On a three-game winning streak before being embarrassed by rival Georgia on Saturday, the No. 13/16 Florida Gators travel to Nashville, TN to take on the Vanderbilt Commodores on Saturday. Florida head coach Billy Donovan met with the media Monday to discuss his team heading into the upcoming game.
REPLACING WALKER AS FLORIDA’S TEAM “LEADER”
The Gators were visibly struggling on Saturday against a less talented and less successful UGA team, something that Donovan attribute to the fact that their opponents played “with very good passion and energy,” were physical and willing to battle and would not allow UF to come in and walk over them on reputation alone.
“I don’t know if we had that kind of energy, passion that we needed to [have in order] to play with them,” he said. “You don’t really give yourself a chance at all against any team in this league if your effort is not where it needs to be. Obviously that starts with me and trying to get those guys [ready]. We just didn’t play at the level that I would have liked to have seen us play at.”
Donovan, as much as he preaches to the team in practice and during timeouts, cannot also be a leader on the court for the team, a role that a player must step into. He had hoped that senior point guard Erving Walker would take that job but has learned over the course of the season that is not likely to happen any time soon.
“Erving is a really good player and he’s done a lot of great things here,” he said. [But] he’s a pretty even-keeled guy. There are some times that your team can reflect the personality of the guy in charge. With him being in charge, when things are not going well for our team, there are times where we need some more fire out of him.
“We have guys that are out there playing that are left to their own thoughts. There is not enough communication going on. With that being said, I think the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. He’s got to just worry about himself and playing with energy and passion and emotion. I’ve got to stop trying to put him into a situation where he’s trying to [do too much]. I got to get someone else to do it because that needs to happen, especially when you’re playing on the road where it’s hostile and it’s loud. Someone’s got to get in there and grab each other and [direct]. There’s not a lot of that.”
Donovan had hoped that Walker would be the heir apparent to Chandler Parsons and Vernon Macklin, players who stepped up as leaders their senior year. Though Walker does everything Donovan asks from him from a playing perspective, he has not become the leader he expected (both vocally or consistently through his actions).
“Some of the stuff that can take our team to a different level, I’m not so sure he’s capable or wants to,” he said. “Sometimes with him, because he is a very internally deep-rooted thinking kid, sometimes when you make a player start worrying about other players, it becomes too much for them.
“When Erving is really locked in as your point guard and as a senior, he plays with a n energy and passion that effects our entire team whether he says a word or not. But when he’s not doing well and he’s not talking, we don’t have somebody grabbing somebody by the shirt, pulling guys in here and having one clear voice on the court all the time. When we’re playing well, it kind of all flows together. But when we’re not, when we’re in those battles and those struggles and those challenges, we need some of that.
“To be in that role, you’ve got to be a consistent guy every single day. I don’t know if there’s necessarily one person I would say that would fall onto.”
Because the Gators are “starving” for leadership, as Donovan put it, he has looked to three younger players – freshman guard Bradley Beal, sophomore center Patric Young and sophomore PG Scottie Wilbekin – to fill in.
Beal said he is ready and raring to go. “Coach addressed it yesterday in practice. He addressed me and Scottie to be more vocal leaders on the floor, in terms of huddling guys up and making sure everybody is on the same page. I told him that I was more than willing to do that,” he said.
Young noted that becoming a leader is a process and “you can’t just throw a guy in there and tell him to lead.” He would like to fill that void as well but knows that he has to first work on his own mental makeup.
“I definitely would love to eventually come in to that role. That’s something I think I need to work on,” he said. “I think I need to learn how to lead myself as far as moving on to the next play, not being frustrated, saying focused in on what the team is trying to do. I can’t just claim myself to be that leader right away. These guys have to have confidence in me. I have to come in to practice and work hard every day and be consistent.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Donovan on sharing the game of basketball with his father: “[Florida has] allowed him to kind of be a part of it. My dad loves basketball. The one thing I really appreciate more than anything else is how great the coaches around the league have been to him. He loves the game. He loves watching games. He DVRs every game. He watches every single game. He loves basketball. Like anything else, when you’re a parent and your kid is growing up, there is always a level of sacrifice that goes into raising kids. For me to be able to enrich his life, and for him to be able to share in some of that stuff, has in a lot of ways meant a lot to me because I know he really enjoys it. At his age it has given him something that he’s really passionate about that he can really share in.”
» Donovan on if the team should shoot fewer three-pointers: “We don’t want to take bad three-point shots. That’s not what we want to do. But we do have a good shooting team, and when we’re open we do need to shoot the ball. Any team, whether it’s behind the line or inside the line, can have a good or bad offensive game shooting the ball.”
» Donovan on UF’s defensive breakdowns: “Any time you watch film, there’s a couple questions you always ask your team. One – do you know what you’re doing? Two – is that player physically capable of doing what you’re asking them to do? And then if those questions are answered “Yes,” then why not? I don’t think there was anything in the game – Georgia’s been basically running the same offense and doing the same things. I just didn’t think that we were alert enough, aggressive enough, on edge, urgency, whatever it may be. We did not defend like we needed to defend. I don’t know if it is any more complicated than that.”
» Donovan on overcoming a bad shooting night: “It’s always a lot easier playing a game when shots are going down. Really I think your resiliency as a team, your competitiveness as a team, your competitiveness in terms of playing to win has a lot to do with competing when the game is not going well for you. […] Our team has got enough games under their belt that they understand, if they’re not shooting the ball well, there’s got to be an internal resiliency to battle and fight in the game to put yourself in a position to win.”
» Donovan on dealing with a roster that may lose players to the draft: “It’s the day and age and every coach is dealing with it. My feeling right now is that I think it would be hypocritical on my part where I’m all excited when a guy signs to come here and then they make a decision to leave [and] I’m not supportive. All of the guys I’ve had here over the years that have had the opportunity to leave early have been really good about focusing on what’s in front of them with the season and addressing [the NBA] after the year is over with. There’s no question, things can really change and it can really become challenging in recruiting because you may be recruiting a player [worried about another undecided player].”
» Donovan on playing without sophomore forward Will Yeguete: “We need to play at a high-intensity level, especially with Will being out because Will was a guy for us who played with a lot of emotion and a lot of passion. I wouldn’t classify Will as a leader, but his play on the floor, in the press, rebounding, doing those things, you take him away right now and who’s the guy that does that on the team? Who is that? Who does it consistently? Will was kind of like that lunch pail, dirty work guy where he did it.”