With Florida Gators basketball having finally begun fall practice and just just over three weeks away from the team’s first regular season game, head coach Billy Donovan met with the media on Monday to discuss how practice is going up to this point.
FRESHMEN A WORK IN PROGRESS
“It’s hard for any freshman to come in prepared,” Donovan said Monday, even though he is pleased with how guard Brad Beal and forward Walter Pitchford are responding thus far. “When you’re a freshman, if you’re willing to physically put your body in plays, if you are highly competitive and you have a high basketball IQ, you’re going to be able to play right away as a freshman – given that you’re talented enough. If you lack one of those three things, it becomes really difficult to be a constant guy.”
As far as Donovan is concerned, right now one of his freshmen is fitting that profile while another has a ways to go until he can contribute to the team on a consistent basis.
“Those first four days [of practice], Brad has all those things. He’s willing to put his body in there physically. He has a cerebral understanding of what we’re doing, and I think he’s highly competitive. My feeling in watching him the first four days here is that there’s no question he’s going to be able to contribute and help our team,” he said.
“Walter is still learning and growing. Things have come pretty quickly the first four days,” he continued. “Brad has been able to pick up everything very well. Walter is not any different than a lot of freshmen that come in terms of figuring out how hard they have to play, better competition, what to do, where to go, what’s happening. Really the first four days here, we’ve put in [a lot of plays]. I’m not so sure we’re really good at anything yet, but that stuff is in right now.
“For Walter, the first four days was difficult because – outside of he and Brad – a lot of the stuff is familiar to some of the older guys. So it is easier for them to know what’s coming and what we’re doing. Brad is probably more advanced than most freshmen I’ve been around in terms of his basketball intelligence, his IQ, his understanding and how quickly he grasps things. It’s pretty impressive for me, so far, we’re three or four days into this and then he can pick up a lot of the stuff.”
WALKER’s UNSELFISHNESS A NICE SURPRISE
Donovan (and Florida fans) have been clamoring for senior point guard Erving Walker
to work on his assist-to-turnover ratio and unselfishness for two years now and it appears as if they have finally gotten their wish. With so much talk in the media about how the Gators are going to struggling with sharing the ball in the backcourt, Walker said there is a concerted effort to share.
“That’s us trying to be the best team we can be, trying to get everybody easy shots and working together,” he said. “We feel like we got a lot of talent and can help each other, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”
His coach is noticing, too. “Because there’s been so much talk about it, they’ve gone the other way and are trying to prove how unselfish they are. I’ve noticed in practice – and it’s been encouraging to me – we’ve got guys right now that are passing up shots that they normally would take to make an extra pass.
“We chart every shot in practice. Right now there’s only two players on our team that have taken fewer shots than Erving Walker – Cody Larson and Casey Prather. Everybody else on our team has in practice taken more shots than Erving Walker. He has really tried to grasp and understand who he is playing with on the floor. His assist-to-turnover ratio in practice has been very good. He has an idea and understanding of the challenges in front of him, and I feel like he’s really trying to do that.”
YOUNG HANDLING ADVERSITY BETTER THAN EXPECTED
As he admitted himself last year, sophomore forward/center Patric Young had a lot of growing up to do from a maturity standpoint. Donovan reiterated that point at times during the season and said so again on Monday. “I’d say the first time Patric Young went through any adversity was last year. He’s always been the biggest and the strongest and the quickest. How do you handle that? How do you get better from that?“ he noted.
This season, Donovan is putting Young in situations in practice where he is going to have to face adversity and rise above it. “Like I’ll get fouled here and there and he’s not going to call it just to see how I’ll react,” Young explained. “I’ve grown up a lot in that sense. Last year I probably would have just shut down. I’m going to get fouled a lot and sometimes calls are going to be missed. He’s just trying to help me grow up and get ready for the season.”
Donovan agrees that his big man has taken a step forward. “He has been phenomenal. He has made some very positive strides,” he said. “The biggest thing I feel with Patric and these guys, I feel like our team right now is locked in on what we have to do. It’s not a group that’s focused on ‘me.’ It’s a group that is focused on, ‘What do I need to do to help the team?’ [...] That’s something that takes work each and every single day for Patric. He’s got to keep working through that. Our team is addressing the things that we have to address to get better at as individuals and as a team.”
Young is also seeing his improved mentality paying dividends. “It’s made a huge difference in my game because I know how important I am to the team when I’m at 100 percent,” he said. “I’m alert, helping my teammates, being vocal. The team is completely different when I’m down being depressed and emotional to when I’m focused, concentrated and focused on helping the team get better. It’s a completely different team.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Donovan said that no one has missed practice yet and he is very pleased with the effort and coachability of the players. The effort has been there on a unanimous basis to fix the things they find wrong and try to improve as much as possible early on.
» Donovan on having so many talented guards: “I’m hopeful that all of those guys, offensively, can help make each other better defensively.”
» Donovan on redshirt junior G Mike Rosario monitoring his back issue: “What we’ve told him is that he’s got a disc problem. It’s something that we have to monitor, but it has not held him out of any practices. They’ve done core strengthening, stretching and all those kind of things. It’s not something that needs surgery. Our trainer doesn’t think it’s going to be a problem during the year, but he’s got to stay on top of it as far as what he does rehab-wise before and after practice. I’m not going into the year anticipating this is going to be a problem for him. It’s there and he had the tingling down the back of his leg and the numbness in his leg and that’s always a red flag. We were able to hold him off some in the offseason and rest him. I don’t see Mike just dealing with the pain and not saying anything. I think he understands that, in order for him to get treated, it’s only going to get worse if he does that, it’s not going to get better.”
» Walker on his relationship with the other guard: “Me and Kenny [Boynton] got a special relationship, but I would say we all hang out a lot. Everybody is like family. It’s a little brotherhood we got and we embrace each other. It’s just fun to be around those guys.”
» Walker on how Beal is playing: “Brad is adjusting really well and quick, like he’s been here for a while now. [...] He looked a lot more comfortable out there and a lot more aggressive. I think he’s really been showing his talent these past few practices – his jump shot and his ability to get to the hole. His understanding of the game, I think, he’s going to get better. His overall play is not what a freshman would do. The way he’s been aggressive lately, you can really see his talent showing. It’s amazing that he can come in, be so early and do the things that he’s doing.”
» Walker on Rosario seeing the court: “I’m happy for Mike being the great player that he is. He’s finally going ot play this year and he’s been doing a great job so far.”
» Young on playing for his country in Europe over the summer: “I got a lot of confidence out of it – some offensive confidence. It helped me use the things I’ve learned and what I can do and what I should do.”
» Young on the play of the guards so far: “The way our team started off these first few practices is amazing. It looks like we’ve been playing together for a couple of years now. It’s just the ball’s been moving, guys are talking to each other, everyone’s listening, everyone’s been willing to work [together]. It’s just been really good so far. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, because I know we got a lot of guys who like to shoot. Everyone is giving the extra pass. I guess I was surprised that things went so well so far.”
» Young on being a vocal player on the court: “A lot of guys aren’t really used to communicating. I am. I’ve been doing it since I was in high school. It’s a huge part of the game. Communication in life is a huge part of everything. This is communication right here. My major is telecommunications. I just like to talk, and I like to let my teammates know what’s going on.”
» Young on who plays him the best from a physicality standpoint: “Will [Yeguete], he defends me the best because he doesn’t give up angles and he’s really long and really physical as well.”