Commentary

Fresh start works for Vernon Macklin

Originally Published: March 16, 2011
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Only one player on Florida's roster has won an NCAA tournament game since the Gators claimed back-to-back national championships in 2006 and '07.

Gators center Vernon Macklin, who transferred to Florida after two seasons at Georgetown, played on Hoyas teams that reached the 2007 Final Four and 2008 second round.

[+] EnlargeVernon Macklin
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesHaving played on Georgetown's Final Four team in 2007, Vernon Macklin is the only Gator to have won a game in the tournament.

Now Macklin, a senior from Portsmouth, Va., is one of the key pieces for No. 2 seed Florida, which begins NCAA tournament play against No. 15 seed UC Santa Barbara in a Southeast Region second-round game at St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday.

Before Macklin could become a key contributor at Florida, he had to move past the disappointment of his two seasons at Georgetown, Gators coach Billy Donovan said.

Named a McDonald's All-American during his senior season at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia, Macklin signed with the Hoyas in 2006, the first year NBA rules required high school players to attend college for at least one season before entering the draft.

Playing behind All-Americans Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert, Macklin averaged 3.2 points and 1.8 rebounds in 65 games at Georgetown during the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons.

"I think he went to Georgetown and thought he was going to be a one-and-done guy," Donovan said. "I think his attitude probably wasn't what it needed to be at Georgetown. He came here with such low confidence."

Macklin, 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds, said he nearly left Georgetown after his freshman season. Macklin decided to stay after Hibbert announced he was entering the 2007 NBA draft. But Hibbert later changed his mind and returned to school.

Even after Green entered the NBA draft, Macklin spent his sophomore season playing behind Hibbert and Patrick Ewing Jr.

"I went to Georgetown in a bad situation," Macklin said. "They had the best forward in the country and the best center in the country. I don't blame anything on Georgetown. I had to get better and it was on me."

But when Hibbert left Georgetown after the 2007-08 season, he blamed his lack of production on playing in the Hoyas' Princeton offense.

[+] EnlargeVernon Macklin
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIMacklin, now a senior, is averaging 11.3 points for Florida.

"It was really hard for me to handle," Macklin said. "In high school, I didn't watch college basketball. I didn't understand the style of play. I didn't understand the Princeton offense. I didn't know it was a slow-down offense. I kept trying to play the way I wanted to play."

Three years later, Macklin admits that playing in a half-court offense probably wasn't the reason for his problems at Georgetown.

"I wasn't going to be a one-and-done guy, but I don't think I got better," Macklin said. "I don't think I worked hard. Playing against two great players every day in practice, I got exposed."

After sitting out the 2008-09 season under NCAA transfer rules, Macklin started all 34 games at Florida last season, averaging 10.6 points and 5.5 rebounds. He had 16 points and seven rebounds in Florida's 99-92 overtime loss to BYU in the first round of the 2010 NCAA tournament.

This season, Macklin averaged 11.3 points and 5.5 rebounds, helping the Gators win an SEC regular-season championship.

"I think he's moved past the whole lottery pick thing," Donovan said. "I think he wants to win and contribute and be part of the team. I think his self-esteem was down. It was nothing Georgetown did. He was on a Final Four team and couldn't get off the bench. He talked about the Princeton system not being the right fit, but you've still got to rebound and play defense."

Macklin's low-post production has helped Donovan get the Gators back on track. With Macklin, senior Alex Tyus and freshman Patric Young, the Gators finally have balance on offense.

If opponents double-team Macklin in the paint, guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton and SEC Player of the Year Chandler Parsons are capable of hurting them from the perimeter.

"In '06-07, I had two monsters on the block [Al Horford and Joakim Noah]," Donovan said. "You can have a good low-post player, but if you don't have guys who can shoot around him, they'll just double-down on them."

With a potential third-round game looming against No. 7 seed UCLA or No. 10 seed Michigan State, Donovan wants more production from his low-post players.

In Florida's 70-54 loss to Kentucky in Sunday's SEC tournament championship game in Atlanta's Georgia Dome, Macklin, Tyus and Young combined for only 16 points and 11 rebounds.

"You can offset a tough shooting night if you get fouled," Donovan said. "I didn't think we got fouled enough in the game at all, and we didn't get to the free throw line enough. We needed to be more physical and around the basket. We missed a lot of shots around the basket."

After a three-year drought in NCAA tournament games, Donovan hopes his players understand what's at stake.

"None of these guys have won a game in the NCAA tournament, and I hope that in itself is motivation and fuel for them to really be focused and understand the importance of going from one game to the next," Donovan said.

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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