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By LARRY VAUGHT
Maybe Bruce Pearl is just tired of all the off-season attention that Kentucky and coach John Calipari are receiving. Or maybe he really believes what heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s saying when he says the Southeastern ConferenceÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s most talented team next year will be Florida, not UK or Tennessee.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Billy Donovan has had several years of really, really good recruiting. They will be by far the most talented team in the SEC,Ã¢â‚¬ÂÃ‚Â Pearl told Mike Griffith of the Knoxville News Sentinel. ”
ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the same Florida team that lost five of its last six games last year and barely made the NCAA Tournament
And what about Kentucky?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Kentucky brings in another No. 1 recruiting class. They lost more than anybody, but they brought in more than anybody. They’re not going to be as talented as they were; that’s why I put Florida in front of them.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Now Pearl has a valid point about Kentucky losing more than anyone Ã¢â‚¬â€ and not having Patrick Patterson to lead the team could be a bigger obstacle to overcome than even most of us imagine. Still, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a bit surprising to see Pearl touting Florida so highly when UK does have another No. 1 recruiting class.
Of course, Donovan isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t backing off the praise, either.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be dealing with something next year that we have not dealt with in the last couple of years and thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s having a level of expectation on our team,Ã¢â‚¬Â Donovan told The Associated Press. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to be interesting to see how our older guys handle a higher level of expectation. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m sure going into the season they are probably going to be a team thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ranked very, very high, and thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to be one thing theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve never had to deal with before so thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to be a challenge.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The Gators return starters Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker, Chandler Parsons, Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin. They also have sophomore Erik Murphy ready to be a bigger contributor.
Tyusentered the NBA draft in April but changed his mind Ã¢â‚¬â€ sounds like Patrick Patterson Ã¢â‚¬â€ and decided to return to school for his senior season.
Donovan has a top 10 recruiting class. Patric Young, a 6-foot-9 forward and McDonaldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s All-American, and Casey Prather, a 6-foot-6 swingman and defensive stopper, signed in November and then the Gators added Will Yeguete, a 6-foot-7 forward; Cody Larson, a 6-foot-9 forward.; and Scottie Wilbekin, a 6-foot-2 point guard, this spring.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got to come in and learn, mesh, chemistry, gel, all those things are going to now become challenges for us,Ã¢â‚¬Â Donovan said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“But I think depth-wise, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re at least getting back to the point of hopefully being able to press a little bit more and do a little bit more in our backcourt.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The Gators actually went over the scholarship limit but conveniently two players Ã¢â‚¬â€ seldom-used guard Nimrod Tishman and oft-injured forward Adam Allen wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be on scholarship. Tishmanhas returned to Israel to play professionally and Allen, who missed the last two seasons with a nagging knee injury, will stay in school on an academic scholarship.
Nothing wrong with either scenario, but remember the way Calipari was blasted when Michael Porter, Matt Pilgrim, A.J. Stewart and others lost their scholarships when he arrived.
Just a matter of perception I guess, sort of like PearlÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s perception that Florida now is the team to beat in the SEC.