Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan met with the media on Wednesday and discussed a number of pressing topics facing his team heading into its “secret” scrimmage against Georgia Tech on Oct. 26 in Valdosta, GA. Florida will also host an exhibition game in Gainesville, FL, on Nov. 1 against Florida Southern.
According to Florida, Donovan kicked the team out of practice Thursday afternoon because some players – the ones being worked hard in practice while the rest of the team is sidelined with various injuries – complained about aches and pains. He restarted practice a handful of hours later at night.
UPDATES AND ADDITIONS TO THE INJURED LIST
Though Florida announced that senior forward Will Yeguete (knee) and junior guard Eli Carter (leg) both returned to practice in a limited role on Thursday, the Gators are being extra cautious with both players, neither of whom has returned to full work just yet. Yeguete is unlikely to play in Saturday’s scrimmage, and Carter is only expected to see work as a reserve. Donovan said the latter is not yet moving like he is completely back to normal despite his broken leg being 100 percent healed. In addition to Carter having a bit of a mental block, he also needs to improve his explosion, gain more strength in his foot and calf, and get over some shin splits that developed when he returned to practice.
“Really, really good feel of how to play, really understands the game. Just has an awareness out there. Knows how to play. You can tell he’s a guy who’s a veteran guy,” Donovan said of Carter. “Even being somewhat hobbled, he can be productive out there just because he understands how to play. He understand extra passing, he understands ball movement, he understands spacing, he really understands how to come off screens, he knows how to use screens. Those kind of things he’s already got down. The biggest thing for us is just trying to get him to the point where he’s moving, cutting and sprinting in a way where he’s kind of somewhat back to where he was.”
Also back on the court is redshirt junior center Damontre Harris, who missed more than a week with a hamstring injury. Harris was injured for most of his redshirt 2012-13 season with a variety of ailments and still has a long ways to go until he can get back to his normal self physically.
“Really out of shape, got a long way to go cardiovascularly. That’s going to be an issue for him,” Donovan explained. “For him the unfortunate part was him being unable to play last year with his shoulder, his ankle and even an illness he had to deal with. He’s missed a lot, a lot of conditioning and a lot of practice time. He was out about a week. … He was back working. He’s’ going to have to work through the conditioning piece of it right now because he’s not anywhere where he needs to be cardiovasculary.”
Obviously things could not go completely smooth for Florida as far as injuries are concerned. Redshirt sophomore F Dorian Finney-Smith was added to the list of walking wounded this week after he “strained a tendon in his ankle” during practice. He is currently day-to-day. Additionally, senior G/F Casey Prather “missed about three days because of a hamstring issue” and sophomore G Dillon Graham remains sidelined with an ankle sprain. He will not play in Saturday’s scrimmage.
Sophomore G Michael Frazier II (virus) returned to practice this week.
That leaves the Gators with eight or nine players healthy enough to take the court. “I do think it will be good for our guys to be able to scrimmage against somebody else. That will be a good thing because our number shave been limited in practice – Sunday we only had six guys practice, “Donovan said. “We’ll have a little bit more depth because, when you’re practicing against each other, our numbers are very small.”
Senior C Patric Young, who dealt with some lingering issues last season, noted Wednesday that Donovan gave a speech to the team about manning up while hobbled.
“Coach Donovan took us before practice and said we got to be tough, we have to have a level of toughness,” he said. “If you’re dealing with a type of injury, you should ask yourself, ‘If it was Joakim Noah or Al Horford, would he try to play through this kind of thing?’ We just need to have a level of toughness, know the difference between being hurt and being injured and having pain, being able to play through those kinds of things.”
MATURING AND MOVING FORWARD
Too many times last season did Florida make a mistake on the court only to have that miscue compounded by a lackadaisical defensive effort or poor shot attempt on the ensuing possession. Donovan noticed the Gators struggled mightily in that area while reviewing the 2012-13 campaign in the offseason and has made it a focal point for UF during practice.
“There was times where, when adversity would hit our team, we would get fractured. … And before you know it, you’ve got guys that are all kind of involved in their own little world. When you’re in that situation and something doesn’t go well for you or something is a struggle for you, the more introverted you get, the more you become self-reflective in that moment and time, you miss the opportunity to move to the next play,” Donovan explained.
“I think sometimes our guys, at times, have been way too hard on themselves. Meaning that they make mistake, they get so upset and frustrated and down on themselves and don’t realize there’s another play coming. We’re not getting that back. You got to be able to mentally move to the next thing. I think that’s been something we’ve talked about – letting previous plays go so our five guys can be connected together.”
The message appears to have connected with the players, at least in theory. Frazier discussed what he has taken from Donovan’s lectures on the subject, noting that he believes Florida will be able to improve going forward.
“I think that’s something that we all can get better at as a team, just being able to move on to the next play. If we mess up offensively or defensively, just coming back the next time and being like, ‘It’s over. Let’s get this stop or get a score here.’ I think as a team we can all get better in that area,” he said.
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Donovan on if senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin has done a good job mentoring freshman Kasey Hill: “Scottie’s been good. I think he’s really, really grown in some ways that maybe I hadn’t seen before. I’m really happy with the progress he’s made as a person. I think he’s trying to help Kasey. Kasey’s very, very receptive to that. They appear, to me, to have a very, very good relationship. I think there’s mutual respect there for each other as players. That’s a good thing. But Scottie’s, first and foremost, got to worry about himself and taking care of the things that we have in front of him as a program and take care of those responsibilities first. But his attitude, his work ethic, his competitiveness, his get-along ability, all those things have been very good.”
» Donovan on who will be scoring for the Gators in 2013-14: “I’m not really as worried about that. … We’ve got to score by utilizing each other. I think that’s a big part of what we need to do offensively. We need to be a high-assist team. We need to basically take advantage of each other’s strengths and talents on the offensive end of the floor and try to manufacture points collectively as a group instead of just trying to rely on one guy.”
» Donovan on if the team has improved its work ethic, attitude and tenacity from a year ago: “They’ve been good. They’ve worked hard. The biggest thing I see right now that we’ve got to get better at from that perspective is we’ve got to get in better basketball shape. With the way we’re practicing, with a limited number of guys, fatigue hits us a lot quicker than it needs to be. When you talk about preseason conditioning, they were probably in as good of preseason conditioning shape that you need to be. But when you’re transitioning from doing sprint work and lifting and doing that to now having to play and perform and be in a stance and guard and run the floor and block out and do those things, we’re not in great basketball shape yet. That’s an area where we’ve got to get better. In terms of their attitude, their work ethic, them being bought into trying to get done what we’re trying to do, they’re doing it. I do think we’re nowhere near the defensive team we were a year ago. We’re not even remotely close. We’ve got to get better. I think we have the capability of getting better at it, but we’ve got to get much, much better.”
» Young on whether he has noticed a drop off defensively: “I can see that. But you can’t put expectations from last year’s team on a new team. We’re a completely different team than we were last year. We can’t go in there expecting to just walk in and be as good, at that same level. It’s going to take a lot of hard work. I don’t think you can count us out as being able to potentially be better than we were last year, but it’s a process.”
» Young on the team dealing with adversity right now: “I believe that it’s a long season. … As long as we peak at the right time, that’s all that matters.”