Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan and a number of players represented the team at the 2010-11 Florida Media Day on Wednesday in Gainesville, FL. Read on for news and notes about the upcoming season, first from Donovan.
DEPTH MEANS LESS IS MORE
It was obvious listening to Donovan speak Wednesday that he is excited about his team going into the season. With just a handful of weeks to go before Florida plays its first meaningful game, it is the Gators’ depth that he thinks will be integral to the team’s success. And because the team is so deep, Donovan hopes it will also be molded into an unselfish group, similar to the teams that produced back-to-back National Championships for him in 2006 and 2007.
“Right now today we have depth. And when I say we have depth, we have bodies, we have numbers,” Donovan said. “Can [sophomore forward] Erik Murphy really carve out a role for himself? Can [senior F] Alex [Tyus]? Can our veteran guys? For us to be a better team, some of our veteran guys are gonna have to take less. And that’s what really made that 2006-2007 team special. Because you know what? [Joakim] Noah could’ve scored more points. [Al] Horford could’ve scored more points. [Corey] Brewer could’ve scored. They all could’ve scored more, but they understood that less was better for the team.
“We’re going to have to have some older guys understand that less is better for the team. It’s OK for them to have less provided that we can somehow find a way to utilize that depth. Who is going to emerge out of that younger group? Looking at it on paper, we have depth. But you don’t have depth if you don’t have guys that can get into a role.
“We had depth a couple years ago in our front court but none of those guys could emerge to take control of the role that was out there for them, and then we didn’t have depth. I’m hopeful these guys, just with their mentality and their attitude so far, will take that on and give us the depth that we think we have.”
TWO SENIORS STEPPING UP AS LEADERS
Florida brings back three seniors this year with Tyus, F Chandler Parsons and redshirt F/C Vernon Macklin all coming together to form as a solid frontcourt. However, Donovan expressed that it was Parsons and Macklin in particular who have really stepped up as leaders for this young team through the offseason.
“Verbally right now [Parsons] and Vern are doing a great job, but I think the verbal part only goes so far. When they get on the court their actions have got to back it up,” Donovan said. “Chandler and Vern in particular, those two guys, want kind of that responsibility. It’s good for both of those guys. Vernon probably in the beginning first half of the season was kinda feeling his way through and then he started to show signs of the reputation he had in high school. And then Chandler, coming off of his sophomore year, really felt like he had something to prove and kind of got through that a little bit.
“Both of those guys, to me, they’re in a little bit of a danger zone in the fact that they now gotta take that next step and not get complacent and get comfortable. They’re trying to do all the right things and I would say the best thing they’ve done is with some new faces in our program, they’ve really tried to incorporate the group and make it a team and they’re reaching out and doing some of that stuff. And up to this point in the time with Chandler and Vern I’ve been very, very happy with what they’re trying to do leadership-wise.”
Read the rest of this 3,000-word recap of Donovan’s presser…after the break!
DEPTH ALSO ADDS MOTIVATION
One of the reasons junior point guard Erving Walker and sophomore shooting guard Kenny Boynton struggled at times last year was the lack of depth behind them to provide relief from tiredness on the court. Donovan believes some of the Gators’ newest recruits will help in that area.
“Their shooting percentages really were drastically low for both guys, but both guys I thought were really key parts to our team last year,” Donovan said. “There was a lot on their plate. They both had to defend; they both had to play 35 minutes. Knock on wood we never had a dinged ankle, a bad sickness, a couple missed games, a dislocated finger. We were very, very fortunate last year with those two guys because if one of those two guys is down it really made us a little bit thin back there.
“I do think that maybe having a little bit more of a post presence, being able to throw the ball inside, maybe having some more scoring options, that can relieve some of that pressure on those guys. And I think they’ll both be better shooting the ball than they were a year ago, one because they’re a year older.”
He also thinks having some talented bodies in practice will provide that extra motivation that fuels players to get better between games.
“One of the things that we lacked a little bit last year is I really felt like Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton certainly logged a lot of minutes, but I never really thought they had the type of competitiveness in practice that they needed to really continue to get better,” he said. “With [redshirt junior transfer G Mike] Rosario and [freshman PG] Scottie Wilbekin being here that’s gonna happen.”
Donovan also believes Macklin was challenged significantly more in games than in practice due to the fact that there was no one near his size on the roster. That also will change with the addition of freshman power forward Patric Young.
“Vernon Macklin at times in practice last year could get away with things just physically because there was really nobody else to match up with him,” Donovan said. “Patric Young provides that kind of ability where he can make Vernon better. The biggest thing is we’ve got guys at spots that can make each other better. And I think in a competitive environment, when you have that situation where someone competitively is competing against someone else, your team has got a chance to grow and get better and develop from that.”
YOUNG THE NEXT NOAH?
When it comes to Young coaches have always raved about his physicality, intensity and passion. Donovan took it to another level by comparing him to Noah from the standpoint that he is an endless worker on the court who needs to improve his offense but should make an impact right away.
“Patric’s offense has gotten better, but clearly he has an incredible motor, he has unbelievable passion and he plays with great energy and effort. We will try to make sure we keep it simple for him on those things because when he does those things and is focused on those things it clearly makes practice and our team better. He’s gotta bring that every day and he’s been pretty consistent with that just in terms of how hard he competes and plays. And certainly physically he’s ready to come into college and play.
“We’re not going in at all with him and saying we’re going to go slow with him. We need all the freshmen to formulate a role. I can see us this year, if Patric continues to progress, I have no problem playing he and Vernon together some. That would be about as physical as we’ve been since we had Richard and Noah and Horford up front.
“One of the things with Joakim Noah that made him great was he had as good of a threshold for fatigue and dealing with fatigue as any player I’ve ever coached. Patric in some ways he prides himself on that. He pushes himself through things. He battles through things. He really competes in that area. And we’re going to need him to do that.”
PRATHER THE NEXT BREWER?
His physical attributes have many drawing comparisons between him and Brewer but as a freshman G/F Casey Prather has a lot of work to do to get anywhere near his level. Donovan believes, for Prather to reach his potential, he needs to focus on embracing a small role with the team this year rather than shooting or scoring (exactly what Brewer did as a freshman).
“Corey had a really, really high basketball IQ as a freshman. He really had an understanding of how he had to impact the game his freshman year. And I think as Corey went on in his career he really understood how to score within the framework of our team. Horford and Brewer their freshman year were just defenders and rebounders. I remember those guys going to sophomores everybody kept talking about losing Walsh and Roberson and Lee. ‘You got no scoring. Corey Brewer’s the next leading scorer at six points per game. Who’s going to score?’ That stuff always comes in time.
“Casey right now as his role gets defined for him, he needs to take ownership and responsibility in that role. […] When I compare him athletically to Corey, he has that kind of range that kind of quickness and that kind of speed to affect the game defensively. If he can somehow put that together and harness it and figure out how to do that inside of what we’re doing to make us better, then that’s going to be good.”
» Donovan blamed the lack of subs and depth on the reasons for starting Tyus and Dan Werner out of position so much over the last few years, saying it was necessary but unfortunate.
» He said Murphy will have a significantly expanded role this year, especially on offense as he can shoot the three. “Erik Murphy – he has really grown and gotten better physically,” Donovan said. “The one thing he’s going to give us, and he didn’t do it at all last year, he’s going to be somebody who’s going to be able to stretch the defense and shoot threes.”
» The Gators failed to press on defense much last season, something that will now change because the team has depth and its starters will not get as tired during games. “Last year we had the opportunity to press some, but as the season started to unfold and we just could not really get Nimrod [Tishman] or even Ray Shipman or just enough depth back there to rest those guys,” Donovan said. “It was just so much on Walker and Boynton not only offensively but up in the front of the press, fatigue wise, then to expect them to perform at the end of games was hard.”
» Also important for Florida this year will be added depth behind Walker at point guard, other players who can run the offense when he gets too tired. Donovan noted that Wilbekin, Parsons and Boynton should all contribute in that role. “We feel like, outside of Erving, we’ve got some other options we can use if Erving is maybe getting taken out of a game or maybe trying to free him up to shoot the ball a little bit more,” he said.
Opening statement: “For everybody the start of the season is always exiting. The last month has been a difficult month I think for all coaches just because we’re such a big recruiting period and so much on the road and you never really feel like you’re back here on campus as much as you’d like to be. But I did have a chance to work with our guys quite a bit over the last six weeks since school started.
“The one thing that definitely stands out right away is that we’re much more of a physical team. We’re a tougher team than we maybe have been the last couple of years. A lot has to do with Vernon, Alex and Chandler being seniors, which helps. I also think Patric Young, [freshman F] Cody Larson and [freshman F] Will Yeguete just instinctively are physical players.
“I feel like we added some depth in our backcourt with Scottie Wilbekin. Obviously having Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker back helps. And then I think we added a really terrific, explosive athlete in Casey Prather.”
On the team’s depth: “This is the first time for me, in the last few years, that we’ve really had some significant depth going into the start of practice. With Mike Rosario sitting out gives us another player and even having [junior G] Kyle McClanahan as a walk-on. So we feel like from having the bodies to get better, compete, play the way we like to play, we’re in a better position to do that.”
On the team’s competitiveness: “We have a lot that we’ve got to get better at, a lot we have to work on. I do think that these guys are eager and excited to get started as well. The one thing I can say that’s happened over the last six weeks since we’ve been allowed to work out is that it’s been highly competitive. In a highly competitive environment your team’s got the best opportunity and the best chance to grow and get better.”
On preparing for a tough schedule: “What kind of impact these freshmen are going to make? I really don’t know. I always feel like I have a better feel on freshman after about the first three weeks, month of practice as fatigue starts to set in, as you start to add things. Unlike maybe any other year since I’ve been here we’ve got 13 practices before we have our first exhibition game, so we have a lot that we have to do. In less than a month we play our first opening game and then we follow that up with Ohio State. So there’s a lot that we’re going to have to get prepared and ready for in a short period of time, and I know these guys are as excited as we are to get started.”
On the pressure of Florida being named a top 10 team: “People always say that perception is reality, and certainly when it comes to the case of competing, perception is never reality. When you have a team that went to the NCAA Tournament and returns all five starters, the expectation level and the perception is that you’re going to be really, really good. This is a team that needed a 75-foot shot from Chandler Parsons from N.C. State, needed a game-winning shot by Chandler against South Carolina, needed a game-winning shot by Erving Walker at Alabama to get into the tournament. The reality is this group really hasn’t done a whole lot. This group really hasn’t accomplished a whole lot.
“I was certainly very proud of the strides and the progress they made a year ago, but the reality is we’re a team that got knocked out in the second round of the SEC Tournament, first round of the NCAA Tournament. There is a lot of excitement about this group because of what’s returning, what’s coming back in. The reality is this group still has a lot to prove, a lot to accomplish and a lot to get done. If they’re going to rest their laurels on what preseason rankings say or those things I think we’d be making a mistake.”
On leadership in practice: “We’ve got to be a better defensive team and we have the potential to rebound. The fact of how we prepare each and every day in practice really falls on those two guys’ shoulders. They can have a bad performance in practice where they don’t shoot the ball well, they turn it over, but they can not have a bad effort day in practice.”
On the agent controversy in basketball vs. football: “I’d say it’s probably as bad. It’s amazing because in a lot of ways you see some of this stuff come up and pop up right now and a lot of people act like they can’t believe it happens. This has been going on for a long, long time. A long time. Until the players association who’s in charge of the agents and the NCAA or David Stern if they can all somehow come together and figure out and resolve it…”
On how he would fix the system: “One of the things that I really am totally against, and I think every coach in the country is total against is… When you have players at this level, their aspirations and dreams are to be pros. So when you can’t work out your guys and you can’t spend any time with your guys in the summer it puts them in a situation where they want to go to places to work out. .. They go to those places and there’s agents there. And we’re putting our players and our kids in situations that are really, really unhealthy for them and the game of basketball.”
On how assistant coach Richard Pitino has contributed: “Richard has done a great job. The one thing that I respect about him that he has done is he wasn’t a guy that all of a sudden because of his dad started off at high major college basketball. […] He really paid his dues before he went to Louisville. I would say Richard relationship-wise does a great job with our guys. He works extremely hard in recruiting. And for a young guy he’s very, very knowledgeable basketball-wise: scouting reports, breaking down film, teaching, coaching in practice. Probably a lot like I was at that age when I first was starting out. Just eager to work and get better and help in any way he can. He’s been a great asset.”
On tough out of conference games early in the season: “When you play those kind of games in November, more than anything else, you find out where you’re going to be. It’s good for growing in terms of your team getting better. […] They give your team a direction and an idea of where they got to get better at. We’re certainly going to get exposed a lot early on our schedule in November.”