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Florida basketball begins the 2011-12 regular season against Jackson State on Friday, and InsidetheGators.com is take a closer look at the squad. In this feature, we hand out preseason superlatives for categories such as best player, breakout season, and heart and soul.
Unlike their SEC East rival Kentucky, UF is not always a team that brings in a prominent freshman expected to make a major impact from day one. That is not the case this year as freshman guard Brad Beal is already impressing his coaches and teammates in practice and could very well be the Gators' best player before the season is over. The Gatorade National Player of the Year, Beal averaged 32.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.7 steals per game as a high school senior. He earned the start in Florida's exhibition game and posted 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting. Beal will likely keep that position all year long and has an opportunity to provide the best performance by a freshman over the course of a season in team history.
Shooting guard. Though head coach Billy Donovan is doing his best to find his numerous backcourt players other roles on the team, the Gators have three true shooting guards on the roster and at least two other players who could play the position if needed (they won't be). Scoring will not be an issue for Florida this season, mostly because there are so many guards who can seemingly put the ball in the basket at will.
Everyone is talking about UF's guards and how sophomore center Patric Young will perform but many forget that junior Erik Murphy is also stepping into a starting role this year. Murphy was an effective and productive player during his first two seasons who has averaged 55.7 percent from the floor and 40 percent from downtown. He has since gained some weight in order to become more durable and a stronger presence in the post. Murphy believes he is in the best shape of his life and feels comfortable with his role on the Gators. With such a guard-heavy roster, his ability to be a reliable frontcourt starter could have a major impact on the season.
HEART AND SOUL:
Young's energy, size and court presence make him a possibility here, but no Florida player has more guts and determination than senior point guard Erving Walker. In his final season wearing the orange and blue, Walker has tasted success but has yet to reach the promised land of a Final Four. Not only will he be an emotional leader for the team all season, Walker is also being tasked by Donovan with becoming more of a distributor and game manager, a transition that could determine how far the Gators go in 2011-12. Walker must lead by example and prove that - even though he is diminutive in stature - he is always bigger than the situation and has a more dedication and resolution than anyone else on the team.
Beal is by far and away the obvious choice here, especially considering he is already a starter, but there is another freshman playing for the first time this year that could do some big things for Florida. Redshirt freshman forward/center Cody Larson should see a lot of playing time this season as the primary backup center and a player who can rotate in as a power forward. Considering how depleted UF is in the frontcourt, Larson's potential emergence could help solidify a unit that may be exposed early when going up against teams like Ohio State and Syracuse.
In his third year with the Gators, junior guard Kenny Boynton continues to mature and has emerged as the most well-rounded player on the team. Though his streaky offensive game needs to be solidified, the fact that he can go off and hit a handful of treys at any given times makes him a weapon that few teams in the country possess. His defense, though slightly overrated, is still tremendous and undoubtedly the best on the team heading into the season. Boynton's ability to score in bunches, coupled with the fact that he can help neutralize the opposing team's best player, makes him invaluable to a young Florida team with just four upperclassmen.
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