2/12: Donovan impressed by team’s make-up

By Adam Silverstein
February 13, 2011

No. 17/19 Florida Gators (20-5, 9-2 SEC) head basketball coach Billy Donovan had plenty to say after his team squeaked out a 61-60 win against the Tennessee Volunteers (15-10, 5-5 SEC) to sweep the season series against their rival for the first time since 2002. That is why we have compiled some of the most important news, notes and quotes following his press availability after Saturday’s game.

WALKER’s HEROICS NOT A SURPRISE

Junior point guard Erving Walker often ends up with the ball in his hands with the game on the line. It is not necessarily because it is his job to facilitate (he does not lead the team in assists, senior forward Chandler Parsons does) or because he has the best shooting percentage (that honor belongs to redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin) but more so due to the fact that there is no one on the team who wants and needs to make a clutch shot more than Walker.

“He’s a competitor. He’s a tough kid. I’ve coached guys that love to take the last shot because they don’t want to shy away from it. Erving is a guy that wants it, and he wants it and also there’s a devastation when he doesn’t [make it],” Donovan said. “Losing to Erving Walker is very, very painful as a player. He’s got that drive that winning is very important to him.

“A lot of it has to do with the fact that…being his size his whole entire life… He can’t win the dunk contest, and he can’t do all these other things. The only way he’s able to earn respect is through winning. He’s learned at a young age, being a small point guard, the only way I get any level of recognition or any credit is if my team wins. […] For Erving Walker, he’s a winner. He’s a guy that is willing to step up and do that.”

GATORS TAKING THINGS TO A WHOLE NEW LEVEL

It is easy to tell, from listening to Donovan, that he has a special kind of passion or the team as it is currently assembled. After Florida’s hard-fought win, he mentioned on multiple occasions how impressed he was with the team’s guts and ability to stick together and pull things out in the end.

“There’s some unbelievable qualities that this team has; this team’s a fighting team, it’s a resilient team, it’s a team that works really hard,” he said.

“I love coaching these guys. I really do because there’s a fighting mentality in them. They have a fighting spirit. Even when things aren’t going well, they never quit on me. They never, ever quit on each other. They battle; they fight. They’re resilient. They don’t always do it pretty; they don’t always play perfect. That, to me, is an incredible quality. Maybe as a coach, with these guys, I want it all. And maybe I’m not going to get it all. I don’t want the one thing that they got to get better at as a team to ever end their season a little bit earlier than it needs to be ended.

“We have good chemistry. They’re unselfish. They’re good kids. They work hard. When they get down, they battle. I really respect that in them. Me as a coach, you get one opportunity to be with these guys, I want them to be as good as they can be.

“The last couple years it’s just been holding on, maybe we can get to the tournament. Last year we got in. This team is dealing with stuff that they never, ever had to deal with before in terms of understanding what it takes to be a real winner and compete at a very high level. Really, in a lot of ways, we’re scratching a different surface. Now we’re in first place. This is a different place these guys have never been. They have to understand what comes with it, and they don’t right now. As much as I’ve tried to explain it, they don’t quite get it yet. I’m hopeful that this experience will help them get better.”

LEAVING PARSONS IN; UPDATING HIS INJURY STATUS

While discussing Parsons’s performance Saturday, Donovan noted that he suffered a deep thigh bruise early in the first half and (obviously) “just wasn’t himself” from that point forward. With UF not playing a game until next Sunday (at LSU, 1 p.m., ESPN), he is hopeful that Parsons will be able to play even though he probably will not be practicing until Thursday at the absolute earliest.

Asked why he left Parsons in the game and played him for so many minutes even though he was limited, Donovan noted that it was all about spreading out the defense.

“Just attention,” he said. “He’s an attention-getting guy, because when the ball’s in his hands he can score, he can shoot it, and he can make plays off the dribble. There’s a level of focus that you have to give to him. He was really hurt, and I felt terrible. The last two or three weeks he has played at a very, very high level.”

QUOTES (After the break…)

Donovan on pulling out the win: “We were certainly fortunate to win. I was a little disappointed in our team [tonight] to be honest with you. And I saw some of it coming during the South Carolina game. I thought winning by 19 points was a little bit misleading because South Carolina, in my opinion, did not play nearly as well as they did here in Gainesville. I’m very, very happy we won, and I think our guys are very, very resilient. They have a toughness; they battle, they fight, they compete. In Knoxville, we were the aggressor for 40-45 minutes; tonight, Tennessee was the aggressor.”

Donovan on the team’s progress: “It’s a process with our guys, a process I’m excited about. These guys have never been in a situation like this. There’s no one on our team that’s ever been in a situation like this, where you’re playing for first place, you’re playing for a league championship. You’re in the middle of it right now. They’re starting to understand what this is all about. […] That’s what you want to do in league play – give yourself a chance. And we gave ourselves a chance.”

Donovan of what area the team still needs to improve in: “There’s a mental part of this team that has got to get better. It doesn’t surprise me because the same group of guys right now, three years ago, could not even function in a college practice. And now we’re talking about them competing for a league championship?! This is totally uncharted territory for these guys. And I think we can be better, but our mental approach needs to be better. I got to find a way to give them what this is about.”

Donovan on pulling sophomore guard Kenny Boynton for freshman PG Scottie Wilbekin: “Kenny Boynton has got a great opportunity right now to really grow and mature as a player. He single-handedly, in overtime in Knoxville, won the game for us with some incredible shots. You knew Tennessee was going to come out and try to take him away a little bit. He never really got in the flow offensively; he got a little frustrated. Scottie Wilbekin came in and did a great job defensively on [Scotty] Hopson.”

Donovan on Wilbekin’s defense: “He did the best job of anybody guarding Hopson. He was, by far, our best defender on Hopson. Even Rob Lanier, who scouted Tennessee, said to me during the game when I sat down Boynton with 4:30-4:40 to go, ‘You can’t take Scottie out right now because he’s doing an unbelievable job on Hopson.’ He did a terrific job on Hopson, really did a great job.”

Donovan on the game coming down to the last shot: “In the Tennessee games in the past, we’ve had some incredible battles. We’ve had games like that, where it’s come down to come crazy plays, so to speak.”

Donovan on the team turning the ball over 10 times in the first half: “I thought we should have been down by more at half. A team’s 5-for-11 from the three-point line and you got 10 turnovers. You’re saying, ‘OK, you’re down 12-15 points.’ So we felt good only being down six.”

5 Comments

  1. Gatorbuc15 says:

    Wow that was a pretty smart move by Billy to keep him in the game and use him as a diversion. That man is really crafty.
    Hopefully Parsons get’s better in soon and is able to play in the LSU game. He probably will.

  2. Ken says:

    Interesting how Billy D loves coaching this team, considering 3 years ago he locked em out of the practice facility saying he hated coaching them. They have really grown up and bought in to his teaching. This team could easily be 24-1 or even 25-0 if they didn’t collapse against OSU, but they could also easily be 15-10.

    These guys have a ton of heart and fight. It is great that they have finally bought in to learning and have seemed to have figured out what it requires to win at this level.

    If they keep growing over then next couple of weeks, this team certainly has the pieces to be an elite 8 or final 4 team. I think they are finally starting to live up to preseason expectations.

  3. ScottN says:

    I think if they get a favorable seed they get to the Elite 8 if they keep playing tough. Can’t see them getting past that without a miracle.

  4. CH says:

    The playing time that our young guys got early in the season is paying off. Murphy, Young and Wilkbekin are helping the team overcome a lot of mistakes. This team has the talent and the depth to be a final four team, but they still need a few more weeks to get the mental mistakes out of the system. I’m really excited for march to get here. I think billy also sees that he has the potential of something special. Right now we need Donavan and Shyatt to put together some great coaching to end february.

  5. Gary says:

    Holy crap, Lunardi has us as a three (3) seed:

    http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/bracketology

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