Florida's Christian Drejer didn't live up to them last season. Now healthy, he's ready to show what he can do.
By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published November 25, 2003
GAINESVILLE - Christian Drejer heard the whispers. He was well aware the doubters were there last season, criticizing and constantly questioning his ability.
After joining the Florida men's basketball team, surrounded by national hype and talk of being a possible NBA draft pick, Drejer battled a severe injury and lingering doubts all season.
Now recovered from an ankle injury and subsequent staph-like infection that kept him sidelined two months, the former Danish National League Player of the Year is eager to prove - mostly to himself - he can play college basketball in the United States.
Drejer's success, perhaps more than any other player, could be key to the No. 8 Gators' fortunes this season.
"He wasn't able to play as much as we anticipated last year because of his injury, but he's healthy and we're expecting a lot from Christian," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "He's a good passer, he's a good shooter. He can do a lot of things well."
On the surface, whether Drejer had what it takes to succeed at the college level seemed questionable at times. But there was much more to the story.
"Last year was really hard," he said. "You're in the hospital for two weeks and you don't know what's going on and you're away from family. But it was also hard because when I came back after the injury, I was still hurt. I wasn't healthy.
"And that was the very tough part too, because nobody could see that you're in constant pain, and your foot is hurting, and it's weak and you can't jump and run. Nobody can see that. And it seems like you can't play. So that's why some people, they keep on talking about how good am I? But I don't want to get into that."
What he does want to get into is this season. Florida opens at 7 tonight against Montana State and, once again, expectations are high for Drejer, something Donovan wants to keep in perspective.
"I don't want it to be a situation where the expectations on him right now are through the roof," Donovan said.
When last season ended the Gators lost a strong point guard, a known 3-point shooter and a forward who could play with his back to the basket.
If he lives up to his potential this season, Drejer could help fill the void at all three of those spots.
When Donovan looks at the 6-foot-10 Dane, he sees what he calls a point-forward. But with sophomore guard Anthony Roberson suspended the first three games because of unspecified violation of university policy, Drejer has shown the versatility for which teammates laud him. In the Nov. 18 exhibition against Team Nike, Drejer scored 12 points and had 10 assists - often playing point guard, running the floor and setting up the offense. His ballhandling skills for a player his size are impressive and he can shoot from outside.
"Christian is going to be real good for us this year," Roberson said. "He's healthy, and he can do a lot of different things to help out this team. He can play a lot of positions."
Last season might have helped Drejer, Donovan said.
"Although last year was a difficult year for him because he had the foot injury and he didn't play, it may end up being a year that was very beneficial for him because he had a chance to sit there during games and practice and watch," Donovan said. "Although he didn't play very much, I think him watching has enabled him to figure out what he needed to do as a player to get better and improve. He is doing very well."
When Drejer decided to go home for the summer, Donovan jokes that at one point he wondered if he might not return.
Never crossed his mind, Drejer said.
"In my mind I knew I wanted to come back here the whole time," he said. "Of course as a player you always look at your options, but I knew I wanted to come back here and play. ... One of the reasons was that last year was a tough year for me. And I kind of came here to prove myself a little bit, and I had things I wanted to do over here and I didn't get a chance last year because of my foot. I spent so much time the whole summer just getting better and getting my foot healthy and my whole body healthy. And after I got to that point, now I just wanted to come back here and prove it."
As part of his offseason regimen, Drejer added 15 pounds of muscle, which has given him the confidence to drive to the basket with authority, he said. "I've got a lot to prove," he said. "Well, that's maybe a little too much to say. I just try to every day go in and have a good mentality and good focus and have a great day."
And proving naysayers wrong?
"Yeah, I think that's going to fuel me a little this year," he said. "It's going to help me every day."