Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan met with the media on Wednesday, two days before his team opens the 2014-16 regular season against the William & Mary Tribe on Friday, Nov. 14 at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida.
NOT EVEN REMOTELY CLOSE
Ahead of last season, Donovan chastised the Gators, going out of his way to say that Florida was nowhere near as good as advertised. Twelve months later, his attitude has not changed all that much. Is UF the seventh-best team in the country? “No, not even remotely close,” he said Wednesday.
“We’ve talked a lot about that from the perspective of… I know what those kinds of teams look like, and we’re not one of those teams,” Donovan added.
Did Donovan say the same thing last year about a team that wound up advancing to the Final Four for the first time in seven seasons? You bet. Does that mean that he recognizes his standard annual pessimism? Not one bit, because every season is different and this year’s issues are different than those that the Gators had in 2013-14.
“And I was right. We were totally dysfunctional,” said Donovan of his comments from a year ago. “We had our starting point guard suspended seven games. Damontre Harris was [missing in action]. You wouldn’t have felt good either. Now, we evolved into a team and hopefully we can [do that again]. But right now, that is something I would say for our guys, I think they understand that’s not where we are right now. It’s not.
“I think they can see, guys from last year, they know what a really good defensive team looks like, and we’re not there yet. The biggest thing from last year for me, which is great for this year’s team, is there’s a measuring stick, not in terms of leadership, but in terms of defensive possessions, transition defense, communication, running offense, executing, extra pass, ball movement. They have a pretty good idea what that looks like.”
Donovan remains most concerned with Florida’s defense, noting as OnlyGators.com first reported two weeks ago that UF struggled in its secret scrimmage (and once again when facing Barry last week).
“The three scrimmages that we’ve basically have played, OK, we are giving up an average of 82 points a game – and we are giving up 48 percent from the three-point line. So if that continues, it’s hard for me to say we’re the seventh-ranked team in the country,” he noted.
FRESHMEN COMING ALONG
Following the Gators’ exhibition game, Donovan harshly – and deservedly – criticized freshman forward Devin Robinson for his play. Robinson ignored some pre-game instructions that Donovan shared with him personally, which included worrying about doing the little things rather than concentrating simply on scoring. Robinson took numerous bad shots and was ineffective in other areas, leading his coach to give an honest assessment of him after the contest.
One week later, he’s pleased with the way Robinson responded to his disappointment.
“I tried to help him understand, when you do that, you take your focus and your mind off what your job is and what’s going on. And I felt like when Devin got in the game, it was just all about scoring. … I was disappointed with him because I had a conversation with him specifically about that,” he explained again.
“The one thing I give him an enormous amount of credit for was, after I talked after the game, he was waiting for me in the locker room and he wanted to talk, just [show me] his commitment to try to get better. He’s a freshman. There’s going to be learning experience, there’s going to be growing experience. …
“I think offensively he’s playing with a better pace and tempo and a better mindset – trying to get him out of the fact that he’s got to score points to get on the floor. I showed him his point differential. When he was on the floor, we lost points. But he’s not even thinking about that. It’s my job to help him, teach him what really goes into winning and how to go about winning. And I think, first and foremost, it starts with what kind of mindset you’re in. … But I really appreciated from that moment how well he responded.”
Donovan added: “I’ve always said this: there’s certain players you tell them, ‘It’s hot, don’t touch,’ and they don’t touch it. There’s other guys you say, ‘Hey, it’s hot, don’t touch it,’ and they want to touch it. And they find out what hot is and they learn that way. And I think Devin, in that situation, wanted to touch the stove. He could have played a lot better, performed a lot better and helped us if he would have heeded my words. Sometimes guys have to go through experiences to learn and grow.”
While Robinson has received some due criticism from Donovan, Chiozza has gotten some praise from the future Hall of Fame coach, who continued his positive assessment of the player on Wednesday. “I thought Chiozza really responded and played well, especially coming down the stretch. I thought he did a really good job for us [in the exhibition game],” he said.
Donovan is also pleased with how Robinson and Chiozza have approached the game from a work ethic perspective. He thinks “they can cardiovascularly handle” playing the college game and will be “able to sustain intensity” at a high level, at least until they hit the rookie wall at some point this season.
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Donovan plans to start the same five players he did in the exhibition game against Barry – freshman PG Kasey Hill, sophomore guard Michael Frazier II, redshirt junior G Eli Carter, redshirt junior F Dorian Finney-Smith and center Jon Horford.
» On his players learning to stay quiet on the court and not all try to lead at once: “Bringing it to their awareness and them understanding, I think it’s been good in terms of just trying to lift each other up and trying to get more connected as a group. I think that that’s been good where it’s not like we need anybody to be a particular leader. Nobody in the huddle is in charge; it’s just a matter of them getting engaged and focused on the next thing. … I think it’s still a work in progress. I think it’s better today than it was last week and hopefully as the year goes on we’ll continue to get better.”
» On William & Mary: “Obviously [Marcus] Thornton is a great player. He’s really, really good. He’ll be as good as any guard that we’ll play against this year. He can really score the ball, he’s got really good size, he’s got deep range, he can play in pick-and-roll, he can play in transition. He’s a special player. You’re going to be playing against a team that’s going to run the Princeton style. They are really good in terms of passing, cutting, moving. They utilize the three-point line very well, they get you on back cuts for layups. They’re a team that stays true to their system, their style of play and what they’re doing.”