Florida’s Beal not fazed by spotlight

Mar 23, 2012, 3:04 PM | Updated: 4:13 pm

Florida head coach Billy Donovan is no stranger to NCAA
Tournament success. After all, the 46-year-old has two
national championships to his credit.

He’s also no stranger to having underclassmen lead the way
for his Gators on the floor on college basketball’s
biggest stage. The 1999-2000 team was paced by sophomores
Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem and freshman Donnell Harvey.
His first national championship in 2006 had exactly one
senior on the roster while the core of the team was made
up of talented sophomores Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, Al
Horford and Taurean Green.

Well, the trend continues in 2012. Freshman Bradley Beal
scored a game-high 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting in
Florida’s 68-58 win over Marquette Thursday night which
pushed the 7th-seeded Gators into the Elite 8 for the
sixth time in Donovan’s 16 seasons on the job.

And the freshman couldn’t have been more calm, cool or
collected following the stellar performance in only his
third career NCAA Tournament game.

“Before the games I’m aware of the stage. I get caught up
in the moment,” Beal said. “Once the ball is thrown in
the air, I block everything out and just focus in on the
game and what the team needs to do to win.”

And Beal did basically everything to help his team to the
victory, adding 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 2
blocked shots to his impressive stat line.

Marquette head coach Buzz Williams walked away impressed
as well.

“I think he’s really good. And he was really good
tonight,” Williams said. “I mean, he missed two shots.
That’s a heck of a line. Really good.”

Beal showed his versatility late in the second half when
he dished an assist to Patric Young for a layup, blocked a
Jae Crowder shot and hit two free throws in a span where
Florida extended their lead to 12 points with under five
minutes to play.

After Marquette desperately tried to scramble back into
the game in the closing minutes, Beal capped off the night
with a dunk for the final ten-point margin.

But for as smooth and collected Beal was Thursday, it
wasn’t always that way for the prized recruit out of
Chaminade College Prep in St. Louis.

“I had a hard time with him early in the year because I
think when you come out of high school you automatically,
as decorated as he was, there is this expectation, not
only for himself, but around him, who know him and watched
him play and think that he’s just going to step on this
stage and just be this star,” Donovan said. “And he
struggled shooting the ball early in November and
December. He didn’t handle it well.”

In Florida’s two December losses to then-3rd-ranked
Syracuse and to Rutgers (in double-overtime), Beal hit
just 6 of a combined 21 attempts.

“At times he could get a little moody and get a little
pouty and just didn’t know how to handle it,” Donovan
said. “I think he realized when he wasn’t shooting the
ball well that there was other parts of his game that he
could step up and impact the game.”

Rebounding is one of those areas, and Beal, who stands
just 6-foot-3, led the Gators in rebounding this season.
That versatility is paying off. Many pundits have Beal
rated as the top two guard in this year’s potential draft
class.

Beal could very well be a one-and-done player who’s
playing on the bigger stage of the NBA next season. But
don’t expect him to be fazed by that either.

“I know it’s a big crowd, but I just stay humble and stay
grounded and focus in on what the team needs to do,” he
said.

And with an attitude like that, it’s possible Beal’s draft
stock could rise even more.

Penguin Air

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