Friday, April 27, 2018
Sports

Florida's Mike Rosario comes to play

AUSTIN, Texas

In the eternal struggle for Mike Rosario's soul, the dark side is always tugging at him.

Ease off, it whispers. Let go of the intensity. Cruise.

At such times, Rosario is not a very good basketball player, and the University of Florida is a lesser basketball team. He can take defensive plays off. He can float around the floor, letting his responsibilities to his team slide. In short, he can drive coach Billy Donovan a little crazy.

Ah, but then there are moments of brilliance, when the light filters in and Rosario comes to play, when he is as intense and dangerous as any player on the floor. In those moments, Rosario is a ballplayer, and the basket belongs to him.

Sunday evening, it was Rosario the Good who showed up for the Gators. He was a fully invested player, sharp mentally and physically, and his 25 points were a season high. One game after an off night that sent him to the bench once again, Rosario hit 8 of 12 shots, and 6 of 9 from behind the 3-point arc.

Because of it, Florida is headed once again to the Sweet 16.

And Donovan? Once again, he looks a bit as if he's had a tough ride trying to break a stubborn horse.

They are familiar combatants, Donovan and Rosario. From the time Rosario transferred in from Rutgers, he has had the tendency to diva on the Gators. Donovan, meanwhile, has pushed hard for Rosario to play the right way. The bench has often been his motivation.

"There is definitely a struggle for light and darkness with him," Donovan said. "From a positive perspective, I think in order to be a great teammate, you've got to be an affectionate guy, a caring guy. That's just who he is. He's unselfish.

"But there are times with Mike when can come out not focused. He cannot be accountable. He cannot be responsible. The reason our relationship has been rocky is that I've held him to a high standard. When he is on edge and focused, he plays better. His performances are better.

"But there are times Mike gets a little high-risk. When he's carefree and floating around, we don't get as much from him. I'm on him all the time, because I want him to be the best he can be."

Sunday night, Rosario was. And maybe, that goes back to Saturday morning, when Donovan was chastising Rosario because of Friday night.

"He's got a responsibility," Donovan said. "He's a fifth-year senior and it's his first NCAA Tournament. And that's the focus he comes with? There's something wrong with that. And I think he felt bad about it.

"Mike will assume responsibility. He'll let me coach him. But I'm on him all the time, because I want him to be the best he can be. When he's allowed to be that way, maybe class is not quite important or I come a little late to practice or I'm not ready to play. No. You just sit down."

And so it was that a few eyes were on Rosario in the opening minutes of the Minnesota game. And Rosario was golden as the Gators ran and hid. Later, when Minnesota came back to cut the deficit to seven, Rosario's 3 kept them at bay.

It was a focused Rosario, one who never forced a shot. And you wonder: Where is this guy on some nights?

"It was a very emotional moment for me," Rosario said. "The message that Coach gave me is that you've got to go out there and compete.

"I just felt that in the first game, I wasn't on edge. I just felt that I wasn't doing my job. Everyone has a job to do, and that's something that Coach teaches us every day. I felt that I let my team down in the first game. I was beating myself up about it, so I was happy to come out here and get the job done."

For Donovan, there is a line between reeling in Rosario and turning him loose.

"There are a couple of things that are really, really simple," Donovan said. "When he doesn't do them, I have to sit him. The first is to just really, really take the open shot. I want him to be as aggressive as possible. But if you want that kind of freedom, you have to be responsible with the ball. And the final part is to just play the right way.

"He has as good of a basketball feel as anyone on our team. He sees open guys. He makes the extra pass. But there are some times when he gets a little high risk and very, very low reward.

"I think for him, he probably reflected on Friday night and said, 'Geez, I'm fortunate I get another day to play. I'm not going to show up against Minnesota like that.' "

He didn't. In his place was Good Mike.

That guy can make a difference.

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