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Young UF basketball team depends on sophomore leader

GAINESVILLE — The Florida men's basketball team opens practice this week with six newcomers and its top returning player, sophomore G Nick Calathes, recovering from a pulled hip flexor/groin injury on his right leg.

"That's a concern I have right now, just because unfortunately Nick's been out for the last five weeks," coach Billy Donovan said during Wednesday's media day. "He has not done anything, really, since he's gotten back. The last six weeks of the summer he was in Greece playing with their team, so he's really not been an active participant for almost 12 weeks right now with our team."

Calathes, who averaged 15.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 6.1 assists last season, expects to be ready for Friday's first practice.

"I was practicing one day, doing individuals actually, doing a defensive slide, and I pulled it," Calathes said. "I think I went too quick or something like that. I don't expect it (to linger), knock on wood. I hope I'm fine and ready to go."

So, too, do his teammates. "We need Nick a lot," sophomore Chandler Parsons said. "He's a good leader, he's the point guard, he runs our team. To not have him out there, would hurt us."

Eloy Vargas, a 6-foot-10 freshman forward/center, is also recovering from ankle surgery.

Florida opened last season 18-3 and finished 24-12, losing to UMass in the National Invitation Tournament semifinals. Donovan hopes that last season's struggles — the Gators missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998 — will help them better understand what it takes to succeed.

"I thought we were a group last year that had a level of confidence that was unwarranted and was not earned through practice," he said. "I think last year's group really did not have the understanding of what it was all about and was thrown into the fire a little bit. They got thrown into a very difficult situation. And I'm hopeful that they learned from last year in a way that will serve them well going into this season. I said this last year, just because you're a year older does not make you a year better."

BIGGER AND BETTER: When women's coach Amanda Butler took over last year, the Gators were coming off a 9-22 season and few outside expectations.

But Butler had a different idea, one that translated into a 19-14 record and a trip to the Women's NIT. That early success led to greater expectations this season.

"We take a lot of pride in the strides that we made last year, but by no means are we satisfied with where we ended up," Butler said. "This year's theme will be bigger and better. That's where our expectations are rooted. We want to make sure we're not just competing with the best, but trying to be the best."

With six newcomers and a solid group of returners, Butler said the goal is not to look ahead, but "trying to live a daily lifestyle of winning and what it takes to win championships."

"What we achieved last season has given us a lot of confidence in ourselves," senior G Sha Brooks said. "We've got a lot of good, new players, and I think we're going to have a great season."

Antonya English can be reached at english@sptimes.com.

Young UF basketball team depends on sophomore leader 10/15/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 16, 2008 8:06am]
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