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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Traditionally, basketball season has offered a change of pace from football season at UF.

This year, the transition won?t seem like a transition at all.

The football and basketball teams have similar identities, players and situations.

They are both coming off national titles and are the hunted after making waves last year.

Many of the leaders are young, and the rosters are filled with talented freshmen and sophomores.

In fact, if you were to cast the Gators? football team in a movie, the best actors might be found a block down Stadium Road.

The basketball squad only has one upperclassman - junior Walter Hodge.

As the most experienced player returning, Hodge will be charged with keeping the team emotionally balanced while becoming a leading scorer.

Think of him as the team?s Tony Joiner. Both spent last season being overshadowed by another player at their position - Hodge by Taurean Green and Joiner by Reggie Nelson - and are looking for a breakout year.

Marreese Speights has the potential to be a major force in the paint and has a ton of upside.

He saw a decent amount of action last season and played well when he was in, but this year he won?t have Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer to soften up the opposition for him.

His position is not unlike that of defensive end Derrick Harvey. Harvey saw plenty of time on the 2006 team, but Ray McDonald and Jarvis Moss garnered more attention before moving on to the NFL.

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Harvey?s challenge this year was to step up as a leader after his fellow line-mates left and to prove himself as a threat without the veterans around him.

With no other established pass-rushing threats, teams have focused on stopping Harvey.

Speights will have to do the same as the team?s leading big man.

At 6-10, Speights is the Gators? tallest player and will be keyed on by opponents.

Seven of the basketball team?s 11 players are freshmen (yes, you read that right), and they will have to contribute for the team to win.

The player expected to lead the young group is Nick Calathes, one of the most sought-after recruits in the nation a year ago.

Calathes is the Tim Tebow of the team. He will most likely start this year, and much of the team?s success will be derived from his ability to grow up in a hurry.

He won the 2006 and 2007 Mr. Basketball award for the state of Florida (Tebow won the 2005 Mr. Football award), broke all sorts of records and is outwardly humble.

There?s no doubt that if Calathes reaches his potential and becomes a star at UF, he?ll be just as hated by opposing schools as Tebow.

Sophomore Dan Werner has limited experience and the potential to become a key player, but he?ll have to overcome obstacles that are more mental than physical.

Enter Kyle Jackson. The safety has no shortage of talent, but has never quite gotten the mental aspect of the game down.

Just like Jackson, Werner will be looking to prove himself and stay in the starting lineup over the talented incoming freshmen.

And just like the football team, the basketball team will be young, talented and unproven.

The positives for both are that if they can mature their young players and continue recruiting well, they may have matching national championships again in the next few years.

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