GAINESVILLE -- The Florida men’s basketball team is fresh off three consecutive Elite Eight appearances and returns an experienced and talented senior-laden team, yet coach Billy Donovan and the Gators’ hopes for another deep March run likely rests in the hands of a quiet, modest freshman who hasn’t played a single minute of college basketball.
First-year point guard Kasey Hill must do his learning on the job.
Hill, a 6-1, 181-pound McDonald’s All-American point guard, was a five-star recruit and the No. 10 ranked player in the 2013 recruiting class. The Montverde Academy star is an elite facilitator and lightning-quick finisher, and when senior guard Scottie Wilbekin was suspended indefinitely this summer, the lofty expectations for Florida’s lone freshman only skyrocketed.
“I’ll be ready,” he said. “I’m an unselfish and humble dude. …Bradley Beal [former Florida guard and third overall pick of the Washington Wizards in the 2012 NBA Draft] came in and had a great attitude. He worked hard and got along with the team well. That’s exactly what I want to do.”
The Gators — ranked No.8 in the preseason USA Today coaches’ poll — graduated 51 percent of their scoring from the 2012-13 team (top three scorers Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario, Eric Murphy) that went 29-8 last year, winning the Southeastern Conference regular-season title before bowing out of the NCAA Tournament in a humbling 20-point loss to national runner-up Michigan in the Elite Eight.
Although Hill is simply one guy on a loaded squad that’s two-deep at every position — including six upperclassmen with a combined 218 career starts — the Gators kickoff the 2013-14 season with a lingering sense of uncertainty.
Florida could open the year without at least five anticipated contributors or starters — Wilbekin (suspended), Frazier (mononucleosis), Will Yeguete (offseason knee surgery) and junior guard Eli Carter (fractured fibula) — while facing a brutal nonconference schedule (games against Wisconsin, Florida State, Connecticut, Kansas and Memphis).
Meanwhile, Hill’s tag-team freshman partner — five-star prospect Chris Walker — failed to enroll in August, as the McDonald’s All-American forward continues to work to qualify academically for the spring semester. Donovan remains optimistic Walker, a 6-10, 225-pound athletic big-man, will wear a Gators uniform at some point this season.
As the Gators navigate the early part of the season, they badly need an imposing and recharged front line — center Patric Young (6-9) and transfers Damontre Harris (6-10 center from South Carolina) and Dorian Finney-Smith (6-8 forward from Virginia Tech) — and its untested freshman point guard to lead the way.