Ever since Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan arrived to Gainesville in 1996, the New York-native has established a strong trend of bringing in some of the country’s most talented high school basketball recruits. It hasn’t mattered whether the Gators were coming off of NIT appearances or national championships, Donovan continues to wisely recruit some of the best high school prospects as well as some of the more underrated players to Florida.
Here are GHR’s rankings of Donovan’s best recruits at Florida. Side note: Rankings are based not only on recruit rankings, but also on on-court performance at Florida. These rankings will include recruits in the 2013 class as well as players who transferred into Florida.
26. SG Matt Walsh
Walsh never developed into a steady NBA player after declaring for the NBA Draft following his junior season, but the former Germantown standout enjoyed a successful career with the Gators. He developed as a fan favorite for the Florida faithful. Walsh was notorious for getting under the opponents skin and drew the ire of opposing fans due to his scrappy play and ridiculous hairstyle/headband combination. Nevertheless, Walsh could shoot the rock and became a steady offensive weapon for the Gators from 2002-2005. As a sophomore, Walsh was second on the team with 15.9 points per game. He was not only a reliable shooter, but a player whose hustle and determination was infectious for the rest of the team.
25. PF Alex Tyus
Tyus was one of the more underrated players during his four seasons with the Florida Gators. Tyus did a little bit of everything, especially on defense. As a sophomore he led the team in rebounding, field goal percentage and blocked shots and once again led in blocks as a junior. His senior leadership played a big part in the team’s Elite Eight run during Tyus’ senior season (2010-11). Durability and reliability contributed greatly to Tyus’ success on the court. From his sophomore year onward, he started all 106 games and never fouled out of a single game.
24. PF Patric Young
Young’s career is still yet to be finished at Florida, but this former five-star All-American recruit has put together a solid past two seasons, averaging more than 10 points and six rebounds per game. Young is a physical specimen and one of the strongest players in college basketball. He’s just now begun to improve his fundamentals around the basket, but Young’s strength and improved consistency on his low-post shot has made him arguably the team’s most important player. His senior season will go a long way in determining what kind of legacy Young leaves behind at Florida.
23. PF/C Marreese Speights
Speights was another Gator who cut his Florida career short by declaring for the NBA Draft early, but with good reason. He didn’t see much playing time as a freshman behind the pair of Joakim Noah and Al Horford, but Speights came into his own as a sophomore. He started all 36 games, led the team with just over eight rebounds and was second with 14.5 points per game. Speights was known for his defensive presence and long wing span that allowed him to become an effective shot blocker. When Donovan brought him into Florida he was a top-50 player nationally and considered one of the top power forwards in the country. Speights was always productive as a Gator, even in his limited minutes as a freshman.
22. PF Chris Walker
Walker is on tap to become on the Gators’ newest members as a part of the 2013 recruiting class as long as his grades are good enough. Despite the qualification issue, Walker has the potential to be a big-time playmaker for the Gators. He’ll need to put on some weight since he’s 6-foot-10, 225-pounds, but he can flat out soar above the rim. He was the winner of this year’s high school dunk contest and his athleticism is off the charts. Some argue that he didn’t face much competition in high school, but Walker has proven his five-star, top-10 ranking with his superb AAU play and his fearless defensive play. If he is able to make it in to school, he’ll be a major part of what the Gators do in the 2013-2014 season.
21. PG Jason Williams
Williams was named the West Virginia Player of the Year by USA Today in 1994 after recording over 1,000 points and 500 assists. The infamous “White Chocolate” only played one season at Florida, but it was a dominant season. Williams, who transferred from Marshall and followed Donovan to Florida in 1996, was the Gators starting point guard for the 1997-98 season. He made numerous highlight reel passes and set a school record with 17 assists in a single game. Not to mention, that was the same game where the Gators pulled off a major upset, stunning the Kentucky Wildcats at Rupp Arena. Williams was later suspended for the rest of the season in February for possession of marijuana and never played another game for the Gators. He averaged 17.1 points, 6.7 assists and 2.8 steals per game in the 20 games he played and was one of the smoothest point guards in college basketball. He went on to be drafted No. 7 overall in the 1998 NBA Draft. Williams’ decision to come to Florida gave Donovan a great foundation for his first few years at Florida.
20. PG Anthony Roberson
High school athletics looked easy for Roberson. A multi-sport athlete, Roberson not only won a state championship in football, but he also was a consensus All-American for basketball. He continued to earn more accolades at Florida.Roberson was the leader of the Florida Gators in the early 2000′s. A 6-foot-1 point guard from Michigan, Roberson exploded onto the scene as a freshman, averaging 12.3 points per game and earning SEC Freshman of the Year honors, while helping Florida reach their first ever No. 1 ranking in the ESPN/USA Today poll. As a sophomore, he averaged five more points a game than the year before and led the team in scoring and assists. At the time, he set a UF record for 99 three-pointers in a single season. He contributed in all facets of the game for Florida and continued Donovan’s success with point guards at Florida. He declared for the NBA Draft following his junior season.
19. SG Lee Humphrey
The Tennessee native wasn’t highly-ranked coming into Florida out of high school, but the 6-foot-2 sharpshooter became an integral part of the back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007. Humphrey made the defense pay for paying too much attention to guys like Noah and Horford down low. He broke several records while at UF, including the single season and career records for three-pointers made (113 and 288, respectively). However, Humphrey arguably made his biggest impact in the tournament play. Humphrey’s clutch shooting in the post season helped lead the Gators to three SEC tournament titles and the two national championships. He went on to make the All-Final Four team in his junior season and broke the NCAA record for career three-pointers in the NCAA Tournament (55) and the NCAA record for consecutive games with a made three-pointer (39 games). Humphrey is considered one of, if not the best, shooter in Florida Gators history.
18. PG Kasey Hill
Along with Walker, point guard Kasey Hill has yet to play a game for the Florida Gators, but this five-star 2013 prospect has as high of a ceiling as any prospect in the country. Hill figures to make a bid for the starting point guard position as a true freshman. At the least, he’ll be one of the first players off of the bench for the Gators. Hill was a consensus All-American and led Montverde Academy to a national No. 1 ranking at the end of his senior year. Rivals.com ranked him as the second-best point guard in the country. Hill’s game is a testament to more of the older generation of point guards with his focus primarily on passing the ball and his court vision. Under Donovan’s pick-and-roll system, Hill projects to thrive at Florida and could easily become one of the school best-ever point guards by the end of his career.
17. C Vernon Macklin
Macklin didn’t arrive at Florida until after transferring from Georgetown following his sophomore season, but the 6-foot-10, 240-pound big man quickly became one best low-post options in the SEC. He anchored the Gators’ low post attack for two seasons with a very physical, high energy-style of play. In his first season with Florida, Macklin started all 36 games and contributed 10.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. It wasn’t until his redshirt senior season when Macklin firmly established himself as one of the team’s most vital players. He led the team in field-goal percentage (59.3) and led the team to a Elite Eight berth in the NCAA Tournament as well as the regular-season SEC title. Macklin wasn’t necessarily a highlight machine, but his consistency and high energy made him a valuable member of the Gators’ team and program.
16. PG Teddy Dupay
If this list was based purely off of high school accolades, Dupay would be near the top. The 5-foot-11 guard was one of the most hyped and decorated high school players in the state of Florida. He was the all-time leading scorer in Florida history with 3,744 points and led the nation in scoring as a senior with 41.5 points per game. Dupay was named a McDonald’s All-American and won the McDonald’s All-American three-point contest and once scored 40 points in a single half as a high school senior. Some considered him the best high school recruit to play for Donovan, but some off-the-court issues hindered Dupay’s career at Florida. He was Donovan’s first every verbal commitment at Florida, pledging his commitment to Donovan and the Gators as a sophomore in high school. He made an impact in all three years, but his junior year was the best of them all. Not only did he help the Gators to an SEC tournament title, but the Gators also reached the NCAA Championship game that season. Dupay averaged 13.4 points per game as a junior and was named an Honorable Mention All-American. His career at Florida was cut short when he left the team following controversy surrounding his involvement in gambling. Nevertheless, Dupay was one of the most talented players to ever put on a Florida uniform.
15. PG Taurean Green
Green wasn’t very highly-rated in high school, but the two-time national champion became a cornerstone of the Gators own “Fab Four.” He was selected as player of the year by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel as a senior in high school, averaging 30 points, nine assists and five rebounds per game. Green didn’t crack the starting lineup at Florida until his sophomore year, but it was seamless transition for him as he earned a Second Team All-SEC selection while on his way to the SEC Tournament championship and national championship. Green finished with 184 assists, which was second-most in school history at the time and finished with an 8:1 assist-to-turnover ratio in the NCAA Championship game. Green’s consistent play carried over into the 2007 season as the Gators repeated as both SEC and NCAA Champions. And who can forget Green doing a little shimmy before tossing the ball up in the air as they clinched the Gators’ second national championship?
14. SF Donnell Harvey
Harvey’s career at Florida only lasted one season since he declared for the NBA Draft, but Harvey came into Florida with numerous high school accolades and achievements. The consensus All-American had freaky athleticism with his 83-inch wingspan and he quickly developed a reputation as one the country’s most relentless rebounders. Harvey took home the Naismith Prep Basketball Player of the Year and the USA Prep Basketball Players of the year awards in 1999. He was considered by many as the nation’s top high school prospect. During his lone season at Florida, Harvey was named to the SEC All-Freshman team in a primarily backup center role. Harvey also led the team in rebounding and became the first freshman to do so since 1987.
13. PF David Lee
Lee received significant amounts of recognition in high school as a McDonald’s All-American. He chose the Gators over other heralded basketball programs like Kansas, Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky. His legacy at Florida was one of a player who grinded out every position. He wasn’t the flashiest forward in college basketball, but Lee constantly used his strength as an advantage against his opponents. He developed outstanding court vision for a big man and cemented himself as the team’s best player from 2002-2005. Lee was only named to Second Team All-SEC as a junior, but he averaged double figures in points as well as seven rebounds per game.
12. SG Brett Nelson
Like many of Donovan’s players, Nelson was a McDonald’s All-American in high school and was ranked as one of top players and shooters in high school basketball. Nelson continued that reputation into the Florida Gators program as the West Virginia native was one of the best jump shooters to ever play for Florida. He was a three-year starter and finished in the top six in four school-career records: steals, steals per game, assists and assists per game. He became the first ever freshman to lead the Gators in both steals and assists. Nelson was a two-time winner of Florida’s Most Improved Player of the Year award in his career at Florida.
11. G/F Nick Calathes
Along with high school teammate Chandler Parsons, Calathes was a consensus five-star recruit at Lake Howell before heading to the Gators. During his two seasons at Florida, Calathes developed a reputation as one of the top playmakers in college basketball. He stood at 6-foot-6, but Calathes became the main point guard for the Gators and made significant contributions for the team in points, rebounds and assists. He broke the team’s season assist record as a freshman with 221 and then again as a sophomore with 231 assists. He ranked third in career assists at Florida just after two seasons. Calathes also recorded the school’s second-ever triple-double against Creighton in the NIT Tournament. He left the Gators to play pro ball overseas, but Calathes’ two seasons with the Gators were spectacular.
10. SG Bradley Beal
Beal was the highest ranked recruit Donovan ever pulled into Florida and he very well could have been one of the program’s best, but his one lone season with the Gators makes it difficult to put any farther up the list. There is no doubt the talent Beal has at 6-foot-3, 205-pounds. The Gatorade National Player of the Year was NBA-ready out of high school and eventually became the No.3 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. He started every game and even was dubbed as a contender for the Naismith Award. His 14.8 points per game ranked him second on the team, but it was Beal’s rebounding contributions that helped him stand apart. He led all guards with 6.7 rebounds per game and tallied seven games with double-digit rebounds. If it weren’t for the late-game collapse in the 2012 Elite Eight, Beal would have led the Gators to their third Final Four appearance in seven seasons. Beal earned first-team All SEC and SEC Freshman honors.
9. F Chandler Parsons
It took a season or two for the five-star high school recruit to find his stride, but after Nick Calathes left Florida, Chandler Parsons came into his own. By the end of his career, Parsons turned into a point-foward type player for the Gators at 6-foot-10. As a senior, Parsons nearly averaged a double-double with 11.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Parsons’ versatility made him one of the most valuable Gators in the past decade. He could score, pass, rebound and play tough defense. Parsons emergence as one of the country’s best forwards in his senior season earned him SEC Player of the Year honors (first player ever at UF to receive that honor). Perhaps his most memorable moments as a Gator will be his two buzzer beaters against South Carolina and N.C. State, but his contributions extended farther than just those two moments. The team leaned on him in 2010-11 as they made their Elite Eight run. Now, Parsons has gone on to be a pleasant surprise in the NBA and has established himself as one of the Houston Rocket’s centerpieces for the future.
8. SF Mike Miller
The McDonald’s All-American hailed from South Dakota, but it wasn’t just his hometown that made him standout. Miller was known as one of the top freshman after his first season at Florida, earning Freshman All-American honors by Sports Illustrated. He started half of the games that season at the forward spot and certainly left his mark on the Florida Gators program, leading the team in scoring in both of his years at Florida. As a sophomore, he was First Team All-SEC and delivered one of the school’s most iconic moments when he made a runner in the lane at the buzzer to defeat Butler in the NCAA Tournament. His impact was felt in all aspects of the game and he anchored the perimeter game as the Gators made their run to the 2000 National Championship game. Miller was the No. 5 overall selection in the 2000 NBA Draft the following summer.
7. PF Matt Bonner
Bonner didn’t have as many high school accolades as some on this list, but this top-30 high school prospect had arguably one of the best four-year careers at Florida. Some may have him lower on the list, but Bonner’s improvements made throughout the four years put him high on my list. At 6-foot-10, Bonner was mainly a power forward, but he gradually played more out on the perimeter. His shooting touch for a big man was fantastic as he showed consistent accuracy from behind the three-point line. At the time, he finished his career sixth on the all-time scoring list at Florida with 1,570 points. According to gatorzone.com, Bonner is one of only six players in school history to finish with over 1,500 points and 750 rebounds. He wasn’t only successful on the court, but also off of the court. Bonner became the first Florida player ever to receive Verizon Academic All-American of the Year award and he won it twice. He fulfilled all of what it meant to be a student-athlete.
6. SG Kenny Boynton
Coming out of high school, Boynton was considered the nation’s best scorer and the All-American lived up to the billing in his four-year career at Florida. Although he didn’t develop the skills to stick out to NBA teams, Boynton’s final numbers place him as the school’s all-time leading three-point shooter (333) and second-most in points (2,033). Boynton took on more of a point guard role in his senior season, but the 6-foot-2 guard thrived off of the ball. His quick release allowed him significant opportunities to put up points for the Gators. Occasionally, his streak shooting would get him in trouble if he was cold, but he still remains one of the school’s most prolific scorers in history.
5. SF Corey Brewer
After averaging over 29 points and 13 rebounds per game as a senior in high school, Brewer was named a McDonald’s All-American was a top-30 recruit among all recruiting services. He earned All-SEC Freshman honors in 2004-05, but it wasn’t until the Gators two national championship runs that Brewer established himself as one of the program’s greats. His 6-foot-9 frame caused havoc on defense for the opposing team and he quickly developed a reputation as a hard-nosed defender (See: 2006 SEC co-Defensive Player of the Year). Brewer’s tenacity on defense complimented nicely with his scoring ability on the other end of the floor. In the 2007 Final Four, Brewer averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds per game and earned the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player award. Brewer also owns the school’s only triple-double. Brewer left Florida a two-time champion and as one of the school’s best defensive players.
4. F/C Udonis Haslem
At 6-foot-9, 250-pounds,Udonis Haslem was an intimidating presence in the post. Combine that with his hard working, never give up attitude and the man was just downright tough to stop in the paint. Haslem was a starter all four years at Florida and can claim he was the program’s all-time winningest player with 97 victories. You name the statistical category, Haslem dominated it. He ranks in the top 10 in 11 career statistical categories and is one of two players in Florida history to score more than 1,700 points and 800 rebounds. Haslem was a tough, durable player, making 99 consecutive starts and never missing a game in his career. Haslem was one of Donovan’s first true big men at Florida and he’s arguably the best.
3. PG Erving Walker
In his four years at Florida, Erving Walker proved that size doesn’t matter. Walker is arguably the best point guard in school history if you look at the stats. Although he occasionally made poor decisions and turnovers in the late minutes, Walker’s stats while at Florida are incredible. He’s the school’s all-time leader in minutes played (4,358) and in assists (547). His quick motor and outstanding court vision made him one of the more exciting players in college basketball from 2010-2012. Walker’s instincts and scoring prowess also helped the Gators reach two consecutive Elite Eights in 2011 and 2012.
2. PF/C Joakim Noah
There is no doubt about Joakim Noah. He had the most outgoing personality in program history, but he also backed it up tremendously on the court. Noah anchored the post game in the Gators’ 2006 and 2007 national championship runs and was considered one of the premier post players in college basketball. He made significant improvements during his sophomore year, leading the team with 14.2 points and 2.4 blocks per game. However, his true coming out party came in the NCAA Tournament where he was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. After deciding to return for another season, Noah continued his run as one of the game’s best big men, following up his sophomore season with an even better junior year. Noah was the team’s emotional leader and the face of the two national championship teams. He’ll go down as one of the most iconic players of the last decade and in the school’s history. He was taken No. 9 overall in the 2007 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls.
1. PF/C Al Horford
The Dominican Republic-native tops GHR’s list of the best recruits to ever play under Billy Donovan at Florida. Horford came into Florida as the No. 36 overall recruit by Rivals.com, but he quickly made his presence felt in Gainesville. Horford established a reputation as one of the game’s best shot blockers as a freshman, tallying 51 in his first season. Horford was a reliable role player for the Gators as a freshman, but he came into his own in his sophomore season. In the 2005-06 season, Horford set career highs in points and led the team in rebounding. In the NCAA Tournament, Horford came up big in clutch situations and averaged a double-double throughout the tournament, including a 14 point effort in the National Championship and a 15 rebound game in the Elite Eight. As a junior, his 9.5 rebounds per game were the second-most in school history for a single season. Horford proved himself valuable once again in the post season as he was named the MVP of the 2007 SEC Tournament and to the Final Four All-Tournament team. He finished his career second on the school’s all-time blocked shots list (189) and seventh in career rebounds. Much like Noah, Horford was considered one of the best big men in college basketball and will be associated with one of the best teams in NCAA history.