Brash newcomer Anthony Roberson has Florida winning the close ones
After hitting a shot to win a pickup game last fall, Florida freshman guard Anthony Roberson ran up to senior forward Matt Bonner, who had been on the opposing team, and laughed in his face. Bonner responded by shoving Roberson and shouting, "Don't you ever laugh in my face again!" Last Saturday in Gainesville, with the No. 11 Gators trailing No. 20 Georgia midway through the second half, Roberson again got in Bonner's face, after the senior passed up an open look at a three-pointer. This time Roberson wasn't laughing. "You've got to take that shot!" he yelled. "Be aggressive! These guys can't guard you."
Bonner responded by scoring 10 points in less than two minutes to spark Florida's comeback from a 10-point deficit. Roberson followed up by scoring 15 of his team-high 23 points over the final nine minutes, the last three on a high-arcing 25-footer over Bulldogs swingman Jarvis Hayes at the buzzer to give the Gators a 66-63 victory. It was the third time this season that Florida (13-2, 2-0 in the SEC) had won a game that had come down to the final possession, which is significant considering that the Gators lost seven games last season by five points or fewer.
Florida is winning close games this year largely because of Roberson and a fellow freshman, 6'6" forward Matt Walsh. The rookies' value goes well beyond their combined 30.1 points per game. "There's a level of fearlessness in Walsh and Roberson that I think we were lacking at times last year," says Gators coach Billy Donovan. "Our older guys can be a little unsure at times about how to step up and make a big play. The freshmen have a real passion for winning, and the seniors feed off that."
The 6'1" Roberson, who is from Saginaw, Mich., can come off as too brash at times—after spending time with him during a recruiting visit last year, Bonner thought he was a "wise guy" whose attitude would need adjusting. But Roberson has won his teammates over with his unselfishness and respect for the older players, occasional trash talk notwithstanding. When senior guard Brett Nelson was mired in a shooting slump in late December, Donovan decided to replace him in the starting lineup with Roberson so that Nelson would feel less pressure. Nelson was fine with the switch, but Roberson objected, telling Donovan that Nelson deserved the opportunity to play his way out of the slump. Donovan decided not to make the move and continues to bring Roberson off the bench. "That just shows how much character [Roberson] has," says Bonner. Says Roberson, "I know I'll have my chance to start someday. Right now it's the seniors' time, and I want to learn all I
can from them."
With two big wins last week—on Jan. 7 Florida knocked off No. 7 Mississippi State 74-66 in Starkville—the Gators are learning how to win as a team, demonstrating the toughness that they will need for a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Just as long as they don't get too physical: After drilling the game-winner on Saturday, Roberson back-pedaled to the far baseline before allowing his ecstatic teammates to swarm him. "I was worried they were going to hurt me," he said jokingly.
Western Kentucky Woes
Marcus Struggles Back
Western Kentucky center Chris Marcus took an important step when he finally returned to action earlier this month, but he is a long way from being the dominant player he once was. Marcus, a 7'1", 285-pound senior who has had two surgeries on his broken left ankle in the last seven months, rejoined the Hilltoppers on Jan. 4 and in his first three games back averaged 4.0 points and 10.7 minutes. He racked up almost as many fouls (seven) as rebounds (nine). "I don't expect him to be himself this season," coach Dennis Felton said after Marcus scored four points in a 77-69 win at Arkansas State last Saturday, a victory that improved the team's record to 9-6 (2-1 in the Sun Belt). "He doesn't have his mobility, he's still limping, he's uncomfortable, and he can't jump very well."
Just two years ago Marcus was projected to be a lottery pick after leading the nation in rebounds (12.1 a game). He first injured his ankle in practice in October 2001 and missed 17 games last season. In the spring Marcus pulled his name out of the NBA draft because the injury hadn't healed properly, leaving him unable to work out for pro teams. After undergoing surgery in June to insert two screws into the joint, Marcus hoped to return in late November, but persistent pain led him to have the ankle reexamined in December. His surgeon discovered that one of the screws implanted to support the broken talus bone was backing out, and a cyst had formed on the joint, so Marcus had to have a second procedure, on Dec. 11. He has practiced a half-dozen times in the last few weeks, but he must get treatment on the ankle for two hours before and after each workout.
Marcus said he felt better during Saturday's game—"I'm finally starting to get the rust out a little bit"—but admitted he was in pain. "[The ankle] is very, very sore," he said. "This is probably the sorest it's been in a long time. I'm just going to take my time now and ice it up and hit the rehab and training room."