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Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Florida focusing on '14 power forwards

By Adam Finkelstein

While Florida still has one scholarship left in the Class of 2013 and remains in the hunt for No. 4 senior Julius Randle (Dallas/Prestonwood Christian), the Gators are now focusing the majority of their recruiting time and effort on the Class of 2014.

Ironically, it’s the power forward position -- where they already have No. 10 recruit Chris Walker (Bonifay, Fla./Holmes County) signed in 2013 and still are after Randle -- that Florida has been most active in 2014. This week alone, the Gators have offered Jordan Barnett (St. Louis, Mo./Christian Brothers) and reached out to ESPN 60 prospect Abdul-Malik Abu (Boston/Kimball Union Academy).

Chris Walker
The signing of No. 10 recruit Chris Walker hasn't stopped the Gators from pursuing other power forwards to pair with the athletic big man.
That’s hardly an indication that Florida isn’t expecting Walker to have a big impact early in his career -- rather, that he might be a better fit for the team’s offensive system at the 5 spot than the 4.

Historically, Billy Donovan has always been partial to having skilled power forwards on the floor who can open up the lane for his pick-and-roll offense. Current senior Erik Murphy is the perfect example. He’s been the epitome of efficient on the offensive end this year, shooting great percentages from all over the floor but most importantly making 47 percent of his 3-point attempts.

Not only do defenders have to respect Murphy from the arc, but they have to run at him and do everything in their power to keep him from shooting in rhythm, which opens up the lane for Kenny Boynton and the rest of Florida’s guards to turn the corner on ball screens.

Walker is a long and freakishly athletic big man who is ideally suited to play pick-and-roll and then dive to the rim, but he's far from the skilled court-spacer Murphy is. In order for Florida to continue to play the same spaced-out pick-and-roll style, the Gators will need to find a suitable stretch 4-man to pair with Walker.

Of course, Randle isn’t your prototypical stretch power forward either, but if Donovan can pair Randle and Walker together, he’ll have potentially the best freshman frontline in America next year and will be willing to tweak his system.

The other important factor here is the value of Florida’s skill-development program and the amount of trust the Gators put in it. While Murphy is now one of the best stretch 4-men in all of college basketball, that was not his reputation coming out of St. Mark’s (Mass.) four years ago. Yes, he could make an open, stand-still 3, but his bread-and-butter was widely considered to be his post game at the time.

The bottom line here is that Florida has a prototype for what they look for at the power forward position in Murphy. And in order to continue to play the same style, the Gators will need to put Walker in as many pick-and-rolls as possible and find a complementary big man who can ultimately develop into an efficient stretch 4-man.