Gators speak on 2010 NCAA Tournament berth

By Adam Silverstein
March 15, 2010

As one would expect, the Florida Gators basketball team was ecstatic when they learned they had earned a bid in the 2010 NCAA Tournament. After practice on Monday, head coach Billy Donovan and some members of the No. 10-seed Gators met with the press to discuss exactly what went on Sunday night and how they are preparing for the Brigham Young Cougars on Thursday in Oklahoma City, OK.

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Read the team’s statements about making the tournament after the break!

Head coach Billy Donovan

On facing BYU in the first round: “We’ve got a lot to get prepared for. One, we’re playing a team from out West. Last night and this morning, we’ve had a chance to watch them play. They’ve got a great player in the point guard spot, (Jimmer) Fredette. We’ve seen two great guards in our league in (Devan) Downey and (John) Wall and I’m not sure those two guys can have an impact in a game like Fredette can. He went on the road to Arizona and picked up 49 points. In the first round of their conference finals, he scored 45. He’s an unbelievable player. They obviously have a lot of great pieces around him as well. They’re a team that’s been ranked very high all year long. There is a lot for our team to get ready for playing early Thursday. We’ll have today, Tuesday and Wednesday to get ready for a really great team and a big challenge for us.”

On the 2009-10 season as a whole: “To me, as a coach, it’s one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences I’ve ever gone through. I say that in the fact that I think there were some really great stories that were missed this year. What I mean by that is that going back to 2007, when you lose (Joakim) Noah, (Al) Horford, (Corey) Brewer, Chris Richards, Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey, that is a set-up for disaster in a program. Our guys, after that year, were a team that had the chance to get to the Tournament and we came up a little bit short. Then we lost Marreese Speights. Last year, we went to the SEC Tournament with a chance, again, to play in the NCAA Tournament, and we came up short. Then we lost (Nick) Calathes. When I think of (Dan) Werner and (Chandler) Parsons, (Alex) Tyus, and Vernon Macklin – what these kids have done, and the changes and growth I have seen, will go down as one of the most special group of guys I have ever coached. These kids, every year, got better and better and better. Maybe we weren’t a top five team in the country, but for me as a coach, that is the thing that is so rewarding; to see those kids get to that point, getting to where they wanted to go. Really, it probably should have taken a lot longer with what we’ve lost the past couple of years. These kids deserve a lot of credit. I’m happy for them. To see their growth, I’m just very proud and happy.”

On the anxiety surrounding Selection Sunday: “It’s a great lesson, and I hope our guys really understand this: there’s so much talk and speculation out there. No one knows. Nobody knows. My message to those guys was to focus on what you can control. Focus on what we have to do. It was out of our control. We knew either way we would have a great opportunity. Clearly, coming out of the SEC, I think we were in the NCAA tournament. But obviously there were some things that happened in the last 24-48 hours with a lot of conference tournaments that took the control out of our hands. We have the opportunity on Thursday to now focus on what we can control, now knowing that we’re in the NCAA Tournament. We have an even greater opportunity for growth right now in a short period of time, I’m hopeful that now they can understand what this is all about. Starting with these guys two years ago, we couldn’t even practice, it was so bad. Last year their work ethic improved, but they still didn’t understand what they needed to do to win. This year, they have a better understanding of what it takes to beat some of the quality teams we did beat this year, but it was a process for those guys.”

On weight being taken off his shoulders after getting back into the NCAA Tournament: “No, not one bit. For me as a coach, the only thing that I want to do is try and help our guys experience it. I would say this: if it all ended for me without getting to the tournament this year and I never coached again, I had the chance to play in the Final Four, I had the chance to get drafted and play in the NBA, I was a part of five Final Fours, had the chance to compete as a coach in three National Championship games, have coached and won conference championships, and I’ve had the chance to win two National Championships. It’s not about me. I’ve experienced all that stuff. There’s nothing more in college basketball that I can experience as it relates to winning. But it is so rewarding to take a group of guys, that have no clue what goes in to any of this stuff, and see them grow and get to the NCAA Tournament. The pressure I felt was not for me, it was to help those guys understand and see what goes into this, to take advantage of their talent, to be unselfish. I felt the pressure on myself to help them. I didn’t feel pressure to get back into the Tournament. I’m happy that I can be a part of helping those guys.”

On getting this team ready to compete against tough competition: “There were different things that these guys had to go through. There are two ways to learn, through your own experiences, and sometimes that can be a lot more painful and take a lot longer, and you can learn through other situations. This is a group that went through a lot of difficulties. They had to experience things to have a better understanding. You’re always trying to draw up and bring out points to your team that can help them grow and develop. It wasn’t their fault two years ago; there was no leadership within our program. We had three or four guys returning that had never played before. Losing seven guys off a team, five of which got drafted, there was no reason for them to do it. I made them all come back for Summer A after last season to put the work in. It’s the whole perception and perspective of what the reality is and keeping your mind and focus on the reality. Our team is better than it was a year ago with our best player being gone in Nick (Calathes) and I think our team is better than when Marreese Speights was here after his freshman year. We would have been a whole lot better if both those guys stayed, but the whole core of guys got better and that’s what is so rewarding to me. When you see the growth and steps, you have to have some level of fulfillment. That’s what it’s all about for me.”

On defending the three against BYU: “The one thing is they don’t take a lot of threes. It’s not like Auburn, who was taking around 27 a game, and Mississippi State who was taking over 25 a game. This is not a high volume three-point shooting team. What it is is a high-volume making team. It’s pretty impressive when you’re looking at the stats and they’re making a little bit more than eight threes a game on the number of attempts they’re taking. Forty-one percent is an incredible number. That is a great challenge and a huge key in the game, but it’s not like that’s all they do. They get fouled a lot and shoot around 78 percent from the free-throw line. (Jimmer) Fredette had 45 points and got to the free-throw line himself 23 times. That’s incredible. They’re a team that shoots a high percentage in threes and they’re a team that gets to the free-throw line and gets fouled a lot. Guarding the three-pointers are going to be a critical piece against them.”

On sophomore guard Ray Shipman’s development over the last few games: “Ray has an unbelievable opportunity coming up. I think in a lot of ways, everything that’s been inside of him the last couple games has always been there. Ray’s a great kid and when he was awarded the Scholar Athlete of the Year award in the SEC, that was a big jolt of confidence for him. The fact that he’s a good basketball player and a good student and that he was recognized for that made him feel really good, and in some way, instilled some confidence in him. He needs to not worry about awards and realize that how he came out last week has always been in him. If he keeps doing what he did in the SEC Tournament and we can get the same energy out of him, that would really help our team and make us a little bit deeper.”

On freshman guard Kenny Boynton’s first season: “His shooting has been really up and down all year long, but he really showed me a lot in the Mississippi State game. As high profile of a high school player as he was coming to college, he’s a humble guy. He’s a great, great chemistry guy. Of all our great players, he reminds me attitude-wise of Mike Miller. Mike was a highly decorated guy coming in here. Boynton understands his team, he plays the right way, he wants to win. There’s so much more he can get better at. There are two things you can’t argue about Kenny. He plays really, really hard and really defends and he comes in with a certain amount of respect level for the guys that are older than him. He came in with the attitude of wanting to earn the respect. A lot of high profile guys come in and expect the team to respect them because of their status. He had the reverse attitude and has been an incredible chemistry creator for our team. Kenny and Erving (Walker) have done an unbelievable job as our only two backcourt guys, a freshman and a sophomore. They also stayed healthy this year and that was big for us. Boynton has had an incredible freshman year.”

On how to keep the team motivated and not let them get complacent: “That’s exactly what this whole growth process is about right now. Are we happy? Are we complacent? Do we feel like we’ve reached our goal? Or do we have more to do? I’ll never forget when (Joakim) Noah was a sophomore and we went through a stretch where we hadn’t made it out of the first or second round for five years, or whatever it was, and we played in Jacksonville and made it out of there. I overheard a comment by Noah, ‘It’s not about us getting out of the first or second round, it’s about us doing something special right now.’ That was a mentality that he had that was instilled in him at a young age. It wasn’t about getting out of the first and second round and being smooth sailing from then on. There has been so much talk about our team not being in the tournament the last couple years and now we’re there, how will we handle that? We have the greatest opportunity of growth in front of us. Do we take this opportunity, go out there and try to play the best game of our lives on Thursday, let the chips fall where they may and focus on what’s in our control? That’s what I’m talking about in taking responsibility and being self-reflective on what we can control in this game on Thursday. It’s going to be a key growth period for us on how we respond.”

Junior forward Chandler Parsons

On how he felt when the Gators’ name was announced: “I was telling my mom – winning state, hitting game winners, seeing our name on there was the best feeling I’ve felt in a while. Now that it’s over with, you’ve made your phone calls, you’ve talked to everybody, now you understand we’re in this opportunity – we can win this game. We play for the University of Florida. We don’t just want to get there. We have higher standards than just getting there.”

On what has stood out the team this season: “Our work ethic on the defensive end – this year we have five guys, every possession, bought in. We’re just a much better and tougher team.”

Sophomore point guard Erving Walker

On his reaction when learning about the bid: “We were all jumping up and down. It felt like Chandler’s 75-footer again.”

Donovan Press Conference Credit: GatorZone
Photo Credit: Bruce Floyd

10 Comments

  1. Drew 4 Orange & Blue says:

    While I appreciate Billy’s honesty the comment “There’s nothing more in college basketball that I can experience as it relates to winning.” is a bit concerning and kind of explains why he started to leave for the NBA….and also that he didn’t feel any pressure to get back to the Tourney….I am not sure you would ever here that from other top coaches in college.

  2. I think you are looking wayyy too much into it – perhaps even looking for something to criticize. His point was that it’s not about him – it’s about the players. He’s been there, he’s seen it all, they haven’t and it is his job to help them experience all the things he already has. Don’t disregard everything else he said in that entire statement – many things I brought up just yesterday in the other comment sections in responding to criticisms about Coach Donovan. It is astounding to me how people are trying to take digs at Donovan at any given opportunity.

  3. Drew 4 Orange & Blue says:

    I am actually a huge Billy supporter and have defended him on here numerous times and do agree that us missing the tourney the past two years while disapointing has been understandable…..the first comment might just be a context issue…but to say he feels no pressure to make the tourney…isn’t that why he is paid millions?

  4. Read the surrounding words:

    [On weight being taken off his shoulders after getting back into the NCAA Tournament: “No, not one bit.”]

    In other words, making the tournament doesn’t take any pressure off of him.

    “There’s nothing more in college basketball that I can experience as it relates to winning. But it is so rewarding to take a group of guys, that have no clue what goes in to any of this stuff, and see them grow and get to the NCAA Tournament.”

    In other words, it is not about him winning, – he’s done it. His passion for the game is about his players and helping them experience what he already has.

    “The pressure I felt was not for me, it was to help those guys understand and see what goes into this, to take advantage of their talent, to be unselfish. I felt the pressure on myself to help them. I didn’t feel pressure to get back into the Tournament. I’m happy that I can be a part of helping those guys.”

    He doesn’t feel pressure about the tournament because he has job security. Yet he still feels pressure because he wants to help his players win and realize that same success. He doesn’t need to be worried about himself and losing his job, his concentration is set on the team and helping them be the best they can be. I can’t think of anything more unselfish and perfect he could say in that scenario.

  5. Drew 4 Orange & Blue says:

    That’s a fair defense of the statements……I think this program should be back to making the tourney every year and then the argument will turn to are we going far enough in the dance each year.

  6. That will likely be the case.

  7. gatorsfan12 says:

    I could not find how to join the group. Can anyone help me?

  8. willgetin says:

    Is it just me, or does the assistant in the background look like Lame Kitten getting ready to needle Billy D. ? 🙂

  9. When the picture was taken, that was the team’s Sports Information Director – Fred Demherst (sp).

  10. willgetin says:

    Wow. Demarest really does look like Kitten. Not so much as his straight on pic in his UF Bio

    http://www.gatorzone.com/directory/#demarest

    But if you compare the above pic to this one…

    http://hardknoxsports.com/uncategorized/required-reading-17

    I personally hope that Billy D stays on with UF for years to come. His comments about it being rewarding seeing his players grow into an NCAA Tourney team is what its all about. The best restaurant staffs I’ve ever managed were ones where the people working with me grew as well…

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