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THE FIVE freshmen stared into the cameras at Florida's media day in October 2007. The skinniest one, Chandler Parsons, referred to his top-ranked recruiting class as the "Oh-Sevens." It came off as a boast, a clear comparison with the '04 class—known in Gainesville as the Oh-Fours—that led Florida to consecutive national titles before departing for the NBA.
Three years later the remaining Oh-Sevens (Parsons and forward Alex Tyus) have played in just one NCAA tournament game, a 99--92 loss in OT to BYU.
"I came in with the mind-set that I was going to be the man, that I could come out here and do what I did in high school against college guys," Parsons says. "That was proven wrong."
But now, with a freshman class that might be Florida's best since '04 and all five starters back, Florida coach Billy Donovan enters a season with a basic idea of what roles his veterans will play for the first time since 2006--07. Erving Walker will run the point. Guard Kenny Boynton, last year's leading scorer (14.0), will create baskets. Center Vernon Macklin will do the dirty work inside. Tyus will provide a scoring threat in the post. Parsons, who hit buzzer-beaters last season to beat N.C. State and South Carolina, will do a little of everything.
As the Gators have struggled to find an identity in the post-national-title era, so has Parsons, who came in with the expectation that he would be an All-America. "His mind was in Fantasyland a little bit," Donovan says.
Parsons's new-found maturity has helped his team in many ways. In addition to finishing in the top three in points (12.4), rebounds (6.9) and assists (2.6) last year, he became a leader. "Even if he's not saying anything, you can just look at the way he carries himself out there," says freshman forward Patric Young. "You know you want to be right behind that guy." A guy who might finally have a chance to back up his freshman boast.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Coach Billy Donovan (14th season)
2009--10 record 21--13
SEC 9--7 (4th, East)