Florida at No. 10 in USA Today preseason top 25

The preseason USA TODAY/ESPN Top 25 Coaches Poll was announced Thursday with the North Carolina Tar Heels being slotted as the overwhelming No. 1 team in the country after receiving 30 of 31 first-place votes. North Carolina, which returns all five starters from 2010, is one spot ahead of the Kentucky Wildcats, which were not voted lower than No. 6 in any ballot submitted.

Four Southeastern Conference teams made the poll including Kentucky (No. 2), Vanderbilt (No. 7), the Florida Gators (No. 10) and Alabama (No. 17).

The 2010-11 Gators were ranked No. 11 heading into last season, which saw them win the SEC and end the year with a record of 29-8 (13-3 SEC) that included an appearance in the Elite Eight round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament.

WeekGator BaitRecordAP Top 25USA TodayNCAA RPI
Preseason--No. 10 (1,048)No. 8 (550)-
2W 77-69 vs. North Florida1-0No. 11 (995)No. 10 (535)-
3L 53-59 at No. 20 Wisconsin
W 86-56 vs. Arkansas-Little Rock
2-1No. 16 (619)No. 14 (359)-
4W 67-53 vs. Southern
W 79-59 vs. MTSU
4-1No. 15 (729)No. 13 (395)-
5W 86-60 at Jacksonville
W 67-66 vs. Florida State
6-1No. 15 (758)No. 12 (426)-
6L 64-65 at No. 12 UConn6-2No. 19 (434)No. 19 (258)-
7W 67-61 vs. No. 13 Kansas7-2No. 16 (699)No. 17 (296)-
8W 77-75 vs. Memphis
W 66-49 vs. Fresno State
9-2No. 13 (881)No. 14 (383)-
9W 76-34 vs. Savannah State10-2No. 12 (915)No. 13 (413)-
10W 67-58 vs. Richmond11-2No. 10 (1,052)No. 11 (473)12
11W 74-58 vs. South Carolina
W-OT 84-82 at Arkansas
(2-0 SEC)
No. 7
No. 7
12W 72-50 vs. Georgia
W 68-61 at Auburn
(4-0 SEC)
No. 6
No. 6
13W 68-62 at Alabama
W 67-41 vs. Tennessee
(6-0 SEC)
No. 3
No. 4
14W 62-51 at Mississippi State
W 69-36 vs. Texas A&M
(8-0 SEC)
No. 3
No. 4
15W 68-58 vs. Missouri
W 78-69 vs. Alabama
(10-0 SEC)
No. 3
No. 4
16W 67-58 at Tennessee
W 69-59 at Kentucky
(12-0 SEC)
No. 2
No. 2
17W 71-66 vs. Auburn
W 75-71 at Ole Miss
(14-0 SEC)
No. 1
No. 1
18W 57-54 at Vanderbilt
W 79-61 vs. LSU
(16-0 SEC)
No. 1
No. 1
19W 72-46 at South Carolina
W 84-65 vs. Kentucky
(18-0 SEC)
No. 1
No. 1
W 72-49 vs. Missouri
W 56-49 vs. Tennessee
W 61-60 vs. Kentucky
(18-0 SEC)
(3-0 SECT)
No. 1
No. 1
FinalW 67-55 vs. Albany
W 61-45 vs. Pittsburgh
W 79-68 vs. UCLA
W 62-52 vs. Dayton
L 53-63 vs. UConn
(18-0 SEC)
(3-0 SECT)
(4-1 NCAAT)
-No. 3

Preseason 1-5: North Carolina (30), Kentucky (1), Ohio State, Connecticut, Syracuse
6-10: Duke, Vanderbilt, Louisville, Memphis, Florida
11-15: Pittsburgh, Baylor, Kansas, Wisconsin, Xavier
16-20: Arizona, Alabama, Michigan, Texas A&M, UCLA
21-25: Marquette, Cincinnati, Gonzaga, California, Missouri

*Numbers in parenthesis represent first-place votes.

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Florida basketball to introduce new uniforms

In addition to the Florida Gators roster being adjusted for the 2011-12 season, the team will also be sporting new uniforms when they step out on the court this year.

Florida provided a sneak peak of their updated threads at the team’s media day last Tuesday as players donned the new blue away uniforms featuring a bold orange font for the letters and numbers. OGGOA has learned that the Gators will also have new home uniforms as well as an alternate jersey this year.

All three designs are the same general style (the letters and numbers will likely be altered on the home/alternate uniforms) with different color combinations. The home kit is traditional white, while the alternate uniform is orange. Below is a real picture of the away uniform courtesy of the Orlando Sentinel‘s Gary W. Green (view the rest of his gallery) next to some OGGOA-made mockups of the home and alternate jerseys.

Updated 2:45 p.m. Florida just decided to release two sneak peaks of the official home jersey for this season, which looks like this:

UF will play an exhibition game against Catholic University on Nov. 3 before beginning the regular season Nov. 11 against Jackson State. Tip-off for both games is 7 p.m.

UF coaches say winning starts with mental prep

If there is one thing Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan understands, it is the pressure of high expectations regardless of the age of your players.

Coming off of consecutive national championships in 2006-07, Donovan was faced with a young squad of up-and-comers who were expected to pick up where the Oh Fours left off. While his players had confidence and held those same expectations, there were plenty of factors working against them in addition to their inexperience.

“Players, when they’re young, they look at a program or a school or a team and think, ‘If I go there, this is going to happen for me.’ They don’t understand the commitment and the understanding of what goes into it,” Donovan explained on Monday. “When young guys are playing, it’s not just a guarantee that guys understand how to win.

“It takes time to do that.”

It all starts with understanding how to win at the collegiate level, something Donovan related to what the football team is going through right now after three-straight losses.

“Young players have to go through that to understand what goes into winning. There’s a process. You don’t just go in and just win,” he continued. “No one is immune from it. Everyone has to go through it. It just doesn’t happen because you’re ‘at Florida.’

“‘Because we’re at Florida, we’re going to win.’ It doesn’t work like that. That’s the beauty of competing – there are ingredients that go into practice habits, preparation, the mental part of the game, chemistry, covering for each other, knowing when it gets really hard how to handle adversity. A lot of times, when these guys are young, it’s the first time these guys have gone through adversity.”

Adversity is exactly what the football team has been faced with recently, and head coach Will Muschamp on Tuesday agreed with Donovan’s assessment that it all starts with gaining an advantage in the mental aspect of the game.

“I talked to Brian Orakpo this summer, a guy I coached at Texas,” Muschamp said. “He was an All-Pro his rookie year. I asked him, I said, ‘Being an All-Pro as a rookie is very difficult. How did you do that?’ He said, ‘Will, everybody I play against is as good as I am. I watch 30 more minutes of film. I stay on the field 25-30 more minutes after practice.’ He’s gaining the mental edge of what it takes to be successful.”

Muschamp has been trying to explain to his team how important that factor is for winning for months, but he notes that the inability for some young players to understand that from the start may be due to how much success they saw in high school.

“That’s what’s hard, especially with the way recruiting is nowadays,” he said. “Young men have an inflated opinion about where they are as a player. So when they come in, they don’t understand what Billy referred to as the process it takes to be a good player. What is that process? The mental preparation. The physical attributes may be the same as the guy you’re lined up against. What’s going to be the difference at the end of the day? The mental preparation, the mental edge, the mental belief in what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. And that’s called ‘discipline.’

“There’s no question that young players that generally mature quicker are players that understand what it takes to be successful and understand that it’s not just about what happens on the field. It’s about what happens in the classroom. It’s about what happens in the meeting rooms. It’s about what happens in the weight rooms. And they continue to advance their professional career the right way off the field not necessarily what you’re doing on the field. There’s no question that’s a huge growing process. Generally the ones that play as freshmen and contribute and play a lot and play well are the ones who are mature enough to understand what it takes.”

That’s not to say Florida’s mental preparation is lacking in all areas, but it certainly needs to improve. Another thing the Gators have to fix is the team’s health, something Donovan said has undoubtedly cost them some victories thus far in the season.

“The other thing with the football situation just to me on the outside looking in – and I know nothing about football,” Donovan joked, “it is very clear that if you take a team’s starting quarterback and starting tailback away and replace them with a freshman quarterback…that would be like taking Erving Walker and Patric Young out of our team and expecting to be really good. That would be an incredible blow to our team.”

Muschamp, who has refused to use injuries as an excuse because they happen every year in one way or another, did admit Tuesday that he does not think Florida has a long ways to go in order to step up their game to the next level.

“We’re not that far away. I really don’t believe that. I just don’t. I think the biggest issue we have as much s anything is depth right now,” he said. “In this profession, something that has held true for me is that it’s never as good as it seems and it’s never as bad as it seems. It’s somewhere in between. I don’t think we’re far off – I don’t. I don’t believe that. I think we’ve got good players in this program.

“I think we’ve got some depth issues we have to work through because that helps competition. It’s different when you got a guy standing behind you that’s ready to take your job. Right now, quite frankly, at some positions we don’t have that. That gets better play – it gets more consistent play.”

Considering the Gators have half as many upperclassmen (19 seniors, 16 juniors) on the roster as they do underclassmen (34 sophomores, 33 freshmen), depth is looking like something Florida may find very shortly with another solid recruiting class or two.

How those future Gators prepare mentally to be part of a winning football team is what remains to be seen.

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10/17: Donovan on freshmen, Walker, Young

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.


“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.”


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.”


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.”


» 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.”

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Frontcourt a work in progress for young Gators

It is tough to replace veteran leadership, so the fact that the Florida Gators have to find a way to make up for the size, strength and 19.4 rebounds per game provided by Chandler Parsons, Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin last year is one that has been tough to swallow this offseason.

Head coach Billy Donovan, faced with a rotation primarily filled with high-scoring guards, is looking for ways to replace his veterans. He like everyone else knows that job starts with helping sophomore center Patric Young take his game to the next level.

“Patric has made some good strides and good growth from a year ago. Maturity-wise, it is always important going from your freshman to your sophomore year,” Donovan said of Young. “A lot of people keep talking about his offense. The thing that I have really tried to stress to Patric is that he’s got to keep it very simple for himself.

“He’s a physically strong, dominant player so he needs to utilize his size, strength and athleticism. He’s got a great motor. He’s got great energy. He needs to utilize those things. Patric doesn’t need to be a guy who is totally consumed with his offense around the basket as much as he needs to be consumed with the fact that we lost…rebounds from last year. He needs to be a great rebounder. He needs to be able to play defense without getting himself in foul trouble. He needs to get great deep post position and post up in an area of the floor where he can be successful and effective in what he’s doing.”

That’s not to say Young will not be expected to contribute offensively. Donovan hopes he learned from Macklin’s ability to consistently score in the post last year.

“Vernon established that with our team, that he was a reliable low-post guy that we could throw the ball to and he could make plays and score. Patric’s got to keep it simple where he’s a reliable guy when we throw the ball to him that he makes good decisions,” he explained. “If he’s double teamed, he can get it out. If he catches it, he can make a good, aggressive post move. All of those things are going to be really important to his growth.”

Donovan also believes he has the chance to step up in another way.

“It’s always hard to establish yourself as a leader when you’re coming out of your freshman year and you were coming off the bench,” he said. “Patric has got all of the abilities to be a terrific leader. Patric is one of those younger guys that I would say no question needs to develop into a leadership role. That will be important.”

Young believes he has that innate ability. “I have been a pretty passionate guy my whole career as a basketball player. I think every time I step on the court I go as hard as I can and do all the right things,” he said. “Guys will start noticing things like that and hopefully I’ll earn some respect from guys and have a good influence on the team.”

Florida’s second leading rebounder off the bench last year was forward Will Yeguete (2.6 per game), who spent part of his summer playing for the French national team, an experience that Donovan agreed was positive even if it did have one slight drawback.

“It was good because Will didn’t get a chance to play a lot last year. Any time these guys can go into a summer where they play competitive basketball, it’s always a good thing,” Donovan said. “I wish he would have came back in a little bit better shape. Maybe a little too much pastry eating over there. Will’s a great worker. He’s a great kid.”

Yeguete’s energy and enthusiasm for defense and rebounding was a necessary addition to the Gators’ rotation last season, but this year he is just one of a few players being counted on to provide assistance in that area off the bench.

“There’s four guys on our team that are really critical going into the season,” said Donovan while speaking of Yeguete, sophomore F Casey Prather, redshirt freshman F Cody Larson and freshman point guard Scottie Wilbekin. “They all bring things to the table that our team desperately needs.

“They’re really good loose ball guys. They’re quick to the ball. They are good rebounders. They’re good defenders. They’re opportunistic scorers. They give us depth. They have a presence athletically and physically.”

Donovan plans to utilize Prather, who some say resembles a shorter Corey Brewer at 6’6” and 212 lbs., in a variety of ways to utilize his athleticism and quickness. With so many scorers on the court at any given time, his bench this year will be focused on doing the “little things” like rebounding and defending.

“Casey and Will and Scottie and Cody, they can bring a depth and element to our team that can be very helpful,” he said. “Those four guys, to me, are going to be very important because we need those four guys in whatever role it is. The things that they can bring to the table our team needs.”

Florida’s success this season may hinge on its experienced backcourt but contributions from a young and talented frontcourt are going to be necessary, especially as the team enters league play in January.

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For Beal and Rosario, practice makes perfect

No one would argue that the Florida Gators basketball team is going to be guard-heavy this season. Aside from questions about how the frontcourt will support their high-scoring counterparts, plenty remains to be seen from two of Florida’s newest scoring threats – freshman sensation Brad Beal and redshirt junior transfer Mike Rosario.

Head coach Billy Donovan’s most lauded recruit since point guard Nick Calathes, Beal was ranked as the No. 4 player in the country by Rivals and, at 6’4” and 195 lbs., has the size to penetrate as well as the stroke to hit shots from the perimeter.

Discussing what Beal brings to the table during Florida basketball’s media day on Wednesday, Donovan raved about his character more so than his immense talent.

“Brad is a very, very unique kid. He’s probably as mature as any freshman I’ve had come in here. He’s got a really, really good understanding of team chemistry,” he explained. “The one thing that I admire is, when you have a high-profile player come in, when there’s a level of humility and respect and understanding that there are some guys here before you arrived that have been successful and have had the opportunity to accomplish a lot of different things throughout their career.

“Brad’s not the kind of the guy that’s coming in here, ‘I’m taking your job. I’m starting.’ He’s not that way at all. He really understands the importance of chemistry. He understands the importance of being unselfish.”

As talented as Beal is, Donovan has already identified one area in which he needs to push him early and often before the regular season gets underway.

“Brad, maybe more so than anything else, I’m going to need as a coach to push him to be even more aggressive than maybe he is. He is very conscientious of fitting in, being part of the team and doing what he can do to help our team,” he said. “Right now with really no practices under his belt, he has no idea. What is my role? How am I going ot be used? What position am I going to play? He doesn’t know any of those things right now because those things will get answered as we start to practice.

“In terms of his work ethic, in terms of hits talent and what he can bring to our team, he’s certainly very gifted. Like all freshmen, there will be some growth, some ups and downs. It’s not always going to be easy. I do think he’s very competitive. He’s highly motivated and driven, and I think he’ll be a good addition to our team.”

Beal is confident that the praise he received coming out of high school will not play into how he conducts himself on the court in college. “Honestly, all of that doesn’t matter anymore. That was high school, and now I’m in college. And Coach Donovan has told me that before, and it stuck with me. The McDonald’s All-American stuff doesn’t matter anymore. I’m just focusing on what he wants me to do,” he said.

Unlike Beal, Rosario was with the Gators last year but was unable play due to NCAA transfer rules. Averaging nearly 17 points per game during his sophomore season with the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Rosario is used to being his team’s top scorer. He will have a different role with Florida in 2011-12 and going forward.

“Mike made a decision to stay close to home. There was a lot of expectations he had placed on himself as being a local guy to help raise Rutgers’ basketball team. Like all these guys wanting to someday play in the NBA, he thought there was a route or a vision he was going to take,” Donovan said.

“He’s a guy that has scored a lot of points in college but his teams haven’t won in college at the level that he probably wanted to. He’s coming into a situation where he realizes there are other good players here on our team that he’s got to fit in with.”

Donovan’s hopes Rosario can continue learning to share the ball while simultaneously ensuring that he maintains a level of consistency.

“We’ve got to be a very unselfish group, and Mike’s got a good feel of how to play. He’s smart, he’s intelligent. He’s competitive. He’s got to be an everyday guy though. He’s got to come every single day with an understanding that he’s got to continue to grow, develop, work and get better,” Donovan said.

“There’s a reason he’s no longer at Rutgers. It didn’t work out. There is lot of room that he needs to grow as a person and as a player. If it was going really well for him with all the minutes he was getting at Rutgers, he would have stayed there. There’s some things he’s got to get better at as a player. Part of that is just being a regular guy every single day that comes to work. Sometimes Mike, emotionally, can be up and down, up and down. He’s got to be more consistent for our team in that fashion.”

With so much emphasis placed on Florida’s backcourt this season, the development of Beal and Rosario will be paramount to the Gators’ level of success.

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Donovan confident in Gators’ rebuilt staff

It has been a long offseason for Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan. In addition to serving as a court coach for USA Basketball, traveling across the country recruiting some of the nation’s best high school players and preparing for the 2011-12 season, Donovan had to hire four new staff members including three assistant coaches.

“The only guy that liked me half way decent was our trainer [Dave Werner]. That’s because I take him fishing a lot,” Donovan joked during Florida basketball’s media day on Wednesday.

“In hiring, there [were] a couple things that were concerns for me. One, I felt like I needed some familiarity. People around me that knew me, knew Florida, knew the way we were going to do things here. It can be very time consuming when you have to train three new people. When I say ‘train,’ I’m not talking about coaching train them, but terminology on the court, how you go about recruiting, dealing with players, individual workouts, breaking down tape, scouting reports. All those things are things that need to be taught because it’s their first time doing it this way, not the first time in their career.

“The other thing too is, I talk a lot about our team chemistry, how we play together, chemistry on the court, chemistry off the court. I think it’s really hard to sit there and talk to your team [about that] when your coaching staff doesn’t have chemistry. Players see that stuff. I wanted to try to hire a staff where we all were going to try to make each other better, there were going to be great relationships, great respect and great passion.”

Donovan first reached out to an old friend and a familiar face for fans of Gators basketball. John Pelphrey, fresh off being fired by the Arkansas Razorbacks following five years as the team’s head coach, decided to return to Gainesville, FL where he was an assistant under Donovan from 1996-2002.

“From a familiarity standpoint, bringing John Pelrphey back first was very helpful to me because he had been with me for quite some time,” Donovan explained. “He knew me, knew Florida. I knew he could help the other guys.”

Next up was hiring another experienced assistant. Though there was no direct connection to Donovan, former St. John’s Red Storm head coach Norm Roberts became a top candidate. Like Donovan, Roberts is a native New Yorker, and the two had crossed paths as players and on the recruiting circuit. Roberts had been out of work for a year after being released by St. John’s in 2010.

“Getting the chance to hire Norm was a real big steal for us. Norm’s a high-character, a really good basketball coach,” Donovan said. “He obviously has head coaching experience under his belt at the highest level. He’s been a great guy. I’ve known Norm since we both got out of high school in New York at the same time, played against each other a little bit. Never had a close relationship but we knew each other.”

Rounding out the staff is former University of Florida director of basketball operations Matt McCall. Also serving as a team manager, head manager and graduate assistant during the seven years he worked under Donovan (2004-08), McCall left the program to become an assistant coach with the Florida Atlantic Owls under head coach Mike Jarvis. He is now back in a coaching role and with a lot more responsibilities.

“I don’t think it’s any different than when I was hired by Coach [Rick] Pitino at 24 years old at Kentucky. I started off as an administrative assistant and worked my way up and within 2-3 years was on the road recruiting at 25-26 years old. Matt’s been with me for a long period of time. He’s been involved. He was like an administrative assistant here,” Donovan said of hiring such a young assistant.

“He learned an awful lot at FAU. He had a lot to do with the players that were brought in there along with their staff. They won the league this past year. It’s one of those things when you know somebody as a person, someone that you’ve worked with and someone you’ve been around, it makes it a little bit easier. I don’t think there’s any question that he will do a terrific job for us and is more than ready to handle [it] because he knows exactly what’s going on.

“The one thing that’s great about him is he’s got great energy in recruiting. He’s very passionate about it and he’s very good. On the floor, he knows our system. He knows our style of play. He knows practice. He knows all those things. That will be OK for him.”

Donovan is not only thrilled about the character and talent of his new assistants but also how well they are already meshing both on- and off-the-court.

“It’s great to see those guys work together because you have Norm and John who have obviously recruited at a high level for a long time, and you have Matt who has been here and around and has watched us at Florida try to recruit like that,” he said. “Now you’ve got Matt’s energy and enthusiasm recruiting with the experience of Norm and John. The staff, the way it’s mixing and matching, is very good.

“It really exceeded my expectations of what these guys have done to this point in time. Having to get right into recruiting and develop relationships, having to know the players and find out our system and style.”

The hiring process was not over for Donovan after Pelphrey, Roberts and McCall were in the fold. Strength and conditioning coach Matt Herring also decided to leave the program to become the director of athletic performance with the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA. Donovan replaced him by hiring Preston Greene, who had spent his last three years as the assistant strength and conditioning coach with the Clemson Tigers.

“Hiring those three guys was really great. And then hiring Preston Greene our strength coach, I think we added another really good guy,” Donovan said. “I would say that, right now, our ability to work together, recruit together, coach together, I feel like we’re all on the same page and it has been good.”

If Florida’s chemistry on the court can be built the way its coaches have formed relationships off the court, the Gators have a lot to look forward to this season.

Photo Credits: Unknown, Chris Trotman

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Florida basketball 2011 media day – Donovan

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.


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.”


Donovan opened his press conference on Wednesday talking about the hot topic of the offseason – the arrests of forwards junior Erik Murphy and redshirt freshman Cody Larson. He explained that both matters have been resolved and the players have returned to the team after their indefinite suspensions but expressed how apologetic the players were for their actions and how they affected those they care about.

“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.”


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.”


» 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.”

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