GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Mike Rosario was The Man at Rutgers.
He averaged 16.2 and 16.7 points in his first two seasons for the Scarlet Knights, earning freshman All-American honors in 2008-09 and finishing ninth in the Big East in scoring in 2009-10.
But after sitting out a year following his transfer to Florida, Rosario is still trying to adjust to his new role. Now he's the seventh or eighth man, and it's taking him longer than he – or coach Billy Donovan – would like for him to get used to that.
"Before I got here I was the head guy, the leading scorer and [without a lot of] good talent around me," Rosario said. "And now that I've surrounded myself with a lot of good players, I have to do a role that I'm not used to and I've got to adapt to that. Whatever it takes for me to do that role, then I have to do that."
His new role is unlike anything he did at Rutgers. Donovan wants the 6-foot-3 Rosario to concentrate on playing defense, bringing energy off the bench, and being a reliable rebounder. The Gators, Donovan told him, don't need him to be a scorer. They've got plenty of offense with guards Erving Walker, Bradley Beal and Kenny Boynton and forwards Patric Young and Erik Murphy.
Rosario's problem isn't that he won't accept that role. He's fine with it, Donovan said. It's just that Rosario is having a hard time integrating the new role into his basketball identity, which for so long was being a scorer and an offensive player.
"This is all different for him," Donovan said. "He was a McDonald's All-American coming out of high school. He has pretty much always been a starter. And it's not even necessarily about starting or not starting. That's not the problem. The bigger challenge for him is coming off the bench and that being somewhat new to him. He's fine knowing whatever is best for our team; he understands.
"I think it has been somewhat of a mental drain on him a little bit trying to figure out how he can carve his niche in something he's never done before."
Rosario led Rutgers in scoring in his two seasons and started nearly every game. He's UF's fifth-leading scorer now (10.5 points per game). He's shooting 48.8 percent from 3-point range (20 of 41) and he's averaging 2.5 rebounds per game. But he played only six minutes against Syracuse and 14 against Arizona. Donovan said he benched Rosario against the Orange because he was unhappy with Rosario's mindset. He didn't play Rosario much in the second half against the Wildcats because he wanted a more defensive lineup on the floor.
But Donovan isn't angry with Rosario. He said the two have talked and Rosario is frustrated with himself because he wants so badly to play well and is unable to mesh with his new role. For years, playing well meant scoring a lot, and that's not what it means for him now.
"When you sit out for a whole year, you want to come in and find a way to help whatever way you can," Donovan said. "I think he's trying to figure out how he can go about helping. His way of helping teams in a lot of ways has just been through his scoring all the time. There's more things that he can do to help our team [and] that he needs to do to help our team. He needs to get more committed on defense. He needs to get more committed to doing the little things."
Rosario has tried to do that. He grabbed seven rebounds against Wright State and had four rebounds and two steals against Jacksonville. But he also took 21 shots combined in back-to-back games against Jacksonville and Stetson, so he's still struggling with balance.
He said he just feels a little off.
"The toughest adjustment for me was just sitting out last year and being able to get through that year without playing and just practicing," Rosario said. "Now that it's here and I'm playing, it feels a little different still, like I really haven't adapted to playing again yet."
But he's not complaining, which has made an impact on his teammates.
"As a team, we're all here for him, and Mike is a tough kid," senior point guard Erving Walker said. "He'll figure it out."
Michael DiRocco covers University of Florida sports for GatorNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ESPNdirocco.