The dog days of summer are when team camaraderie is shaped, with players attending summer classes on sparsely populated campuses and going through workouts with their teammates.
The summer is also an important period for strength and conditioning coaches across the country, thanks in part to NCAA rules limiting the amount of time basketball coaches can spend with their players. With this being the case, strength and conditioning staffers (in most cases) end up working with the players more than the basketball coaches do.
One program putting its players through the paces is the University of Florida, with the strength and conditioning staff using exercises made popular by those “World’s Strongest Man” competitions that tend to fill empty blocks of television time during the summer.
Having made three straight appearances in the Elite Eight the goal is a simple one for Billy Donovan’s program: take the next step and reach the Final Four for the first time since 2007.
The Gators lost three senior contributors from last season’s team (Kenny Boynton, Erik Murphy and Mike Rosario), but the combination of returnees and newcomers has many expecting Florida to be one of the favorites (with Kentucky) to win the SEC.
Patric Young, who may be “pound for pound” the strongest man in college basketball, returns along with classmate Casey Prather and USA U-19 gold medalist Michael Frazier II. Florida adds one of the nation’s best freshmen in point guard Kasey Hill, and transfers Dorian Finney-Smith (Virginia Tech) and Damontre Harris (South Carolina) give the Gators two interior contributors with prior Division I experience.
But for all of Florida’s talent there are some question marks.
What will the statuses of guard Scottie Wilbekin (suspension) and Will Yeguete (knee surgery) be when practices officially begin in October? Will the NCAA approve Rutgers transfer Eli Carter’s request to be granted immediate eligibility? And there’s also the unresolved status of freshman big man Chris Walker, who also arrives in Gainesville amidst high praise but has some academic issues to take care of as well.
If all four players are ready to go when practices begin, Florida will be more than capable of getting over the Elite Eight hurdle that’s tripped them up each of the last three seasons.