Word started getting back to Vernon Macklin shortly after he returned to Florida's campus early last fall after a summer on the camp circuit. Teammates and training staff wondered if the senior had seen freshman All-American Patric Young, who had recently arrived.
The last time Macklin had seen him, Young was a wide-eyed high school senior attending games as a touted signee. But things had changed over those months.
"I went to a bunch of camps so when I came back everybody was telling me how much bigger Pat had got since he had been here," said Macklin, who teams with Young tonight in the second round of the SEC tournament in Atlanta. "I actually met him outside in the parking lot the day I got here and I was just like, 'This dude is huge' because he went home and got bigger. So the first thing going through my head was this is going to be a physical battle every day in practice because this guy is much bigger than I thought he was."
The transformation was evident to all but Young.
"I didn't notice it," Young said. "I went through a little program during the summer, and I didn't really notice that I got that much bigger. I guess compared to the last time (he saw Macklin) before I came to Florida, Vern said there was a big difference."
It turns out Macklin was right — the physical battles in practice between the two former McDonald's All-Americans would be unbelievable: the 6-foot-10, 240-pound Macklin's tall, thinner frame vs. Young's 6-9, 245 pounds of muscle and power. Day in and day out, the veteran schooled the 19-year-old in the subtleties of the collegiate game, forcing him to use his mind in addition to his brawn. And the rookie banged nonstop with the 24-year-old man, making him tougher. And Young was constantly on his cell phone sending text messages to Macklin. He wanted more.
"I didn't know what he would say at first or what his response would be," Young said. "I was just trying to be like, 'Do you think we could work out some time, maybe go into the gym and just get some shots?' I didn't want to sound like I was scared, but I didn't want to sound pushy like I was demanding something."
Macklin never turned him down, and they became a solid duo that has given the Gators their most formidable frontcourt in three years.
"There are certain guys that like physical confrontation, and Patric is one of those guys," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "I really think in the frontcourt in order to get better you have to have guys that like physical confrontation. That's what we had with Brent Wright, (Matt) Bonner, Donnell Harvey and (Udonis) Haslem. There was physical confrontation all the time. But they were mature enough to understand that physical confrontation was going to make them better, and I think Vernon last year did not have enough competition physically in practice and it wasn't good for Vernon.
"Patric comes in and almost in a way irritates Vernon," Donovan added. "And Vernon irritates Patric. It's not that they don't get along but it's this: Vernon would like it to be a little easier and it's 'calm down, calm down.' And then Vernon uses his skill or his intelligence and experience and drives Patric a little nuts, too. But he learned, too. … I don't think there's any question Vernon's experience has really, really helped Patric grow. And I also think going against a guy like Patric every day, Vernon needs that because he's going to get that against a lot of SEC teams."
As a starter, Macklin is averaging 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds, while Young is averaging 3.3 points and 3.4 rebounds off the bench. Their collective presence inside has given Florida an inside-outside combination, making the outside shooting of Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker and Chandler Parsons much more of a threat.
"We're playing as hard as we can, and I love it," Macklin said. "I think Coach Donovan loves it, our coaching staff and the fans love it, and I'm glad to be a part of this right now. I'm having fun, and I just love this team."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her blog at tampabay.com/blogs/gators.