Guard Mike Rosario sat out last season after transferring from Rutgers, and he is fighting an injured back and a deep roster for playing time this year.

Last season, Mike Rosario went from being the leading scorer on a Big East team to a practice player.

After transferring from Rutgers in April 2010, Rosario was forced to spend games biding his time on UF’s bench. When the Gators needed a big shot, he could only be a cheerleader.

In just more than two weeks, Rosario will have a chance to change that role. Following a year in limbo, he’s looking for a step forward in his playing career, not another setback.

“It feels like I have waited a decade, two, three decades to play,” said Rosario, a redshirt junior. “That’s how long it felt. But I’m excited, and it’s here. It’s time, and all of that hard work I did through that whole year I had to sit out, it’s going to pay off now.”

Last year was a humbling experience for a sharpshooter who scored a team-best 16.7 points per game his last season with the Scarlet Knights. Rosario was the program’s first McDonald’s All-American and just the second sophomore in Rutgers’ history to reach 1,000 points.

“He could’ve got mad or frustrated by sitting out, but he was always cheering us on,” junior guard Kenny Boynton said. “And in practice, he worked hard and he pushed us.”

Before coming to Florida, the 6-foot-3 Rosario, who can play both guard positions, said he had never gone more than two weeks in his career without playing an actual game.

That’s not to say he still didn’t get a workout on the sideline    during the Gators’ Elite Eight run.

“There was times where I was so sweaty,” Rosario said. “I’m not gonna lie: so sweaty from jumping around, but I knew it was for the better and it was to help my team.”

Like former UF center Vernon Macklin, a transfer from Georgetown, Rosario felt the toughest part of the season was when conference play started.

He would look at the scouting reports, eat the pregame meal and watch his teammates get pumped before tipoff, but he wasn’t a part of the action. Workouts were Rosario’s version of a game.

“Oh, man, I wanted to grab a uniform so bad sometimes,” he said.

Since the preseason, Rosario has had another obstacle placed between him and the court: a disc problem in his lower back. The injury caused numbness and tingling down his legs, but Rosario said he is feeling much better after treatment.

Coach Billy Donovan said Rosario’s back injury won’t require surgery, and he doesn’t think it will affect his playing time this year.

“Because he understands his back, I don’t see Mike just dealing with the pain and not saying anything,” Donovan said. “I think he understands in order for him to get treated that it’s only going to get worse if he does that.”

As the only player other than Erving Walker entering his fourth year of college basketball, Rosario believes he will bring leadership to the team. He also didn’t place as much emphasis on scoring this summer; instead, he tried to improve as a defender.

After a “really, really bad” first practice defensively, Donovan said Rosario made strides later in the weekend and should contribute immediately for Florida.

“I think I’m too excited, actually,” Rosario said. “I might need to like take a cold shower before my first game, because I’m so hyped to get out there and play.”

Contact John Boothe at [email protected].