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October 19, 2011

Freshmen meshing well with veteran teammates



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Reflecting on last year, junior Kenny Boynton said there were too many freshmen to keep track of.

Florida head coach Billy Donovan brought in five players in the 2010 recruiting class who were able to mostly watch from the bench and learn from the veterans in front of them.

Not this year.

The Gators added only two players in this 2011 class -- Brad Beal, the No. 4 overall recruit, and Walter Pitchford, a three-star prospect brought in to help bolster the frontcourt.

Scottie Wilbekin, a member of the larger 2010 class, said that bringing in just two freshmen has made it easier for the older players to bring the new guys into the loop.

"It seems normal, they just kind of came in and gelled with everybody," Wilbekin said.

Beal is expected to play a prominent role in his first college season, adding another talented player to UF's group of guards.

Boynton, the No. 12 overall recruit in the class of 2009, also came in as a highly recruited guard. He and Beal have already formed a quick friendship and Boynton expects the young wing player to help the team right away, much like Boynton did as a true freshman.

"I think he makes the right plays," Boynton said. "He definitely never forces anything. If a guy is open, he'll pass it. He's definitely unselfish. For his age, he's a mature player."

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Donovan, not one to sugar coat evaluations of his own players, also spoke to Beal's maturity, which will be important when it comes time to sharing possessions and shot with fellow guards Boynton, Wilbekin, Erving Walker and Mike Rosario.

"Every team should be like that really, we're all sacrificing something for the benefit of the team," Beal said.

Pitchford also has a chance to contribute right away with a lack of proven depth in UF's frontcourt, though he may need a year or two to add the weight and physicality needed to rebound and play defense with consistency.

Pitchford, a Michigan product, knew he wanted to go to Florida after watching big men Joakim Noah and Al Horford lead the Gators to back-to-back national championships in 2006-07. Pitchford, a much lesser known prospect than Beal, also played AAU basketball with Al's younger brother Jon Horford.

"I'm an outgoing guy and on the court I'm all business," Pitchford said when asked to describe himself. "I can shoot, working on my handles and rebounding and just trying to make it a full package. And the only way to make it a full package is buying into the system and working as hard as you can."

Boynton said the more the freshmen are able to get comfortable, the more complete of a team Florida will be this season.

Beal said it was easy for him to get comfortable right from the beginning.

"It's been easy, easier than I would've thought it was because me being a freshman, I'm thinking they're going to push me away but they really accepted me with open arms and taught me the ropes basically," Beal said. "Adjusting to them has been very easy."


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