Land of a Thousand Guards: Why Can't Florida Basketball Attract Big Men?

NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 26: Head coach Billy Donovan talks to Patric Young #4 of the Florida Gators during the second half of their game against the Butler Bulldogs in the Southeast regional final of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at New Orleans Arena on March 26, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

As the 2012 hoops regular season comes to a close and the postseason looms, we have all become painfully aware of a large void of frontcourt players on the Gators team roster. Since Will Yeguete's foot snapped against Auburn, the Gators have gone 0-3 and the Gator Nation has gone from wildly optimistic about Florida's postseason prospects to downright pessimistic.

As we inspect the Gators current roster, we see six guards at 6'5" or shorter (in fact, all are 6'3" or shorter except for little-used sub Jacob Kurtz). We then have Casey Prather, an athletic "'tweener" at 6'6" and the injured Yeguete at 6'7". Finally, we see Walter Pitchford and Erik Murphy at 6'10", and Cody Larson and Patric Young at 6'9". Pitchford is obviously not ready, because he never plays, and Larson looks completely lost and overwhelmed whenever he's on the court. That leaves a hobbled Young and Murphy, who is practically a 6'10" shooting guard.

That tells us that Billy Donovan is going to have to depend on a lot of four guard sets for the postseason and just pray that his guards get hot from outside. So why can't Billy-D lure big men to play for the Gators? Because Florida is a guard haven where big men are de-emphasized, right? Because Florida is a terrible place for big men to develop their skills for the NBA?

Phooey, I say.

What do Matt Bonner, Udonis Haslem, David Lee, Mike Miller, Corey Brewer, Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Maurice Speights and Chandler Parsons have in common?

Answer: They are all former Gators playing in the NBA. In fact, those nine gentlemen constitute ALL the former Gators currently playing in the NBA.

Another correct answer: They are all big men. Haslem and Miller are the smallest former Gators in the NBA at 6'8". The others stand at 6'9" (Brewer, Lee, and Parsons), 6'10" (Horford, Bonner, and Speights) and 6'11" (Noah). That's a lot of big man talent flowing from Gainesville to the NBA.

Despite Donovan's reputation for fielding guard-heavy, three-happy basketball squads and despite his seemingly endless recruiting of McDonald's All-American guards to Florida, the guys who truly have a chance in the NBA are the big men who go to play for Donovan. They learn the meaning of hard work, full-scale effort and teamwork (well, maybe except for Speights). If they work hard, they become players like Haslem who, against all odds, has enjoyed a nine season NBA career - mostly playing center at only 6'8".

Other than Jason Williams, a super talented freak of ball control, I can't think of another guard under Donovan that made it in the NBA. (And I barely even consider Williams a Gator at all - in between suspensions and dismissal, we barely had a chance to enjoy his talent.) Beal certainly looks like the next guard to go, but Young is just as likely to become yet another big Gator to play in the league.

So why is Billy D having such a hard time drawing big talented players to UF? Maybe the big recruits are more concerned with perception than with reality.

I'd love to hear what the rest of you think about this in the comments below.

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