Saturday, December 16, 2017
Sports

Freshman Bradley Beal emerging as a star exactly when the Florida Gators need him to

PHOENIX, Ariz. — It has taken lots of encouragement and support from Florida coach Billy Donovan and his teammates, but freshman guard Bradley Beal is finally becoming the complete player everyone around him has known he could be. Maybe even better.

And Florida is reaping the benefits, particularly of late. You could say March has become Beal's breakout month.

In the SEC tournament, Beal averaged 18 points and was named to the all-tournament team. In March, he is leading the team in minutes played (34.2), scoring (13.8) and rebounding (8.4, up from 4.7 in January). He is shooting 37 percent from 3-point range and 76 percent from the free-throw line and has 18 assists in five games.

"I think I sensed it near the end of conference play before going into the SEC tournament, everything starting to really come together for me," Beal said.

"I think I did a pretty good job in just staying aggressive, attacking as best I could and really trying to get my teammates involved and being more aggressive. I know that coming in the first couple of games, and throughout half of the season, I was kind of worried about what my teammates would say and things like that. I didn't want to step on anybody's toes, messing up team chemistry and anything like that. But then Coach and my teammates made me realize they wanted me to do what was best for the team."

During NCAA Tournament play, he has been outstanding. In Florida's 71-45 win over Virginia, he had 14 points and 11 rebounds, his sixth double double of the season. Against Norfolk State, an 84-50 blowout, he tallied 14 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two steals. In the two NCAA Tournament games combined, he was 9-for-16 from the floor, 3-for-9 from the arc and 7-for-11 from the free-throw line.

In his evolution from inconsistent freshman to dominant player the past several weeks, what has stood out most is the 6-foot-3, 207-pound Beal's aggressiveness and his willingness to crash the boards.

"He's really patient, a great rebounder," sophomore center Patric Young said. "He's probably not seen as such a great rebounder because he's a guard, but he's a great rebounder.

"He's good at creating his own shot, as far as getting to the basket, and really patient in shooting his 3-pointers as well. And sometimes he gets down on himself for not having a great shooting night, but he realizes there's so many other things he can do to impact the game, especially with his rebounding. It took some time, but he's a really mature freshman, I can say."

Beal, 18, arrived in Gainesville last fall as a McDonald's All-American, the Gatorade national player of the year with high expectations. He has turned out to be all that was expected. But like most college freshmen, he has had his ups and downs. He is now coming to terms with stepping up the way Donovan has encouraged him all season.

"I think the one thing that makes Brad such a good player is he's a real team guy, he understands team dynamics, chemistry," Donovan said. "And I think for him, he's always been a guy that's relied on his offense. I think he's starting to see that there's so much more to his game — the way he rebounds, the way he passes, and the way he's attacking.

"Early in the year he wasn't attacking the basket and driving it and putting it on the floor the way he is now. And the thing I've just tried to get through to him is stop worrying about your shot. You're a freshman. Most freshmen have their peaks and valleys shooting the basketball. You do too many other things as a player that can really impact our team. And I said start stepping up and start to try to be more aggressive. Start enjoying things out there that impact the outcome of the game. And our team realizes that when he does those things, it helps us tremendously."

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