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2011-12 Blue Ribbon Preview - North Florida
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etsuBucsFan1988 Offline
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2011-12 Blue Ribbon Preview - North Florida
Team preview: North Florida
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North Florida Ospreys
Last Season 15-19 (.441)
Conference Record 10-10 (6th)
Starters Lost/Returning 1/4
Coach Matthew Dricoll (Slippery Rock '92)
Record At School 28-37 (2 years)
Career Record 28-37 (2 years)
RPI Last 5 years 333-340-326-235-152
Matthew Driscoll got a unique perspective on his team when it took a summer exhibition trip to Canada.

Rather than taking his traditional seat on the bench and coaching the Ospreys, he elected to allow his assistants to take the reins. He could be seen in the stands, probably the keenest observer of any of the games UNF played.

"I tell you, the one thing that stood out loud and clear that you don't see sitting on the bench is how consistent we were at hitting people and making a conscious effort to take care of the rebounding issue," Driscoll said. "Rebounding and free throws are huge statistics for us. I was really proud in the stands to see us hitting guys and finding guys to box out."


Rebounding is an issue that needs to be addressed. The Ospreys were the worst rebounding team in the A-Sun by a fairly wide margin. So is it good news or bad news that the top six rebounders from last year's team return?

Driscoll deserves a lot of credit for what he has accomplished in two short years with the program. Basketball has been mostly an afterthought at UNF, where baseball has been king for years. It has been a rare occasion when the hoops team even caused a ripple on campus, but attendance is rising and so are expectations with nearly every significant contributor from last year's 15-win team returning.

"We're cautiously optimistic," Driscoll said. "We're here to win championships. That's what this business is about.

"We lost six games by five points or less, and if you look at those games, we missed free throws and we were not keeping guys from second shots. It could have been a much better year. The guys are excited and feel like they belong."

Some of the losses were difficult to swallow. UNF lost to hated cross-town rival Jacksonville twice by a grand total of three points, and the Ospreys hit 26-of-48 free throws (.541) in the two games. UNF also came within a three-pointer of upsetting Belmont in a game in which it shot 42.3 percent from the line (11-of-26).

Driscoll said the team has spent the offseason working hard on free-throw shooting and rebounding. Even just minor improvements in each area could yield huge dividends.

The Ospreys are loaded in the backcourt despite the graduation of starting point guard Brad Haugabrook. Junior Jerron Granberry (12.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg) is a 6-4, 215-pound Miami native who started all 34 games last season, and all 65 since stepping on campus. Last year he tossed in 70 three-pointers (.327) and, at .842 (123-of-146), was the Ospreys' second-best free-throw shooter.

"The one thing about Jerron is he has been extremely consistent in his career," Driscoll said. "He makes big shots for us. He makes key plays down the stretch.

"He really figured out in the summer he needs to continue to be in the gym and get up shots. We talk about it all the time: 'Don't let what you can't do get in the way of what you can.' He's a capable scorer."

Parker Smith (12.0 ppg, 2.2 rpg), a 6-3 junior guard, is another capable scorer. Smith, who became eligible last season after transferring from Tennessee State, had some huge games coming off the bench, where Driscoll says he'll keep him. The coach loves his scoring punch on the second unit. Smith led North Florida in scoring, free-throw percentage (.853) and three-pointers made (90-of-256, .352).

"I don't foresee that changing," Driscoll said of Smith's role off the bench. "Some coaches want their bench to give their starters a break. We look at the bench as taking us to another level.

"Parker has really worked on having a quicker release. He's a better shooter with a quicker release than when he's open and takes his time. He's really done a great job trying to elevate his game. He's gotten really strong, too, and can take more bumps."

Senior Jimmy Williams (8.4 ppg, 5.l rpg), a power guard at 6-4, 215, will move over and take Haugabrook's spot at the point. Williams made the trip to Canada and practiced with the team, but he was held out of game action because he didn't fulfill some team obligations.

Driscoll said Williams will be ready to go when the season opens, and he has big expectations for him. Williams was second on the team last season with 82 assists.

"He and [5-10 junior] Will Wilson [1.0 ppg, 0.5 rpg] will battle for that position," Driscoll said. "He's capable there. We played him about 10 minutes per game there the last 10 games. He understands what we're doing, he's got a big body, he's athletic, has bounce. He can rebound defensively, and we're excited to see how his strength helps at the point."

The key cog up front is 6-7 junior forward Andy Diaz (10.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg). Like Granberry, Diaz started all 34 games and all 65 since arriving at UNF. No less than Belmont coach Rick Byrd is a fan of Diaz: "He's very skilled. He's difficult for anyone in our league to guard."

Diaz rebounded well in Canada and continues to work on his free-throw shooting (38 percent as a freshman, 50 percent as a sophomore). He'll need to improve in both areas if the Ospreys hope to challenge for an A-Sun crown.

"Andy has really grown not only as a player but a person," Driscoll said. "He showed how far he'd come when he was an all-tournament player. He needs confidence. That's all he needed. He prides himself on his drive to get better.

"People bring up his free-throw shooting. He went up 12 percent. If someone went from 68 to 80 percent they'd all say, 'Wow.' & We expect him to go to another level physically and mentally."

The frontcourt has three other returnees, all forwards: 6-7 senior Matt Sauey (6.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg), 6-6 junior David Jeune (3.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and 6-6 sophomore Charles McRoy (3.3 ppg, 1.9 rpg).

Sauey is the school's all-time leader in blocked shots. He's working on his offensive game; "If he can step out and hit the 17-footer he can create a lot more room for Andy," Driscoll said.

Jeune is a glue guy about whom Driscoll says, "He does everything a lot of people don't want to doscreens, rebounds, defends like a monster. You feel better when he's on the floor."

McRoy could be the X-factor. He might have played the best of any Osprey on the Canadian tour. "He can handle, shoot, rebound, play at the rim and finish," Driscoll said. "He can guard any position, one through five, and he has unbelievable tools. He's added more weight and strength and really showed well in Canada and the practices preparing for the trip."

The team has two newcomers6-6 sophomore Travis Wallace (4.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg at Florida A&M in 2009-10), who comes eligible after sitting out last season, and 6-6 freshman Fred Landers (Dillard HS/Jacksonville, Fla.). Both have a chance to contribute.

Wallace led FAMU in field-goal percentage (.496) and came up with personal bests of 14 points against Morgan State and nine boards against FIU. Landers earned 5A all-state honors after leading Dillard to a 23-4 record.

"Landers plays as hard as anyone I've ever coached," Driscoll said. "He goes hard every single minute. With those 10 practices [in advance of the trip], he really got our stuff and understands our culture and how we play."



Summer trips, during which teams can practice for 10 days and then travel out of the country to play up to a handful of exhibition games, have a way of galvanizing teams.

"It was phenomenal," Driscoll said of UNF's trip to Canada. "I felt like our guys understand what we're about, what we're trying to do, what it takes to win a championship, which is why we're here. That trip brought it all to fruition.

"The best moment on the trip, one night at dinner, the table was louder than normal, than I can ever remember. The reason was none of those guys was using his phone, because it's so expensive when you're over there. They just shared and laughed and joked. It was priceless."

Time will tell if there are any more priceless moments awaiting the Ospreys this season. They certainly seem to be on the verge of taking flight.
10-26-2011 07:23 PM
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