The trend in college basketball these days is youth. The most talented players usually take off for greener pastures before they become upper classmen, and so when you look around the country, the best teams in the country are usually among the youngest teams in the country. But one team that’s going against this trend, and experiencing a whole lot of success with a veteran-oriented team, is the Florida Gators. The Gators hold a 21-3 record, as well as a top-5 ranking, and have been one of the most consistent and impressive teams in college basketball this year, routinely blowing out their competition.
It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that the Gators and head coach Billy Donovan are succeeding with a veteran team. After all, it was Donovan who got all the under classmen on a national championship winning team, many of whom would have been high draft picks, to return to school the following year, where they would lead the Gators to their second straight national championship. Clearly, there’s something about Donovan that makes players want to stay, even after winning big, and with back-to-back trips to the elite eight, Florida’s upper classmen have done plenty of winning during their time in Gainesville.
Of the eight players playing significant minutes for Florida this year, seven are either juniors or seniors. That much experience on a team is usually seen on some of the more prominent mid-major programs that rely on the presence of veteran players in order to compete with high-level programs, but such a high volume of upper classmen on a power-conference team, especially one with as much NCAA tournament success as Florida has had the past two seasons, is almost unprecedented in this era of college basketball.
Perhaps even more amazing is the fact that Florida’s top three scorers: Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario, and Erik Murphy, are all seniors. The seniors that hang around for four years in college basketball are usually role players, not stars. Boynton is the most interesting of the three, as he was also Florida’s leading scorer during his freshman and junior seasons (and a close second his sophomore season), yet he has stayed in school for four years, when most other players would have long since entered the NBA Draft. Meanwhile, junior Patric Young has been speculated as an early entrant into the NBA draft after each of first two seasons, as he’s always had the size, physicality, and athleticism that can get a big man drafted based on pure potential. Yet, Young has decided to stick around as well.
Having guys like Boynton and Young stick around when they could have gone to the NBA is a great recipe for success, just look at how much the return of Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb helped the Kentucky Wildcats win a national championship last year. But an even better recipe for success is having seven upper classmen playing prominent roles, and having those seven players bring the experience of back-to-back trips to the elite eight. Those are all things that Florida has going for them this year. So while it may not be the most conventional method of winning in college basketball by today’s standards, the Gators are looking pretty good this year with a roster that’s stocked with veterans.