GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The immediate aftermath of one season rarely is a good time to reflect on the next. It’s tough enough for players coming to grips with the finality of their time together as a team, much less get introspective about a college career that, in some cases, is over.
That was the case Sunday at Cowboys Stadium.
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“I can’t even think about that right now,” Florida senior forward Erik Murphy said.
Murphy, a 1,000-point scorer in his UF career and one of the best 3-point shooters in school history, was nearly inconsolable after going 0-for-11 from the floor in his last game in a Gators uniform, a 79-59 ambushing at the hands of Michigan in the NCAA South Region championship game at Arlington, Texas, a loss that left UF one game shy of the Final Four for a third straight year.
He was better on the bus, better on the flight home and like the rest of his teammates probably much better Monday.
“I’m sure we went a lot further than some people thought we would go,” junior center Patric Young said. “We had a really solid season.”
In time, both Florida and its fans will look back on the 2012-13 season and appreciate the Southeastern Conference championship and another deep run into the NCAA bracket that just happened to end with a thud against one of the hottest teams in the field.
“I think what happens is people deem the NCAA Tournament journey as different pinnacles; getting out of the first round, getting to the Sweet 16, getting to the Final Four,” Coach Billy Donovan said at the post-game podium Sunday afternoon. “At the end of the day, for the people that are involved in it and coaching it, there’s no easy exit out.”
Eventually, 67 of 68 leave in defeat, with their thoughts drifting to next year.
The Gators lose three seniors off a team that finished 29-8 and claimed just the fourth outright conference title in UF’s 80 years in the SEC. Gone are guard Kenny Boynton, who leaves as the No. 2 all-time scorer in school history with 2,035 points, guard Mike Rosario, the transfer from Rutgers who led the team in scoring (12.5 per game) and played his best basketball toward the end of his two UF seasons, and Murphy, the 6-foot-10 stretch forward who made UF’s offense a unique one to game-plan against.
In those three players, Florida will lose 36 points per game and — this is important — over 400 games of college basketball experience.
Young, the 6-foot-9, 260-pounder, could dip a toe in the NBA draft waters. Young is an excellent student — the two-time SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year — and best friends with his three junior classmates, so there’s a very good chance he could opt to stay.
If so, that would mean Young, point guard Scottie Wilbekin, forward Will Yeguete, forward Casey Prather, plus freshman Michael Frazier would be back to give the Gators five of their eight-man rotation, plus seldom-used guards Braxton Ogbueze and Dillon Graham, along with forward DeVon Walker.
And then there’s the new blood, which is intriguing.
Sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith, by way of Virginia Tech, and junior center Damontre Harris, from South Carolina, both sat out the season per NCAA transfer rules.
Some in the program would say the 6-8, 210-pound Finney-Smith (aka “Doe-Doe”) was the best player on the roster this past season, given how he flashed on the scout team. At Tech, he averaged 6.3 points and seven rebounds and was named to the Atlantic Coast Conference’s 2012 All-Freshman Team. He will give the Gators something they did have this year: a long, face-and-attack-the-bucket wing player who can finish at the rim and rebound.
The 6-foot-10, 230-pound Harris was an All-SEC Defensive Team selection in 2012 after averaging 6.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and blocking 71 shots (second in the league that season to Kentucky’s Anthony Davis). He was a 55.8-percent shooter in two seasons with the Gamecocks.
Those are two players with size and defensive skill, but they lack game experience in the Donovan system.
Which brings us to the freshman.
Make sure to tune into the McDonald’s All-America game Wednesday night from Chicago. While the spotlight, no doubt, will beam on Kentucky’s six players, the Gators will have a dual representation in Kasey Hill, maybe the best point guard prospect in the country, and 6-10 forward Chris Walker, considered one of the best athletes in the nation.
Hill, out of powerful Montverde (Fla.) Academy, has baseline-to-baseline game that’s been compared to a young Allen Iverson, including that ability to rise up in the lane and finish a play with a dunk. He is an extraordinary passer, which should make his new teammates quite happy, and will allow Donovan some versatility in the backcourt.
Walker led Bonifay Holmes County to a state championship and figures to be a nice frontcourt addition with his size, length and motor.
Donovan and his staff are still recruiting other potential signees, with one scholarship available for next season’s roster, whether for a freshman or perhaps a transfer.
The ‘13-14 team, like its predecessor, will face another challenging schedule. The Gators have a return game at Wisconsin and will play a to-be-determined opponent — a marquee one, for sure — in the Jimmy V Classic at New York’s Madison Square Garden. UF is working to secure a new home-and-home contract with several other power-conference teams. That pending series (whoever the foe) will start on the road this fall. The opponent for the Orange Bowl Classic in Sunrise has not been locked up.
At home, Florida will play Florida State, Middle Tennessee State, Richmond, plus some low-majors opponents. If those don’t fire up the Rowdy Reptiles, maybe an O’Connell Center date against a certain historic powerhouse in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge — official announcement sometime in the near future — will do the trick.
For UF’s basketball fans, that season is a long way off.
For UF’s basketball players, the sting of the one that just ended will be around a while longer.
“There’s a lot of really good things these kids have done and I’ll always be thankful and appreciative because they’ve handled themselves with class,” Donovan said. “ They worked hard and gave me everything they’ve had.”
Now, they’ll pass it that winning tradition to the next bunch in line.