Rosario Bolsters Loaded Florida Backcourt

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — Few teams in the country will be as loaded in the backcourt next season as the Florida Gators.

In addition to returning its two leading scorers from last season in Erving Walker (14.6 ppg) and Kenny Boynton (14.2), the Gators add Brad Beal, the reigning Gatorade National Player of the Year, and Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario.

“I think there’s going to have to be a level of sacrifice with all of our team, you know?” Florida coach Billy Donovan told SNY.tv at the Peach Jam.

“They’ve all got to try to make each other better. That’s got to be the goal, to make each other better.”

Walker and Boynton bonded last season after they became roommates and helped the Gators reach the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, where they lost to Butler.

Now they add the 6-5 Beal, the MVP of the U17 FIBA World Championships in the summer of 2010.

As a senior, the McDonald’s All-American averaged 32.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.7 steals per game in leading St. Louis Chaminade to a 27-1 record and an appearance in the state quarterfinals.

The 6-3 Rosario joins the loaded rotation after averaging 16.7 points at Rutgers in 2009-10 and sitting out last season.

“Mike comes in with a lot of experience,” Donovan said. “I think he’s a proven scorer at this level. But can he make Boynton better? Can he make Walker better? Can he make Beal better? That’s going to be the big challenge.

“But I’m excited to deal with those guys because I think we become a better shooting team, which I think that’s always a good thing.”

After leading Bob Hurley’s St. Anthony Friars to an undefeated season in 2007-08, Rosario was the first McDonald’s All-American to land at Rutgers.

But then-coach Fred Hill pretty much let Rosario do whatever he wanted, and shoot whenever he wanted, and the situation soon unraveled. By the spring of 2010, both men were gone.

“I think when he was at Rutgers he was ‘the man,’” Donovan said. “He took a lot of shots. Everything ran through him. And I also think going through that, he even realized that he needs more help.

“And I think coming out of St. Anthony, I think he really started to evaluate how important winning is to him.”

Ironically, Rosario and the Gators will play at Rutgers Dec. 29 in what surely will be an emotional homecoming for the Jersey City native.

“I think it’s always hard,” Donovan said. “I think Mike has a lot of strong feelings towards Rutgers, towards New Jersey in a very positive way. He probably could’ve coming out of high school gone anywhere in the country and he wanted to go to Rutgers because he wanted to stay home and he wanted to help build Rutgers’ program.

“And it didn’t work out with Freddie, with Mike. Not with them, but with Freddie moving on and the Mike just feeling like he needed a fresh start. But I’m sure it will be emotional going back there.”

Rosario and 2012 shooting guard Ricky Ledo of Notre Dame Prep have also both been invited to play with Puerto Rico in Olympic qualifying Aug. 30-Sept. 11 in Mar del Plata, Argentina.

And while Gregory Echenique, Rosario’s former Rutgers teammate from St. Benedict’s Prep, will suit up for Venezuela, no final decision has been made on the status of Rosario or Ledo.

“I respect the fact that the Puerto Rican National Team reached out,” Donovan said. “They mentioned to me about Ledo, too, being invited. But I don’t know if the dates are going to work.”

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