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Saturday, January 22, 2022

Over the past two years, questions about leadership on the UF men's basketball team were hardly worth asking.

As the Gators move forward into a new era, this issue has become one of their most salient problems.

Junior guard Walter Hodge and sophomore center Marreese Speights could be the solution.

Hodge enters the season as the Gators? only upperclassman.

Coach Billy Donovan said the junior?s new role will take some getting used to.

BThe biggest thing I expect out of Walter is that he has a level of patience right now,C Donovan said. BWhen you?re going on the floor and you?re surrounded by seven or eight guys that have no clue what they?re doing, he?s got to keep a level head and some patience to help these guys. There were a lot of people that were patient with him.C

With so many young players, Donovan knows Hodge may be his only consistent choice on the floor.

The majority of players will look to Hodge for reassurance when things go astray.

BWalter Hodge is the only guy who can say that he understands what it?s about,C Donovan said. BHe?s got a level of experience, and I?ve got a level of trust in him that he gets what?s going on. … If they?re smart enough, they should be dealing with him enough, asking him questions about the experiences he went through the last couple of years.C

Hodge, who averaged 5.7 points per game last season as the team?s primary guard off the bench, feels comfortable leading the team in the right direction.

BIt?s all good. I have to teach and help my teammates,C Hodge said. BIn my freshman year, I looked up to Joakim Noah, Al Horford and all the other guys for advice. Now it is my turn to play that same role.

BI don?t really think about expectations - we?re just going to be the best we can be and hopefully impress a lot of people like that.C

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Hodge will look to Speights as an aid in the leadership department.

Speights, who enters the season saddled with hype, showed glimpses of potential in limited minutes as a freshman.

His season-high 16 points came against Jackson State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The 6-foot-10 St. Petersburg native now assumes a vital role as the only inside presence on the roster.

Donovan said he has seen improvement from Speights, but is still undecided on what to expect from the big man.

BI think that for Marreese right now, handling all that?s going to be thrown at him is something he?s got to do,C Donovan said. BMarreese is a competitive kid and he?s made some great strides maturity-wise, but it?s a different thing when you talk about a guy?s will to win and when you go into a game to impact winning.C

Speights, however, believes last year?s experience will help him play a major role moving forward.

BWe learned a lot last year,C Speights said. BIt was a year to sit back and learn from those guys. Now it?s our turn to do what we can with what we have.C

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