Nov. 23, 2005
Very few teams could lose three stars like Anthony Roberson, Matt Walsh and David Lee and challenge in the SEC. It looks like Billy Donovan has that team.
I was so impressed with the chemistry of this year's Florida Gators team when I saw them at Madison Square Garden for the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament. These kids play hard, work as a team and have a commitment to defense that has been missing at times in recent years.
Donovan starts four sophomores -- Corey Brewer, Al Horford, Taurean Green and Joakim Noah -- along with junior sharpshooter Lee Humphrey. There are interesting family ties to famous athletes and that helps. Horford's dad, Tito, played in the NBA. Green's father, Sidney, was an All-America at UNLV who also played in the pros and served as the head coach at Florida Atlantic before joining Indiana's staff recently.
Noah's dad is tennis star and overseas music sensation Yannick Noah. Having grown up with athletics as part of the background, these players know the pressure of expectations.
This Gators squad didn't have the same expectations as recent Florida teams since Roberson, Walsh and Lee accounted for over 45 points per game last season. Replacing that much offense is difficult but the Gators spread their field goal attempts well during their successful run at the Garden. In the win over Syracuse, the distribution of the top seven shooters -- five shots to 12 shots.
Taurean Green has become a floor leader who gained lots of confidence in wins over a pair of ranked teams, Wake Forest and Florida. He scored 23 points in each game and took a leadership role at the point. He's not afraid to shoot the trifecta (six-of-nine against Syracuse).
Florida's players are long and have the ability to run the break. Humphrey's role is to shoot from long range. Noah and Horford are tough on the glass. Brewer is a versatile, athletic talent.
The Gators also have depth with Chris Richard and Adrian Moss providing experience, size and strength. A pair of diaper dandies, Walter Hodge and David Huertas, will get better with playing time and should contribute in the backcourt.
I really feel this Florida team will be better than many experts expected. I believe they will be very competitive in challenging the best of the best in the SEC.
Donovan has a lot to smile about these days. Billy the Kid has a nice group to work with and they will be heard from come tournament time.
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.