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4 Florida
Team Page | 2002-2003 Schedule | Roster

If the running, gunning Gators can find an inside game to match their sharpshooting, they'll be awfully tough to beat come tournament time

By Seth Davis

Sports Illustrated

Bonner, the Gator's leading scorer with 15.6 points a game, wants to erase memories of the Gators' late-season meltdown. Bob Rosato
An opposing coach's view
"They're very talented. The X factor is, how much will they miss Udonis Haslem inside?... David Lee is a good player, but I don't know that he's an enforcer the way Haslem was. Lee was a highly recruited guy, but the jury is out on him. ... I don't know what was going on with Brett Nelson last year. Maybe he was worried about impressing the pro scouts or he felt the weight of expectations. He's not quite as effective at the two spot because he likes to have the ball in his hands. ... Matt Bonner is a nightmare to prepare for because he stretches the defense. He's strong enough to beat a smaller guy down low, and he might be their best three-point shooter. ... It's critical when you play them not to turn the ball over, especially in the open court. They're trying to create pace, and if you start giving them the ball, they'll kill you."
Last summer senior forward Matt Bonner served as a teaching assistant for a health class called Stress and Anxiety Management. For a case study, he needed to look no further than Florida's 2001-02 season, which ended with the Gators' losing eight of their last 15 games (by an average of 5.1 points), including an 83-82 overtime defeat by Creighton in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Florida will need to manage adversity better this season if it is going to fulfill its Final Four potential.

That's especially true for 6'4" senior guard Brett Nelson, whose shooting percentages dropped dramatically last year -- he shot 39.2% from the field, down from 45.0% as a sophomore; and 39.5% from three-point range, down from 45.3%. After testing the NBA draft waters last spring and hearing rumblings from scouts that he needed to get stronger, Nelson decided to return to school. He added 20 pounds of muscle over the summer, bringing him to 205 pounds, but he will not have to carry nearly as much weight on his shoulders this season. In 6'3" guard Rashid Al-Kaleem, 6'1" guard Anthony Roberson and 6'6" forward Matt Walsh, coach Billy Donovan has added three freshmen who can knock down open shots. However, Donovan's most valuable signee might be Danish import Christian Drejer, a 6'9" swingman who is an excellent outside shooter and explosive off the dribble.

Of course, with only one basketball to go around, chemistry could be a problem. Still, Donovan has been pleased by his players' willingness to make the extra pass. A larger concern might be the team's toughness given the departure of Udonis Haslem. David Lee, a 6'9" sophomore center, and Bonner should be the Gators' best low-post threats, while 6'9" redshirt freshman Adrian Moss will be asked to do much of the dirty work.

For the time being, however, Florida has a lot more answers than questions, which is why Nelson is optimistic that his final college season will be relatively devoid of stress and anxiety. "I can't change anything that happened last year," he says. "The best thing to do is forget about it and move forward. I can't wait to get started."

Issue date: November 25, 2002