Just a day after earning a No. 2 seed in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, Florida Gators (26-7) head coach Billy Donovan met with the media to discuss the season behind him and the heavy task of competition for a national title that lays ahead. OGGOA has compiled some of the most important notes and quotes from the press conference.
DEFENDING THE NO. 2 SEED
Donovan’s media availability opened up with a question that has been on the mind of many fans and members of the press for the last 24 hours: Do the Gators actually deserve a No. 2 seed in the tournament? For Florida’s head coach, questioning the decision does not make much sense, though he does lend credence to UF earning it seed by a variable margin.
“I’m not surprised the all. Did I think we were going to get a two-seed? I didn’t know. I thought we were right in the middle of a two or a three,” he said. “If we would have gotten a three, we probably would have been very close to a two. We got a two, and we’re probably on the higher end of being a two. We’re probably right in the middle there. But I wasn’t necessarily surprised by it. We probably got rewarded for the whole body of work of what happened during the course of the season.”
He continued: “If you look at our whole body of work, we this year probably had as many wins against the RPI top 50 as any school in the country. Then you look at the fact of where you play on the road and what we did on the road and what we did in our non conference schedule and who we played. I wasn’t surprised if you look at the whole entire season. Then, obviously, get together championship game yesterday and then winning the league outright, I think that they looked at the whole season.”
PREPARING FOR UC SANTA BARBARA
Coming out of the Big West, the No. 15-seed UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (18-13) await Florida in the first round of the tournament. UCSB earned a berth by winning the 2011 Big West Tournament even though they finished the regular season tied for fourth place with an 8-8 league record. The Gauchos defeated Big West-leading Long Beach State in the title game after losing to them by a combined 33 points in two regular season contests. What UCSB does have going for them is guard/forward Orlando Johnson, the Big West’s leading scorer with an average of 21.1 points in 33.2 minutes.
“They’ve got the leading scorer in the league who is a very, very good player,” Donovan said of the Gauchos. “[James] Nunnally‘s a terrific shooter. But we’re in the infant stages now of trying to gather all information.
“This is a pretty quick turn around for us playing yesterday and having to play Thursday, so there is a lot to get prepared for. We’re not going to do anything physically today having three games in three days. This will be a day where we’ll meet later this afternoon and talk about Santa Barbara. We’ll talk about the SEC Tournament, and then try to get prepared to get some work done tomorrow physically.”
The entire Gators team had a down day Sunday, but junior point guard Erving Walker and redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin both struggled mightily. Walker, who was often careless with the ball and had some poor shots blocked because of his height, seemed to revert to his old form…something that Donovan certainly noticed.
“We’ve got Walker outside with weights on his ankle hanging from the monkey bars right now to see if we can stretch him a little bit,” he said jokingly. “This could be a great learning experience for Erving. He needs to watch film from yesterday because he did some things that put our team and himself in bad situations where there were other options and things open for him. He’s not going to grow. He is what he is. He can still impact the game, but he’s got to understand how.”
Macklin, though he gave good effort at times, put the ball on the floor too much in the post. As a result, he turned it over five times and brought the frontcourt to a halt.
“I was somewhat disappointed [in] the way Vernon handled the ball when we got it to him. He needs to do a better job,” Donovan said. “Because the five turnovers he had, there are guys open that he’s got to make the play if teams are going to come down and try to take him away. And those are the plays that can free up [Kenny] Boynton and Walker. […] He was way, way too soft and loose with the ball when he put it on the floor.”
CONTRIBUTIONS OF YOUNG AND WILBEKIN
While he tries to reign in his upperclassmen, Donovan gushed about the production that freshmen C Patric Young and PG Scottie Wilbekin have provided down the stretch.
“The one thing with Patric [and Scottie] that we desperately need is they can provide a jolt of energy with our team, just with their energy. Both players are physical, they’re tough,” he said. “We just need his energy. That’s what we need. We need his presence out there. When he’s playing hard with a high energy level, there is no question it impacts our team. It takes pressure off Vernon and Alex a little bit when he can come in there because he can affect the game without scoring.”
The manner in which Wilbekin has been contributing has surprised everyone including his head coach. Still only 17-year-sold, he is quickly coming into his own while concentrating on a few particulars.
“He has two things as a young kid that I didn’t know if he would have,” Donovan said. “He has great feet. He can really move and defend and keep people in front. And we’ve put him on some pretty good offensive players in this league. The other thing, too, he’s got a very strong body for a guy that young. He’s also not afraid to put his body in there and make physical plays, loose balls, long rebounds; he can get in there.
“I don’t think Scottie’s coming in there thinking, ‘I’m going to be a scorer.’ But he knows athletically and physically he can go out there and compete. He also can impact the game with his defense, and making an open jump shot, and doing some of the things he’s done.”
Donovan on learning how to schedule: “Three years ago when we really only had two teams going into the SEC Tournament as lock NCAA tournament teams that were going to get at-large bids, and then Mississippi State won the conference tournament so we got three teams in. There was really a huge emphasis among the athletic directors and the commissioner about the non conference scheduling and what we all needed to do. With the commissioner being on the selection committee, he really talked to us about what goes on inside that room and what they’re looking at. And that they really put a large emphasis on, not so much your league because those 16 games are already penciled in you’ve got to play them, but what are you doing with the games that you can schedule?”
Donovan on Florida’s losses: “I know there’s been a lot of talk about it. Maybe teams look at the Jacksonville game, the Central Florida game as being tough losses, but those are two games. But there were other games, Xavier, Florida State, Kansas State, what we did on the road inside the league. We had some very, very good quality wins. Then we played the second game of the year, the number one overall seed in the entire tournament in Ohio State. If you look at our RPI and our strength of schedule, it’s all inside the top 10. So our RPI and our strength of schedule kind of matched up. I’ve always said this to you; you can play a great, great schedule. But if you don’t win those games, it really doesn’t make a difference. We were fortunate that we were able to win some of those games on the road or at home.”
Donovan on mental motivation for his team: “What our guys have done in a non conference schedule and winning an SEC Championship, coming up a little short yesterday against Kentucky. These guys have earned the right to play in the NCAA Tournament. Now it’s a different season all together. This group, none of these guys has won a game in the NCAA Tournament, and I hope that in itself is motivation and fuel for them to really be focused and understand the importance of going from one game to the next.”
Donovan on what dismayed him about the Kentucky game: “The most disappointing thing to me even yesterday was just they’ve got to understand that when you get to this point in time in the season, it is all about grinding. You cannot get emotionally and mentally frustrated. You’ve got to be able to deal with things not going your way. What didn’t go our way yesterday was really we missed a lot of shots that maybe those first two days we had made. And I thought our offensive lack of productivity, and the ball not going in the basket, it bled into us having a level of being frustrated. We need to be tougher fighting through those things.”
Donovan on playing the first round in Tampa, FL: “Any time you can play close to home in a tournament it’s always a great thing. Our fans have always been good when we’ve traveled even in the non conference schedule when we’ve traveled to Orlando or Tampa or Jacksonville, we’ve always had a good turnout. I hope we can have a good turnout Thursday night, and our fans are good about doing that.”
Donovan on one way Wilbekin is more mature than Walker: Erving yesterday really, really struggled because he didn’t get any clean looks and he tried to drive it to the basket and nothing was going for him there. So he’s trying to figure out how do I impact the game? Where Scottie knows I can impact the game by playing defense. I can impact the team by getting the ball where it needs to go.