Florida will be much better off for having had Bradley Beal in a Gators uniform.
The orange sun and blue sky metaphor deployed in our wrap on Florida's 2012 basketball season has become a feature. Orange Sun, Blue Sky, which will run on Fridays, the perfect day for optimism, and argue that Florida is in good shape. I will not be sure that the things I write in these posts will happen, but I promise that I'll make compelling, logical cases for the most optimistic possible scenario.
You may think Bradley Beal leaving for the NBA is a bad thing for Florida. You couldn't be more wrong: Beal's jump to the next level isn't just the absolute right thing for him to do, it's a sign that the Gators are in great shape going forward. Don't believe that? Let me count the ways.
Beal Is Taking Off Because He's Ready To Fly
Beal wouldn't be NBA-bound if he weren't a lottery pick; Billy Donovan told reporters that Beal would have been back if he had been in the bottom third of the first round. He's the sort of player who fits the one-and-done prottype to a hilt, too, having come to Florida with a tremendous amount of talent and a near-NBA game and learned enough from Donovan to make him a better player. If he had played poorly enough with the Gators to not live up to his potential and have to come back to school, he would have been a repudiation of Donovan's coaching.
Beal Shows That Guards Can Succeed At Florida
There are a lot of former Gators in the NBA, from Mike Miller to Joakim Noah to Matt Bonner to David Lee. But there's only one "guard," Corey Brewer, and even he's more more small forward/tweener than backcourt player. Donovan, for all his many pros, has coached three guards who have been drafted: Jason Williams, who he only coached briefly at Florida; Taurean Green, a second-round pick who now plays in Europe; and Nick Calathes ... a second-round pick who now plays in Europe.
Beal breaks that mold, and proves to future recruits that guards and shooters can come to Florida, thrive, and be NBA prospects. Getting those guards would go a long way toward making Florida the sort of perennial national championship contender it can be, and Beal was the first step.
Beal's Departure De-Clutters The Gators Backcourt
If Beal had returned, Florida would have had either six or seven guards (it depends on if you count Casey Prather along with DeVon Walker) in its backcourt, and Beal and Kenny Boynton would likely have played most of the minutes at the off guard position. Scottie Wilbekin would have been your starting point guard, and played plenty of minutes, and Mike Rosario would have gotten a sizable role upgrade. That would have been a frustrating situation for Michael Frazier and Dillon Graham, both of whom are good enough to at least briefly see the court in their freshman years, but Beal obviated it with his departure.
Scholly, Scholly, Scholly, Get Your Scholarship Here
Florida was facing a scholarship crunch if Beal had returned: The only player leaving was Erving Walker, and the Gators had two more scholarship recruits coming in, Frazier and Graham. Beal's decision freed up another one, and his decision, made Monday, may have influenced fellow freshman and roommate Walter Pitchford to transfer. If so, that means Beal made room both for Walker and possibly Anthony Bennett; if not, Beal at least gave Florida more roster flexibility.
Florida Must (And Will) Find Its Alpha Dog
Beal's skills and talent were always the class of the 2011-2012 Florida roster, even if it took a while for his teammates (and him) to realize that. Had he returned, there was no doubt that he would have been the alpha dog in his sophomore season. Without him, these Gators will have to find a leader (Boynton? Workout leader Erik Murphy? Face of the program Patric Young? The fiery Will Yeguete? The incredibly talented Bennett, should he matriculate?), and almost certainly will. But they will also be able to draw on Beal's leadership by example.
Someone Will Be The Next Bradley Beal
One of the knocks on Donovan's recruiting since the middle of the last decade on is that he had never brought in the program-changing, surefire NBA star recruits that dot many other teams' rosters. This was a complaint during the Oh-Fours' title run, even, which misunderstands why the Oh-Fours were great (hint: it was not because they were surefire NBA stars), but it was also a legitimate bit of skepticism: Donovan's system had never produced a go-to player like Beal before, so why would a go-to player come to Florida? Beal's success makes it clear that that player can become a Gator, play in Donovan's system at one of the nation's premier schools, and still leave for the NBA. The trail has been blazed. It will also be followed.