No. 17/19 Florida Gators (20-5, 9-2 SEC) head basketball coach Billy Donovan had plenty to say after his team squeaked out a 61-60 win against the Tennessee Volunteers (15-10, 5-5 SEC) to sweep the season series against their rival for the first time since 2002. That is why we have compiled some of the most important news, notes and quotes following his press availability after Saturday’s game.
WALKER’s HEROICS NOT A SURPRISE
Junior point guard Erving Walker often ends up with the ball in his hands with the game on the line. It is not necessarily because it is his job to facilitate (he does not lead the team in assists, senior forward Chandler Parsons does) or because he has the best shooting percentage (that honor belongs to redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin) but more so due to the fact that there is no one on the team who wants and needs to make a clutch shot more than Walker.
“He’s a competitor. He’s a tough kid. I’ve coached guys that love to take the last shot because they don’t want to shy away from it. Erving is a guy that wants it, and he wants it and also there’s a devastation when he doesn’t [make it],” Donovan said. “Losing to Erving Walker is very, very painful as a player. He’s got that drive that winning is very important to him.
“A lot of it has to do with the fact that…being his size his whole entire life… He can’t win the dunk contest, and he can’t do all these other things. The only way he’s able to earn respect is through winning. He’s learned at a young age, being a small point guard, the only way I get any level of recognition or any credit is if my team wins. […] For Erving Walker, he’s a winner. He’s a guy that is willing to step up and do that.”
GATORS TAKING THINGS TO A WHOLE NEW LEVEL
It is easy to tell, from listening to Donovan, that he has a special kind of passion or the team as it is currently assembled. After Florida’s hard-fought win, he mentioned on multiple occasions how impressed he was with the team’s guts and ability to stick together and pull things out in the end.
“There’s some unbelievable qualities that this team has; this team’s a fighting team, it’s a resilient team, it’s a team that works really hard,” he said.
“I love coaching these guys. I really do because there’s a fighting mentality in them. They have a fighting spirit. Even when things aren’t going well, they never quit on me. They never, ever quit on each other. They battle; they fight. They’re resilient. They don’t always do it pretty; they don’t always play perfect. That, to me, is an incredible quality. Maybe as a coach, with these guys, I want it all. And maybe I’m not going to get it all. I don’t want the one thing that they got to get better at as a team to ever end their season a little bit earlier than it needs to be ended.
“We have good chemistry. They’re unselfish. They’re good kids. They work hard. When they get down, they battle. I really respect that in them. Me as a coach, you get one opportunity to be with these guys, I want them to be as good as they can be.
“The last couple years it’s just been holding on, maybe we can get to the tournament. Last year we got in. This team is dealing with stuff that they never, ever had to deal with before in terms of understanding what it takes to be a real winner and compete at a very high level. Really, in a lot of ways, we’re scratching a different surface. Now we’re in first place. This is a different place these guys have never been. They have to understand what comes with it, and they don’t right now. As much as I’ve tried to explain it, they don’t quite get it yet. I’m hopeful that this experience will help them get better.”
LEAVING PARSONS IN; UPDATING HIS INJURY STATUS
While discussing Parsons’s performance Saturday, Donovan noted that he suffered a deep thigh bruise early in the first half and (obviously) “just wasn’t himself” from that point forward. With UF not playing a game until next Sunday (at LSU, 1 p.m., ESPN), he is hopeful that Parsons will be able to play even though he probably will not be practicing until Thursday at the absolute earliest.
Asked why he left Parsons in the game and played him for so many minutes even though he was limited, Donovan noted that it was all about spreading out the defense.
“Just attention,” he said. “He’s an attention-getting guy, because when the ball’s in his hands he can score, he can shoot it, and he can make plays off the dribble. There’s a level of focus that you have to give to him. He was really hurt, and I felt terrible. The last two or three weeks he has played at a very, very high level.”
QUOTES (After the break…)
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