Hands up, not out: Zach Hodskins, and why the future of Florida basketball is bright

Zach Hodskins has had to work to overcome the adversity of having one hand to become a great basketball player. His example alone would be valuable to Florida — but he's bringing a lot more to Gainesville.

I know that this is an NCAA Tournament day and that Florida's not playing, but I've been thinking about the future of Florida basketball a fair bit of late, because I'm thinking about two questions:

  1. What do I write if Florida loses in this NCAA Tournament?
  2. What do I write after the NCAA Tournament, no matter what happens?

I don't know the answers to either one. But I did see this video of Zach Hodskins, future Florida walk-on, from Gainesville Sun photographer Matt Stamey last week, and I wanted to find a way to share it with y'all — because it reminded me that I've been very slow to write about Zach Hodskins here, and that's a mistake.

Hodskins, you may remember, is the one-handed player that Florida offered a preferred walk-on position last year; we never mentioned it here, but he accepted that offer in October, and will be in Gainesville for the 2014-15 year. And Hodskins accepting the offer kind of surprises me: I thought, given that he can really shoot, that he would go somewhere lower in Division I or in Division II as a scholarship player.

But Zach Hodskins doesn't do things the easy way, it seems. Neither does Florida.

Watch that video above again. Watch how hard Hodskins works, how driven he is; notice how proud his dad is of him. He's good, of course, and insanely so for a guy with one hand, but he's also the guy that has always had to work to be good, to defend with one hand, to never get shown up in practice by guys with two hands — and to play hard enough to show up everyone else.

I would want guys like that, guys who work like hell to get to heaven, on Florida's roster, in Florida's program, and fostering and bolstering Florida's culture. That's the character of this senior class, one that has come to learn that it hates losing and can fight hard enough to stave it off; that's the example they're setting for the players who will be there after them, whether those players are the ones coming back from injuries, or Damontre Harris, coming back from the cold: Work harder than you think you can and you will succeed; don't, and you won't.

You can look at Hodskins' inclusion on Florida's roster as a curious one, sure. I, too, have questions: How is Kasey Hill going to take to throwing passes to a player with one hand? Will Hodskins ever play defense well enough to be more than a spot shooter? Why grab another guard as a walk-on, instead of trawling the state of Florida for a big man?

But I think Hodskins is just going to shoot well enough in practice that he's going to demand passes. And he'll defend well enough that it'll teach the players he practices against how to play against a guard who defends with his body and savvy more than his hands. He will be the living embodiment of how hard work can help overcome adversity, and how everything is taken and earned, nothing given unless and until it is deserved, at Florida.

And, yes, he'll be the sort of easy public relations boost — for being a badass basketball player and human who Florida is lucky to have in the Gator Nation, not a charity case Florida took on — that makes it easy to root for the Gators. But that's maybe fifth or sixth on the list of reasons it's great for him to be a Gator.

Florida's mission as an athletics department isn't just winning — though the success in so many different programs suggests that it's got that part down (I believe #EverythingSchool is obligatory here) — but winning the right way. That means working to be compliant with NCAA regulations, having strict codes of conduct for players, and molding young men and women instead of just training young athletes.

Sometimes, the young men and women mold Florida, too. I think Zach Hodskins will.

The future of Florida basketball is in good hands with Hodskins, and Billy Donovan, and DeVon Walker, and Jacob Kurtz, and Matt McCall, and dozens of other people you don't see and don't know behind the scenes.

Hodskins wouldn't want to be at Florida in the first place if it weren't for them. Maybe, down the road, someone wouldn't have wanted to be at Florida in the first place if it weren't for Hodskins.

Actually, who am I kidding? Forget that maybe.

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