For a guy who recruited and developed numerous NBA forwards and centers including Al Horford, Joakim Noah, David Lee and Udonis Haslem, Florida coach Billy Donovan had a surprisingly tough time recruiting a big man the past six months.
It started last November when elite forwards Jarnell Stokes, Alex Poythress and Robert Carter all spurned the Gators for Tennessee, Kentucky and Georgia Tech respectively. It continued this winter when coveted Pittsburgh transfer Khem Birch chose UNLV over Florida in January. And it became a desperate search earlier this month when McDonald's All-American Anthony Bennett eliminated the Gators from his list and followed Birch to UNLV.
Florida finally found a solution over the weekend when South Carolina transfer Damontre Harris chose the Gators over Kansas. The 6-foot-9 forward will likely sit out next season and have two years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2013, giving Florida a badly needed insurance policy should starting center Patric Young leave for the NBA after this season as is expected.
The Gators were very fortunate Young chose to stick around for his junior season because he is the lone back-to-the-basket scorer and interior defensive presence on next season's roster. Senior-to-be Erik Murphy has the size to defend opposing big men, but he's not a shot blocker on defense and he's far more comfortable on the perimeter offensively.
Both those guys may be gone after the 2012-13 season, which is why it was critical for Florida to land Harris. He averaged 6.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game as a sophomore at South Carolina, showcasing his talents to Donovan last season with 12 points, nine rebounds and six blocks at the O'Connell Center.
The addition of Harris won't change Florida's recruiting focus for the Class of 2013, which begins with talented in-state product Chris Walker, a 6-foot-8 power forward considered to be one of the top 10 high school seniors-to-be in the nation. Walker reportedly is still considering Kansas, Florida, Ohio State and Kentucky, among others.
What will be interesting to see is whether Florida continues its pursuit of Virginia Tech transfer Dorian Finney-Smith or former Hokies signee Montrezl Harrell.
The Gators were in the running for both before Harris made his choice. Now both might be more likely to look elsewhere since Florida added a player at their position.