Gators Eye Big Dance

Sentinel Staff Writer

GAINESVILLE — Florida men’s basketball’s newest star has no problem staring down the Gators’ two-year NCAA Tournament void.

All-American freshman guard Kenny Boynton doesn’t see a third straight National Invitation Tournament in Florida’s future.

“I think people don’t see what we have here,” Boynton said. “We’ll definitely be in the tournament next year.”

The Gators, who hosted media day on Thursday and begin practice tonight, must do some convincing on the national scene after losing top player Nick Calathes from a team that finished 9-7 in the Southeastern Conference, 25-11 overall.

Many college basketball experts have Florida finishing anywhere from third to fifth in the SEC East division.

Calathes, an All-SEC performer from Lake Howell, left after his sophomore season to play professional ball in Greece.

Florida returns four of its top-six scorers alongside Boynton, 6-foot-10 Georgetown transfer Vernon Macklin and an Israeli point guard named Nimrod Tishman, who yet to receive NCAA clearance.

Coach Billy Donovan said his team has improved its conditioning and work ethic, but he’s not sure how that will translate to wins and losses.

“I don’t know if we necessarily have any clear-cut leader on our team as much as I see a good chemistry and bond among all of them,” Donovan said.

Florida’s top-four returners — point guard Erving Walker and forwards Alex Tyus, Dan Werner and Chandler Parsons, a high school teammate with Calathes — played between 24 and 28 minutes per game last season. The team got gassed physically and lost four of the last six games to drop out of NCAA Tournament contention.

This year’s team has more front-court depth but little insurance at the guard position. Walker, who averaged 10.1 points per game last year as a freshman, is the only point guard expected to contribute consistently, though Boynton is a combo guard who can play both spots. Boynton set South Florida scoring records at American Heritage in Plantation, and teammates say he’s explosive with the ball.

Werner, the lone senior, said this team has improved and matured — even if those sentiments sound familiar.

“We said the same thing last year,” Werner said. “I understand everybody’s expectations. I don’t agree with them. That falls on us to change them.”