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September 28, 2008


Head coach: Billy Donovan
Last season: 24-12 overall, 8-8 in SEC.
Postseason: Lost 78-66 to Massachusetts in NIT semifinals.
Breakdown: Probable starters | Backcourt | Frontcourt | Offense | Defense | Outlook

BACKCOURT

Nick Calathes burst on the scene in the SEC and delivered like a five-star prospect should. He led the Gators in scoring, assists, steals and 3-pointers made. He showed a great feel for the game and made everyone around him better. In short, he didn't play much like a freshman. He gives Billy Donovan plenty to look forward to this season. With a year to get stronger and with more depth around him, Calathes will only get better.

Guard Nick Calathes returns after putting up big numbers as a freshman.

PROBABLE STARTING FIVE
G Walter Hodge, 6-0/Sr.
10.4 ppg, 2.9 apg
G Nick Calathes, 6-6/Soph.
15.3 ppg, 6.1 apg, 5.2 rpg, 1.6 spg
G Jai Lucas, 5-11/Soph.
8.5 ppg, 2.3 apg, 43.5 3-pt FG%
F Dan Werner, 6-8/Jr.
9.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg
F Alex Tyus, 6-8/Soph.
4.3 ppg, 2.6 rpg
TOP RESERVES
F Chandler Parsons, 6-9/Soph.
8.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg
F Eloy Vargas, 6-10/Fr.
True freshman
C Kenny Kadji, 6-10/Fr.
True freshman
Walter Hodge was third on the team in scoring and second to Calathes in minutes played, steals, 3-pointers made and assist-to-turnover ratio last season. He's good at getting into the lane and creating shots, and he makes good decisions with the ball.

Jai Lucas is the third returning starter in the backcourt for the Gators. He shot a sizzling 43.5 percent (37-of-85) from 3-point range to lead the team, and he scored in double figures 15 times. The best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores, and Donovan has a big-time backcourt waiting to happen with Lucas and Calathes.

FRONTCOURT

The Gators lose all-conference post player Marreese Speights, who left early for the NBA draft. He was their only real scoring option on the blocks, and he did a bulk of the rebounding. His statistical contributions will have to be accounted for by a pair of highly ranked newcomers, four-star prospects Eloy Vargas and Kenny Kadji. Both just missed five-star status and both are 6 feet 10.

Vargas, who checks in at 215 pounds, is the more versatile player; he can step out and get up and down the court better. Kadji is the bigger threat to score in the low post. Word is the coaches have been impressed with Kadji, and at 245 pounds, he has the size to take the pounding of the SEC. Vargas is a little behind because of surgery this summer for bone spurs on an ankle.

The returning starter up front is Dan Werner, who showed significant improvement in his second season in Gainesville. He finished second on the team in rebounding, and he proved to be a threat from 3-point range (42 3-pointers). He had 10 double-digit scoring games in SEC play, and he had a double-double (11 points and 10 boards) in the NIT semifinals loss to UMass. Werner will have to continue to improve to earn his minutes in front of a bevy of talented younger players.

Alex Tyus is an athletic, bouncy power forward who was second on the team in blocks last season. He averaged only 12.7 minutes per game, but in the nine games in which he played at least 18 minutes, he averaged 7.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. He figures to get the first crack in the starting lineup, and he could hold off the freshmen for a while.

Chandler Parsons was another five-star prospect along with Calathes, but he didn't have the same impact as his former high school teammate. He struggled to hang physically in SEC play. Nine of Parsons' 12 double-digit scoring efforts came against non-conference opponents. He averaged only 5.9 points in conference action, an average that must increase with a year of experience.

OFFENSE

The Gators want to get out in transition and play up-tempo. They'll run most of the offense through Calathes, who proved he could get the ball to the right people at the right time. The Gators also will continue to shoot plenty of 3-pointers despite the line moving back a foot.

Donovan couldn't hide his disgust with his young team after a first-round loss to Alabama in the SEC tournament. He questioned his players' commitment, especially on the defensive end, and went so far as to say, "I'm not necessarily really that excited about these guys being sophomores, to be honest. I don't think people change a whole lot, and I don't think you've seen the basketball team change at all this year. So it's hard for me to get overly thrilled or excited." Good thing he brings in the nation's 10th-ranked recruiting class, because it certainly sounds like there are minutes to be had. If he was just trying to motivate the baby Gators, they at least made a run to the semifinals of the NIT. Calathes is a player around whom Donovan can build an SEC contender. He knows how to play and how to win. If Kadji and Vargas are as good or better than advertised and the sophomore class shows improvement, no one will want to see this team in March.

DEFENSE

Donovan prefers to play man-to-man, but he'll mix in some zones. Florida also might pick up the pressure more than it did last season, when it had only nine scholarship players.

SHOES TO FILL

Speights. He left early for the NBA after leading the Gators in rebounding (8.1) and finishing second in scoring (14.5 ppg).

MUST STEP UP

The freshmen. Donovan has lured another quality class to Gainesville, and much like last season's group, it will need to contribute immediately. The Gators didn't have much in the way of depth last season, and they took a major hit in the frontcourt with Speights' departure.

IMPACT NEWCOMER

Vargas and/or Kadji. Donovan and his staff have proved adept at developing big men (David Lee, Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Speights). These guys are next in the pipeline.

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.



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