Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan met with the media on Monday to discuss his team’s busy week ahead, which includes two games in a three-day span. He also broke down recent Gators suspensions and some struggles being faced by his pair of five-star, second-year standouts.
BETTER BUT NOT QUITE THERE YET
There is no question that sophomore center Chris Walker has played better in his second season at Florida, though to this point his contributions continue to be more style than substance – a fact not lost on his coach.
Through his first 13 games, Walker is averaging just 5.8 points and 4.1 boards, struggling mightily at times. Outside of a three-game stretch in December when he combined to score 37 points on 17-for-28 shooting (.607) with seven blocks, Walker has scored 39 points while hitting just 43-of-163 shots (.264) with 11 blocks in his other 10 games.
“I actually think Chris can shoot the ball fairly decently when he catches it and he can just turn, square and shoot, but when he starts putting the ball on the floor, that opens up a whole different set of problems for everybody,” Donovan said. “He is not bad on the baseline catching and shooting; he can make that shot. The more dribbles he takes, the more he tries to take a situation and take a simple move and make it into something very complicated that becomes difficult for him.”
But that is far from Walker’s biggest issue, according to Donovan, who believes that Walker simply does not have a high threshold for cardiovascular endurance at this point. Donovan levied the same criticisms against Patric Young in the past and on Monday continued to point to guys like Joakim Noah, Udonis Haslem and David Lee as “guys [who] were freaks of nature in terms of their cardiovascular toughness.” At this point, Walker likely compares more closely to Marreese Speights in that area, Donovan said.
“Chris has these spurts, but he’s got to get better at playing and sustaining intensity for longer periods of time. And that starts in practice. I’m on him all the time, like when he gets tired, he doesn’t quite run the floor as hard, and I’m on him. ‘Chris you’ve got to push through, you’re not getting better when you don’t push through.’”
That does not mean Donovan is displeased with Walker overall. In fact, he said Monday that he is “really proud of his growth” despite the flaws that still exist in his game, such as how to play around the basket.
“I’ve tried, but I’m not getting through like I need to get through [to him]. And I’ve got to do a better job of helping him right now because he needs to be more efficient down there with his length and his athleticism, his size and those kind of things,” he said.
“Where Chris Walker was a year ago to where he is now is night and day. … He is who he is. He’s got to get better. He’s got to improve. But he’s worked hard, he’s getting better, he is improving as I have seen growth. Are there things that I want to see him do better? Obviously, yeah. There are things I want to see our whole entire team doing better, but he’s trying to get better. He’s a good kid; he’s a team guy.”
BACK IN BUSINESS
Back from suspension and scheduled to be active for Thursday’s game, redshirt senior C Jon Horford returned to practice on Monday after a number of good conversations with Donovan that helped him get back in the fold.
“When you’re dealing with a fifth-year senior and a guy that really cares like he cares, you can get very, very self-consumed and self-absorbed about how you’re being affected and impacted with everything. He needs to be part of our team, and he needs to provide to our team whatever he can provide. I think for him taking some time to digest and evaluate and figure where he can help was probably the reason why we both agreed that it would be better that he didn’t play against Mississippi State,” the coach explained on Monday. “Jon is a very diligent worker, so I think even the week that he has been out he has been in the gym shooting and working and doing some of those things. … “As far as I am concerned, he served his penalty and it’s over and done with, and we move forward.”
Donovan did not go into detail about what Horford did wrong, but did offer this general explanation: “Jon’s behavior at times [wasn’t] an egregious, unbelievable thing, but it was just disruptive and detrimental to our team, and he didn’t need to be doing some of those things.”
Also back with Florida is freshman walk-on guard Zach Hodskins, who along with Horford was suspended for “conduct detrimental to the team.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Junior G Michael Frazier II‘s health has improved, a source told OnlyGators.com on Tuesday. Donovan noted Monday that Frazier was given antibiotics for strep throat and an upper respiratory infection. Though he has been a bit lethargic throughout the week, Frazier is expected to see close-to-normal minutes on Thursday but may once again come off the bench for the Gators.
» Donovan on how sophomore point guard Kasey Hill can help score without being a high-percentage shooter: “Just because he’s not this prolific three-point shooter, there are still ways and things that we can do inside of our offense to help him be effective and be a guy that plays to his identity in terms of his speed and quickness in getting into the lane. … I’ve got a lot of confidence in him when he takes 15-foot pull-up jump shots. That’s a shot that he normally makes, and I feel pretty good about him shooting that shot. … He has never really been wrapped up in scoring, but he’s got the ability to do it, and I think when people back off of him or give him that, I think he can still make good choices and decisions that can help our team. … He’s just going to get better through his work. He’s going to get better. The word ‘prolific three-point shooter,’ I don’t think he’ll be a prolific three-point shooter, but he can get better at it. … I can’t tell you that he’s going to be Lee Humphrey.”
» Donovan on Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl being back in the SEC: “For people that are looking for some excitement, some enthusiasm, he’s a guy that brings a lot of excitement and enthusiasm. … I think he’s good for the league because he’s had a lot of success at Tennessee, he’s had a lot of success in this league. He’s a very, very good basketball coach. I’m happy for him that he is back in coaching because I think there was a time when all that stuff came to an end for him at Tennessee, that he wasn’t really sure he wanted to go back in to coach. And I’m sure he had some time to reflect and spend time with his family, and he was doing a lot of different TV stuff and he and I had talked a little bit before he took the job there at Auburn. He felt really good about their commitment and what they wanted to do and what he thought he could do to help the program. So I think, all the way around probably at this point in time in his life, this is a good step for him and a good place for him to be.”