No. 16 Florida Gators (7-2) head basketball coach Billy Donovan met with the media on Monday, one day before his team takes on the No. 15 Memphis Tigers (7-1) at Madison Square Garden in New York, NY as part of the 2013 Jimmy V. Classic.
TWO POINT GUARDS, ONE BALL
Donovan did not go so far as to say whether his two point guards – senior Scottie Wilbekin and freshman Kasey Hill – would start on Tuesday, but he definitely intimated that he has plans to have them on the court together for a good portion of the game.
Hill, coming back from a high-ankle sprain, actually “tweaked” his other ankle and missed a day of practice during the week but will be fine to play. When on the court with Wilbekin, the freshman will be the primary ball-handler on offense, a role Donovan said was easy to work out with his senior counterpart.
“Scottie is one of those guys you can just put out there on the floor. He can play any position, doesn’t care about it. I think that part of it, chemistry-wise, is really, really good – moving Scottie off the ball some and Kasey’s got the ball in his hands,” he explained.
“Those guys have played some together they’re getting more comfortable playing together some. Besides those two guys being comfortable with each other, the bigger issue is taking a guy like Scottie and moving him to the two where he’s really, over the last year or so, never played there. Now he knows what’s going on, he’s very cerebral and very smart it’s not like he doesn’t understand. The ball is not in his hands as much.
“So I’ve got to do things, in terms of running plays, to get the ball in his hands to playing pick and roll to come off screens and do some of those things. As far as their chemistry together, it’s been fine. And I think what it does do, when we move Scottie to the two … it gives us some more shooting than maybe in some lineups we’ve had in the past.”
CLOSING OUT CLOSE GAMES
The Gators were 0-6 during the 2012-13 season in games decided by single digits, partially due to the fact that many of Florida’s wins were blowouts (and obviously were by at least 10 points). UF has already been faced with the adversity of close games plenty during the 2013-14 campaign and currently stands with a 3-2 record in such contests (all three wins at home, both loses on the road to top 25-ranked opponents).
Donovan explained Monday that he is pleased to see his team have more confidence in such situations and no longer act like a deer in the headlights.
“I think we’ve gotten better in terms of staying connected and realizing that when a team is on a run we have to stop the run collectively. It’s not somebody being a hero. It’s not somebody living in the past about the last play. It’s really battling the whole unit,” he said. “That’s the hardest part I think for these guys being young is when something doesn’t go well can you flush that and really get engaged in the next thing instead of living in the past of what just happened. And that’s an area I think we’ve gotten better. I still think we need to get better, but I think our confidence level needs to be built on when we really do the right things in the game.”
He continued: “I think sometimes when people look at the end of the game they look at one possession of a shot going in or out. … I’m looking more – when we come down the stretch, do we do a good job defensively? Do we block out and are able to rebound, and what kind of shots are we getting? Once you do that as a coach, it’s the players that have to make the plays out there. They got to make the baskets. They got to score points. They got to do those kinds of things.
“I think we’ve gotten better, in my opinion, when things are not going well, shutting off the other team’s momentum. I thought that was a problem last year. … I think it’s a work in progress. I think we’ve gotten better. I think we have older guys who’ve been through it and understand what we’re looking to do in those situations.”
THE WAITING GAME
Though freshman forward Chris Walker is now officially a member of the Gators, he has not yet been cleared to see the court for game action. Even if he was in that position, Walker has plenty to catch up on before he can contribute meaningful minutes within the flow of how Donovan likes to do things at Florida.
He did not make the trip to New York for the Jimmy V. Classic, but Donovan still offered up some comments about the promising young player on Monday.
“We’re really; really happy he’s here. More than anything else, not even as it relates to our team but more as it relates to him. Because that kid has really, really worked hard and has shown great, great resiliency to want to be here,” he said.
“I think the fact that he has worked so hard to get here says a lot about his commitment to want to be at Florida. I think the other piece of that right now obviously for him right now is an enormous amount of excitement being in practice. But I think as time wears on, I think he’s going to find out just how far behind he really is. …
“He’s got such a long way to go. And it’s not his fault when you miss September, October, November and part of December, you’re going to be really, really behind. … It’s just going to be a process for him, and I hope he doesn’t get frustrated and I hope people realize he’s not going to be this savior and all of the sudden like he doesn’t just change our team. I’m just happy we have another body, happy that he’s able to participate. I’m happy for him more than anything else.”
Senior F Will Yeguete also sang Walker’s praises when asked about the first-year frontcourt player on Monday.
“Him being here I think is good for us finally because he worked really hard to be here. It’s just a long process. I think so far he’s been good. He plays really hard,” Yeguete said. “His athleticism, everybody knows about that. … He has skills. He’s real athletic. He has a lot of size, and I think he can help us.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» On participating in the Jimmy V. Classic: “In some way or another, all of us here have been affected by cancer in one way or another, whether it’s a family member or a friend someone close to us that has been affected by cancer. So one is, I think the fact that they have done the V Foundation an enormous job raising money for cancer research and the money is going to cancer research. And I think being involved with Dick Vitale in Sarasota for that event every year to raise money, their main fundraiser in May, I’ve had a chance to go down there several years to be part of that.”
» On if he ever met Jim Valvano: “I knew him a little bit obviously being from New York. He coached at Iona, so there were some ties out on Long Island a little bit. So for me it wasn’t like this close relationship, but I obviously knew him at that point. I think when I got into coaching was right about the time where he started to move into the booth, and he was doing I think some ESPN stuff.”
» On whether coaching in Madison Square Garden is extra special for him: “For me it is, yeah, because I was a kid that being in elementary school, high school would jump on the Long Island Railroad and go in to Penn Station and go buy a $5 ticket in the rafters. … It’s definitely special. There’s just something special about it to me, there really is. And I think for some of our guys they maybe don’t understand that part of it. A guy like Casey Prather has never been to New York, there’s guys on our team that has never been to New York City. … The one mainstay of all that stuff – the Big East or the Knicks or anything else – was Madison Square Garden. That was the one place you always dreamed about playing in.”
» On Memphis: “This is a senior laden team, senior laden in the backcourt with [Chris] Crawford, Joe Jackson and even [Michael] Dixon who transferred from Missouri. And in the frontcourt you have Shaq Goodwin who is a sophomore who is a very, very good frontcourt player. Austin Nichols we did recruit who is really is playing extremely well for them. So a team that’s got some mixtures of some young guys but really in the backcourt a very, very senior talented-laden team. Shoot threes, put it down, very aggressive on defense. A terrific transition offensive team, very explosive, guard very well. This is an outstanding team we’ll play [Tuesday].”
Mike Brandes contributed to this notebook.