Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan met with the media on Thursday, one week before his team takes the court for an exhibition game against William & Mary ahead of the 2014-15 regular-season opener.
WANTING CONVICTION AND COMMITMENT OR “WE ARE NOT GOOD AT ANYTHING” OR 95 PERCENT OF THE GAME
One week before Florida takes the court in the Stephen C. O’Connell center, Donovan has unleashed his season-long mantra: convicted and committed. In other words, Donovan wants the Gators to be strong, resolute and dedicated – to his coaching, to their teammates and to the program as a whole.
Donovan has seen some early returns from his team’s first few practices, but he nevertheless took his standard pessimistic stance on the team’s overall play so close to the start of the season.
“The first four or five days, I thought we really practiced really, really well with great energy and things like that. But I’ve often said, ‘If you come in your first few days of practice and you don’t say that about your team, it’s going to be a long year.’ That is a concern for me, dealing with the highs and the lows of a season, of a game, those kinds of things. It definitely is a concern for me,” he explained.
“I would say right now that we work really hard; we got pretty good chemistry. I think we’re unselfish as a team. But we right now we’re not convicted or committed to anything. And that’s not a good recipe right now. Their attitude has been good, they work, but I mean, we are not good at anything. The only thing I would say we’re really good at right now is we’re unselfish. I would say we have a long, long way to go right now.
“But a lot of it is going to be their conviction and their commitment to what goes into winning. They don’t understand that part of it. Their idea of playing well is when I shoot and score and make shots. That’s probably about five percent of the game. The other 95 percent of the game is going to be things you have to do inside the game when the ball’s not in your hands. We don’t have a concept or a clue of that right now, and I’m hopeful we can get better at that.”
Citing a major shift in responsibilities and experiences – roleplayers and specialists becoming starters, players changing positions, freshman playing collegiate basketball for the first time – Donovan understands that Florida will only improve as the season goes along and that it is his responsibility to ensure the team continues to progress.
Nevertheless, the Gators have a longer way to go than Donovan would like, which he explained in great detail while repeating his 2014-15 mantras over and over again.
“It’s a commitment and a conviction of like…just being in the right spot. It’s a shot goes up, physically going to the backboard to rebound or block somebody out. I’ll take it to this point. We don’t even have a commitment to running the floor right now. I can’t get our frontcourt guys to run on a regular basis consistently,” Donovan began.
“To me, it’s not even about we got all this stuff and they don’t know what they’re doing, they’re totally overwhelmed. We’re not committed physically to anything right now, doing anything physical right now. We’ve got to get better at those things. Now listen, they try hard, they work hard, they’re coachable from that standpoint, there’s no bad attitudes. But we’ll be in a possession and we’ll get a guy that won’t call out a man in transition, we’ll give up a layup. We’ll have a made basket and they’re three steps behind like they don’t run. When things get difficult, they give in right now and we’ve got to get better at that.”
Donovan continued: “Like I tell our guys, ‘Ninety-five percent of the game, if you think about, it is playing with the ball not even ever being in your hands.’ So are you playing the game waiting for the ball to get back in your hands or are you playing the game of what’s going on at a moment in time? And really when the ball’s in your hands, there’s only two things you can do: you’re either passing it or shooting it. That’s the only two things you can do. When the ball’s not in your hands, there’s a lot of things you can be doing to impact the game. You can be blocking out, running the floor, rebounding, rotating, getting a deflection, covering pick and rolls, handling down screens, taking a charge, getting on the floor. There’s so many things that you can do and we got to be more focused on those things in order to become a good team rather than the five percent that maybe they’ve gotten a lot of attention and exposure from by being a good player.”
THINGS LOOKING UP FOR THE WOUNDED
Last season, Florida lost two expected roleplayers due to injury as Eli Carter was unable to fully recover from a broken leg suffered the year prior, and Dillon Graham was diagnosed with bone chips in both his hips, a sudden and unexpected ailment that required season-ending surgery for the second-year player.
Carter, now a redshirt junior guard, is further along than Graham at this time as he has been rehabilitating his injury for nearly 20 months. An injured ankle forced Carter to miss the first few days of practice this fall, but he has since recovered and appears to be ready to contribute for Florida.
“He’s been good. I’d like to see him lose a little bit more weight,” said Donovan of Carter. “The biggest plus that I see with him is the fact that we were very worried when practice started of would this be a situation of he’s in for a day or two and then he’s so sore we got to hold him out. That hasn’t happened. He hasn’t missed anything outside the first couple of days. But outside of that, he’s been going through everything. He hasn’t had to come out of practice. He hasn’t been dealing with pain or soreness. He’s moving well; that’s probably the most encouraging part. But from a conditioning standpoint, he’s got to make some improvement there.”
Graham, now a redshirt sophomore guard, is not just recovering from the bone chips in his hips. He’s also trying to come back from a concussion and ruptured eardrum, which he suffered courtesy of a swinging elbow last week in practice. Graham returned to practice on Monday, but Donovan noted that despite him being cleared and healthy, the player still has some maturing and developing to do. He compared Graham to Erik Murphy in that regard, noting that he needs to be more committed to the game and start figuring things out in order to truly make a leap this season.
“The biggest thing with Dillon, even his freshman year and then last year he was hurt, was just his overall commitment to really himself wanting to be a good player. He’s got a lot of ability. He’s a good passer. He’s a good athlete,” he said. ”He’s a guy that has maybe kind of distanced himself a little bit and I would like to see him make more of an impact and make more of an investment into his teammates and into the team. And more importantly, I think make more of an investment and more of an impact for himself. There’s things he can do, and I think he has to make a decision of how important is basketball to me and what kind of player do I want to be and how hard am I really willing to work at this thing.”
Donovan noted that Carter, Graham and other injured players being disconnected from the team is an inevitability due to how much goes on during any given week in a season – training, film study, practice, game preparation, travel, etc.
“For guys like Dillon and Eli, for a year, they were totally removed from our team outside of pregame meals or sitting at practice,” he said. “After about 10 practices, sitting there for 150, after a while it gets old, it gets monotonous and you feel disconnected.”
That being said, Donovan praised Carter and Graham for not being distractions last season even if they did feel like they were on an island by themselves. “I knew probably deep down inside both those guys were hurting because they didn’t get a chance to play and experience on the court what those guys go to experience,” he said.
A LONG WAY TO GO
Whether or not freshman walk-on guard Zach Hodskins ever steps on the court for the Gators this season is of little consequence. What matters is that he has already been helping the team in practice and is showing some flashes despite having a ways to go in his knowledge and development.
“He’s over his head; I’m just calling it like it is,” said Donovan. “Great kid, he really likes the game. I really admire his passion and enthusiasm. I think for him, he’s got a great platform in terms of his persistence very single day and trying to come out there and battle and compete to the best of his ability. I think, talent-wise, he’s in over his head, but I still think he can bring some value to our team and help our team get better.”
One teammate that already sees the value Hodskins adds is freshman point guard Chris Chiozza, who compared Hodskins’s style to that of a streetballer. “The moves he does, it’s pretty cool to watch, but I don’t like guarding it too much,” he said with a smile.
Chiozza is probably the only Florida player who was familiar with Hodskins before the walk-on stepped foot on campus. For that reason, he knew what to expect in practice but is nevertheless impressed with what his classmate can do on the floor.
“I actually played against him once in AAU, and I knew that he could play because I played against him and I think he had like 20 on us. I was like, ‘Wow,'” Chiozza remembered. “When I heard he was coming here, I was excited because it’s going to be good to play with him. It’s an inspiration for everybody and that respect we have for him that he comes out here and competes every day and does what he does in practice. He competes and he holds his own out there. He’s just a great person on and off the court.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» During a speaking engagement held hours after his media availability, Donovan told the crowd that sophomore center John Egbunu, a transfer from USF, would (as expected) sit for the entire 2014-15 season per NCAA transfer rules. Florida had filed a waiver, hoping that Egbunu could gain immediate eligibility, but it was apparently denied.
» Chiozza on an intra-squad scrimmage that Florida held last Sunday: “It went pretty well, a lot of points were scored because our defense was a little off. But it was a pretty good game overall, just getting you ready for the season, getting that much more excitement pumped into the season. I’m ready to get out there and play.”