GAINESVILLE — Nearly two years ago, Mike Rosario left the comfortable confines of New Jersey and Rutgers University in search of a better situation for himself with Florida coach Billy Donovan and the Gators.
After a year of practicing without the benefit of playing in games, of cheering his teammates so hard from the sideline that he was sometimes as exhausted as if he had played, Rosario is more appreciative than ever of the game he loves.
"It was tough because I never sat no longer than two weeks of playing basketball," Rosario said. "It was hard for me at first to adapt to the whole situation and really figure it out, like, 'Okay, I'm not playing this year, so what can I do that's productive for my team and myself?'
"And I figured it out. I figured I would go as hard as I can in practice and be the biggest cheerleader I could possibly be. So that was my whole focus. I can tell you this, I was emotional about the fact that I couldn't play because I'm an emotional guy. But I know the decision I made was for the better."
Rosario transferred to Florida in 2010 after becoming only the second sophomore in Rutgers history to score 1,000 career points, finishing ninth in the Big East in scoring and third in 3-pointers per game in his second season.
He is now on a roster with Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker, Scottie Wilbekin and freshman Bradley Beal to combine for what Florida hopes will become one of the most formidable guard combinations in the nation.
Each is a proven shooter, but getting their chemistry together is a major point of emphasis.
"You can see he's going to find his way, Mike's a great talent," Walker said. "Myself and Kenny have been playing with each other for a while now, and we know what Coach Donovan is looking for, and we know the system. Mike's been here in practice, but he's been out of the game for a year. He'll definitely get in; he's doing just fine. He'll get there."
A pure shooter who can play point or two-guard, Rosario is currently No. 3 in the SEC in 3-point field-goal percentage (62.5) but acknowledges that his biggest weakness is what the Gators need to be a strength: defense.
"I'd like to see him guard better, and I'd like to see him not turn it over as much," Donovan said. " … Mike's a pretty smart player, and he understands the game. I still think he's a guy, offensively, who can provide a lot more for our team other than making shots."
At 22, Rosario's body is adorned with tattoos that are emotional reminders of family, love, personal loss and a lost home (his housing project torn down and replaced by townhouses). In Florida's media guide, he lists his favorite childhood memory as "Growing up in the projects and making it out.'
He has begun the process of making new memories in his new home.
"It feels good," Rosario said about being with the Gators. "My first two years in college weren't so good. So to be in this atmosphere and what we're trying to strive for is a great experience.
"I want to play against the best of the best, that's why I came to this school and that's why I surrounded myself around the players that I'm around right now, to get better every day. This is a big opportunity for all the guys, including myself, to really accomplish our goals."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]