Florida Basketball Recruiting: What’s Next For Billy Donovan And The Gators?

Christopher Hanewickel-US PRESSWIRE

Anthony Bennett eliminating Florida capped off a terrible recruiting season for Billy Donovan and frontcourt players.

The list of top frontcourt players who had Florida high on their list is pretty impressive. But somehow -- whether it was bad luck, poor strategy, money, whatever -- Donovan couldn’t convince one to play for him at UF. Well, you could consider DeVon Walker a frontcourt player, but he has a little shooting guard in him.

After the jump, we’ll take a look at some of Florida’s misses and who the Gators might be targeting in the future.

  • Kyle Anderson: Florida invested a lot of time and effort into recruiting Anderson, a point forward who signed with UCLA. All signs pointed toward Florida until about two days prior to his announcement. Anderson was the first of the big three to commit to UCLA, the others being Shabaazz Muhammad and Tony Parker. Now how exactly does a program experiencing as much turmoil as UCLA land three of the top 30 players in the country? It’s beyond me.
  • Mitch McGary: He really liked Billy Donovan, as most recruits do, but people close to him were pushing him to play for John Beilein at Michigan. That’s not to say McGary didn’t like Michigan. Just saying there were others that wanted him in Ann Arbor, as well. McGary would have been perfect for Florida’s style. His style of play and demeanor on the court has him being compared to Tyler Hansbrough.
  • Alex Poythress: Early on, Poythress was showing major interest in Florida and Vanderbilt. Florida poured in a lot of time and effort on Kyle Anderson, and it hurt the Gators’ chances with Poythress. Kentucky entered the picture and eventually landed his signature. Now Florida will have to face him next season.
  • Joel James: James committed to UNC in early October of 2011, so Florida still had plenty of options. At one point, James, of Dwyer High School, wanted to play for Florida, but the coaches weren’t fans of his 285-pound frame. There were also questions about his work ethic and things of that sort. If James had waited till spring to sign, Florida probably would have taken him. In hindsight, he would've made a nice addition to the class, but I don't blame the UF coaches passing.
  • Anthony Bennett: Nearly every expert had Florida tabbed as the favorite for Bennett. When he eliminated Florida a week ago, the knee-jerk reaction was that Coach Cal and Kentucky had taken the lead. But when Bennett eliminated Kentucky a few days later, most people started realizing it was an issue with grades. Now he'll decide between Oregon and UNLV. So Bennett isn’t a case of Billy Donovan missing as much as it is Bennett not being able to get into Florida.

The list goes on for a while. T.J. Warren, Robert Carter, Brice Johnson, Jake Layman and Tony Parker are all frontcourt players highly recruited by Florida who ended up going elsewhere.

And this isn’t a knock on Donovan. He’s a fine recruiter. Florida’s roster from last season featured three five-star players (Kenny Boynton, Brad Beal and Patric Young) and four McDonald’s All-Americans (Boynton, Beal, Young and Mike Rosario). Florida already has a commitment from 2013 five-star prospect Kasey Hill, the top point guard in his class.

But what does Donovan do now? A class of Braxton Ogbueze, Michael Frazier, Dillon Graham and DeVon Walker is a good one, not a great one. There are plenty of teams that would love that class, but it’s going to be tough to beat Kentucky without landing some star power.

The Class of 2012 is pretty much done for Florida. But there are a couple of transfers to watch out for: Damontre Harris and Dorian Finney-Smith.

Harris, a former South Carolina forward, is down to Florida and Kansas. He’s a legitimate shot-blocker and rim-protector who can play some center. His 2.3 blocks per game last season helped earn him a spot on the SEC All-Defensive Team.

Finney-Smith left Virginia Tech following his freshman season. The firing of coach Seth Greenberg wasn’t the main cause, but it pretty much sealed the deal. Finney-Smith was rated a four-star small forward in the Class of 2011. He made the ACC All-Freshman Team, averaging 6.3 points and 7 rebounds per game. The Washington Post named Florida and Old Dominion as possible destinations for Finney-Smith.

If Florida can land one of the two (UF wouldn’t take both if it came to that), the player would have to sit out the 2012-13 season. But the next year, the player could make an immediate impact on a frontcourt that will be searching for players to step up.

After the 2012-13 season, Erik Murphy will graduate. Patric Young will likely declare for the NBA. So that leaves Florida with Will Yeguete, Casey Prather and Cody Larson in the frontcourt. OK, and DeVon Walker.

Adding Harris or Finney-Smith would give the Gators a player who has already proven he can contribute. Throw them into the mix with whomever Florida signs in the 2013 class and there’s a solid frontcourt for the next few seasons.

Speaking of the 2013 class, here’s a small look at some prospects with Florida high on their list.

  • Kasey Hill: Already mentioned him, but he’s an elite talent that other star players are going to want to play with because he makes his teammates better. Hill is currently Florida's only 2013 commitment.
  • Chris Walker: Another five-star prospect and one of the top forwards in the country, Walker is considering offers from Florida, Florida State and Kansas. It will be interesting to see what happens if Kentucky offers, but for now I think he’s Florida’s to lose. Walker and Hill are currently playing on the same AAU team, which only helps Florida’s chances with Walker.
  • BeeJay Anya: A legitimate center and a player who could make an early impact if Patric Young leaves after his junior year. He’s ranked as the 20th prospect in the country by Rivals and has offers from nearly every school in the country. But Florida remains squarely in the picture for Anya.
  • Austin Nichols: A solid power forward prospect out of Tennessee. He likes Florida and Vanderbilt, but North Carolina recently offered, and the Heels may eventually become the team to beat. The Florida coaches love Nichols, and he can switch between power forward and center. He’d be a great compliment to Chris Walker, who switches from small to power forward.

Others on the board: Chris Benzon, Markel Crawford, Chris Davenport, Robert Hubbs, Kennedy Meeks, Jordan Neff, Michael Young, Johnathan Williams III and Troy Williams.

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