GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida coach Billy Donovan has found sustained success with college basketball’s version of the waiver wire.
Donovan has gotten key contributions from his last three transfers, starting with former Georgetown center Vernon Macklin in 2009 and continuing with former Rutgers guard Mike Rosario in 2011.
Now, it’s Dorian Finney-Smith making the most of his relatively new surroundings in Gainesville.
Finney-Smith, who sat out last year after transferring from Virginia Tech, had one of his best games of the season last Tuesday – a 19-point, nine-rebound performance at Vanderbilt that helped the No. 1 Gators extend their winning streak to 20 games. The streak reached 21 with a victory over LSU on Saturday in which Finney-Smith scored 16 points.
“When he’s playing well, it definitely changes and helps our team,” Donovan said Friday.
Florida clinched the Southeastern Conference regular-season title when Kentucky lost to Arkansas last Thursday. But the team has no plans to celebrate just yet. The Gators (27-2, 16-0) are “chasing greatness” – their motto down the stretch – after coming up just short of the Final Four the last three years.
Finney-Smith just might be the X-factor in the team’s title chase.
The 6-foot-8 sophomore has the size, skill and athletic ability to score inside and out, and has shown he can be a force on the offensive and defensive boards.
Doing it consistently has been the challenge.
Although Finney-Smith leads the team in rebounding, averaging 7.1 a game, and has more assists than turnovers – a rarity for a big man – he has struggled to score.
Before Tuesday night’s breakout game against the Commodores, Finney-Smith failed to reach double figures in 10 of his previous 11 outings.
His biggest slump was from the 3-point line, where he had made just one shot in his last 26 attempts. He also missed 22 in a row during that stretch. He made three 3s against Vandy, including one with 32 seconds left that gave Florida a five-point lead in a nail-biter.
“It felt good,” said Finney-Smith, widely considered the front-runner for the league’s Sixth Man of the Year Award. “I went through a little bit of a slump, but it’s great to see how much work I put in.”
Florida could use Finney-Smith to knock down a few more long-range shots. One of the team’s main weaknesses is a lack of 3-pointers. Sure, Michael Frazier II is one of the best in the league from behind the arc and Scottie Wilbekin is a threat, too. But the Gators are missing that third perimeter shooter who really could open things up inside for Patric Young and Will Yeguete.
Finney-Smith showed glimpses earlier this season, making nine of his first 23 shots from 3-point range.
But he’s been way more miss than hit since.
Maybe the last two games – he hit 4 of 8 long-range attempts against LSU – will turn things around.
“Huge for him,” Frazier said of the Vandy game. “I’m glad he was able to shoot the ball well because he was going through a shooting slump obviously. Glad he was able to knock down some shots for us he hit a big one late down the stretch so very happy for him, happy for our team he was able to help us pull off that win.”
Regardless of the slump, Finney-Smith has found a comfortable niche as the team’s sixth man.
“I try to come off the bench with lot of energy,” he said. “Try to change the game, affect the game any way I can. Even if I’m not hitting shots, getting on the glass and playing defense, just play with excitement.”
Donovan coached a dozen years at Florida with the only transfers being guys who left the program.
It changed with Macklin, starting a wave that doesn’t look like it will end anytime soon. Florida has three other transfers – Damontre Harris (South Carolina), Eli Carter (Rutgers) and Alex Murphy (Duke) – waiting to play.
“It generally comes down to one thing, and a lot of times it’s playing time,” Donovan said. “Kids now want that instantaneous success. For a lot of kids that had so much success in high school and were recruited so heavily, it’s very difficult for the first time in their life when they go through any level of adversity. They don’t know how to handle it or deal with it.
“Then what happens a lot of time is the easy answer is, ‘I’ll leave and go somewhere else. The grass is greener elsewhere.’ “
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