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Hill ready to rise to the occasion for the Gators

Frank Mattia/Icon Sportswire

Kasey Hill is one of only three seniors on the Florida Gators men’s basketball roster, but unlike the other two, Hill is the only one who knows what it’s like to play in the Final Four.

Hill is the last remaining link to a Gators team that won the SEC championship and made a run to the national semifinals before falling to eventual champion Connecticut.

The senior guard reflected on the experience of that season during the team’s media day earlier this month in Gainesville.

“It was really good and then it was really bad, but then it ended well,” Hill said. “I’m looking forward to getting out there and competing and trying to win as many games as I can for my teammates.”

Hill will play a pivotal role for the Gators this season and needs to be at his best for Florida to have a shot at returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time since that Final Four run of two years ago when the Gators won 36 games.

Florida was close last year to returning to the dance, winning 21 games and losing 15 under first-year head coach Mike White, but fell 76-62 in the second round of the conference tourney to Texas A&M, ending any hope of a tourney bid. They had to settle for the NIT.

Hill doesn’t want that to happen again. He comes into the season motivated and with an extra dose of confidence after scoring 18 points in each of Florida’s two SEC tournament games. He finished his season averaging 9.1 points per game on the strength of five consecutive double-digit scoring performances to close out the season.

Some will say he’s not a great shooter — Hill knocked down only 39.1 percent of his shots from the field and connected on just 29.7 percent of his shots from long range — but the veteran guard refuses to let the criticism bother him.

“No, I’m not getting tired of it all,” Hill said. “It’s something I’ve dealt with my whole life. People have labeled me as ‘not a shooter’ but I know my strengths and I know my weaknesses and I just have to deal with it.”

It’s the only thing he can do as he gets set to help lead the Gators into the 2016-17 season, a season where much is expected of them. Florida is among the contenders for the SEC title, and while that might be too lofty of a goal considering Kentucky stands in the way of that dream, this team is good enough to earn an NCAA tourney berth, especially if Hill picks up where he left off a year ago.

He appears ready to do just that after putting in the time and effort to improve all aspects of his game in the offseason.

“Throughout the season, I just stayed in the gym as much as I could, through the good and the bad,” Hill said. “Then in the summer it was a great opportunity for me to get in the gym even more because I had a lot more time so I just worked on the things that I needed to work on.”

Hard work tends to pay off, and in the case of Hill, it should, translating into what should be a successful season for the Gators.

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