THOUGHTS OF THE DAY: MAY 10, 2019
STEELE IS GONE, TIME TO MOVE ON
Recruits come and recruits go, but when you lose the most highly regarded signee from your freshman class before he’s ever played a game it’s painful. Losing Chris Steele isn’t the end of the world for Dan Mullen and the Florida Gators, but it is a clear signal that something very bad went wrong in the semester Steele was on the Florida campus, something that has to be evaluated and corrected very quickly.
Although we probably will never know all the details that led to Steele electing to put his name into the NCAA transfer portal, this much we do know – he was unhappy with roommate Jalon Jones (since departed after sexual misconduct allegations), let it be known that he wanted a different roommate and someone made the decision not to let him change until the end of the semester, a grievous error in the eyes of Steele and his dad. That probably isn’t the only reason Steele is leaving, but it’s enough of one that Mullen needs to take stock of the support system he has in place immediately and take whatever steps are necessary to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again. It’s one thing to lose a kid to transfer because he’s homesick, in academic or other trouble or sees the light that he’s going to be buried on the depth chart. That’s part of college football that will never change. However, when a kid is complaining that his roommate is bad news, someone needs to listen and do something about it.
Was this the only thing that factored into Steele’s decision to leave? Probably not, but at this point in the process, does it really matter? Any way you look at it, he’s gone and it’s time to move on. I’m told that was Mullen’s conclusion after he and Megan flew out to California to try to salvage the situation.
Unless someone got hurt, it’s highly unlikely that Steele would have started in 2019 but he’s certainly talented enough that he would have been in the rotation either at corner or at nickel. Maybe he won’t be missed on the field, but there is no way that losing him won’t be felt. Kids do talk to other kids and at some point you figure a kid who is seriously considering Florida is going to hear some version of the Steele story that may very well affect his decision. That’s the bad news. The flip side of this very bad situation is that Dan Mullen can come back to Gainesville do something about what happens in the future. Should heads roll? Perhaps, but more important Mullen has to ensure that future complaints will be dealt with promptly. There is no excuse to lose a recruit of Steele’s ability because someone in the chain of command was either insensitive or sleeping at the wheel.
HUGE WIN FOR UF IN SEC SOFTBALL QUARTERFINALS
The Southeastern Conference Softball Tournament seems just what the doctor ordered for the Florida Gators (42-15). One day after their most improbable win of the season on a walk-off seventh inning double by Jordan Matthews that gave the Gators a 6-5 win over South Carolina, Kelly Barnhill delivered a clutch 1-hitter as 6th-seeded Florida shut out 3rdseeded LSU (40-16), 3-0. The win advanced the Gators to Friday’s semifinals where they will face 10th-seeded Auburn (37-18), a 2-0 winner over 2nd-seeded Tennessee (39-14).
Heading into the tournament, the Gators were reeling, having gone 3-6 in their final three SEC series of the regular season. A first round loss to South Carolina might have sent the Gators on the road for next weekend’s NCAA regional round but two straight wins in College Station have pretty much assured that UF will host. It might take the Gators beating Auburn and then winning the tournament on Saturday for there to be any hope of a national top eight seed that would ensure hosting a super regional as well. But, after the way the Gators have come alive again at the SEC Tournament, anything is possible.
In dominating LSU, Barnhill (28-11, 1.61 ERA) gave up a first inning walk and a bunt single in the bottom of the fourth. Through the first four innings, Barnhill kept the Tigers off balance with a drop ball they kept beating into the dirt. In the final three innings, the Tigers couldn’t catch up to her power pitches as she struck out five of six batters in the fifth and sixth innings.
The Gators managed only five hits but they made them count. Amanda Lorenz, who went 3-4, led off the game with a double and came home to score on Jordan Matthews RBI single to left with two out. The Gators scored two in the second on a Lorenz infield single and a pair of LSU errors.
A SWEEP WOULD BE NICE
With two SEC weekend series remaining, the Florida Gators (29-21, 9-15 SEC) almost have to get to 33 wins prior to the SEC Tournament to have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament for the 12thstraight year. The Gators could help their cause immensely this weekend when 24th-ranked Tennessee (33-16, 10-14 SEC) comes to McKethan Stadium in the final home series of the season. Florida is expected to send Tommy Mace (7-4, 4.77 ERA) to the mound tonight (6:30 p.m.) to face Tennessee ace Garrett Stallings (7-3, 3.03 ERA). Saturday, Florida will match Jack Leftwich (4-5, 7.02 ERA) against UT lefty Garrett Crochet (3-3, 3.58 ERA). Kevin O’Sullivan hasn’t named his Sunday starter to go against Tennessee righty Zach Lingenfelter (6-4, 4.65 ERA).
The pressure is all on Florida this weekend. Winning two of three is a necessity. A sweep would leave the Gators needing a minimum of one win next weekend at Missouri to keep hope alive of making the NCAA Tournament. The Gators are 25-9 at home so that definitely works in their favor against a Tennessee team that comes into this series having lost five of their last seven games. The Vols have one of the league’s more anemic offenses (.260 batting average, only 43 team home runs) so they rely on pitching (team ERA 3.38, 4th in the SEC) and fielding (.980, 2ndin the SEC).
It’s been an odd year for Florida, which usually fields one of the top pitching staffs in the country and ranks among the national leaders in fielding. The Gators are dead last in the SEC in pitching (5.34 ERA) and 10thin the league in fielding (.972). The Gators do have one of the better offenses in the league with a .289 batting average (5th) and 60 home runs (4th).
OTHER SPRING SPORTS
Both the Florida men and women are in good shape after one day at the SEC Track and Field Championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The Auburn women have the first day lead with 16 points while Florida and Missouri have 11 each. Over on the men’s side, Mississippi State has the lead with 24 points while host Arkansas has 22 and Florida 20.
The Florida women got a first place finish from Jessica Pacoe in the women’s 10,000 with a time of 34:08.41 and an eighth place finish in the javelin from Megan Reed with a throw of 154 feet. The Florida men had a second, fourth and seventh finish in the hammer throw from AJ McFarland (229-9), Thomas Mardal (236-7) and Anders Eriksson.
Florida (13-6) faces Johns Hopkins (10-7) in the first round of the NCAA Lacrosse Championships at Chapel Hill.
NEMBHARD, BLACKSHEAR NOT INVITED TO NBA COMBINE
Mike White got a double dose of good news Thursday when the NBA issued its invitations to its Chicago combine. Absent from the invitation list were Florida point guard Andrew Nembhard and Virginia Tech graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear. While both could certainly keep their name in the draft and take their chances, the odds are very much in favor that they will be playing college basketball in the fall.
Most people figured that Nembhard would be back. His reason for putting his name out there for the NBA Draft had everything to do with getting evaluated by the scouts to find out what he needs to do to improve his game to the pro level after a fine freshman season at UF. He’s had the chance to work out for the pros. Now he knows what he needs to work on this summer.
Blackshear hoped to capitalize on a strong NCAA Tournament when he entered the draft but he wasn’t invited either to the NBA or G-League combines. With pro basketball pretty much out of the question, Blackshear has to decide about where to play next year. Kentucky will return E.J. Montgomery and Nick Richards and signed Bucknell grad transfer Nate Sestina, so the Wildcats seem to be an unlikely choice. That leaves Florida and Texas A&M as the most likely landing spots, Florida because Blackshear is from Orlando and A&M because that’s where former Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams is now coaching.
Gainesville is a lot closer to Orlando than College Station. You have to like Florida’s odds.
SEC FOOTBALL/BASKETBALL STUFF
Ole Miss linebacker Kevontae Ruggs has placed his name in the NCAA transfer portal. As a sophomore, Ruggs had 16 tackles. He is the brother of Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs.
Tennessee will face Troy at Neyland Stadium in its fourth and final non-conference game on the 2020 schedule. The other non-conference games are Charlotte, Furman and (at) Oklahoma.
Invited to the NBA combine in Chicago from Tennessee were Admiral Schofield, Jordan Bone and two-time SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams.
Even though they have torn ACLs, both Chuma Okeke of Auburn and Jontay Porter of Missouri were invited to the NBA combine.
Neither E.J. Montgomery (6-10, 220) nor Nick Richards (6-11, 244) were invited to the NBA combine so it’s probable both will return to Kentucky. Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson and P.J. Washington did receive invitations and all three have hired agents so they won’t be coming back.
LSU’s Naz Reid (6-10, 250) and Tremont Waters (5-11, 167) were invited to the combine. Not invited were Emmitt Williams (6-7, 215) and Javonte Smart (6-4, 190). Given that the recent revelations about coach Will Wade at the college basketball corruption trial mean the NCAA will be probing the LSU program with an electron microscope neither Williams nor Smart may choose to return to Baton Rouge.
Others invited to the combine from the SEC were Daniel Gafford, Arkansas; Quinndary Weatherspoon, Mississippi State; Nicolas Claxton, Georgia; and Darius Garland and Simisola Shittu, Vanderbilt.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Ten years after he left Kent State for the National Football League, New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman will walk across the stage to receive his college diploma, fulfilling a promise he made to his parents … Telvin Smith, who would have made $9.75 million this year playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars, is planning to take a season off. Smith tweeted “I must give this time back to myself, my family, & my health” … Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels hit a solo home run Thursday for the 2,000thRBI of his career. Only Hank Aaron (2,297) and Alex Rodriguez (2,086) have more … NBA commissioner Nate Silver wants half of all the new referees in the league to be women … Former Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo shot a 5-over par 76 while competing as an amateur at the Byron Nelson Classic in Dallas. That’s 13 shots off the pace of first round leader Denny McCarthy … I tried to watch the SEC Softball Tournament on TV Thursday night but I had to mute the sound. I would rather listen to fingernails on a chalkboard than Beth Mowins on play-by-play. No matter the sport, she has the most annoying voice in the sportscasting business. When she tries to sound excited it sounds so phony.