Florida's Beal heeds request, steps up game
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)
Bradley Beal needed a nudge.
Florida coach Billy Donovan's prized recruit spent most of the season playing in the shadow of upperclassmen Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton. Beal was content to let his fellow guards handle almost everything, including clutch shots, pep talks and anything in between.
It wasn't good enough for Donovan.
Donovan sat Beal down a few weeks ago and asked for more.
''It's time to stop trying not to step on everybody's toes,'' Beal said, recalling the conversation. ''It's time to be more of a leader and start pushing guys to get better.''
It may have been Donovan's best coaching move of the season.
The 6-foot-3 Beal leads the Gators (25-10) in points, rebounds, assists, steals, 3-pointers and free throws in March. He is a big reason Florida has adapted to the loss of versatile forward Will Yeguete and has won two games in the NCAA tournament.
The Gators, the No. 7 seed in the West Region, play third-seeded Marquette on Thursday night in Phoenix. The Golden Eagles (27-7) certainly will need to account for Beal in the regional semifinal.
Beal is averaging 13.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists in Florida's last five games. He is driving to the rim more often, playing better defense and, maybe most importantly, rebounding like a big man.
''He's always been a guy who has relied on his offense and he's starting to realize that there is so much more to his game - the way he rebounds, the way he passes and the way he's attacking,'' Donovan said. ''Earlier in the year, he wasn't attacking the basket and driving and putting it on the floor the way he is now.''
Donovan said Beal worried too much about his shooting early in the season. The 2011 Gatorade National Player of the Year was shooting about 31 percent from 3-point range in early January, seemingly missing more jumpers than he had in four standout years at Chaminade Prep in St. Louis.
Donovan kept telling Beal to remain confident.
Their weekly conversations changed after Yeguete broke his left foot against Auburn on Feb. 21. Donovan needed Beal to pick up his rebounding, and in a hurry.
''You can do too many other things as a player that can really impact our team,'' Donovan told him. ''I said, `Start stepping up and start to be more aggressive. Start doing things that are going to impact the outcome of the game.'
''Our team realizes that when he does those things it helps us tremendously. I just needed to keep pushing him toward that, and I think Brad, being a freshman, needs a push a lot of times because he never wants to step over bounds and put our team chemistry ever in jeopardy. Sometimes he needs that push to let him know it's OK.''
After not wanting to do too much early on, Beal finally felt comfortable enough in the locker room and on the floor to take his game up a notch.
''Coming in, I didn't really want to say, `Oh, this is my team,' because it's really not,'' Beal said. ''I didn't want to come in as a freshman thinking, `Oh, I'm just going to give everybody orders,' when these guys have been here before. They should be the ones telling me what to do.''
Beal has earned respect by starting every game and logging more minutes than any of his teammates. He has played four positions, too, from running the point to defending considerably bigger guys in the post.
''He's a big part of our team as a freshman,'' forward Erik Murphy said.
Even more so in March.
''I think the one thing that makes Brad such a special player is he's really such a good team guy who understands team dynamics and chemistry,'' Donovan said.