With the Florida Gators beginning 2011-12 fall practice, head coach Billy Donovan and the entire team met with the media Wednesday to discuss the season ahead.
STICKING AROUND FOR A WHILE – CONTRACT EXTENSION
It’s not a matter of “if” but “when” Donovan will sign a five-year extension that will keep him at Florida through the 2015-16 season. Donovan explained that he is currently wrapping up an extension with athletic director Jeremy Foley that will keep him wearing orange and blue at least a little while longer. “I think [we're] pretty close. Jeremy and I have already agreed on that. Jeremy has really always been proactive with me. Dr. [Bernie] Machen has been great. In terms of us on the same page, we totally are. It’s a matter of me just singing it and getting it done,” he said.
“In this day and age in coaching, it’s very rare that you stay at a job starting my 16th year and you still have the same athletic director in place. It has been our relationship that has made this job and this opportunity for me here so special is my relationship with him. I would think that it would happen soon. Probably need to ask him that question. I’m ready to go. With a couple years left on this contract, the other one would probably be a five-year extension. That’s what Jeremy wanted to do and I’m fine with that. Besides my first year coming in here where it was maybe six years or seven years, because we were trying to rebuild, I think pretty much from there it has always been a five-year deal, and that’s what we talked about.”
Donovan’s current contract earns him approximately $3.5 million per year before bonuses. He took home his first Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year award in 2010-11 and took the Gators to the Elite Eight with a senior-laden team.
Florida’s schedule was one of the toughest in the country last year, and the way it was built for this season is not giving the Gators much of a break before SEC competition begins. UF is set to face Ohio State, Syracuse, Arizona, Texas A&M and Florida State in non-conference action before playing at Tennessee on Jan. 7 to start the first division-less SEC season.
“I told Jeremy – we were trying to add one more game – but because of the lockout right now, they weren’t sure which NBA team they were going to add,” Donovan joked. “We’re trying to obviously play a highly competitive schedule. We want to do that. The only time I was opposed to that was after ’07 with all the new faces. Going forward we want to do that. Looking at it on paper right now, at least preseason, I think we maybe have if not the toughest one of the toughest schedules out there. It’s good for our team to find out where we’re at.
“Certainly have a very early game with Ohio State on the road. We have to play Syracuse on the road, Arizona at home, UAB, Florida State, Texas A&M. We’ve got a lot of high-quality games, not even including our league. There’s a lot for our team to get prepared and ready for. There’s a lot that we’ll be faced with early in the season. Our schedule last year being as competitive as it was probably helped our team going into the league, and I’m hopeful the same thing will happen this year.”
ATONING FOR PAST MISTAKES
“Both guys were very embarrassed and had a great deal of sorrow and regret for what had happened. A lot of times when people don’t know somebody and they see something like that happen, I don’t think that necessarily defines who they are as people. I know they and themselves and their families went through a lot personally over the last several months with what happened,” he said. “Both of them are extremely sorry for what happened. They know that they don’t want to represent themselves, their families or our program in that way. There were obviously some things disciplinary-wise that we had placed on them while the case was going on. Because it did take quite a bit of time, I think that for both of those guys, they have shown a lot of growth and development as people. It’s time for them to move on and get prepared for the season and our team.
“Erik’s got resolved obviously a lot sooner than Cody’s situation. It was an unfortunate situation, and I don’t think anybody condones any of their behavior. They paid a price for that. I’m just hopeful that this is something they learn from and they grow from and they realize that their leash, so to speak, there’s a lot of eyes on them right now and how they conduct themselves, how they handle themselves. Hopefully this is something that will make them better as people moving forward.”
GOING BACK TO THE PRESS
Florida’s defense under Donovan has – especially over the last six years – been one that tried to take the ball out of their opponents’ hands early by pressing throughout the length of the court with players staying tight on the defender. Due to the Gators’ lack of depth in the backcourt, Donovan had to change that model recently in order for his guards – namely senior Erving Walker and junior Kenny Boynton – to remain energized and play the long minutes they needed to. He may be able to go back to his old ways a bit this year.
“I do think that because we have speed and quickness in our backcourt that we really need to try to get up the floor and be more of a full-court defensive team. That’s not to say that we can do it for 40 minutes, but I would certainly like to do it more than we have in the past,” he said. “Any time you get into a situation where you’re pressing like that, you’ve got to have depth in your frontcourt and right now that’s probably one [thing] that we don’t know. What kind of depth are we going to have because every guy in our frontcourt right now is being put into a completely different and new role than they had a year ago. All of those guys are excited and anxious about the opportunity that is in front of them. Defensively I think we do need to use our speed and quickness and try to be somewhat disruptive and try to utilize the depth we have in our backcourt.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» On the team having plenty of work to do in order to play at a high level: “This is a team that has a lot to develop going forward. Although Erving and Kenny have played a lot together, there’s going to be three other guys on the floor that they’ve never really played with and vice versa. Our chemistry on the court is something that’s got to be developed very, very quickly because of the strength of our schedule and how competitive it is early. That’s going to take a lot of work. Some of the things we’ll do offensively will change. Some of the things we’ll do defensively will change. It’s going to be new for everybody going into this season. The relationship and the chemistry away from the practice court between all those guys is very good. There’s a great deal of respect. They all like each other. It’s different when you step on the floor and now you got to try to utilize each other’s strengths as a player. I’m hopeful that through starting practice here this week that we’ll be able to kind of work though some of those things and improve.”
» On finding rebounds without many big men down low: “The biggest dilemma I have in some of those unique lineups is can we rebound and can we defend form the power forward position if we don’t have a conventional power forward. The one thing that really probably a lot of people didn’t talk about last year’s team is we clearly had the best offensive and defensive small forward rebounder in the league in Chandler [Parsons]. There was nobody at the small forward spot that could rebound the ball better than him. With him gone and potentially playing three guards, what kind of opportunity do we have to get the ball back on second-chance points and how well can we keep teams off the glass on the defensive end of the floor? Those are real concerns for me with our team because we’re not as long and we’re not as big as we were a year ago. But there’s other things that we do better. We had a +5.5 rebounding margin in our league last year, which was a pretty big margin that there were not too many teams that outrebounded us. If you look at when [Al] Horford and [Joakim] Noah and those guys left, we had a void ether for a couple years in the frontcourt. We had a really difficult time rebounding the basketball and competing up front. “
» On if losing to Butler in the Elite Eight is lingering in his mind: “For coaches it always lingers where you look at how close we were. There were some things in that game that hurt us that were probably somewhat of a weakness of our team the entire year. I thought our guys had a phenomenal year winning the league and getting to the championship game of the SEC Tournament and then a game away from the Final Four. The one area that I didn’t think we were great at was I didn’t think we were a great loose ball team. What happens is, when you go in the NCAA Tournament and the further you advance and the further you move on, the more your weaknesses as a team get exposed. One of our weaknesses was we weren’t a great loose ball team. That game, a lot of people talk about Erving Walker’s shot there, that was one shot and one play. We gave up 12 points the last eight minutes of the game on loose balls with an 11-point lead. I hope for a guy like Erving Walker, who has made a lot of big shots in his career – Kenny Boynton the same thing – that would linger for them somewhat.
“I would hope that going into this season that they can look at why we didn’t get to the Final Four and what we need to do to get better as a team. I can tell you, when you get to that point in the season, if you get to the Final Four. I remember walking off the floor after Michigan State. When you keep getting closer and closer to a championship, I don’t know if it ever settles well for you at any point as close as you get. It’s always difficult, especially when you feel like you’re that close. If we did beat Butler, who knows what would have happened going forward. I do hope that it’s not something that is lingering with them in a bad way but it’s lingering with them [in a way] that’s going to motivate them, drive them to be better and to look at this season as far as things we need to get better.”