Florida Gators basketball (3-4) is below .500 through seven games for the first time since 1998 and hopes to avoid hitting the even mark at home when it hosts the Yale Bulldogs (8-2) on Monday at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida.
Head coach Billy Donovan met with the media on Sunday to discuss his remaining concerns about the Florida basketball team and update the Gators’ injuries.
NOT HEAVY LIFTERS
When the moment gets too big, when the game gets too close, Florida has – for the most part – crumbled during the early portion of this season. That’s the only way to describe the Gators giving up an 18-point, second-half lead on the road against the Jayhawks with Kansas using an incredible 23-3 run to retake the lead at home and hold on for the victory.
Donovan believes Florida’s biggest issue remains the players’ inexperience. Yes, the Gators have some veterans on the roster in redshirt senior center Jon Horford, redshirt junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith and junior guard Michael Frazier II (plus redshirt junior G Eli Carter, who remains out with a foot injury), but none of those players has ever been counted on to play starters’ minutes on a consistent basis with all the pressure squarely on their shoulders.
“The heavy lifting is a lot different than it was last year. There’s a lot of different heavy lifting going on right now that those guys didn’t even think about factoring into. Right now, they’re starting to realize that with his heavy lifting, this is really hard. What they’re doing right now is not easy. A lot of different players go through this,” explained Donovan.
“There is nothing that they could do to prepare themselves for what they’re going through right now, and they got to go through it. As painful as it may be, as a struggle, what it does is it takes you to a place in yourself where you really find out, ‘Is this really important to me? Is this really important to me?’ You have to answer those questions every single day. Because when you start to evaluate what goes into it…
“Doe-Doe and Kasey Hill‘s job last year was pretty easy. They’re not playing well? Scottie [Wilbekin] will do the heavy lifting. [Will] Yeguete will do some heavy lifting. Those guys understood it. [This year’s team] needs to become heavy lifters, and they’re not heavy lifters right now. They’re going to develop into it. It will happen for them, but it just doesn’t work that [immediately].”
For Frazier specifically, who is shooting nearly 10 percent worse from beyond the arc this season despite averaging a career-high 14.4 points per game, Donovan believes he still has a long way to go to become a consistent and responsible player for the Gators.
“[When] you get into a situation where you’re ready for another year and you start thinking about expectations you have on yourself and what you want to do, and you’re working hard and you’re getting ready, most players never factor in adversity. He’s factored in zero adversity – zero,” Donovan said.
“Right now, I told him in the offseason that this would be the hardest year of his entire playing career, and it has been. Right now for him, it’s not about him missing or making shots or doing that. He’s got to have an understanding about the length and time of a game, how long a game is. …
“If Michael is going to be out there, he’s got to be able to play and function and focus on the things that he needs to do in terms of his job and responsibility. Does he have enough mental toughness? Everybody wants to know what’s wrong with his shooting, that’s going to come and go sometimes. I’m more concerned about the other things he’s doing. He’s got to do a better job there.”
PLAYING BETTER, NOT YET GOOD ENOUGH
One of Florida’s biggest problems early this season has been the Gators getting close to nothing from a couple of its younger players, namely sophomore C Chris Walker and freshman F Devin Robinson.
In Donovan’s mind, neither Walker nor Robinson has earned additional playing time despite each having his best game of the season last week at Kansas. Donovan needs both to prove they can be consistent on a game-to-game basis in order to see more action overall.
“I thought he did some really, really good things. He only was able to play 15 minutes in the game. I would have liked to have played him more,” said Donovan of Walker’s effort on Friday. “I think the biggest thing he’s learning is how hard he has to play, and he’s not really able to sustain high levels of intensity for long periods of time, but he has given us 2-3 minute stretches where he has utilized his athleticism. He’s doing some things where he’s growing in a positive direction and gave us a positive lift in the game.
“He just needs to keep on that attitude, and I’m not so sure his attitude’s always been like that. When you’re highly-decorated or everybody tells you that you’re really good, and you’ve never been exposed in this situation, it’s hard to learn. It’s really hard to learn. But when you get thrown into a situation where you’re playing against high level competition, sometimes you actually get a better opportunity to learn through those experiences than you do just everybody telling you how great you are.
“I think he’s seeing, ‘The intensity level I’m playing at is not good enough. I’m not helping the team. I’m not helping myself. I need to play better.’ That’s something he’s learned and hopefully we can continually have him play with a motor, because when he does that, then he can get some things into the game that can impact the game in a positive way. For him not to do that, it becomes challenging.”
Donovan believes Robinson has “made some strides,” certainly with his shot and overall discipline in the game. He was pleased with Robinson’s ability to keep his legs under him and stay a bit more aggressive on defense, but there was one thing in particular that stuck out to him.
“The biggest difference I thought was him playing with a high level of intensity. That’s what he needs to keep doing,” he said.
Carter remains out of action as he continues to rehabilitate from what was first a termed a mid-foot sprain and was recently described by Donovan as an “ankle sprain.” Whatever the ailment, Carter has been cleared to play by doctors and trainers but has not done anything for the Gators since returning from the Bahamas. Though understanding of his injury, Donovan is ready and waiting to get Carter back on the court as soon as the player is ready to go.
“Out. Yep. Not playing. He’s cleared to play. He’s cleared to play. He’s just still having pain. The trainers are still trying to work with him. The doctors are still trying to work with him and try to figure it out. … There’s nothing broken. He did have an ankle sprain, but I don’t know how much more we can actually do for him. I know he’s having some discomfort and he doesn’t feel comfortable moving laterally,” he began.
“I think any time you have a player that’s voicing concerns as it relates to pain, really it’s on him right now because the doctor and trainer have cleared him. He’s cleared to go. But I think when you’re experiencing pain, it’s hard to gauge as a trainer or doctor somebody’s pain. We always try to be sensitive to how a guy is feeling. Right now, he’s not been able to practice. Coming out of the Bahamas, he hasn’t done anything. I don’t really have any timetable of when he’ll be back at all.”
Horford has also been dealing with a swollen bursa sack in his knee, which had him in and out of the Kansas game. Donovan said he has practiced all week, as has Finney-Smith, though he’s sat out portions of practice in order to help heal the two fractured bones in his hand.
NOTES AND QUOTES
» On not finishing games: “We’ve got to be able to put a whole and complete game together, which we have not done. … These guys are capable and they’ve shown signs of doing that, the biggest thing is being able to sustain that for 40 minutes. … You keep trying to point it out to them; you keep trying to explain it to them. They’ve eventually got to step up and do it.”
» On Yale, which Florida plays on Monday: “They’re a very, very good team, very good team. They’re experienced, they’re tough. They’ve been seasoned, they’ve been hardened. … They’ve grown. They’ve gotten better. They’re a really, really good team. This is another incredible challenge because this will be another 40-minute game for us. They’re a really, really good team. I think that’s the greatest compliment i can say about them is they’re a consummate team in the way they play and what they do.”