GAINESVILLE — Vernon Macklin doesn't hesitate to be honest when asked.
Yes, there were times last season, often in fact, when he wasn't sure if he had made the right decision in coming to Gainesville.
When he decided to transfer from Georgetown at the end of the 2007-08 basketball season, he was fully aware he would have to sit out a year per NCAA transfer rules. But the transition year was much harder than he had anticipated.
"It was real difficult," said Macklin, a Portsmouth, Va., native. "I didn't think it was going to be that difficult until I actually had to go to the first game and I realized there was no way I could check in. … It hurt sitting out, but I think right now it happened for the better."
Better for both Macklin and the team. For the first time since 2007, Florida has a legitimate big man in the paint, which has led to a revamping of the squad and allowed the Gators to become a more complete team.
"It has allowed everyone to be in their right position where everyone is comfortable," senior forward Dan Werner said. "He's done a great job establishing himself as a center. It frees up Alex (Tyus) to do a little more rebounding or come off the ball and block shots. And myself, I'm playing more (small forward) and a little bit of (power forward), so he's just helped everyone."
Tyus may be benefiting most. Before the 6-foot-10, 240-pound Macklin's arrival, Tyus was forced to play center, where he was neither big and strong enough nor comfortable.
"I think it's made a huge difference," the 6-8 Tyus said. "It takes a lot of pressure off all of our guys. Last year whenever I was in foul trouble, Dan had to guard big guys. Now Vern is able to guard other guys more his size, more his strength. And he gives us a lot of mismatch problems. He's a big man, but he can still run and keep up in a fast-paced game."
Macklin was a touted Parade and McDonald's All-American coming out of high school. But when this season began, he decided to approach things as if he were new to the game.
"Coach D (Billy Donovan) told me I get to start from a clean slate," said Macklin, a redshirt junior. "Everything I did in high school and everything I did at Georgetown has been erased. I sat out for a whole year, so it's starting over. It's like I'm a new face to college basketball. I think it's actually helped me a lot."
When Florida and Syracuse meet tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum in the Big East/SEC Invitational, the Gators are hoping Macklin will provide the much-needed size they lacked when they lost to the Orange 89-83 last season.
"I was watching a little bit of the Syracuse game from last year and Alex is 6-foot-8, if that, and he's trying to battle guys that are 6-9, 260 and 270 pounds," Werner said. "Vernon is strong, he's taller and longer, so it just helps out everyone, and it's a big thing for us."
Macklin's arrival isn't just a relief for Florida's post players. His presence also helps the Gators' backcourt duo of Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker.
"I think it gives us a legitimate post presence, but it also helps with our press," Walker said. "With him back there, you can take a few more chances because you know there's somebody big back there to help cover for you a little bit."
Macklin is averaging 11.3 points and 5.9 rebounds. At Georgetown, he was a 30 percent free-throw shooter; currently, he's hitting 73.7 percent. He said he strives to improve every day he's on the court — and to relish the time he's playing. That's what time away from the game does for you.
"I developed a lot," he said. "I can honestly say last year was the first year I actually started watching film. I actually started cherishing basketball a lot last year, realizing that time is getting closer. My freshman and sophomore years at Georgetown, I didn't really cherish basketball that much, I just went out there and played. It's very important to me now."