With the Florida Gators making plenty of news this offseason, head coach Billy Donovan met with the media on Thursday to discuss his program’s incoming transfers and exiting players. He also touched on whether professional teams have contacted him about his services and explained how he responded to those inquiries.
THREE STRIKES AND YOU’RE OUT
Donovan does the best he can to get players to buy in but some simply cannot get out of their own way. Such is the case with center Damontre Harris, who Donovan has dismissed from the team for the second time in six months – this time for good.
Harris was granted the opportunity to return to the Gators after Donovan dismissed him in December 2013 but failed to live up to his promises – dedication to the program, attendance at all team events, communication with the coaching staff and teammates. Having already suspended Harris for a violation of team rules at the start of the 2013-14 season and dismissed him at the end of the fall semester, Donovan finally decided to give up on his reclamation projection after Harris proved no better this time around.
“Damontre is not a bad kid. He’s a good kid but really undisciplined and unreliable in a lot of ways, and [he was] really selling me on the fact that he’s going to be [improved in] that way,” Donovan explained on Thursday. “And then what we basically did was not allow him to play, even though he was eligible to play, and I told him he had to earn his way back on the team, very similar to the way Scottie [Wilbekin] had to do it. …
“He had every opportunity to do that. He had a whole semester to do that and just could not do the things he needed to do, we expected him to do. … This guy was in practice; he was used on the scout team. The things we were talking about is like going to class, being on time, being in the weight room, lifting, showing up to practice, those kind of things.
“Basically, we evaluated him over that two-and-a-half, three month [span] over that second semester and clearly nothing had changed at all. And I was just not going to have him come back in this kind of situation.”
Donovan was sure to point out that his ask of Wilbekin was “way, way more difficult” than Harris considering the point guard was completely removed from the program, yet Wilbekin was able to make the necessary changes and wound up becoming the 2014 SEC Player of the Year as a result.
“He was the one who wanted the opportunity, we gave him the opportunity but there really was no change to the level that we needed to see change,” said Donovan of Harris. “[He was] never, ever really disrespectful in terms of his attitude or behavior. He’s not a bad kid. He’s just not responsible enough to do the things that we need to do every single day, and I think I would be doing him a disservice – as a coach – to push him through the system and just try to keep him eligible and get him to the floor and just have him go out there and play because I don’t believe you can win like that.”
Donovan also noted that he is unsure of what Harris has planned for the future – whether he will attempt to continue his collegiate basketball career – because the player failed to show up to a scheduled meeting to discuss such topics.
WELCOMING TWO FRONTCOURT TRANSFERS
In addition to its three-member 2014 recruiting class, Florida will add a pair of experienced transfers to its roster next season in redshirt senior forward/center Jon Horford (Michigan) and sophomore C John Egbunu (South Florida).
Horford has not only spent four years playing college basketball, he’s familiar with Donovan, the coaching staff and the Gators program as a whole considering how much time he spent the around the team when his older brother (Al Horford) was winning league and national titles. Donovan also recruited the younger Horford, who will only have one year of eligibility remaining, for a while before he decided to stay close to home and play for the Wolverines.
“I think he’s got an understanding of what goes into winning. I think he’s got a really, really good work ethic. I think he has natural leadership qualities and leadership abilities,” Donovan explained. “He’s here on campus now. He’s already in school. He’s getting acclimated with the players and what we’re doing here. But I think he gives us maybe a little bit more experience in our frontcourt with the loss of Will [Yeguete] and Pat[ric Young] and Casey [Prather], another older guy.”
Egbunu, who Donovan believes has “unbelievable upside and potential,” brings youth (three years of eligibility remaining) and athleticism to the table.
“He’s really long; he’s athletic,” he said. “I think he’s got incredible upside, just his size, his athletic ability. His potential, I think, is huge. I think he wants to be really good player. I think he knows he needs development in skill. He’s probably not a polished offensive player with his back to the basket, although I think this year could be important in helping him do that.”
Egbunu must sit out the 2014-15 season due to NCAA transfer rules, which Donovan sees as an opportunity he can capitalize on in terms of his overall development. Nevertheless, Florida will attempt to get a waiver for Egbunu to play immediately if he wishes to make the attempt, though the program will not expect an approval as the reason for his transfer is unlikely to be considered an extenuating circumstance.
PLENTY OF NBA INTEREST
Every offseason, Donovan hears from NBA teams interested in having him make the switch from the college ranks. He admitted on Thursday that he had similar conversations over the last month, all but guaranteeing nothing would come of them.
“I got a few calls from a couple NBA teams. I’m going to leave it at that,” he said. “After the Orlando [Magic] situation, that’s all I’m saying. That’s it. So, I’m not going to get into, ‘He’s lying; he’s not being truthful.’ I got a couple calls, that’s all it is.”
Donovan “fully plan[s] on being back next season” as Florida’s head coach, indicating that the NBA interest is “flattering” but not enough to make a move from the Gators.
“I’ve always said that I’m very happy here and like it here. Jeremy [Foley] has been great here. I like where our program’s at and the direction we’re going,” he added.
NOTES AND QUOTES
» On redshirt junior F Alex Murphy, who transferred in December 2013 and will not be eligible until December 2014 pending the approval of an NCAA waiver: “I really like his skill level. He’s really different than Eric [Murphy] was. Eric really was an unbelievable stretch four. I think Alex is more of a small forward. He really can put it down, he can create, he can pass. He’s got a much, much higher skill level than Erik does. Erik’s probably a better pure shooter than Alex is but you can do a lot of different things with Alex. Big body, he’s strong, he can handle the ball very well, he sees very well. Offensively he needs to continue to get better. I think that’s gonna be a big part of his development from an offensive standpoint, gaining confidence in his ability to put the ball in the basket.”
» On redshirt junior guard Eli Carter, who was unable to complete the 2013-14 season due to lingering issues from his broken leg one year earlier: “Eli is doing really well – really well. I’d say right now, in just talking to the trainer and just talking to Eli, he’s probably 80-85 percent right now. I think our trainer feels very confident he’ll be 100 percent by the time we start practicing in October. He’s made some really good strides. Him playing last year would’ve prolonged that healing process for him in getting ready to play. … The biggest thing for him is it’s been almost two years that he hasn’t been able to play or work at the level he needs to be able to work at or the level he was able to work at when he was at Rutgers. He needs to get that back.”
» On redshirt sophomore G Dillon Graham, who is still recovering from in-season surgery to heal bone spurs in his hips: “He’s probably not going to be cleared to even do anything contact-wise until August or September. And that’s hopeful that all his rehab is going well. Right now, he’s healing well, he’s healing fine. … But now he’s missed a whole entire year of development and now you’re talking about an entire summer and into the fall without it. So, when he does come back, what is he like as a player and maybe how long does it take him to get back to maybe where he was? I think that’s gonna be a long process for him.”
» On his outlook of the Gators entering next season: “The group we have coming back right now is not a disciplined group, and in order for them to be successful, they’re going to have to get disciplined. Now, I’m not talking about discipline in terms of off-the-court; I’m talking on-the-court. Doing your job more often than not and getting that reliability and accountability and responsibility that you are going to do your job. We had [