Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan held a press conference last week as part of his team’s media day and discussed a number of pressing topics facing his team as it began fall practice. Below are some links to stories published here on OnlyGators.com last week as well as a wrap-up of everything else Donovan had to say.
The 2014-15 Gators basketball team will be a vastly different group…because that’s what happens when you lose four true-senior starters that amassed the vast majority of your points and logged tons of minutes. Florida was so successful last season not just because of those players’ experience but also due to the fact that they had faced so much adversity that they were motivated to overcome any they encountered during their final year in orange and blue.
This year’s team, well, it’s filled with freshman and sophomores that are used to seeing the Gators as one of the best teams in the nation, coming off a season in which the program only lost three games.
“They haven’t faced any adversity,” said Donovan. “That’s going to be, I think, a challenge that these guys have not been tested in. They can go out there, work really, really hard and may not get the results [they want]. …
“There are a couple of concerns for me. There was no level of consistency at all from our returning players outside of Michael Frazier. There were moments that he played exceptionally well, there were moments that they really did a great job, but there was a discipline issue on the court in terms of being reliable guys game in and game out. That is going to be a challenge.”
It’s not that Donovan thinks this group of players is entitled. Rather, “it’s a lack of not living in the real world” for these players, which likely expect Florida to continue or even improve on its impressive showing from last season.
“I’ve been doing this, coaching for 25-26 years, I’ve never been a part of a team that’s won 30-straight games. I mean, we went 125-straight days without losing,” Donovan said. “When you talk about guys that are young being involved in that, that’s all they really know. So there’s an expectation part for them that I think that they’re hopeful they can get back to that point. But they haven’t really had to face a lot of adversity. Maybe personally at different points in time during a season they did, but we never really faced a lot of team adversity. …
“How you respond to those things is going to be really, really important. … I don’t know how these guys are going to respond. … They have expectations, they want to do well, but there has to be a healthy compliment of having a level of humility and understanding what competition is and also being confident in competition. When those two things don’t match up, if you’re overconfident, if you don’t have enough confidence, there’s a healthy balance there. I think last year there was no balance for those guys. I’m glad there wasn’t; that means we had a good year. But how are they going to handle that going forward is going to be critical going forward. We’re going to need a healthy dose of that.”
To that end, Donovan wants to test these Gators in practice because he knows Florida will be gunned for throughout the regular season.
“I feel like my challenge to coach this year is there are things that are going to have to take place that are going to be really, really painful that are going to enable our team to grow. But then there’s also things that you know are detrimental as a coach that you have to head off because we’re just going down the wrong road,” he said.
“There’s got to be a balance between them going through some struggles and through some adversity because it’s just part of the normal growing and maturing process, and sometimes I may not be able to help and they’re just going to have to figure some of this out. And there’s other times I think I can help but that’s going to be a challenge for myself and my staff.”
That’s not to say everything about the 2014-15 roster is “less than” compared to a season ago. In fact, Donovan believes these Gators may excel in some areas where his 2013-14 Florida team struggled.
“I would say the one thing that’s better with this year’s team than a year ago is I think that we maybe have a little bit more shooting than we had the previous year and I think we may actually be a bit better passing the basketball than we were a year ago,” he said.
“But we don’t have that defensive nastiness we had a year ago and we’re going to have to work harder to develop it and what kind of identity we can create on the defensive end of the floor remains to be seen. That’s certainly something we’re going to have to really, really work hard at. …They were really hard at times to rely on defensively and they need to make a big jump there from where they were a year ago.”
PLAYER NOTES AND EVALUATIONS
» Redshirt junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith: “I’m really, really pleased with the growth that he’s made and the jump that he made. I felt like last year he was really, really inconsistent. He had some unbelievable games like at Arkansas where he really stepped up and actually single-handedly helped us win the game. He played exceptionally well at home against Florida State, played really good against Kansas, but then there were some games where he kind of just disappeared. I think he is starting to step up and emerge as a guy that’s going to be a little bit more reliable than he was a year ago. I think one of the things he struggled with was he had a hard time finishing and making plays around the basket. That’s an arena of his game where he’s gotten better and he’s got a little more confidence playing around the basket.”
» Redshirt junior guard Eli Carter, who is returning to the court after missing most of the 2013-14 season while continuing his recovery from a broken leg the year prior: “Eli Carter is, I think, moving in a much, much more positive direction than he did a year ago. He should be much, much better in terms of his availability this year. He is recovering from a little bit of an ankle injury. He’s got a bone bruise right now that shouldn’t slow him too much. He could be limited the first two days of practice.”
» Redshirt junior forward Alex Murphy, who is not eligible to play for the fall due to NCAA transfer rules (he left in the middle of the year last season): “Alex Murphy, due to him transferring, may miss the first 8-10 games, but once the first semester is over, he will be back.”
» Redshirt sophomore G Dillon Grahm, who had surgery to remove bone spurs in both hips last season: “We’ve got Dillon Graham, who has finally been cleared for contact. He did some stuff last week contact-wise. But again, he’s been out for a long period of item, so where he’s at right now as a player, I’m not really sure. I did see him do some individual things against other players but nothing team-wise yet. I think any time you miss a whole year, that’s something that has probably hurt his growth and development. Where he will be once we start practice, I’ll probably have a better feel after the first couple weeks of practices to see how he responds to having hip surgery in both of his hips.”
» Junior G/F DeVon Walker (torn ACL), who will miss the entire season: “I think it’s a big loss for us just because he’s a veteran guy, he’s a junior. But I do think this: when the injury took place, we’re hopeful to have him back in January or February. Now, he won’t play, but he’ll be able to get back on the court and contribute in practice. I still think that he can salvage this year as it relates to his development. It’s not going to be a situation where he’s going to be no activity. Right now he’s rehabilitating his knee, but there will become a point in time during the season where we’ll be able to get him back on the practice court and we’ll be able to work with him. I still think that he can make some strides and he can grow from this injury based on when it took place and when we can hope to have him back in practice.”
» Freshmen F Devin Robinson and point guard Chris Chiozza: “He and Chris Chiozza both have done a good job here so far. I don’t think you ever really get a full taste of what a freshman’s going to be his freshman year. I usually get a pretty good idea after the first couple of weeks of practice when they start to respond to adversity and fatigue and those kinds of things. I think Devin has got really good potential. I think he’s going to be a really, really good player. He gives us perimeter shooting. Even though he’s 6-foot-9, he doesn’t give us great physicality. He’s wirey. He’s athletic, he’s very gifted offensively. I think Chris Chiozza, very similar to the way Kasey Hill was, needs to be more of a physical defender, but he’s got a good feel of how to play. He’s good with the ball and he can see and he can really pass.”
» Sophomore center John Egbunu, a USF transfer who has petitioned to be eligible immediately: “We are in the process of doing that; there’s some things that are going on there. I’m probably not allowed to get into great detail about any of those things, but John is going to be a very, very good player. That’s a guy, I think, whether or not he plays this year or not, next year he’s going to be… He’s 6-foot-10, 250, 260 [pounds]. He’s what you talk about as a big, strong physical presence at the basket. He’s a great kid. I think he’ll help us in practice if he’s not able to play. But we are appealing [the ruling]. Where that leads, I don’t know yet. I would say that right now, if I had to guess, it’s probably leaning more towards him sitting out this year. But we’re going to exhaust all our avenues and see where it leads us. But I think he’s going to be a very, very good player.”
» Freshman walk-on G Zach Hodskins: “I think the biggest thing for Zach is just I think he wants to be like everybody else on our team. With him being on our team, I think he just wants to contribute and help any way he can. I think it was a dream for him to come here to Florida. He’s a great kid, certainly inspirational to a lot of different people. He’s got a great platform, in my opinion, to really inspire a lot of different people. The one thing I admire about him is he loves the game of basketball. He loves competing, loves being out there. It’s good to have him as a part of our team. At the same point, I think he just wants to be treated like anybody else.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» On comparisons between Murphy, redshirt senior C Jon Horford and their siblings: “The ironic part is they’re not even similar to each other at all other than they have the same last name. They’re totally different. Alex is a totally different player than Erik; he’s more of a small forward. He’s better with the ball. He almost can play like a guard whereas Erik was obviously a stretch-four man, we played him at the center spot some. Al Horford was a real physical, athletic guy at the basket; Jon’s not really like that. That’s not his game. Jon is a really good perimeter shooter and can do a lot of things. But I think both of those guys’ games are different than [their brothers’].”
» On whether he’s worried about Florida’s ability to score: “I think we’re going to score like we always have here. … I think the biggest thing for us is going to be through ball movement, player movement, extra passing and those kinds of things. I’ve always been a big believer in trying to come down the floor and get quality shots, quality possessions. Whoever shoots it, is it a shot that’s good for them that they can make? … We got to utilize each other and put ourselves in position to score. I do think one of the things that helps you offensively is when you have a team that can really pass the basketball. I think we’ll be an improved team passing the basketball. We’re not going to have the offensive presence at the basket like we had the last couple of years with Patric [Young], so we’re going to have to do some different things, but we’re going to have to be a team that relies on each other to score.”
» On the success last season: “What those guys did last year was pretty remarkable and pretty special. But I think you’d have to make the point that group had to go through a lot of pain and suffering, so to speak. … They went through some very painful situations. … I do think that when you get into those situations, a lot of times the experiences that you go through – some of that pain and suffering – really enables you to persevere, be more resilient. I think you develop qualities as a team through those failures that allow you to kind of progress and move on.”
» On his generally negative opinions about his teams to start seasons: “I know sometimes people thing I come in here as like doom and gloom when the year starts, but we were really a dysfunctional team last year. We had some suspensions. We had some injuries. I didn’t think we were real connected, cohesive group. To see those guys come together as a team like they did, to see them in the non-conference deal with some of the adversity we had to deal with … we became a team. I would say that we started a year ago and were not a team. That was the most rewarding thing for me was how those guys evolved and became a team. I think we were the true essence of a team. To me, we weren’t the most talented team in the country last year. We went through a year where none of those guys even got drafted. But you talk about them investing in one another and them sacrificing for one another and them caring for one another and them wanting to play the game for the right reasons for one another, that was really rewarding to me. Because I could not sit here a year ago and say that I was really 100 percent sure that could happen.”