Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan met with the media on Monday, less than one week after his team began fall practice. Donovan discussed a number of pressing topics facing the Gators as they prepare for the 2014-15 season.
Donovan put Florida to work as soon as the team convened for practice last week, holding double sessions on Friday and Saturday with Sunday off and a fifth practice on Monday. Overall, he was pleased with the early results, especially on Saturday when there was a lot of installing and teaching going on with the team.
“Their attitude was good. They worked hard. It was really good effort. I thought there was sustained intensity. I thought the two freshmen, there was a lot thrown at them in those first four practices on Friday and Saturday, and they seemed to absorb it. They have a pretty good basketball IQ, picked things up. I think those guys will continue to get better,” he explained.
Asked why the Gators did not open practice with more pomp and circumstance – such as Midnight Madness (with or without a rap star running out with the team only to airball a shot) – Donovan somewhat avoided the question, instead pointing to his preference to get the team as ready as possible for the season with the time he has allotted.
“We’ve got a lot to do, we’ve got a lot to work on, a lot to get ready for,” he began. “Because of the new rule, so to speak, where practice has been able to start 40 days outside your first game and then you get 30 practices inside of that, we’ve elected to start a little bit later. For us really, it’s just been kind of getting back to work and doing the things that we need to do to get prepared and ready to play.”
So, why no special practice, pep rally or what-have-you?
“I think one was the fact that there was no school on our first day [so] we could get two quality sessions in and wanted to maximize that day. Most of the time that we’ve had when practice has started on the Friday, usually the first day of practice always started on a Saturday where people had Midnight Madness. But some of that stuff has kind of gone away right now. So for me, I just thought it was important because we’re probably one of those teams that start a little bit later than most. I thought it was important to capitalize on an off day and try to get two practices in.”
Donovan has certainly fit in those practices, five in a four-day span including Monday. He said he prefers to get the Gators into a flow with a more condensed practice schedule considering Florida generally only has one day off per week once the season begins. “I like when we start like we’re going to go [into games],” he said. “This time of year, you want carry-over.”
After about 18 months on the shelf, redshirt junior guard Eli Carter finally participated in a full practice with the Gators on Monday. Carter, who suffered a severe and gruesome break in his leg two seasons ago, tried to return last year after being granted a NCAA waiver on his transfer but was simply not healthy enough to play.
Though he is now dealing with a separate bone bruise on his ankle, Carter was able to suit up and play with his teammates on Monday. It was a great reward for a player who spent a ton of time improving his health and fitness over the summer.
“I’m 100 percent now, so a lot of the explosiveness has come back. It’s been pretty uplifting,” he said. “Being injured for a whole year, a year and a half, really humbled me. It let me know how not to take basketball for granted. It’s been really good, brought me closer to my teammates and my coaches.”
Carter expressed general excitement about getting back on the court, noting he will do whatever Donovan needs in order to help the team going forward.
“Just be an experienced guy, do whatever the coaches call upon me to do,” Carter said of his projected role with the team. “Just be there for the players and whatever I need to do. I don’t really have a specific role.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Donovan on the team’s overall preparedness as of Monday: “We can play a game right now. We could play a game. I don’t know if there would be anything we do very well. But we’ve got offenses in, we have our press in, we have transition offense in, we’ve got different defensive things in. I think the only thing we probably don’t have is zone – defense, offense against that. But for the most part, if we played against a team that was playing man-to-man the whole game, we could function and we could play. I’ve always been a big believer of kind of getting everything in[stalled] first and then try to break it down and work on the parts of those things. So we’ve gone very quickly.”
» Donovan on Florida’s full-court press and overall defense at this juncture: “Not good right now. That’s a bad… Not good right now. That’s an area that…we’ve got to get a lot better there. We’re not very good right now. … That’s an area where I feel like we’re behind, and I also feel like we’re way, way behind defensively of where we need to be. I think probably last year I said the same thing about us defensively. … The defense is going to be a never-ending process in us continuing to get better.”
» Donovan on the Gators not doing anything well…except doing one thing well: “But right now, we’re just not very good because we don’t do anything very well right now. And that’s OK. The thing I think we do do very well is the thing I’ve been most encouraged about is we’ve been really unselfish playing. I like that. The ball’s moving. Guys are making the extra pass. They’re trying to play together now. Now in terms of executing anything, guarding anybody, we’re not where we need to be. But that’s OK. We’ve got time to get there.”
» Donovan on junior guard Michael Frazier II: “He’s been good, Michael. I think he’s worked really hard. He’s another guy who I think is in really good shape right now, physically. He gives really good effort. Ever since Michael got here, he’s always been very, very good in practice. He’s a guy that’s very hard on himself. I think you’re always going to get effort out of him and that’s the one thing I admire. from a leadership standpoint, now being an older guy, he can kind of set the table for some of our younger guys. Michael has done a good job and continues to get better and improve. Trying to give him a little bit more freedom offensively in terms of when he is open, letting the ball go, whereas probably the last couple of years we were in a situation – probably because of our personnel – he needed to be kind of a guy that the ball found him and he made threes for us. I think this year he’s got to work more off the ball, and when he does have a chance to shoot the ball, he needs to be aggressive.”
» Donovan on fifth-year senior center Jon Horford’s progression in the system and role with the team: “I think Jon right now has got, I think there’s a lot he’s learning right now probably just like [the freshmen]. Almost in a lot of ways, even though he’s had college basketball experience, he’s a freshman in terms of he’s learning a whole new system. I think he’s got to do a much, much better job … of getting himself freed up to shoot the basketball, understand angles and timing of things that we’re doing. He’s not real good at that right now. The one thing he does give us, which is nice, is a guy who can probably play the power forward and center position, and can stretch the floor and shoot threes. … But the biggest thing is he’s got to do a better job of getting himself freed up to shoot the basketball. The thing I like about Jon is he really cares; it’s important to him, and you know what you’re getting every day in terms of effort tout of him. I think that’s a byproduct of him coming from a good program in Michigan and also being a senior.”
» Donovan on how he learned from Erving Walker that a coach cannot force a player to be a leader: “The minute you start asking a guy to lead, if he doesn’t believe he’s ready to lead and take over a team and be that kind of voice, I think it’s difficult. … I’ve always felt like, as a coach, I’ve got to be the leader with our coaches and empower those other guys to step up. But I do think it’s got to happen naturally for a guy that feels comfortable doing that.”
» The Gators do not have a vocal leader standing out from the pack right now, but the younger guys are naturally looking to the older players for advice and guidance, Donovan said. He has been pleased with the way the veterans have handled that to this point.
» Donovan said the freshmen are keeping up well overall, but their ability to cover properly on defense is proving to be the biggest learning curve. “They do have an idea of what we’re trying to get done on offense,” he said in contrast.
SEC NETWORK DISCUSSION
Donovan and Kentucky head coach John Calipari were interviewed together Wednesday on the SEC Network while both men were in Charlotte, North Carolina, along with their players for SEC Media Day. Check it out below.
While in Charlotte, Donovan also sat down with Paul Finebaum for a 10-minute radio interview that is definitely worth a listen. Check it out below.