June 15, 2015

ESPN: UF athletes linked to most crimes from '09-14

GAINESVILLE -- In an examination of 10 major programs, an ESPN Outside The Lines investigation found that Florida football and men’s basketball athletes had the most players named in criminal incidents from 2009-14.

ESPN investigated 10 schools -- UF, Florida State, Auburn, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Oregon State, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Missouri and Wisconsin -- using public records, determining:

"Overall, the Outside the Lines investigation found that what occurs between high-profile college athletes and law enforcement is not as simple as the commonly held perception that police and prosecutors simply show preferential treatment, though that does occur. Rather, the examination of more than 2,000 documents shows that athletes from the 10 schools mainly benefited from the confluence of factors that can be reality at major sports programs: the near-immediate access to high-profile attorneys, the intimidation that is felt by witnesses who accuse athletes, and the higher bar some criminal justice officials feel needs to be met in high-profile cases." 

The Gators had 80 athletes named in connection to more than a 100 crimes -- roughly 24 percent of the combined rosters -- during the six-year span of former coaches Urban Meyer, Will Muschamp and Billy Donovan. 

UF also had the most repeat offenders, but its athletes received, per the report, lenient treatment compared to the average college student in Gainesville. 

According to the complimentary report, 56 percent of cases involving UF players were either not prosecuted or dropped -- this compared to 28 percent for “a comparison set of cases involving college-age males in Gainesville” during the same six-year span. 

The report also examined the role of “expert legal help," with renowned Gainesville attorney Huntley Johnson mentioned several times. 

"Hernandez's attorney was a man named Huntley Johnson, a graduate of Florida's law school, donor to its athletic fund, and counsel to so many Florida athletes that a local newspaper even dubbed him the Gators' real MVP.

When Outside the Lines first presented Ben Tobias, spokesman for the Gainesville Police Department, with data showing athletes were less likely to be prosecuted than non-athletes, Tobias said the main reason was likely the athletes' unique access to legal counsel, which Outside the Lines found was a factor at such other schools as Florida State, Missouri and Oklahoma State.

"Sometimes we joke that [Huntley Johnson's] got a better communication system than 911," Tobias said."

ESPN’s report did not attach any individual public records, but the OTL investigation did single out former UF players Chris Rainey, Ronald Powell, Janoris Jenkins and Aaron Hernandez. 

The main report's lede was:

"As a University of Florida running back, Chris Rainey was named a suspect in five crimes in Gainesville. He faced charges once.

Rainey's experience as a star athlete accused of criminal activity -- stalking, fighting, injuring someone with fireworks -- but ending up with a mostly clean record is not uncommon: From 2009 to 2014, male basketball and football players at the University of Florida and Florida State University avoided criminal charges or prosecution on average two-thirds of the time when named as suspects in police documents, a result far exceeding that of non-athlete males in the same age range, an Outside the Lines investigation has found."

In all, ESPN conducted a very thorough investigation, but some additional background (i.e. the physical documents and breakdown of each incident) would've provided some necessary context. 

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June 09, 2015

Florida adds OL transfer, eligible immediately

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s depleted offensive line received a boost Tuesday, as former Fordham tackle Mason Halter announced on Instagram he was transferring to play for the Gators.

On the 23rd of June I'll be heading down to the University of Florida to start my masters degree and fulfill my last year of eligibility playing as a Gator! Can't thank the Fordham coaching staff and all my teammates over the year for molding me into the player I am today! Can't wait to get down to Florida and start grinding with the team #GoGators 🐊🐊🐊

A photo posted by Mason Halter (@masonisohio) on Jun 9, 2015 at 12:05pm PDT

The 6-foot-8, 297-pound tackle -- and a two-time FCS All-American -- will enroll at UF for the Summer B semester and is eligible to play immediately. 

Halter, along with five-star freshman Martez Ivey, should compete for a starting job right away, too. 

The Gators ended spring practice with just six healthy scholarship offensive linemen. They hope redshirt senior Trip Thurman -- the unit’s only upperclassmen and the only player in the group who’s ever started a game -- will rejoin the mix after missing camp with a shoulder injury. 

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June 08, 2015

MLB Draft: Martin goes to Oakland in the first round

GAINESVILLE -- Florida shortstop Richie Martin was selected 20th overall by the Oakland A’s in Monday’s first round of the Major League Baseball draft. 

The junior out of Brandon has started all 65 games for the Gators, batting .292 and leading the team in runs (59) and stolen bases (20). Martin, a slick-fielding shortstop, also has career-highs in walks (33), homers (5) and RBI (33) this season. 

Since 2012, Martin is the fourth first-round pick under UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan, joining catcher Mike Zunino, pitcher Brian Johnson and pitcher Jonathan Crawford. 

Martin struggled mightily as a sophomore in 2014, committing 21 errors with just a .265 batting average. But the Brooks Wallace Award semifinalist rebounded in the Cape Cod League last summer, leading the league in hits (59) and runs (36) while hitting .364 -- all with wooden bats. 

ESPN draft insider Eric Longenhagen summarized Martin’s selection by writing

“Martin is one of many college shortstops who project to stay there, but unlike those who have been selected ahead of him, Martin projects to do so because of explosiveness and athleticism rather than polish. He has the best range of any shortstop in the class, but his hands and actions need polishing. Martin is strong, muscular and has some power, but his swing is long and stiff for his size, and he likely will hit only for fringe-average contact at best. Swinging and missing won't be an issue if he can play a good shortstop and yank a handful of homers out down the left field line. He needs more polish than some of the other college shortstops, but his upside is just as high."

Martin is expected to sign with the A’s once Florida’s season concludes at the upcoming College World Series. The Gators take on in-state rival Miami on Saturday at 8 p.m. (ESPN). 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

June 04, 2015

Back-to-Back: Haeger shines again as UF repeats

Florida softball repeated as national champions Wednesday night, knocking off Michigan 4-1 in the rubber-match of the 2015 Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.  

National Player of the Year Lauren Haeger dazzled once again, pitching a complete-game, five-hitter and adding an RBI single to kickstart UF’s scoring in the first inning. Haeger, who evoked comparisons to Babe Ruth after becoming just the second-diamond player ever to reach the 70-homer/70-win milestone, finished the WCWS with three homers, a .571 average, four wins and a minuscule 1.18 ERA.

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As a team, UF (60-7) became the first program ever to lose Game 2 and still comeback and win the series. Florida was also just the third program to win back-to-back titles, joining Arizona and UCLA. 

The Gators pounced on the Wolverines early, plating four runs in the first two innings. 

A 4-0 lead proved plenty for Haeger, who held UM hitless through the four innings and then escaped a couple jams late before finding herself at the bottom of a huge dogpile. 

Florida returns to Gainesville on Thursday where the school will host a free welcome-home celebration at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium at 5 p.m. 

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June 02, 2015

Steele names VH3, Morrison preseason All-Americans

GAINESVILLE -- College football sage Phil Steele released his preseason All-American teams Monday, and unsurprisingly, Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III was named to Steele’s first-team for the second straight summer. 

Hargreaves, a rising junior, led the SEC with 13 pass breakups last season and is a two-time Associated Press All-American.

Meanwhile, injured linebacker Antonio Morrison was named a third-team All-American. The senior standout led Florida with 104 tackles in 2014, but Morrison may miss a sizable chunk of the upcoming season recovering from a knee injury he sustained in UF’s bowl victory on Jan. 3. 

Steele also released his All-SEC projections, with Hargreaves and Morrison named as first-teamers. 

Gators wideout Demarcus Robinson, who led UF with 53 receptions for 810 yards and seven touchdowns last year, was named to Steele’s second-team and was UF’s lone offensive player to earn honors. 

Versatile senior defensive lineman Jon Bullard (8.5 tackles for loss) was also named to the All-SEC second team, while senior defensive back Brian Poole (team-leading four interceptions) was awarded fourth-team honors. 

Finally, Gators kicker Austin Hardin (7-of-10 FGs) was named a third-team member. 

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June 01, 2015

The Kelvin Taylor Dilemma: Can he carry the load?

GAINESVILLE -- New Florida coach Jim McElwain is regarded as an offensive guru, but his plan is really pretty simple: Give the football to your best players. Then do it over and over again.

As SB Nation’s Ian Boyd explained:

“McElwain’s offense is seen in his adherence to running a bell cow offense, one in which the best players are fed the ball until they are stuffed. In 2014 at Colorado State, the bell cow was wide receiver Rashard "Hollywood" Higgins, whom McElwain was able to deliver the ball to 89 times for 1,640 yards and 17 touchdowns. The previous season it was running back Kapri Bibbs, who carried the load with 281 carries for 1,741 yards. At Alabama, Mark Ingram and Richardson topped 1,600 yards in 2009 and 2011, respectively.” 

Florida receiver Demarcus Robinson -- easily the team's top playmaker -- should be heavily targeted next season, but with so much inexperience up front the Gators are expected to lean on their running game.

Which then begs the question: Is Kelvin Taylor capable of carrying the load?

There’s an assumption that Taylor, a junior, is a “budding star,” a “breakout candidate” or even a potential “Heisman Trophy sleeper.”

Based on Taylor’s career thus far though, none of those projections should come with any great aplomb.

The son of former UF legend Fred Taylor, Kelvin has been burdened by lofty expectations ever since he arrived in Gainesville. He holds the high school rushing record in Florida and garnered comparisons to former UGA tailback Knowshon Moreno with a similar slippery, shifty running style, coupled with average speed and good vision. 

The former five-star prospect has been a solid second-banana in his first two seasons at Florida. He's a proven playmaking presence, but he’s never showcased as a star, feature-back in college.

Can he now?  

Taylor was productive as a freshman, tallying 508 yards and four touchdowns while splitting carries with several other tailbacks. He predicted a much better sophomore season. 

Instead, last year didn’t go as planned.

Taylor dominated the Cocktail Party with a 25-carry, 197-yard performance, but otherwise his development seemed to plateau. He posted nearly identical numbers (565 yards on 116 carries) to his freshman campaign, and he struggled to see consistent action due to issues in pass protection and a lack of versatility (just seven career receptions for 29 yards). 

He ranked just 24th in the SEC in yards per carry (4.9) and had as many runs over 10 yards as quarterback Treon Harris.  

Considering the rest of Florida’s offense faces more questions than a round of Jeopardy!, Taylor’s lack of explosiveness is a major concern moving forward. 

While McElwain had some dynamic duos at Alabama, he’s traditionally relied on a single, go-to back.

In his last seven seasons as either a head coach or coordinator, McElwain's starting tailback has averaged a whopping 219 carries for 1,314 yards (6.0 y/c).  

Taylor is slotted to fill that role in 2015, and McElwain’s hybrid system -- one that employs lots of inside zones, powers and creative wrinkles -- should benefit his running style.

Still, since UF is unlikely to produce a functional passing game next season, Taylor’s grind-it-out style doesn't solve the Gators' allergy to big plays. That's a problem. 

As he did in high school, Taylor is great at churning out short, positive yardage. But his average speed has limited his ceiling in college.

For example, say Taylor * hypothetically * had duplicated his all-star performance against UGA (his lone career 100-yard game) in UF’s rained-out opener against Idaho, he would’ve finished the season with 762 yards on 141 carries (5.4 average). Not bad. 

But that still would’ve placed Taylor behind SEC heavyweights Nick Chubb, Jonathan Williams, Leonard Fournette, Derrick Henry and Alex Collins in total yards and yards per carry last season.

Florida needs more. 

Enter Jordan Scarlett.

The former St. Thomas Aquinas standout is a home run hitter and could poach carries from Taylor immediately. The four-star prospect may prove too talented to simply fill the role as Florida’s change-of-pace back.  Adam Lane -- the Gators’ human bowling ball and eternal doghouse dweller -- could be an option, too.

All this is to say -- despite projections -- Taylor may be saddled as a sidekick once again. Perhaps sharing the load is the role that best suits him and Florida. 

McElwain has been rightly lauded for his offensive creativity and bell cow approach, but if Taylor isn't "a budding star" then the Gators may not have a go-to tailback on the roster next season.

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May 29, 2015

Roundup: The latest Florida tidbits

GAINESVILLE -- The SEC spring meetings are wrapping up in Destin, with the league set to vote on a number of proposals later today. 

But first: A Florida news dump! 


Jim McElwain’s first commitment is reportedly set to transfer before ever suiting up at Florida. 

Daniel Imatorbhebhe, a tight end from Suwanne, Ga., has cleaned out his locker and is leaving the program, per multiple media reports. 

The 6-foot-3, 227-pounder was an early enrollee, but he didn’t play in Florida’s spring game and was likely destined for a redshirt season competing at a crowded position. 

McElwain didn’t confirm the reports at the SEC spring meetings, only saying, “There’s been a couple guys who have come in and visited about [transferring]. They haven’t done anything yet. When that happens, I’ll come to it.”

Imatorbhebhe was born in Los Angeles and is the older brother of four-star wideout prospect Josh Imatorbhebhe, who recently committed to Southern California. 

The younger Imatorbhebhe was a UF target and Daniel had commented previously his desire for the brothers to play together.  


The SEC adjusted its scheduling format, with each team now having three permanent opponents for a home-and-home series.

The Gators are paired with Kentucky, Georgia and Vanderbilt.

The league will still play an 18-game schedule, but under the new format the rest of the schedule will be played against the remaining 10 teams in the league, with a pair of rotating home-and-home series each season. 


For the 13th straight year, CBS will televise the Florida-Georgia battle on Oct. 31 at 3:30 p.m. The Gators snapped a three-game series losing streak last season, stunning the No. 11 Bulldogs 38-20 in what turned out to be former coach Will Muschamp’s swan song.  


Three Florida teams posted perfect four-year Academic Progress Rate scores, according to figures in a report released Wednesday. 

The NCAA recognized UF’s men’s basketball team, as well as the women’s tennis and softball teams, for its outstanding performance in the classroom for the 2013-14 academic year. 

All three teams had perfect APR scores of 1,000 -- the fourth straight accomplishment for Tim Walton’s powerhouse softball program. 

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May 27, 2015

Thurman progressing, Morrison's return unknown

GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Jim McElwain provided a quick roster update Tuesday at the SEC spring meetings in Destin.

According to Edgar Thompson of The Orlando Sentinel, McElwain said senior center Trip Thurman, out all spring with a chronic shoulder injury, is lifting weights again and eying a return for fall camp. Thurman started 10 games last season and is UF’s lone upperclassman along the offensive line. 

“He’s kind of a one-hit away guy,” McElwain said.

“Taking what we can off has allowed him to get [his shoulder] strengthened and we’ll do the same thing this summer.”

Meanwhile, McElwain said defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. (hip surgery) and linebacker Jarrad Davis (knee) should be ready for training camp. Antonio Morrison’s knee injury remains clouded in mystery though, and his return is unknown. 

The senior linebacker -- and team’s leading tackler in 2014 -- continues to rehab after sustaining a serious injury in the Birmingham Bowl on Jan. 3.

“He’s continuing to work on that,” McElwain said.

“As you know, I would never put a guy out there who is not ready.”

Finally, McElwain provided no update on cornerback J.C. Jackson, but he did confirm recent graduate transfer Josh Grady, formally of Vanderbilt, will play quarterback at UF. 

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May 25, 2015

UF earns No. 4 seed, sets sights on Omaha

GAINESVILLE -- After ripping off four straight wins to capture the 2015 SEC Tournament Championship, Florida's baseball team was rewarded with the No. 4 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament on Monday. 

UF, vying for its first trip to Omaha since 2012, won’t have to leave home to reach the College World Series either, earning a national seed for the sixth time in seven years. 

The Gators (44-16) -- who were the No. 1 overall seed last season but were bounced in the opening weekend -- will host fourth-seed Florida A&M (23-23) Friday at 7 p.m. The Gainesville Regional also includes Florida Atlantic (40-17) and South Florida (33-24-1). UF topped FAU 10-8 at Roger Dean Stadium earlier this year, and went 2-0 against USF. The Gators were scheduled to play FAMU on Feb. 17, but the contest was rained out. 

Should the Gators advance this weekend, they could have date with Florida State. UF -- 1-2 vs. FSU this year -- would host the winner of the Tallahassee Regional.  

2015 NCAA Division I Baseball Championship Bracket copy 2Florida survived a pair of lengthy rain delays to win its seventh SEC Tournament title in school history with a 7-3 victory over Vanderbilt on Sunday. The Gators rallied for four straight wins, including a 2-1 upset over top-seeded LSU, after losing their opening game in the tournament against Arkansas. 

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May 18, 2015

Allen opts to play for White, Florida

GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Michael White is proving his recruiting prowess already. 

UF’s top-rated signee KeVaughn Allen will honor his commitment rather than seeking a release from his LOI, ESPN’s Jeff Goodman first reported. 

The 6-foot-3 combo guard -- the nation’s 54th ranked prospect per ESPN -- was a standout at North Little Rock in Arkansas and was rumored to sign elsewhere following Billy Donovan’s departure to the NBA. 

Not so, apparently.  

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Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 3.38.34 PMAllen’s stepfather went on a local Arkansas radio station roughly two weeks ago, saying Allen’s release was imminent. But Allen met with White in the interim and ultimately chose to stay at UF and play for a new coach. 

With Allen in the fold, White officially retained three of Donovan’s four signees, only losing four-star power forward Noah Dickerson. 

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May 14, 2015

Dickerson released from LOI, Allen weighing options

GAINESVILLE -- New Florida coach Michael White is already facing his first test less than a week on the job. 

Former coach Billy Donovan signed a talented and deep recruiting class, but two of the Gators’ four signees are reportedly seeking other options following Donovan’s departure. 

Forward Noah Dickerson -- UF’s highest-rated commit -- has been released from his LOI, according to ESPN.com and other media outlets. 

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Dickerson, a 6-8 forward from Montverde Academy, is ranked No. 51 overall in the country. Meanwhile, explosive shooting guard KaVaughn Allen (North Little Rock, Ark.) is also reportedly seeking his release. 

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White met with Allen last weekend, and said the nation’s 54th ranked player continues to weigh his options. Still, White won’t obstruct any signee wanting to play elsewhere. 

“I don't think we've had any final answers yet,” White said Monday.   

“I’m not into begging. … But they wanted to play for Coach Donovan.  I understand them having second thoughts.  I understand that.  I appreciate it.  I accept it.  And if those guys want to be here, I'd love to have them.  If not, we'd love to help them find the right place for them.”

White did receive some good new late Wednesday evening though, as athletic forward Keith Stone tweeted he would be honoring his LOI with Florida. 

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Big man Kevarrius Hayes (No. 68 in ESPN Top 100) also remains committed to UF, giving White 10 scholarship players for next season. He could add to the roster before the year, and he’s confident he can restock the program with other quality players.  

“I think this place to a certain extent sells itself,” he said. 

“At the University of Florida we can recruit nationally.  I think you can get involved with kids in all 50 states, and I think that in the past that this basketball program has proven that.  But I also understand how important it is to recruit our state, especially a state that's as fertile as it is.

"I've always enjoyed recruiting this state.  Not only because I liked traveling to Florida, but because there are really good players here.  And we're not going to get them all, but we're going to recruit them all.” 


Florida will square off against West Virginia in Gainesville on Jan. 30 as part of the SEC-BIG 12 Challenge, the conferences announced Thursday. 

The Gators played a home-and-home series with Kansas the last two seasons, but the Mountaineers pose a similar non-conference challenge next season.  

Bob Huggins’ team went 25-10 last year, getting trounced by Kentucky in the Sweet 16. 

In years past, the SEC-BIG 12 matchups were held during the heart of football season in November and early December, so the games were moved to later in the schedule in order to boost visibility and interest. 

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May 13, 2015

Mornhinweg transfers, QB depth now dangerously thin

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s depth continues to dwindle. 

Dangerously so. 

The Gators, already perilously thin at offensive line and linebacker, now have just two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster after backup Skyler Mornhinweg's transfer to Columbia. 

Coach Jim McElwain announced the move Wednesday, leaving UF with only redshirt freshman Will Grier and sophomore Treon Harris on the depth chart. 

"We wish [Mornhinweg] the best,” McElwain said on the SEC Teleconference. 

“We'd love to have him stay here. … Moving forward, as you guys all know, that position, especially in this league now, you need to have some depth, so we're constantly looking at that spot.”

Mornhinweg is the fifth quarterback -- Jeff Driskel, Tyler Murphy, Jacoby Brissett and Max Staver -- to leave the program since 2013. 

An unheralded three-star recruit from Philadelphia, Mornhinweg started UF’s final three games in 2013, all losses. He finished his career with 344 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. 

Even before Mornhinweg's exit, the Gators were already on the market for potential quarterback transfers. Still, the latest deflection leaves them truly scrambling for some much-needed depth. 

UF reportedly hosted Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson on Tuesday, but McElwain wouldn’t comment on the meeting and Florida isn’t considered the favorite to land the the one-year rental signal caller. 

"Per NCAA rules, he's a prospective student-athlete, so I can't really comment on that part," McElwain said. 

"Obviously him mentioning us is something that's exciting.”

Golson is reportedly on a Southern tour doing his due diligence with multiple schools, including Florida, Florida State, Georgia and Alabama. 

Although UF's remaining options are thin, help could still be on the way. 

Oregon State’s Luke Del Rio -- the son of former Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio -- has long been rumored to transfer to Florida this summer. The journeyman quarterback originally signed with Alabama in 2013 and would be reuniting with coordinator Doug Nussmeier. 

Meanwhile, 247Sports reported earlier this week that Vanderbilt graduate quarterback/Swiss Army Knife wideout Josh Grady is also seeking a waiver to transfer to Florida. 

“We look every single day to try and better the organization,” McElwain said. 

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Jackson's future in doubt, no longer enrolled at UF

GAINESVILLE -- J.C. Jackson’s career at Florida is likely over before it ever truly started. 

The troubled redshirt freshman cornerback -- currently facing multiple felony charges for an alleged armed robbery last month -- is not enrolled in school for the Summer A semester, coach Jim McElwain confirmed Wednesday on the SEC Teleconference. 

“He’s got a lot of things he’s dealing with right now,” McElwain said.

“He’s trying to take care of certain things and we’ll support him and help him do what he can, but right now he’s not enrolled in school and dealing with some things that are a lot bigger than the Florida Gators.”

Jackson, 19, has pleaded not guilty to three charges stemming from an incident at a Gainesville apartment complex on April 18.  

The former Under Armour All-American redshirted last season after undergoing shoulder surgery, but the electric athlete was competing for a starting job in UF’s crowded secondary this spring.

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May 07, 2015

Reports: La. Tech's White emerges as top candidate

GAINESVILLE -- Louisiana Tech coach Michael White “has emerged as the leading candidate” to replace former Florida coach Billy Donovan, Yahoo! Sports reported Thursday. 

ESPN and other outlets quickly confirmed Pat Forde’s scoop, too. 

White, the son of Duke athletics director Kevin White, is regarded as one of college basketball’s hottest young coaches, leading the Bulldogs to three-straight Conference USA regular-season titles. The 38-year-old coach is 101-40 in four seasons at La Tech, but he’s yet to make an NCAA Tournament.

White is considered a strong recruiter, with a track record of success in the state of Florida. 

According to Yahoo! Sports’ report, White and UF athletics director Jeremy Foley could meet “as soon as today.”

White was born in Dunedin and played at Ole Miss from 1995-99. He began his coaching career as an assistant at Jacksonville State before returning to his alma mater as a part of Andy Kennedy’s staff from 2004-11. White was reportedly targeted for openings at Tennessee and Missouri last offseason. 

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April 30, 2015

Hot Board: Where does Florida turn next?

GAINESVILLE -- Replacing Billy Donovan is an unenviable task, but Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley is charged with finding a coach suitable to fill Donovan’s footsteps. 

Good luck. 

Foley will oversee a second major hire in the last six months, as the Gators will have a new football and basketball coach in the same year for the first time since 1990-91. They’ll be the only Power 5 school in the country with such a duo. 

As is stands, Florida has the lone college basketball opening in the nation. 

Donovan built UF into a national powerhouse, but the program is at a bit of a crossroads with just a decent roster and facilities that need upgrading. Is Florida actually an elite job, or was Donovan what made the Gators an annual contender?

We’ll see.

Here’s a list of candidates Foley may pursue. 

1. Archie Miller, Dayton head coach -- The hottest name potentially linked to Florida. The 36-year-old (and younger brother of Arizona coach Sean Miller) is a considered a rising star after taking the Flyers to the Elite Eight in 2013-14. 

2. John Pelphrey, Florida assistant head coach -- The former South Alabama and Arkansas head coach has been Donovan’s top assistant since 2011. Ideally, Donovan would prefer Pelphrey succeed him. 

3. Chris Mack, Xavier head coach -- An Ohio native, Mack has an impressive résumé (three Sweet 16 births in six seasons) but few ties to the South. 

4. Michael White, Louisiana Tech head coach -- Another rising star and the son of Duke athletic director Kevin White. He played at Ole Miss and is considered a strong recruiter with success in the state of Florida. 

5. Richard Pitino, Minnesota head coach -- A former UF assistant from 2009-11, but Rick Pitino’s son has never made the NCAA Tournament in five seasons as a head coach. 

6. Jay Wright, Villanova head coach -- Easily the most accomplished coach on the list and a longshot candidate. Foley loves him, but Wright is a Northeast native and has coached at Nova for 14 years.  

7. Steve Prohm, Murray State head coach -- Prohm, who went to Alabama, has dominated the Ohio Valley Conference, leading the Racers to a 104-29 record in four seasons. Another longshot candidate.   

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OKC hires Donovan, who leaves UF after 19 seasons

GAINESVILLE -- For the first time in two decades, Florida needs a new basketball coach. 

Billy Donovan officially accepted the opening with the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday, leaving Gainesville after 19 seasons with the Gators. 

Yahoo! Sports and ESPN both initially confirmed the report. 

Donovan agreed to a five-year deal, according to Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski. 

The future Hall of Fame coach inherits an OKC team with tons of talent (stars Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka) but also inherent risks with Durant and Westbrook’s looming free agency’s.

Still, Donovan’s strong ties to the organization -- including a close relationship with Thunder GM Sam Presti -- were critical influences on the decision to leave Florida. Presti flew to Gainesville on Tuesday to personally offer him the job. 

Last year, UF assistant Mark Daigneault was hired as the Thunder’s D-League coach, and at the same time, Florida video coordinator Oliver Winterbone left to become a scout/data analyst for OKC. 

Florida hired Donovan in 1996. He was only 31. The former Wall Street wiz had just two years of head coaching experience, but Donovan was charged with building a competitive program -- one that had just five NCAA Tournament appearances in school history. 

Within three seasons, Donovan took Florida to the Sweet Sixteen and the foundation for the future was established. 

Donovan, who turns 50 on May 30, was a relentless recruiter and offensive mastermind, turning the Gators into a powerhouse. He led UF to four Final Fours, six SEC Championships, 14 NCAA Tournament appearances and 16 straight 20-win seasons. He’s the second youngest coach in D-1 history to win 500 games. 

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April 29, 2015

Reports: Donovan-to-OKC gaining steam

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s two-time national champion coach Billy Donovan is reportedly “leaning strongly” toward accepting the opening with the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, per multiple reports. 

ESPN’s Marc Stein wrote early Wednesday morning UF’s coach and OKC had formally opened talks, and Yahoo! Sports later reported the Thunder is “preparing an offer” and Donovan is “enthusiastic” about the potential move. 

Barring an impasse over contract negotiations, Donovan’s exit appears imminent following weeks of smoke and speculation.

"He's as good as gone," Stein quoted one source.

Stein also stated Donovan's family is "willing to move" and a decision is expected within 48 hours. 

Donovan, who built Florida basketball into a powerhouse over 19 seasons, recently signed an amended, one-year contract extension through the 2020 season, pushing his annual salary just north of $4 million. His buyout ($500,000) remained unchanged though, and he no longer is tied to a noncompete clause. 

The future Hall of Fame coach would inherit an OKC team with tons of talent (stars Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka) but also inherent risks with Durant and Westbrook’s looming free agency’s.

Still, Donovan’s strong ties to the organization -- including a close relationship with Thunder GM Sam Presti -- are critical influences to the potential move. Yahoo! reported Presti flew to Gainesville on Tuesday. 

Last year, UF assistant Mark Daigneault was hired as the Thunder’s D-League coach, and at the same time, Florida video coordinator Oliver Winterbone left to become a scout/data analyst for OKC. 

Florida hired Donovan in 1996. He was only 31. The former Wall Street wiz had just two years of head coaching experience, but Donovan was charged with building a competitive program -- one that had just five NCAA Tournament appearances in school history. 

Within three seasons, Donovan took Florida to the Sweet Sixteen and the foundation for the future was established. 

Donovan, who turns 50 on May 30, was a relentless recruiter and offensive mastermind, turning the Gators into a powerhouse. He led UF to four Final Fours, six SEC Championships, 14 NCAA Tournament appearances and 16 straight 20-win seasons. He’s the second youngest coach in D-1 history to win 500 games. 

Impervious to distractions, Donovan has yet to comment on OKC’s interest and was recruiting for Florida as recently as Sunday.

The Donovan-to-NBA rumors heated up less than a month ago, with Stein initially reporting Donovan would “give renewed consideration” to the NBA, and later writing, “Donovan is looking to make the jump to the NBA more than ever before.”

Donovan has never been shy about the NBA’s allure, openly admitting last March he was still “intrigued.”

In 2007, Donovan infamously accepted the Orlando Magic job before a change of heart brought him back to UF less than a week later.  

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 27, 2015

SG Eli Carter to transfer, eligible immediately

GAINESVILLE -- Following two injury-riddled seasons, redshirt junior guard Eli Carter is transferring from Florida, the school announced Monday. 

Carter, who was a ballyhooed transfer from Rutgers in 2013, will graduate this spring and is eligible to play immediately next season. 

"I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had here at Florida," Carter said in a release. 

"I’ll always appreciate the coaches, teammates and fans that made my time here memorable."

The swingman averaged 8.8 points last season -- third on the Gators -- but he shot just 36.2 percent from the field and never rediscovered his form as the talented scorer of the Scarlet Knights. 

"We appreciate everything that Eli has done in his two years in Gainesville," UF coach Billy Donovan said. 

“We all wish him well and will do whatever we can to help him take this next step in his career."

As a sophomore at Rutgers, Carter averaged nearly 15 points a game. But he broke his leg in late February and he never fully recovered from the devastating injury. He played sparingly for the Gators in 2013-14 before opting for a medical redshirt. He then missed five games this past season with various aliments. 

Carter’s transfer, coupled with the departures of Michael Frazier II and Chris Walker, leaves Florida with one available scholarship for next season.   

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 24, 2015

C/F Chris Walker entering 2015 NBA Draft

GAINESVILLE -- Chris Walker’s roller coaster career at Florida has come to an end. 

Despite two unimpressive seasons, the former McDonald’s All-American officially declared for the 2015 NBA Draft, UF announced Friday.

“I want to thank the coaching staff, my teammates and everyone at Florida for my experience here,” Walker said in a statement. 

“I’m excited to continue pursuing my dream of playing professionally.” 

The 6-foot-10 sophomore averaged just 4.7 points and 3.5 rebounds last season, failing to fulfill sky-high expectations as a former five-star prospect and top-10 recruit. 

He totaled 80 career field goals (25 of which were dunks), scored in double figures just five times and never grabbed as many as seven rebounds in a single game. 

"Chris has been a pleasure to coach," UF coach Billy Donovan said.

"He is a great kid with a lot of potential, and everyone here wishes the absolute best for him."

Walker, who possesses elite athleticism, leaves as an unpolished product with a low basketball IQ, minimal development and a complete lack of defensive awareness.

The forward/center could never escape the burdening shadow of hope and hype, as he initially failed to qualify academically and then struggled to find a role on a veteran Final Four team in 2013-14. 

Walker was still projected as a late first round pick last year, but he opted to return for his sophomore season to improve his game. 

His stock has now slipped significantly, as he’s no longer regarded as Top 100 prospect according to ESPN, DraftExpress or CBSSports.

********** UPDATE **********

ESPN basketball analyst Jeff Goodman seemingly confirms whispers Walker no longer had a spot at Florida (reportedly academics) had he not opted to go pro. 

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Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 21, 2015

Roderick Johnson releases heartfelt statement

GAINESVILLE -- Roderick Johnson is doing his best to stay positive. 

A week after learning he’d suffered a career-ending injury in practice, the redshirt sophomore spoke publicly Monday about his retirement. 

In a candid statement released by UF, Johnson -- a right tackle who played in all 12 games last season -- discussed overcoming his heartbreaking condition, his pride for the Gator Nation and his goals for the future. 

“Spinal stenosis -- April 3, 2015 -- the day that changed my life,” he said. 

“It’s hard to walk away from this game, and it’s dearly easy to fall in love with when you have the right mindset and the dedication. I enjoyed my time as a Gator from the first day I got that call from Coach [Will] Muschamp. I instantly fell in love with a school I didn’t like since I was a kid (lol).

"I had a tough time trying to enroll due to my grades. I pulled through with the love and support from the UF staff. Taking the redshirt my first year was rough, so going into my freshman redshirt year I took it more serious. Listening to Coach [Mike] Summers coach and trusting his technique made me a great offensive lineman and I always had heart, of course.”

Johnson did, and his mettle was truly tested following a team scrimmage on April 3. The former American Heritage High standout was hit in practice and his life changed almost immediately. Johnson was initially diagnosed with a "stinger," but after he experienced numbness in his fingers and hands doctors soon discovered his career-ending condition. 

In an instant, a potential NFL prospect had his dream ripped away. Still, as Johnson struggles to cope with reality he continues to maintain an optimistic outlook on the future.  

“It’s a tough time as I try to move forward, but I still have some positives on the situation,” he said.

“I get to stand and talk to you instead of being in a wheelchair. I would like to say thanks to the coaching staff from Coach [McElwain] all the way down to the graduate assistants. Being in a highly powered offense, I wanted to prove I was a great athlete even when my knee bothered me sometimes.

“In looking forward to what the future brings, I look to be a great assistant coach and make sure these 2015 offensive linemen know what it takes to be a Gator, and for that, I love Gator Nation. You turned me from a boy to a man. I want to see my teammates be great because it can be taken away from you in just one play.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

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