Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan met with the media on Tuesday for the first time since fall practice began on Friday, Oct. 11 and discussed a number of pressing topics already facing the team.
The injury bug appears to have crept over from the football locker room to the basketball court as Donovan announced Tuesday that two additional Gators are missing from practice aside from senior forward Will Yeguete (knee) and sophomore guard Eli Carter (leg), neither of whom have been medically cleared to play.
Redshirt junior center Damontre Harris has not practiced yet due to “hamstring issues” that arose during preseason workouts. Trainers want him to be cautious and have therefore been holding him out of practice.
Sophomore G Michael Frazier II is suffering through “some kid of virus” that team doctors have not pinpointed as of yet. “We don’t know what it is,” Donovan said. “He’s had some blood work done, hopefully find something out [Wednesday].”
Donovan said Florida is “trying to make the best of the limited numbers in the time that we have to try and get better,” so the Gators’ walk-ons, one of whom is injured himself, are getting plenty of run.
His son, redshirt junior G Billy Donovan, a transfer from Catholic University, tore the labrum in his shoulder in August and has been playing with a brace rather than undergoing surgery and missing the majority of the season. “His arm got jerked up. He’s been battling and dealing with that, but he’s still coming to practice he’s still able to play. But I know he’s in some pain there,” the elder Donovan said.
Donovan also said he’s been pleased with the work of F Jacob Kurtz, who saw action in 20 games last season. “Jake’s done a really good job,” he noted. “I trust Jake. Jake’s been in the program now a couple years. He’s a great guy to have around, our players really like him and respect him. Those guys have had to help and they’ve been very, very involved in practice.”
Though Florida has only been practicing for a few days and is without a number of important pieces, Donovan expressed his disappointment with the defense that the Gators have exhibited thus far. Considering UF boasted one of the top defenses in the country all season long, a small drop-off was to be expected, but Donovan thinks it has been more significant.
“We are drastically worse defensively than we were a year ago,” he said.
“I thought defensively last year it was one of the better defensive teams that I’ve been around since being here at Florida. Just us keeping field goal percentage, defense and some of those kind of things. Where our numbers are at in relationship to where they were last year, in some of the things that we’re charting, is way, way off right now.”
Donovan on Tuesday reiterated how the Gators wound up bringing Carter into the fold, noting how assistant coach Rashon Burno’s knowledge of Carter’s family, coupled with Donovan’s own relationship with St. Anthony’s High School head coach Bob Hurley, made adding Carter a no-brainer in the long run.
“Rashon Burno probably had a lot to do with that because he played at St. Anthony’s, played for Bob Hurley, kind of knows the family, has known the family or a long period of time, knew of Eli, knew what kind of kid he was. And then obviously we got a chance to see him pretty up close and personal his freshman year with the way he performed in that game [at Rutgers],” Donovan said.
“I really trust Bob Hurley in terms of recruiting his program and his players. I think he’s always been a very, very honest and fair evaluator. He really felt and thinks the world of Eli and that meant a lot to me. I know Rashon thought a lot about Eli and his family, so that’s kind of how it got started.”
Donovan also revealed that Carter did not mention the situation regarding Rutgers head coach Mike Rice during the transfer process, neither saying it was the reason for him leaving the program nor how it affected him while he was a member of the team.
“The thing I admire the most is he had only positive things to say about Rutgers and he only had positive things to say about Coach Rice. And I really admired him for that,” Donovan explained. “I think he and Coach Rice had a very, very special relationship because I think when Mike was at Robert Morris, that was one of the first coaches that recruited Eli and I think Eli had really, really good feelings about him.
“I never really asked Eli about him being involved. I didn’t think it was my place to do that. I think he looked at it as a difficult situation that was unfortunate that he appreciated his time and just tried to move forward and look forward to his future there. He never said one bad word about anybody to me at any point in time.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» On whether there are injury updates for Yeguete and Carter: “I would say Will is further along right now. We’re hopefully maybe in a couple weeks we can get him back into practice on a limited basis. Eli is doing some stuff, non-contact, anything we’re doing without contact he’s trying to participate in. But he’s still up in the air where he’s at and how much longer it’s going to take him to get back.”
» On his relationship with former Florida football coach Steve Spurrier: “Really good. Really, really good. Really liked him. When I first got here, just going on the road recruiting…it was March and then dealing with April recruiting and those guys had May recruiting. We eventually got together there a little bit. The first time I was really amazed by him was when Mike Miller took his visit. It must’ve been about an hour-and-a-half before the Tennessee game here at home [in 1997], and I wanted Mike to go by and meet him. I thought he’d say, ‘Come by first thing in the morning’ or ‘Come by at 10.’ I don’t know what time the game was. We were sitting up in his office like an hour-and-a-half before the game. I was always amazed by that. He’s always been great with me, with our program. He’s always been helpful. I see him over at Crescent Beach every summer. I’ll spend time with him. He’s always been great with me.”
» On whether Spurrier ever gave him any coaching advice: “Make more three-point shots, maybe. Not really. He was always really, really supportive and helpful in recruiting when I was first getting started. We never really, really necessarily talked a lot about…we would talk coaching or the games or different things like that. But I always loved being around him.”
» On having his career compared to Spurrier’s as far as accomplishments at UF: “The one thing I was shocked when I first came here is you kind of had this perception that Florida football was always great. And then when you start to look and see what happened and what was going on before he arrived and what he did, I think, was truly remarkable in terms of how he totally turned around the program in a number of ways.”
» On where the line exists on how hard to coach players (regarding the Rice situation): “I really believe every kid playing college basketball, or any sport for that matter, wants to do well, wants to perform, wants to get the opportunity to play, wants to do well. But there are human nature things that come into play, such as, ‘I’m a little bit sore today,’ ‘I’m a little bit tired today,’ and I think as a coach you have to try to motivate, you have to try to get those guys to push through it. I think when guys aren’t doing the best they can do, I think you want to be able to point that out to them, that they are better than that.
“I think there’s ways through film in today’s day and age that you can show a guy really playing at a high level intensity-wise and then show a practice where he’s not playing at a high level and try to ask why those things happen. I think I’m intense in practice, I think I’m into it, I’m passionate. I try to coach those guys. I try to have a good relationship with those guys. But I think like anything else, you are in a relationship with a team, if they genuinely feel like you genuinely care about them. I think they are more open to being pushed and challenged to work harder and to grow and to get better. And I think all of us, as people, as players, as athletes, when you are trying to grow and trying to improve and trying to get better, you are going to be uncomfortable trying to get better.
“It’s not an easy process to get better, But I think as a coach what you want to be able to do is facilitate a level of confidence of growth and excitement and energy and enthusiasm where guys are eager to practice, eager to get better and want to get better and if they don’t perform well they at least have some self-accountability and reflectiveness to say, ‘You know what, I didn’t do as well as I could today, I need to get better, I need to do a better job tomorrow.’ That’s just me. Everybody goes about it in different ways.”