Florida Gators: Mike Rosario

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Another week of spring football practice is in the books and the basketball team rolled through the second and third rounds of the NCAA tournament, so there’s a lot to recap.

On the football front, the Gators got some bad news early in the week when reserve offensive lineman Trip Thurman suffered a shoulder injury that UF coach Will Muschamp said appeared to be severe. Thurman’s injury left the Gators with only five healthy scholarship offensive linemen, and that is forcing them to alter their plans for the spring game.

[+] EnlargeLoucheiz Purifoy
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsLoucheiz Purifoy has moved back to defense for now, but he's not done with offense for good.
Instead of a true game, the Gators essentially will have a glorified open practice and will spend time in 7-on-7 and situational drills.

Cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy finished his time at receiver and moved back to defense. The decision to try him out on offense was made because of the lack of production from the position since the 2009 season. And with freshman early enrollee Demarcus Robinson sidelined for a week with a sprained ankle, it doesn’t appear likely the Gators will get any answers at the position this spring.

SEC blogger Chris Low took a look back at some of the most memorable upsets in SEC play over the past 35 years. Ole Miss’ victory over Florida in 2008 -- which spawned Tim Tebow’s promise and was the catalyst to the Gators’ national championship run -- made the list.

On the recruiting trail ...

On the recruiting front, Derek Tyson put together his weekly mailbag, which included information about offensive tackle David Sharpe (Jacksonville, Fla./Providence), ESPN Watch List safety Quincy Wilson (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./University School of Nova South) and ESPN Watch List linebacker Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County).

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AUSTIN, Texas -- Mike Rosario, he of the broken finger, bum ankle, tender back, nagging hip pointer and bad first NCAA tournament game, decided to put the hurt on someone else Sunday.

And, yes, there were tears involved. That's usually the case at this one-and-done point of the season. But third-seeded Florida and Rosario were feeling no pain as they wide-tooth grinned their way into the Sweet 16 after a 78-64 win over No. 11 seed Minnesota in the Frank Erwin Center.

Florida, which is in its third straight Sweet 16 for the first time in school history, will play 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast in Arlington, Texas, on Friday.

"I told myself, 'I can't let my guys down,'" Rosario said. "I was beating myself up that I didn't bring the full Mike Rosario in the first game and I felt like had to come out the second game."

[+] EnlargeMike Rosario
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsAfter struggling in Florida's NCAA tournament opener, senior Mike Rosario shined against Minnesota.
He came out and stayed out. The senior guard scored 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting, with 17 of those points coming in the first half as Florida staked itself to a 23-point lead over the Gophers.

"When you shoot 6-of-9 [from behind the arc], even if you are by yourself that is pretty impressive," Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. "Those were really tough shots."

It wouldn't be Rosario if they weren't. He is a player more apt to struggle down the rocky road than stroll down the smooth path. A transfer from Rutgers, Rosario has been a player and personality who has not exactly been at odds with Florida coach Billy Donovan in his Florida career but has not exactly been on the same wavelength, either. As a junior Donovan was pushing him through the injuries, letting him know what it meant to be a big-time player every night in a big-time program. And even in this, Rosario's senior season, Donovan has twice limited his minutes in the final weeks because of Rosario's failure to do the lithe, and essential, things on the court.

"There are times with Mike when he can come not focused and not be accountable and not be responsible in terms of doing the things he needs to do," Donovan said. "The reason our relationship is sometimes rocky is that I have held him to a higher standard."

Donovan, and everyone else, held Rosario in high esteem Sunday. Really there was no other place to put him. Even after the 17-point first half, Rosario, who has what is surely an infuriating ability to check out, stayed focused and nailed a 3-pointer that quelled a Minnesota run midway through the second half.

"I felt that every time I have an open look at it I'm going to take it," Rosario said. "And they were falling tonight."

That wasn't the case against Northwestern State on Friday. Rosario failed to box out on a play and because of that found himself on the bench for the majority of the game. Ditto with a few weeks ago against Kentucky when his carelessness pushed Donovan to the brink and Rosario right back to the bench.

But Rosario doesn't go to the bench to sulk.

"Mike will assume responsibility," Donovan said. "He is not a finger pointer and is not blaming other people. The best thing about Mike is that Mike lets me coach him. I am on him all the time a lot because I want him to be the best he can be on and off the floor."

Sunday Rosario was just that.
AUSTIN, Texas -- The Minnesota Golden Gophers couldn't handle the pressure of the NCAA tournament, thanks in large part to the pressure applied by the Florida Gators as third-seeded Florida extended its defense and, as a direct result, its run in the NCAAs with a 78-64 win over the No. 11 Gophers at the Erwin Center Sunday.

Overview: Florida built a 23-point first-half lead behind its defense and prolific shooting, weathered a flurry of 3-pointers from Minnesota's Andre Hollins, and moved into the next round. The Gators were led by guard Mike Rosario (25 points) and forward Erik Murphy (15). That pair combined to score 24 of Florida's first 30 points and hit eight of their first nine shots. Hollins, who had 25 points, made a run midway through the second half to help the Gophers get within single digits a couple of times. But Florida and Rosario had the answer each and every time.

Turning point: Florida opted for a full-court defense early in the game and was able to not only fluster Minnesota's offense but also kick-start its own scorers. The Gators hit their first four shots and didn't cool off much from there as they went on to shoot 65 percent in the first half. Murphy and Rosario proved to be a prolific duo from beyond the arc as they combined to hit 10 of 14 3-pointers in the first half.

Key player: Rosario, who was benched during the Northwestern State game Friday because of a failure to block out, made sure he wouldn't be taken off the floor Sunday. The guard, who has averaged 12.2 points, had a game-high 17 in the first half on 71 percent shooting. He was a 44 percent shooter coming into the game.

Key stat: Minnesota had been dominating teams on the boards and finished the Big Ten season tied for first in rebounding margin with a 7.8 differential. Against Florida, the Gophers were unable to consistently get to the glass. The Gators had a 16-8 rebound margin in the first half. The Gators limited the Gophers to no second chance points while Florida had six in the first 20 minutes.

Next up: Florida advances to play the winner of the San Diego State-Florida Gulf Coast game in Arlington, Texas, on Friday.

Florida's Prather steps in, steps up

February, 12, 2013
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Casey Prather left the Florida locker room after the Gators’ 69-52 victory over Kentucky with a small red bump on his lower lip near the corner of his mouth.

That wasn’t a lot of damage for the 6-foot-6 swingman despite an evening of playing inside against the nation’s top shot-blocker and a 7-footer. The Gators hope he can hold up that well throughout the rest of the regular season.

That’s pretty much the only way UF can weather the loss of Will Yeguete and put itself in position to make another deep NCAA tournament run.

[+] EnlargeFlorida's Casey Prather
AP Photo/Phil SandlinCasey Prather scored 12 points and took three charges for the Gators.
"It [stepping in for Yeguete] wasn’t really in the back of my mind," Prather said after scoring 12 points, grabbing three rebounds, blocking two shots, and dishing out two assists. "I would just say I was trying to give the team a big boost, big energy boost, and so I was just glad to help the team out any way I could."

The 6-7 Yeguete -- the Gators’ second-leading rebounder, best post defender, and the key to UF’s full-court press -- underwent surgery last Friday to clean out loose bodies in his right knee. Replacing part of Yeguete’s production fell to Prather, and he has embraced the challenge. He had 12 points and five rebounds in the Gators’ rout of Mississippi State last Saturday, but the Bulldogs sit in the SEC’s cellar and have won just seven games. It was going to be a much bigger task to do it against Kentucky and 6-10 Nerlens Noel, the nation’s leading shot-blocker (4.5 per game), and 7-foot center Willie Cauley-Stein.

Prather not only held his own, he drew three charges and had a big first half to help the Gators rally from a slow start. With Erik Murphy on the bench for much of the first half with two fouls, Prather scored eight points -- two of which came on a dunk in front of Cauley-Stein.

"It's just a matter of confidence with that guy," UF center Patric Young said. "Because, I know he can do that day in and day out. He's just really athletic with really active hands. It was a night where he could show what he can do."

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Weekend Watch: Florida-Arizona preview

December, 14, 2012
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Mark Lyons and Kenny BoyntonUSA TODAY Sports, Icon SMIDon't be surprised to see Kenny Boynton, left, and Mark Lyons take crucial shots on Saturday night.
Editor's note: Each Friday morning, Jay Bilas will break down the weekend's top game. This week it’s No. 5 Florida (7-0) at No. 8 Arizona (7-0) at 10 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN.

Gators outlook: The difference for Florida this season is defense. Last season, UF gave up 40 percent shooting from 3-point range and got hurt by being overextended. This season, the Gators are staying home more and packing it in. Instead of playing out in passing lanes and denying, they are playing off more, not playing as far up the line, and showing their chests to the ball and building a wall to protect the lane and the rim. That has meant fewer help rotations and better defensive rebounding, limiting opponents to one challenged shot (outrebounding opponents by 10.7 per game). The results are obvious. Florida has a top-five defense, and has done it with both man-to-man and zone. The Gators still press, speed the game and make you play at a speed you don’t practice. And they have done a great job of not just forcing turnovers, but converting off turnovers. Florida has scored more than twice as many points off turnovers as its opponents (21.3 to 9.9).

On the offensive end, UF is a ball-screen team that can really stretch out a defense, and really attacks and gets to the free throw line. Florida has made more free throws than its opponents have attempted. Four Gators average between 14.4 points and 10.3 points per game. This is a team that scored 74 points against Wisconsin, a team that gave up only 53 points per game last season, and blasted Marquette and Florida State.

Florida has good, experienced guards in Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario and Scottie Wilbekin, a strong presence in Patric Young (an interior player who, when he keeps it simple, can be really effective), and an elite and versatile defender in Will Yeguete, who can defend multiple spots, get offensive rebounds and affect the game without scoring.

Wildcats outlook: Last season, Arizona was not a great shooting team, but could not compensate for it with second-shot opportunities or post-ups because Sean Miller did not have the personnel. This season, he has the personnel. The Wildcats have great size up front and very good depth. (But don’t listen to those who suggest that having big-guy depth gives you extra fouls to waste, which is silly. You don’t waste fouls, which puts your opponent at the free throw line for common fouls and leads to losses.) With freshmen Kaleb Tarczewski and Grant Jerrett, Miller has two big men who can affect the game. Tarczewski is a traditional low-post banger who seeks out contact and can score around the goal, and is the team's top rebounder. Jerrett is a long-armed big man who can step away and knock in an open 3-point shot.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Billy Donovan's decision to suspend PG Scottie Wilbekin indefinitely means the job of directing the Gators' offense will fall to senior Kenny Boynton.

Boynton has run the point in spurts through the past three seasons, mainly in relief of starting PG Erving Walker, who graduated as the school's all-time assist leader. Boynton, who is on pace to become the school's all-time leading scorer, is the Gators' top man defender, so his role there won't change.

The bigger issue for Donovan is finding someone to replace the 6-foot-2 Wilbekin in the starting lineup for Friday's season opener against Georgetown and to relieve Boynton when he's on the bench. Donovan could slide 6-3 Mike Rosario into the shooting guard spot to go along with 6-9 C Patric Young, 6-10 F Erik Murphy and 6-7 F Will Yeguete.

Or Donovan could go with 6-6 freshman Michael Frazier, who scored 21 points in UF's exhibition victory over Nebraska-Kearney. Even if Rosario starts, Wilbekin's suspension will mean more playing time for Frazier and two other freshmen: 6-4 Dillon Graham and 6-0 Braxton Ogbueze. The Gators cannot use 6-6 G/F Casey Prather on Friday because he is out with a concussion.

"This throws a wrench," Donovan said. "We've got to do some things in practice to make some adjustments going into this game.

"The biggest thing for me as a coach is how do I get these guys to understand what they're doing because there's going to be a lot of different lineups on the floor."

Donovan has a track record of successfully juggling lineups. He got the Gators to the Elite Eight last season after losing Yeguete -- the Gators' top post defender and key cog in their press -- to a broken foot in February.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Billy Donovan was upbeat on Friday during the news conference announcing Bradley Beal's decision to enter the NBA Draft.

[+] EnlargeBradley Beal
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesGators coach Billy Donovan said he will miss Bradley Beal's team-first attitude and work ethic.
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.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Here are five things to watch for in Saturday's Florida-Louisville matchup in the Elite 8 (4:30 p.m. ET on CBS) in Phoenix, Ariz.

Man in the middle: Louisville center Gorgui Dieng presents the same kind of trouble for the Gators as Kentucky's Anthony Davis. He's a shot-blocking machine who should make smaller guards Erving Walker (5-foot-8) and Kenny Boynton (6-1) think twice about driving the lane. The 6-11 Dieng already has Louisville's single-season blocks record (123 and counting) and is averaging 9.2 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. Against Michigan State on Thursday, Dieng tied his career high with seven blocks and added nine rebounds, five points and three steals. He's had at least five blocks in a game 11 times this season. Florida can't allow him to control the paint the way he did against the Spartans. It'll be up to 6-9 center Patric Young to make Dieng guard him and try to get him in foul trouble.

Defense, defense, defense: Louisville isn't particularly big, but the Cardinals are long and athletic, and those are the kind of teams the Gators have struggled with the past few seasons. Louisville has been thriving because of its defense. The Cardinals are third nationally in field goal percentage defense (37.7 percent) and have been fantastic in the NCAA tournament, limiting Davidson to 35 percent from the field and holding New Mexico to 56 points, which was its fourth-lowest point total of the season. Michigan State managed just 44 points, including 18 in the first half. Florida's defense has held its three NCAA tournament opponents to an average of 51.0 points and Virginia, Norfolk State and Marquette shot a combined 20.6 percent from 3-point range (13-for-63) and 31.5 percent from the field. The Gators are also averaging 43.0 rebounds per game in the NCAA tournament, which has limited opponents' second shot opportunities.

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PHOENIX -- The No. 7 seeds in the 2012 NCAA tournament were as follows:

Notre Dame. Saint Mary's. Gonzaga. Florida.

Sing it with me now: One of these things is not like the others.

For starters, Florida was the only No. 7 seed to survive the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, and the only one -- after Thursday's 68-58 victory over Marquette -- to reach the Elite Eight and the one-game-from-the-Final-Four precipice it so intensely entails.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Here are five things to watch for in tonight's Florida-Marquette matchup in the Sweet 16 (10:17 p.m. ET on TBS) in Phoenix, Ariz.

Who wins the 3-point line? Florida was terrible from long range in its victory over Virginia (4-for-23) but rebounded with a 10-f0r-28 performance against Norfolk State. The Gators, who average a nation-leading 10 3-pointers per game, have been streaky from long range all season. Marquette's 3-point defense in the NCAA tournament has been pretty good. BYU and Murray State combined to go just 11-for-40 (27.5 percent) from 3-point range. Teams are shooting just 31.8 percent from 3-point range against the Golden Eagles this season.

Stopping Crowder: Marquette forward Jae Crowder was the Big East Player of the Year, and the 6-foot-6 senior has been nearly unstoppable in his last 10 games. Crowder is averaging 21.4 points and 10.7 rebounds and has posted seven double-doubles in that span. He also is averaging 3.1 steals and 2.5 assists and is shooting 51.7 percent from the field in those 10 games. This is a game where not having 6-7 forward Will Yeguete will hurt the Gators, but 6-6 sophomore Casey Prather did a good job against Virginia's Mike Scott. He'll be called upon again to help stop Crowder.

A small advantage: Florida doesn't have a size advantage over many teams, but the Gators are a bit bigger than the Golden Eagles in the frontcourt. Center Patric Young (6-9) and forward Erik Murphy (6-10) have a 2-4 inch height advantage over Crowder and 6-7 forward Jamil Wilson. Will that make a difference, though? Marquette is a solid rebounding team, but the difference could be Bradley Beal. The 6-3 freshman guard is UF's leading rebounder (6.7 per game) and is averaging 8.4 rebounds per game in March.

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OMAHA, Neb. -- Quick thoughts from Florida's 84-50 victory over Norfolk State at the CenturyLink Center.

Overview: Surprising as it was when it happened Friday, Norfolk State's upset of No. 2 seed Missouri seemed like even more of a shocker Sunday when the Spartans turned in a miserable performance in a 34-point loss to No. 7 seed Florida.

Norfolk State -- which became just the fifth No. 15 seed ever to defeat a No. 2 -- trailed by 28 points at intermission before things got even worse in the second half. Two days after shooting 54 percent against Missouri, the Spartans made just 27 percent of their field goal attempts against a Florida squad that advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive year.

Senior forward Kyle O'Quinn responded to his 26-point, 14-rebound effort on Friday with a 4-point, 3-rebound clunker in Sunday's loss. He was just 1-of-9 from the field. Norfolk State was outrebounded 48-31.

Anyone who wondered how Norfolk State could've lost to teams such as Division II Elizabeth City State had those questions answered Sunday. The only team that may have taken Norfolk State's defeat harder than the Spartans themselves was Missouri, which will now have an even tougher time living down Friday's epic choke job.

Overshadowed by Norfolk State's ineptitude was another impressive performance by Florida, which is one win away from its second consecutive Elite Eight appearance. The Gators, who will play Marquette in the next round, got 20 points from Kenny Boynton and 14 points and 9 rebounds from Brad Beal. Even though the win appeared to come easily for Florida, Billy Donovan's squad deserves loads of credit for entering the game with intensity and focus.

Turning point: Trailing 6-4 early in the first half, Florida went on a 25-0 scoring run to squelch any early momentum the Spartans may have had. Beal had seven points during the march while Boynton and Erik Murphy added six apiece. When it was all over, Florida led 29-6 with 9:46 remaining before intermission. The Spartans never threatened again.

Key player: Much like they have all season, the Gators exhibited tremendous balance on Sunday. Along with outstanding efforts from Beal and Boynton, Florida got 15 points from Erving Walker, 12 from Mike Rosario and 10 from Murphy.

Key stat: Norfolk State entered the NCAA tournament shooting just 31 percent from 3-point range. The Spartans made 10 of their 19 attempts in their win over Missouri. But they shot just 17.4 percent (4-of-23) from beyond the arc against Florida.

Miscellaneous: Thousands of Kansas fans rose to their feet and cheered Norfolk State's players loudly as the Spartans exited the court after the final. Jayhawks supporters took great delight in Norfolk State's victory over former Big 12 rival Missouri. ... Just like the previous four No. 15 seeds who upset No. 2 seeds, Norfolk State lost in the next round. No 15-seed has ever advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

Up next: Florida improved to 25-10 and advanced to play Marquette in the Sweet 16 this week in the West Region in Phoenix. The Golden Eagles (27-7) defeated BYU and Murray State in their first two NCAA tournament games. Norfolk State -- which was making its first appearance in the Division I NCAA tournament -- ends its season 26-10.
[+] EnlargeErving Walker
AP Photo/April L. BrownExtra time in the gym led directly to Erving Walker's career-high 31-point outburst on Saturday.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's impressive road victories at Alabama and Arkansas last week came because the Gators answered coach Billy Donovan's challenge to improve their practice habits.

Donovan criticized his team after back-to-back losses to Kentucky and Tennessee, saying his players didn't have the proper mentality and understanding of what goes into winning. They needed to be more mature, fight through fatigue and be more consistent in practice.

They did that last week, Donovan said, and look at the results: a 61-52 victory over Alabama despite not having key reserves Will Yeguete and Mike Rosario, and a 98-68 rout of Arkansas.

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UF close to having Yeguete, Rosario

February, 17, 2012
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida may have its best rebounder back just in time for Saturday’s game at one of the toughest places to play in the Southeastern Conference.

UF coach Billy Donovan said forward Will Yeguete was cleared to return to practice on Friday for the first time since suffering a concussion against Tennessee last Saturday. If Yeguete doesn’t have a setback during practice, handles Friday’s chartered flight to Arkansas well and feels well on Saturday morning, Donovan said he could be cleared to play against the Razorbacks.

"How he feels tonight, tomorrow morning is going to have a large impact on whether or not we can play him," Donovan said. "If it continues on this path, he could be OK."

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Documentary features Florida's Rosario

February, 17, 2012
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[+] EnlargeMike Rosario
Kim Klement/US PresswireJunior guard Mike Rosario is averaging 7.9 points in his first season at Florida.
A 2010 documentary that chronicled a season with a legendary New Jersey high school basketball program will return to the spotlight this weekend. An updated version of "The Street Stops Here" along with a post-film roundtable with Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley Sr., will air at 8 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPNU. That St. Anthony team featured Florida Gators shooting guard Mike Rosario.

Despite possessing seven Division I-bound seniors -- Rosario, Madut Bol, Jio Fontan, Tyshawn Taylor, AJ Rogers, Alberto Estwick and Travon Woodall -- the 2007-08 squad was in danger of becoming Hurley's first class to graduate without a state crown. What's more, a financial crisis threatened to shut down St. Anthony.

Much to Hurley's satisfaction, this unscripted drama ended up reinforcing the message he constantly imparts upon his players. Without discipline and goals, success in sports can be hard to come by. Without academics, everything done on the court ultimately won't matter.

Also see: "The Street Stops Here" four years later: Where are they now?

Gators a mess in frontcourt

February, 13, 2012
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[+] EnlargeWill Yeguete
Kim Klement/US PresswireThe absence of sophomore Will Yeguete has become a major issue for Florida.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Billy Donovan said Saturday night that the Gators were not a hardened team because they haven't gone through much adversity.

Looks like the Gators are packing a season's worth in the next week.

Florida will be without forward Will Yeguete (concussion) and guard Mike Rosario (hip) and forward Cody Larson (illness) will be limited for Tuesday's game at Alabama, and Donovan said Yeguete also will be out for Saturday's game at Arkansas and he is unsure when Yeguete will be able to return.

That leaves the Gators severely shorthanded in the frontcourt, and it will force Donovan to use smaller lineups and play guard/forward Casey Prather and guards Bradley Beal and Scottie Wilbekin at power forward. Donovan will only have two days to get those three to understand the different defensive responsibilities in the press and zone, figure out where they're supposed to provide help defense, and get them to understand their roles on offense.

"Dire is probably a pretty good word," Donovan. "I’m not saying our team is not impacted by Will not being able to play, but that’s the hand we’re dealt. How do we play? How do we compete? What kind of presence and disposition do we carry? How unified and connected? All those things are much, much more important because you can play really, really hard and really, really well and be undermanned and still fall short."

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