Don’t sleep on Kenny Boynton Jr. and the Gators.
If there is one constant for most high school students it is their love of sleep; they can’t get enough. The alarm always goes off too soon and they never seem to spend enough time huddled up under their blankets before trudging off to school each morning.
Then there is Kenny Boynton Jr. who can’t be bothered with the idea of sleep when his problem is he can never get enough time in the gym. The latest McDonald’s All-American to sign with Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators, Boynton is the quintessential definition of a gym rat. Despite being ranked as a top-15 player in his class by every major scouting service, the dynamic 6-2 guard felt the need to show up to the American Heritage School gymnasium every morning at 6 a.m. to workout with head coach Danny Herz.
“He constantly just wants to get better,” says Herz. “We would have a late practice most days and he would go and workout between the end of school and the start of our practice as well. He was not going to let someone else outwork him and be better than him.”
On average, Boynton was putting in several hours of additional work on the court and in the gym outside of the daily practices he took part in while at American Heritage. The work paid huge dividends as the scoring machine from the Sunshine State averaged 31 points per game as a senior and finished third all time in the state of Florida in scoring behind former Gator hoopster Teddy Dupay and Philadelphia Eagles tight end Cornelius Ingram.
Perhaps more surprising than the hours of extra time that Boynton spent honing his skills on the basketball court though, are the areas of his game that he was focusing on during the countless mornings that he spent in the gym. Having played off the ball as a shooting guard during his prolific prep career, Boynton knew that in the highly competitive world of Division 1 basketball, he would likely be utilized as a point guard due to his size. Rather than resting on the fact that he was able to easily dominate opponents while at American Heritage, the All-American was thinking long term.
“To tell you the truth, at the high school level, I felt it was pretty easy to dominate other teams,” Boynton says. “I thought ahead of time that I wanted to get better; during my workouts I would train like I was getting ready for better competition. Even though I was playing off the ball in high school, I was working on my point guard skills and doing other things that I knew I would have to be able to do at the next level because of my size.”
That’s a surprising amount of wisdom and maturity for a kid just past his 18th birthday. Those traits are a major part of the reason that Donovan and his Florida assistants recruited Boynton as hard as they did. The head coach and assistant Rob Lanier attended nearly every game that he played leading up to his senior year to make sure Boynton knew he was the Gators’ top priority. The tireless approach to the guards recruitment paid off as Florida beat out a list of schools that included Duke, Memphis, Texas and Georgia Tech.
The addition of Boynton has become even more valuable with the departure of star point guard Nick Calathes who opted to forgo his final two seasons in Gainesville to play overseas and the transfer of former All-American guard Jai Lucas to Texas. Now, as a freshman Boynton is in a position where not only will he likely be receiving major minutes from day one, he will be expected to run a team. None of that seems to faze the outspoken freshman though, as he is fully confident the Gators can make it back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in two seasons.
“On paper right now I think we have the talent with myself and [Georgetown transfer] Vernon Macklin having been McDonald’s All-Americans,” he says. “I think we have to come together as a team and decide what we want and then go out and get to the Tournament and get to a national championship.”
Whether or not Florida will be punching a ticket to the Final Four in Indianapolis next March is too far into the future to even begin speculating about, but the program is returning a slew of young talent that should gel to form as dynamic of a young nucleus as will exist in the state next season. In addition to the arrival of Boynton and Macklin, the Gators return lightning quick guard Erving Walker, forwards Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons, as well as big men Kenny Kadji and Eloy Vargas. Walker, Tyus and Parsons were the top three scorers on the team behind Calathes and the latter two were the top rebounders for the Gators last season. Vargas is a super talented and versatile big man who was teammates with Boynton at American Heritage. He missed a good portion of last season recovering from ankle surgery, but will be expected to contribute this season.
What all of this amounts to for Florida is a tremendous amount of anticipation, but plenty of questions that need to be answered. The same can be said for Boynton. With the kind of resume he has coming into the program, many feel that the Pompano Beach, Florida native is exactly what the Gators need to return to their glory days of just a few seasons ago. However, there are still the questions of how Boynton will contribute. He dominated as one of the top scoring guards in the country as a senior, playing primarily off the ball. According to Herz, this was due to the fact that American Heritage featured a talented pure point guard in Ray Taylor, who will be joining Florida Atlantic in the upcoming year. The coach feels that his former star player is capable of playing either backcourt position depending on what Donovan needs on the floor.
“I think people are quick to label him as either a scoring guard or a point guard, but we were very adamant that we just wanted him to be a guard, nothing else. Good things happen when the ball is in his hands, he’s a good passer. If Coach Donovan asks him to be more of a distributor he’ll do that, if he needs him to be more of a scorer he’ll do that as well.”
Boynton says that during the open runs he and his new teammates have been partaking in all summer he has spent the majority of the time with the basketball in his hands, still looking to score as he always has, but with the added responsibility of being a playmaker now added onto that.
“I need to make better decisions when doing the little things like playing the pick-and-roll. Now when we run that I have to look to dish the ball, whereas in high school I would probably shoot. Erving Walker has really been pushing me to get better with both my offense and my defense when we go at it on the court.”
All of this is well and good for Boynton and his teammates, but while Florida is busy working on their game in the weeks leading up to the start of the fall semester, the team is well aware of the looming shadow being cast over the SEC right now by a reemerging Kentucky team to the north.
With the hiring of John Calipari as their new head coach and the arrival of a recruiting class that is already being labeled as one of the best ever, it seems as though the regular season is simply a formality for the Wildcats on their way to an SEC championship and possible national championship. Boynton isn’t so sure.
“To tell you the truth, I’ve thought about it and on paper they look good, but I think we match up with them. I think we have a better team. It’s going to be a real good game when we play, but I don’t think they’re as good as everyone says they are.”
These words will no doubt raise more than a few eyebrows, particularly in Lexington, but perhaps the swagger and confidence of the new kid in town is exactly what Florida needs to reestablish themselves on a national level. It’s almost a guarantee that some will see it as youthful cockiness from a player who has yet to play a single minute at the college level, but maybe, just maybe, Boynton is using it to motivate himself.
Perhaps it stems from that same motivation that used to drive him out of bed hours before his peers so he could hoist up shot after shot in the gym before class started. Perhaps it stems from that same motivation that drove him to work on his point guard skills in preparation for a college career that was still more than a year away from starting. Perhaps it stems from that motivation to be the best and for everyone around him to know that Kenny Boynton Jr. wants to be the one left standing at the top.
Whatever the reasoning behind the comments and the motivation may be, it’s a safe bet that opposing SEC teams won’t be sleeping on Boynton or the Gators come next season.