No. 10 Florida Gators (11-2) head coach Billy Donovan met with the media on Monday, two days before his team opens up Southeastern Conference play against the South Carolina Gamecocks (7-6) on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Gainesville, FL.
BACK IN THE TOP 10
When Donovan spoke before the season began and was asked about Florida being ranked in the top 10 nationally, he laughed at praise, noting that the Gators were a long way from being that caliber of team. And he was right. Not only was UF banged up and missing a number of players due to suspension, the players were still learning how to mesh together following the departure of Florida’s three leading scorers from a year ago.
On a five-game winning streak with two victories over top 25 opponents, the Gators checked in at No. 10 in the Associated Press poll on Monday. Subsequently, Donovan was asked if Florida is more deserving of the praise 13 games into its season.
“I think we’re a better team than we were in November and December. I think we’ve gotten better. I still think we can improve from that point. Where we should be ranked, it’s hard for me to say,” he explained. “I think I said this before: in a lot of ways you can move up in the rankings based on what teams do in front of you, and if a team doesn’t lose games, you are never going to move up. I don’t pay maybe a whole lot of attention to that part of it. … The rankings are going to be what they are going to be and sometimes you don’t have really a lot of control over where you are ranked. But if you keep winning, you probably are going to improve in that area.”
READY FOR THE SEC
Donovan made it a point to test the Gators with a difficult non-conference slate, but don’t get it twisted, he’s pleased to see SEC play begin on Wednesday.
“I think the non-conference schedule, you are going game-by-game, and you do that the entire year but now you are playing for something,” he said. “So for us going into this, now you are actually playing for something. … I think our guys understand, as everybody does, it’s almost like OK, now the season is starting.”
As far as he is concerned, Florida is in great shape entering the most important part of its schedule. Though improvements can certainly be made, the Gators are doing many of the little things correctly.
“I think we have a group of guys that have some experience, one. I do think we have a group of guys who are very, very coachable. They’ve accepted their roles. They want to play their roles to the best of their abilities. I think we’re an unselfish team. I think they care about one another. I think we have chemistry inside of our team. I think those things are healthy, they’re good right now,” Donovan said.
“I still think we can make some strides and get better. I think Kasey Hill can play better. I think Scottie Wilbekin of late can play better. I think we can complement each other better than what we maybe have been doing over the last several weeks. There’s still improvement to be made in those areas, but I think the things that make up a good team in terms of the unselfishness and the chemistry, guys getting along, guys playing for each other, wanting to win, a lot of those intangibles that you have a hard time measuring, I feel like our team has those things.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Donovan on the benefits of having four seniors on the roster: “They understand the league and what league play is all about. … We still have some younger guys who are going to have to step up and contribute with those guys and we’re going to need leadership from those four guys. We’re going to need those four guys to set the stage for our team going forward.”
» Donovan on South Carolina: “They have a lot of new faces, a lot of new personnel. I think they have some very good young players that, like anything else, when you’re playing a lot of freshmen and younger guys there are going to be some growing pains and some ups and downs. That’s going to be a part of their development and growth. I think the team that people remember from South Carolina last year is totally different than this year’s team, and the number one difference is maybe not style of play but it’s their personnel.”
» Donovan on the team potentially tying a record Wednesday for most consecutive wins at home: “I know we’ve won quite a few here at home, but to me right now, I look at it like this is a new game and what has happened behind us is really over and done with. Forget the fact there’s been so many in a row. That has no bearing on the fact we have to get ready to play South Carolina on Wednesday.”
» Donovan on whether freshman forward Chris Walker is any closer to playing: “I have not heard anything yet. As I said earlier, it’s totally out of my hands. Our school, our administration is dealing with the situation with the NCAA. The NCAA has allowed him to … practice. He has been admitted to school and started class [Monday]. All of that stuff is fine. Really, it’s more than anything else, for me personally, I’m totally out of the situation. I’d like to get an answer as much as anybody would.”
» Senior F Will Yeguete on how angry Walker is about not being cleared: “He’s getting frustrated because he really wants to play. You can see it in his eyes that he wants to get on the court and run around a little bit and just be out there, but he understands that it’s a process. We try to tell him every day to keep on working and pray for the best and hopefully he will be out there with us soon. … He’s really athletic. He can rebound the ball and he runs the floor really hard. He has a lot of energy, and I think when he can be out there, he’ll help us a lot. He just wants to play. He just being out there, I think he really plays 110 percent. It doesn’t matter how much he plays, so hopefully I think he’ll get a chance to play soon.”
» Donovan on Florida’s negative assist-to-turnover ratio: “Outside of Kasey Hill and Scottie Wilbekin, everybody on our team has a negative assist-to-turnover ratio. And that to me is very, very disappointing, especially when you talk about having some older guys. … One thing that’s been glaring for us is although we haven’t had an enormous amount of assists, we really haven’t outside of several games here or there where we’ve had an enormous amount of differential turnover-wise. … I think with the way we’re trying to play — fast and up-tempo — that’s going to happen sometimes. But I also would like to see our scoring average improve a little bit more than it is right now, and we could do that by getting a few more assists. I think we’ve left a lot of points out there by, one, free throw shooting by our team, two, I think we’ve missed a lot of shots in around the basket. And then, I think the assist part, where you can get somebody an easier shot so to speak when we’re playing off each other, I think that’s an improvement we can make.”