- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Billy Donovan was upbeat on Friday during the news conference announcing Bradley Beal's decision to enter the NBA Draft.
He is obviously sad to see Beal leave, but Donovan shouldn't be devastated for two reasons: He knows things could have been a lot worse, and he had been planning for just this situation.
As the season ended with a loss to Louisville in the Elite Eight, there was speculation the Gators would lose four of their five starters. Erving Walker is graduating, but Beal, Patric Young and Kenny Boynton were also considering leaving. Young and Boynton, however, elected to stay, which means the Gators will have one of the Southeastern Conference's top scorers and big men on the floor in 2012-13.
Plus, Donovan recruited in case the Gators did lose additional players. He signed three guards in November, received a signed letter of intent from wing prospect DeVon Walker on Friday and is still pursuing forward Anthony Bennett as a potential final addition to the 2012 class. Bennett, the highest-ranked unsigned player in the country, will announce his choice of five schools in May. Florida's 2012 class was ranked No. 25 in the nation by ESPN before signing Walker.
So while it hurts to lose Beal's 14.8 points, team-high 6.7 rebounds per game, and team-first attitude, the Gators are in great shape even if they don't get Bennett. Injured forward Will Yeguete, who is UF's best rebounder, defender and its key man in the press, will return. There were also encouraging signs that reserves Casey Prather, Cody Larson and Mike Rosario had started to turn the corner and can become reliable and productive players next season.
"I’m excited about our team next year," Donovan said. "Any time you lose a good player it always hurts your team. But we’ll get Will back healthy. Murphy’s a senior. Patric’s a junior. So I feel like there’s a lot of experience there in our frontcourt. I think Kenny Boynton has played as many minutes as any backcourt player in the country [and will be] a senior. Rosario’s a fifth-year senior. Scottie Wilbekin’s now a junior. So we lose certainly a terrific player and a guy that probably would have scored maybe more than he did as a freshman. We lose a great kid and a good team guy. But I think his departure will open up opportunities for some other guys."
Like Prather, who averaged 5.0 points and 3.0 rebounds in the NCAA Tournament, which is worlds better than what he did in the Gators' 16 SEC games (0.7 points and 0.7 rebounds per game).
"Casey I think at least emerged at the end of the year and showed some signs of some things I’ve watched during the course of practices," Donovan said. "At the end of the year he started to kind of come into his own, and I think people looked at him saying wow, he’s really done well. He’s another guy I think at the wing spot can add some depth and some athleticism for us."
The final piece to the puzzle would be Bennett, a 6-foot-8, 230-pound Canadian who would give the Gators one of the most physical frontcourts in the nation. It also would allow the 6-10 Murphy to move to the small forward spot, where his size and shooting ability would create mismatches.
Even if Bennett doesn't pick UF, however, the 2012-13 Gators are still a team that could compete for a national title, thanks to a little luck and Donovan's preparations.
3dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough