips off.

Abukar's tall frame gives the Gators a perfect fit at the small forward spot with his ability to nail the open three. He will be looking to drive more to the basket with his added bulk in 2004. The lone drawback to having a guy his size play the small forward position is that he struggles in defending quicker crafter guys.

Freshman Corey Brewer was a high school McDonald's All-American who averaged 30 points and 13 boards as a senior. A swingman at heart, Brewer will play the small forward and shooting guard position as 2004.

Brewer can hit the shot from the outside, but perhaps is strongest feat comes on the defensive side. He provides the Gators with a strong defensive presence thanks to his gigantic wing span and his ability to defend on the perimeter. While he is far from being bestowed with the next Justin Hamilton title, I believe he along with Taurean Green will have the biggest impact in 2004 from the freshman point of view.

Under the tutelage of Larry Shyatt, the 6 foot 8 inch Brewer could prove to be the next great Gator defender. The combination of Walsh (6'6"), Brewer (6'8") and Abukar (6'10") provides Florida with plenty of options to go with in 2004 at the small forward position.

Thursday will take a look at the shooters at the one and two positions.

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