GAINESVILLE -- There's more to the current struggles of the Florida men's basketball team than just losing its six best players off a national championship team three years ago ... (in order of importance, according to me)
1. Leadership: The 2006 and 2007 championship teams had it all, but what they had in abundance was leadership. Joakim Noah demanded everyone's best effort. He pulled it out of each player. Since Noah left for the NBA, a leader has failed to emerge at UF. Chandler Parsons is currently the closest thing to a vocal leader on the Gators' team. The only thing Alex Tyus and Joakim Noah have in common is bad hair. I currently see absolutely no substance to Alex Tyus. He just doesn't seem to care. Maybe he'll figure things out in the offseason (or, better yet, before the SEC tournament). Here's to hoping.
2. Attrition: Between players always leaving and assistant coaches always leaving, it's amazing the basketball team has won at least 20 games each season since 2007. Consider this starting line-up: G Nick Calathes, G Kenny Boynton Jr., F Chandler Parsons, F Marreese Speights, C Vernon Macklin. That's a pretty good starting five with Alex Tyus, Erik Murphy, Dan Werner, Jai Lucas/Erving Walker and Ray Shipman coming off the bench. But Speights left for the NBA after his sophomore season (2008) and Calathes left for Greece after his sophomore season (2009). It's hard to build a good team when your best players are leaving after their sophomore seasons. Now, instead of being a role player in his freshman season, Kenny Boynton Jr. is being relied upon to be an instant star. He wasn't ready for that. That brings us to ...
3. Recruiting: Missing on Patrick Patterson in 2007 really set back the program a couple seasons. Missing on Eric Bledsoe in 2009 has seemingly had the same effect. Amazingly, both of those players are at Kentucky. Kentucky is currently one of the best teams in the country and is being led by a first-year head coach whose programs get busted for cheating everywhere he goes! Meanwhile, Florida has had to settle for players like Nimrod Tishman, who seems to be a complete waste of a scholarship. Sad, I know. Maybe Nimrod can learn how to play a little defense and prove me wrong. Here's to hoping, but it seems more likely that Nimrod is just the latest in a long list of players who didn't or haven't developed properly or were just complete recruiting misses: Jon Mitchell, Adam Allen, Eloy Vargas, Kenny Kadji (final verdict still pending) and even Dan Werner and Ray Shipman to lesser degrees. As result of all these recruiting misses and busts, the Gators' bench is extremely thin. The team only has one point guard and the only quality power forward on the team is Macklin, a transfer from Georgetown.
4. Confidence/Toughness/Desire/Talent: Dan Werner is the toughest player on the Gators' team, perhaps because he's the only link between UF now and UF in its glory years, when UF was the toughest team in the nation. But what Werner has in toughness and desire, he unfortunately lacks in overall talent. Name one player on the Gators' team who could start for Kentucky? Name one player on the Gators' team who could start for Vanderbilt? If the Florida-Vanderbilt game had been played on a neutral court, UF would have lost by 20. Just like the Florida-Tennessee game, it seemed like the refs (meaning the SEC) did everything possible to get Florida a win to improve its NCAA Tournament resume. Even then, UF couldn't get it done. That's just a lack of confidence/toughness/desire/talent, with talent being the least important.
5. Injuries: Kenny Kadji and Adam Allen have both been injured the entire season. Allen's career really never got going. Kadji's development has stalled because of a bad back. Injuries are a poor excuse. Every program has injuries.
Obviously, I've been pretty critical here with this blog post, but you know what? At least it shows that someone cares. Caring is a good thing. Maybe that's the reason these rumors of Donovan leaving Florida keep popping up? Not enough people care about Florida basketball. Can you image the negative press Kentucky, North Carolina or Kansas would be receiving right now if those programs were in a position to miss the NCAA Tournament three years in a row?
Now that I've laid out the reasons why Florida has fallen off since 2007, it's time to outline the reasons why there is hope for the future.
1. Billy Donovan is still one of the best coaches in the country. He's had a tough run of late, but it's not like the program is in complete disarray. Keeping Donovan at Florida is the most important thing for the program's long-term success.
2. The team loses one significant player after this season, Werner. There are some good players returning. Chandler Parsons seems to be on the verge of having an All-SEC season as a senior. He should not even consider leaving Florida for the pros after this season. The same goes for Vernon Macklin, who will be a senior next season.
3. Kenny Boynton Jr. has had a decent season as a freshman. He needs to work on his shooting, but his overall defense and effort has been good. Boynton should make a significant jump in development next season if he dedicates himself to improving his shot in the offseason.
4. Point guard Erving Walker needs some help in the backcourt. Donovan must sign a quality point guard this offseason. Landing Brandon Knight, or someone of that caliber, should be a top priority. Can Nimrod Tishman develop his game enough this offseason to contribute off the bench next season? If he can't, then cut him loose and recruit another combo guard.
5. Alex Tyus is a pretty good player but he must demand more of himself. He should be the leader of this team. Anything else is unacceptable. He should start his transformation by shaving his head. Make a big deal about. Hold a ceremony at midcourt in the O'Dome.
6. There is still hope for Ray Shipman and Kenny Kadji but it's going to take a lot of work. Shipman and Kadji need to train like madmen this offseason. Eight hours a day. Every day. Sprints, running, shooting, lifting, eating properly. No more trips back to Miami for Shipman -- just shooting drills, sprints, shooting drills, stadium steps and even more shooting drills when he's dog tired. Shipman can be a good player if he puts in the work. Kadji needs to transform his body after he returns from his back surgery. More importantly, Kadji must transform his attitude. Get nasty. Get mean. Get junkyard-dog tough. Get in touch with Al Horford.
7. The same goes for Vernon Macklin. Your future as a basketball player is on the line, Vernon. Work harder than Tim Tebow this offseason and you might (MIGHT!) be able to make it in the pros. Talent means nothing if you don't put in the work.
8. Forward Erik Murphy appears to have the potential to develop into a solid player and Florida will gain some much-needed frontcourt depth with the addition of Jacksonville-area recruit Patric Young (6-8, 220 pounds).
Florida can challenge Kentucky next season for the SEC title, but it's going to take discipline over the offseason from players like Shipman and Kadji, toughness from players like Parsons, Macklin and Boynton and leadership from players like Tyus and Walker. Oh, and one or two guards who can come in and contribute immediately.