Last summer senior forward Matt Bonner served as a teaching
assistant for a health class called Stress and Anxiety
Management. For a case study, he needed to look no further than
Florida's 2001-02 season, which ended with the Gators' losing
eight of their last 15 games (by an average of 5.1 points),
including an 83-82 overtime defeat by Creighton in the first
round of the NCAA tournament. Florida will need to manage
adversity better this season if it is going to fulfill its Final
That's especially true for 6'4" senior guard Brett Nelson, whose
shooting percentages dropped dramatically last year--he shot
39.2% from the field, down from 45.0% as a sophomore; and 39.5%
from three-point range, down from 45.3%. After testing the NBA
draft waters last spring and hearing rumblings from scouts that
he needed to get stronger, Nelson decided to return to school. He
added 20 pounds of muscle over the summer, bringing him to 205
pounds, but he will not have to carry nearly as much weight on
his shoulders this season. In 6'3" guard Rashid Al-Kaleem, 6'1"
guard Anthony Roberson and 6'6" forward Matt Walsh, coach Billy
Donovan has added three freshmen who can knock down open shots.
However, Donovan's most valuable signee might be Danish import
Christian Drejer, a 6'9" swingman who is an excellent outside
shooter and explosive off the dribble.
Of course, with only one basketball to go around, chemistry could
be a problem. Still, Donovan has been pleased by his players'
willingness to make the extra pass. A larger concern might be the
team's toughness given the departure of Udonis Haslem. David Lee,
a 6'9" sophomore center, and Bonner should be the Gators' best
low-post threats, while 6'9" redshirt freshman Adrian Moss will
be asked to do much of the dirty work.
For the time being, however, Florida has a lot more answers than
questions, which is why Nelson is optimistic that his final
college season will be relatively devoid of stress and anxiety.
"I can't change anything that happened last year," he says. "The
best thing to do is forget about it and move forward. I can't
wait to get started." --S.D.
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO FORWARD THINKING Bonner, the Gator's leading scorer with 15.6 points a game, wants to erase memories of the Gators' late-season meltdown.
POS. PLAYER HT. CL. KEY STAT
SF Christian Drejer 6'9" Fr. 31.6 ppg*
PF Matt Bonner 6'10" Sr. 15.6 ppg
C David Lee 6'9" So. 57.9 FG%
SG Brett Nelson 6'4" Sr. 14.6 ppg
PG Justin Hamilton 6'3" Sr. 3.8 apg
*For club team in Denmark
2001-02 RECORD: 22-9 (10-6, T1 in SEC East)
TOURNAMENT: Lost to Creighton in 1st round
Number of Division I schools (Duke, Florida and Gonzaga) with
fewer than 10 losses in each of the past four seasons.
An opposing coach's view
Nelson and Bonner give the Gators two big-time players
"They're very talented. The X factor is, how much will they miss
Udonis Haslem inside?... David Lee is a good player, but I don't
know that he's an enforcer the way Haslem was. Lee was a highly
recruited guy, but the jury is out on him.... I don't know what
was going on with Brett Nelson last year. Maybe he was worried
about impressing the pro scouts or he felt the weight of
expectations. He's not quite as effective at the two spot because
he likes to have the ball in his hands.... Matt Bonner is a
nightmare to prepare for because he stretches the defense. He's
strong enough to beat a smaller guy down low, and he might be
their best three-point shooter.... It's critical when you play
them not to turn the ball over, especially in the open court.
They're trying to create pace, and if you start giving them the
ball, they'll kill you."