11/8: Donovan, players talk season opener

With Florida Gators basketball opening the 2011-12 regular season at home Friday against Jackson State, head coach Billy Donovan, senior point guard Erving Walker and freshman guard Brad Beal met with the media Tuesday to discuss how practice has been going and what preparations have been made for the first game of the season.

REBOUNDING REMAINS THE FOCUS

There is no question that the Gators are going to be able to score and score often this year, so Donovan has spent the last week trying to teach his players rebounding techniques that will help them fill in the other parts of their game. He believes that Florida can be a good collective rebounding team even though their guards lack the size to hit the boards as hard as some other players might.

“They were a little taken back and surprised with practice on Friday because I said to them, ‘Let’s take the 20 threes we made out of the game right now. Let’s look at it without that – us defensively and rebounding wise.’ When you shoot the ball well, it cures a multitude of sins. But when you don’t shoot the ball well, sometimes those things are a lot more exposed,” Donovan said, referring to the team’s need to improve its rebounding.

“We’re not a long, big, strong, athletic team with unbelievable size, so we’re not going to be a team that just is all of a sudden going to be a great rebounding team.”

That is why Beal is going to have to step up for the Gators. Starting at the three, he will be off the ball most of the time and have an ability to crash the boards when shots go up. “Clearly Brad is the best rebounder from that position of our perimeter guys. He’s got to do a better job getting in there because he’s capable. It’s a little bit new for him in terms of what we’re asking him to do, but we need him [to rebound],” Donovan said.

Beal said Florida has been attacking the basket a lot more in practice but realizes that he must personally be responsible for grabbing boards game-in and game-out. “I definitely have to do a better job of rebounding,” he said. “Coach Donovan has been on my head ever since our scrimmage game. He’s just been on me about rebounding. I have to take the initiative and just get in there and rebound with the bigger guys.”

COUNTING ON YOUNG’s AWARENESS

Considering the Gators are going to be taking so many perimeter and mid-range shots, Florida is going to need a solid post presence to play off of during games. That presence is sophomore center Patric Young, who has been working on cutting down his fouls and staying on the ground rather than being caught out of position in the air.

Donovan praised Young’s effort and ability but said he needs to learn how to stay away from bad situations and ensure that he is in the correct position on the court.

“The one thing that I’m trying to get him to understand is because he’s so athletic and because he plays hard and has a really good motor, there are times that he can really make incredible, exceptional plays by being totally out of position,” he explained. “Trying to get him to understand positioning on the court offensively and defensively is something I have been trying to work with him on.”

In games that the Gators struggle scoring, Donovan said defense will obviously be of paramount importance. In that regard, he said that Florida should not have to count on Young to handle everything inside.

“We have the ability to be really good defensively because I do think this team has more speed and quickness than we had a year ago, but we don’t have the length we had a year ago,” he said. “We can collectively be good at it, and we do a pretty good job of it. Because of things we have to do defensively, we got to do some things to try and protect Patric. Sometimes we double team in the low post so he doesn’t pick up fouls.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Donovan said the starting lineup would likely remain the same for the season opener but noted that it could change at any given time depending on how players perform. He added that whichever players start is not of great significance to him in the long run as long as the players do well in whatever role they receive.

» Donovan on how he will divide up minutes amongst the guards: “I never try to preplan that stuff because so much happens in the game that you have to be ready to adjust and make decisions based on what’s going on in that game.”

» Donovan on how good of a shooting team Florida is this year: “We’re a much better shot-making team than we have been. The last two years the way we played, we really did not have a power forward that shot the ball. […] The last two years, we always gave ourselves a chance because we were able to rebound the ball. When you have a good shooting team, that part of it can get lost. You could have a bad shooting night at a key time during the season. […] I do think offensively we have a chance to be explosive.”

» Walker on this being his last year with Florida: “It should be a fun season. We just got to keep working hard, play every game like it’s your last because you never know.”

» Walker on sophomore PG Scottie Wilbekin: “He’s one of those guards that is going to get in there and bang, play great defense and run the team – he does a good job at that.”

» Walker on how different the team is this year: “This team has a good confidence about it. Not arrogance but just confidence. We feel like we can be a special team. Guys see that, listen to coach, and I think this is one of the hardest working teams I’ve been on since I’ve been here.”

» Walker on if it’s exciting to play a tough non-conference schedule: “It’s very exciting, but it also brings out a better focus because we know we got tough challenges coming ahead. We got to be prepared for them. Playing in these big games serves no purpose if you don’t win many of them.”

» Walker on being the SEC’s active leader in career scoring: “That doesn’t mean anything to me. That’s in the past. I’m just looking at the present and the future.

» Walker on how junior G Kenny Boynton has improved: “Just watching him play, he’s more mature and his midrange has got a lot better. His ability to finish at the rim and even his jump shot, I think with another year of experience he’s become a better player.”

» Walker on former players coming back to Gainesville: “It just shows how much they love it here and how it is a great place to come back [to].”

» Beal on the team’s chemistry: “The chemistry is great. I feel great, confident and comfortable with the team that we have. Everybody is playing together as a team, and everything is fun and flowing right now.”

» Beal on how he’s standing up to collegiate-level competition: “I’m humbled but at the same time I know that this is an elite level and I’m not here for no reason.”

» Beal on learning to foul less often: “Just being aggressive and smart basically on defense, not committing silly fouls. Most of the fouls I had were pretty dumb fouls. Mostly being smart, staying on the ground and playing good defense.”

» Beal on what the guards are learning from each other: “I’m kind of the biggest guard, so I guess I have a more physical body than those guys do. I can teach them to finish more towards the rim, but at the same time they’re teaching me how to be quicker and off the dribble because the game is lot faster. I’m just learning from these guys, and I’ve picked up a lot of things from them.”

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11/3: Florda vs. Catholic post-game notes

The No. 8/10 Florida Gators soundly defeated the Catholic Cardinals Thursday evening in an exhibition match at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL. After the game, head coach Billy Donovan and some Florida players discussed the contest as well as their outlook for the upcoming season.

GUARD PLAY A BIG HIGHLIGHT

Considering every Gators starter scored in double figures and the backcourt was raining threes all night long, Donovan had little to criticize after the game when it came to how his most talked about unit played. He was mostly impressed with their effort, especially how many resists the team recorded over the course of the game.

“There has been so much talk about our backcourt and how all of that is going to work. The thing I’ve said all along is that I really felt like in practice for the last two-and-a-half-to-three weeks, they have really played unselfishly, shared the ball and worked well together. Today kind of displayed that,” he said. “With the way they’ve been unselfish passing the ball, it was really what I’ve seen for the last two-and-a-half weeks of practice.

“I made the comment that I think we’re explosive offensively. Certainly we got it going in the first half there. I was really pleased with the unselfishness of 31 assists, the ball movement, those guys playing together, them looking for each other. I thought we got a lot of great looks. We shot 57 percent from the field and shot a really high percentage in our scrimmage.”

Even though Florida shot 40 treys in the contest, Donovan said that because they were open shots created by ball rotation, he was perfectly fine with that figure and result (the team shot 50 percent from beyond the arc).

“The one thing that was kind of interesting in the first half was I think we took 37 shots in the first half, and I think we took maybe 23-24 three-point shots. I didn’t like the balance there, but I can honestly say I don’t know if we took one bad three-point shot in the first half,” he said.

“I can’t remember a game since I’ve been here that we took 40 three-point shots. We took 40 three-point shots and made 20. There were a few bad ones there in the second half, but for the most part in the first half with the way the ball was being moved around we got some good looks. We made some adjustments in the press; we were disruptive. I thought we did a lot of good things.”

BEAL AND ROSARIO INTRODUCED TO GATOR NATION

Though Thursday was not an official game, it was the first time that Gators fans got to see guards freshman Brad Beal and redshirt junior transfer Mike Rosario active for Florida. Beal was explosive with 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting (4-for-7 from downtown) and added five dimes to his line.

“What you saw tonight is what I’ve seen since he stepped foot on campus. He’s very advanced. He’s got a really high basketball IQ. He lets the game come to him. He’s really an efficient scorer. He does a lot of different things,” Donovan said after the game. “What you saw tonight is what I watch every day in practice. He’s that kind of player. He gets the team; he gets the chemistry. They all understand that when you have a self-awareness of yourself in terms of you care about trying to play the right way because you care about the guys on your team, that’s a good thing. I think Brad has that and embodies a lot of those things.”

Rosario was also quite effective, posting 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting (4-for-7 from downtown) with six assists and two steals. As the Gators’ sixth man, Rosario saw more court time than three starters did (24 minutes). Donovan believes both Beal and Rosario will go a long way to helping senior point guard Erving Walker and junior G Kenny Boynton play even better this year.

“They’re going to relieve some pressure off those guys in a positive way,” he said. “Those two guys are warriors. They’ve played a lot of minutes and there has been a lot on their shoulders. I have the utmost respect for both of those two guys. What you’re seeing now is Erving [and Kenny] not having that scoring power around him, how much has fallen on both those guys shoulders, and they have still tried to go out and do what they can at a high level. They got help now.”

MUST HIT THE GLASS HARDER

Florida outrebounded Catholic 36-31 on Thursday but that is not saying much considering how much more athletic and talented the Gators are than the Cardinals. Donovan realizes that rebounding will be a work in progress for UF this season, calling it the team’s biggest challenge going forward.

“We need to rebound the ball because we’re so explosive offensively, and it’s so hard when we’re coming down to floor to match-up with us. We eliminate a huge strength of our team in broken floor situations if we get dominated on the glass and we have to constantly inbound the ball,” he explained.

“Part of the reason we went on that huge run and the score just exploded was we got stops and steals and we got out of transition. All of a sudden the floor is spaced, the ball is moving around like it is, and it’s finding guys who are getting pretty high percentage shots for good shooters. My thing for the rebounding for us is not so much that we have to do it, but it takes away a huge strength for our team if we get annihilated in the backcourt. We got to get better there.”

No Florida player posted double-digit boards on Thursday with sophomores center Patric Young and guard/forward Casey Prather each registering a team-high seven rebounds.

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Donovan on how his son Billy Donovan, Jr. performed for Catholic: “I was really proud of him. I thought he played aggressive. It was a hard situation for him to walk into. I did not know what to expect. The thing that I was the most pleased with was that he really was not overwhelmed in the situation. He just tried to do what the coaches and his team asked him to do. I thought he really played well and did a good job. He’s got a great opportunity to have a great career there. […] To be able to come back here and – their whole team – they really competed hard. Certainly they were overwhelmed talent-wise, but they really played hard and competed and I was happy for him.”

» Donovan on how Young has been cutting down the fouls: “He’s been pretty good. In our scrimmage against UCF he had two fouls in 40 minutes. He did a really nice job. He was effective and physical. It’s going to be a learning process for Patric. The biggest thing I’m trying to get him to eliminate is the silly fouls.”

» Donovan on the press: “What we can’t do is put our defense and Patric in a bad position in the back end of the press for fouls.”

» Donovan on what else Florida has to do offensively: “When you have a level of awareness of people around you, you’re inclined to make the extra pass. We got to have more of a presence in the paint. That’s not meaning Patric, because Patric provides a presence for us. We have to have a presence in terms of driving and penetrating.”

» Beal on playing his first game in the O’Dome: “With it being my first game, [I was happy with] just how unselfish we are. Everybody got a chance to play. Everybody got to touch the ball. Everybody scored. With the type of team we are, I’m realizing we can be a pretty good team.”

» Beal what it felt like to finally play college ball: “It was real important. I’ve been waiting on this for a long time. The nerves were kicking in at first, but once the game started, everything was going, I had fun and just relaxed.”

» Beal on how Donovan felt about playing his son: “He wanted to beat him but at the same time he wanted him to do good. He was talking to him a little bit on the floor.”

» Beal on if it is easier playing off the ball and with veterans: “It makes it easier for everybody. Last year obviously they had a lot of trouble with that. Now we have a huge backcourt as well as we have power inside. It’s going to be hard to defend us both inside and outside.”

» Beal on how he thought the press worked: “Up front we did real good in the press. We did exactly what Coach Donovan wanted us to. We have to get better at our defense and rebounding. Those are the two main keys coach Donovan always points out to us.”

» Rosario on sharing the ball: “That’s a big thing because a lot of people in the nation think that by us having Kenny, Erving Walker, myself and Brad Beal, how are we going to share the ball? Right now we’re just putting our focus on the defensive end, moving the ball around and making each other better.”

» Rosario on playing off the ball: “I love playing off the ball here, and I love the role I have to play. It take sa lot of pressure off of me because I’m surrounded by a lot of good players.“

» Rosario on the defensive effort: “We did a good job on the defensive end. we got a lot of things to clear up and to get better at in practice. I’m sure coach is going to go over those things in practice and watch film.”

» Boynton on how Beal played: “Even in the scrimmage that we played, Brad played the same exact way. He’s a smooth player. He doesn’t force anything and has a great basketball IQ. I think he’s going to continue that throughout the season.”

» Walker on team defense: “We got to continue focus defensively because that can be our Achilles heel. We have to gang rebound as guards, get in there and it’s not going to come pretty every night.”

» Walker on Donovan watching his son: “I think it was a good moment for him. I think he enjoyed it. I actually thought he is son played really well and made some shots. I thought he played hard.”

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Three-pointer crusade leads Florida past Catholic

No. 8/10 Florida Gators basketball had the perfect tune up on Thursday evening, defeating the Division-III Catholic Cardinals 114-57 in an exhibition match at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL.

Sporting new uniforms and playing on a redesigned home court, Florida had six players score in double figures in the contest, which saw them lead from start to finish.

Gators junior guard Kenny Boynton posted a double-double and led all players with 21 points and 10 rebounds while hitting 6-of-11 attempts from downtown.

Freshman G Brad Beal (20 points, five assists), redshirt junior transfer G Mike Rosario (18 points, six assists) and senior point guard Erving Walker (15 points, four assists) also shot well from beyond the arc, combining to go 11-for-20.

Sophomores center Patric Young and guard/forward Casey Prather each grabbed a game-high seven rebounds; Young added 10 points and three steals.

Junior F Erik Murphy was 6-of-9 from the field and 3-for-4 from downtown for 17 points, and sophomore F Will Yeguete added nine points on 5-of-6 shooting from the charity stripe. Redshirt freshman F Cody Larson and freshman F Walter Pitchford were the only Florida players unable to score in a combined 22 minutes.

As a team, the Gators shot 57.1 percent from the field (40-of-70), 50 percent from three (20-of-40) and 70 percent from the free throw line (14-of-20). Florida outrebounded Catholic 36-31, led their opponent in steals 16-3 and scored 50 points off turnovers.

Cardinals G Billy Donovan, Jr., Gators head coach Billy Donovan’s son, led Catholic in points (13) and minutes played (27). He received a friendly ovation before the game and when being pulled from the game at the end of the second half.

The Gators will have a week off before officially beginning the 2011-12 season. Florida takes on Jackson State in their regular season opener on Friday, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. in the O’Connell Center. The game will air live on FOX Sports Florida (check your local listings).

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11/2: Donvoan on Florida’s preparations

With Florida Gators basketball competing in an exhibition game Thursday in Gainesville, FL against Catholic University, head coach Billy Donovan met with the media Wednesday to discuss how practice has been going and what preparations have been made for the exhibition contest.

THE EXHIBITION PLAN

Considering the results of Thursday’s exhibition game do not count toward the team’s regular season record, Donovan plans to ensure that every player gets on the court and sees some time as long as they are healthy and able to do so.

“Playing an exhibition game like we are, the talent discrepancy is certainly there. There is a different feeling when you put the uniform on and you’re under the lights and there is a crowd there. It’s a different feeling than being in practice, and I think that’s something they need to experience before the first game,” he said.

“Guys like Patric [Young] and Erik Murphy, Brad Beal, Cody Larson, Will Yegeute and Casey Prather, those guys were really in small roles a year ago. […] It’s always good – the things we’ve preached and talked about behind closed doors – to see how well we can do those things out in the open.”

Unlike the past few years, Donovan appeared quite confident in his team heading into the exhibition. “We were way ahead of schedule in terms of getting what we needed to get in,” he said. “We’re probably more prepared to play a game this year than maybe the last couple of years when we had five new guys last year.”

One of the reasons he feels that way is because of how unselfish the guards have been with the ball in the backcourt. “I really talked to them a lot about just they have to make the extra pass,” he said. “They got to make the game easier. We have too much shooting. There is no reason to turn it over or take a bad shot. We’re constantly talking to them about that. That’s an area that has been a strength for our team at this point at time, but we have not played under the lights yet.”

ROTATION MAY NEVER BE SET

With so many young players on the team who are flexible and able to play multiple positions, Donovan noted Wednesday that there is not likely to be a completely set rotation heading into a particular game. “I don’t know if you ever really have a set rotation,” he said. “Once you get to the first media timeout at 16 minutes, you’re dealing with fouls and fatigue. A lto of times that can vary how your rotation could go.”

Donovan said that Murphy and Yeguete can both play some center but that Larson is the primary backup at this point in time. Yeguete and Prather can also replace Murphy at the four depending what lineup is on the floor.

DONOVAN VS. DONOVAN

An interesting twist to Thursday’s showdown is that Donovan’s son William plays for Catholic and will be returning home to Gainesville to play on the court he’s watched his father coach on most of his life. Donovan said checked with his son before agreeing to the game but is excited for the opportunity.

“Their coach called and wanted to see if we’d be interested in doing it. I didn’t want to put him in an uncomfortable situation. He said he had no problem with it. It’ll be fun,” he said. “I’m sure for him it’s nice to be back, but it’ll probably be a strange feeling considering the fact that he’s seen so many games from the stands and now he’ll be on the court.”

Donovan said his son “had absolutely zero interest in playing for me” but is enjoying his time at Catholic even though he knows that he will probably not play professional basketball in the end.

“He’s always been pretty level-headed. He’s always been pretty realistic with himself. He loves basketball and works very hard at it. I think he realizes that in terms of playing there’s probably not going to be a future in it after college. There’s other things he has interest in,” he said. “He’s a lot more well-rounded than I was. I was pretty [focused on] one thing and that was it. I admire him for that because he’s very well balanced and versed. My wife and I are just proud of him.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» On his initial impressions of Beal: “He’s been a guy that’s absorbed everything pretty well. He’s more advanced than most freshmen in terms of being able to retain and understand what we’re trying to get done. Coupled with the fact that he’s a talented and gifted player. He’s been unfazed, so to speak, by what he’s gone through. It’s been challenging, but it’s not like he’s lost or confused. He has a really good understanding and feel of what we’re trying to do and [he] is able to do that. […] He’s continued to remain very humble in his role right now, and I think that’s been a positive in terms of building up chemistry.”

» On redshirt junior transfer G Mike Rosario not starting: “I haven’t really talked to Mike about that at all. For Mike, he has started a lot. The biggest thing for Mike is just being more and more consistent each and every day. Because of the starting lineup tomorrow, that doesn’t mean that’s going to hold true for the first game.”

» Sophomore point guard Scottie Wilbekin is out of action after breaking a part of his knuckle on his index finger. He will not have surgery but will be held out for a bit so it can heal. Donovan said he probably could have played in the exhibition but will not though he is doing light contact work in practice.

» Donovan was discouraged that Florida was outrebounded by eight boards against UCF but said that aside from some turnovers, he though the offense was moving the ball well and playing unselfishly.

» On sophomore G/F Casey Prather: “The one guy I was really disappointed for was Casey Prather. He has really played well and he got hurt and missed practice all day Saturday. We went twice on Saturday. He just was not himself physically. We had off on Tuesday, so I haven’t seen him since Monday. He felt a little bit better. He’s worked so hard and he’s done so well, ire ally would have liked to have seen him healthy.”

» On if his wife is OK with him playing his son’s team: “Not great with it, no. It’s hard for her. She just wants him – it’s her son – she wants it to be a good experience and for everything to go well. I don’t know if she’s wearing Catholic stuff. I think she’s happy it’s an exhibition game and it really doesn’t count for anybody.”

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Chandler Parsons talks Gators basketball

With Florida Gators basketball season approaching, OGGOA sat down with forward Chandler Parsons to discuss the team heading into the 2011-12 season. We spoke with Parsons while he was overseas in France playing with Cholet Basket of the Ligue Nationale de Basketball – the top men’s French professional basketball league.

Parsons was signed through Oct. 31 and has since returned to the United States as he waits for the NBA lockout to come to a conclusion. When it does, he will suit up for the Houston Rockets, which selected him with the No. 38 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Fans have not gotten the chance to see Mike Rosario play in a Gators uniform yet. What was it like to go against Rosario in practice, how talented do you think he is and how will he fit in with Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker?
CHANDLER PARSONS: “Mike Rosario is going to be a fun player for fans to watch. Last year in practice he really pushed the starting five and can really shoot the ball. He’s one of the best shooters I’ve seen and will play well off Erv and K.B. He’ll ensure that his defender doesn’t help because the way he can shoot the ball gives Florida more ability to get in the lane and create. If his defender helps, he will knock down the open shot and give them many assist possibilities.

AS: Same question in regards to Cody Larson. What did you see from him in practice and what can he bring to the team?
CP: “Cody is a big body who can rebound and run the floor and step out and knock down jumpers. He just has to bring it every night and provide energy and whatever else the team needs. He could really help out down low this year if he earns the opportunity.

AS: With yourself, Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin all having graduated, Florida is obviously lacking the experience inside that the team has had for the last few years. In what areas do you think Patric Young needs to improve in from the start in order to step up and be a consistent presence for the team?
CP: “Pat is an absolute monster. Watching him work out this summer, he really impressed me. He competes and plays so hard and has a great motor and is all about the team and winning. He’s going to have to play big all year long and lead the way rebounding with me, Alex and Vernon gone. He’ll also have to step up and block shots as well as finish everything around the rim. I believe in him and think he has the potential to be one of the best centers in the conference.”

AS: Obviously Erik Murphy is going to start as a forward, but he was also working on his perimeter game a bit last year. Who do you see stepping up and being the No. 2 “big man” presence for the Gators?
CP: “All the other bigs have potential and can help them out in different ways. I heard Erik had a great summer and looked a lot bigger than the last time I saw him. He can really shoot it for his size and can space the floor, too. The same goes for Walter [Pitchford]. With those guys having the ability to shoot the three, they could really cause problems. Will [Yeguete] and Cody can also help out rebounding and providing us with another big body to throw at you. Everyone knows our guards can score, so our bigs have to rebound, block shots and just play physical for however long there in the game.”

AS: Knowing Billy Donovan as you do, how often do you think Florida might play with four guards? Do you think he’ll be using any different offensive/defensive principles with a smaller lineup?
CP: “I could definitely see them going four guards depending on who they’re playing, but I don’t see them starting that way. Our guards are going to have to really help out rebounding when we go small, especially Brad [Beal] and Casey [Prather]. Whatever coach does, the guys just have the understand it doesn’t matter who starts, it matters whose on the floor at the end of the game. With this team, it could be anybody’s night on any given night. As long as they stay together and play unselfish, they could be special.”

Photo Credit: Associated Press

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FOUR BITS: scrimmage, Sheppard, soccer

1 » Those who follow us on Twitter saw a retweet from CBS Sports’ Jeff Goodman Monday morning noting that the Florida Gators basketball team held a “secret” scrimmage against the Central Florida Knights over the weekend. OGGOA inquired about the scrimmage and learned that Florida head coach Billy Donovan was pleased with his team’s effort following the game. The Gators’ starting five consisted of senior point guard Erving Walker, guards junior Kenny Boynton and freshman Brad Beal, junior forward Erik Murphy and sophomore center Patric Young.

Beal, as noted by Goodman, was the standout performer in the scrimmage, but redshirt junior transfer G Mike Rosario also played quite well. Florida earned a double-digit “victory” at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, a nice prelude to their exhibition game against Catholic University on Thursday.

2 » Eight full weeks into the 2011 NFL season, former Gators cornerback Lito Sheppard was finally signed by a team. The Oakland Raiders picked up Sheppard, who they cut just before the season after signing him as a free agent, on Monday and hope to have him ready to play as soon as this upcoming weekend. Sheppard was one of three notable ex-Florida veterans available on the free agent market. Defensive ends Alex Brown and Bobby McCray remain unsigned.

3 » Every year, the Gators women’s soccer team holds a special practice on Halloween with all of the players going through the motions in full costume. The annual tradition gives the team a boost each year before they begin playing in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. Florida had an opportunity this past weekend to earn a share of the 2011 SEC regular season title but failed to do so dropping a 2-1 decision to the SEC champion South Carolina Gamecocks. SEC Tournament action begins Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. when UF faces Georgia in Orange Beach, AL.

4 » The Gators soccer team received good news Monday when the SEC announced its women’s soccer awards. Junior midfielder/forward Erika Tymrak and redshirt junior defender Kathryn Williamson were named to the All-SEC first team, while senior D Jazmyne Avant and junior MF Holly King garnered second-team honors. Florida also had two picked as All-Freshman – MFs Havana Solaun and Annie Speese.

Extra BIT » Below is the Thriller video put together by a number of UF student-athletes for Gator Growl in 2009. Happy Halloween!

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10/20: Donovan on Gators’ progress, chemistry

With Florida Gators basketball having finally begun fall practice and just about three weeks away from the team’s first regular season game, head coach Billy Donovan met with the media on Thursday to discuss how practice is going up to this point.

A ROUGH DAY OF PRACTICE

Donovan lauded the team for how well it had performed over the first few practices but was less enthusiastic about Wednesday’s effort after the off-day on Tuesday. “We’ve been really good the first four or five days. Coming out of an off-day yesterday, yesterday was by far the worst day we had as a group,” he said. “I didn’t think the guys handled the adversity of practice well. That’s an area that we got to get a lot better at right now. The one thing about these guys that’s been pretty constant has been their effort. They’re a pretty competitive group. I didn’t think the attention to detail the first five days was there on Wednesday. We have an opportunity to come back today and improve on that.”

However, he was happy that the team is facing that obstacle now rather than later on in the process. “A lot of times guys get cranky. From a maturity standpoint, we better be able to move past those things. Because our season is so long, a lot of days you’re not going to feel great and you still have to have the mental toughness and fortitude to work through those things,” Donovan said. “It was good that it happened yesterday because the guys were able to see it and correct it. It’s never smooth sailing. I’d rather find out now what we’re dealing with going into the season. I certainly didn’t expect every practice to be totally perfect and great. We have an opportunity to regroup and handle the way we practiced yesterday better today.”

BUILDING A NEW GATORS TEAM

Though he may not have to start from scratch with this group because only two players on the current roster were not members of the team last year, Donovan realizes that it will be a work in progress as everyone learns their new roles and responsibilities.

Erving [Walker] and Kenny [Boynton], their roles and how they’re going to play the game is probably not going to change a whole lot other than that they’ve got more offense on the floor with them,” he said. “Patric [Young], Cody [Larson], Will [Yeguete] and Casey [Prather] are in totally different roles. Scottie [Wilbekin]’s role is pretty similar in terms of what he can do defensively. Brad [Beal]’s first time here; Walter [Pitchford]’s first time here. In a lot of respects, even though we’ve got some returning players, there’s different things they need to do to help our team. I think this is a completely different team from the way it was the last two years.”

For that reason, Donovan has put a hold on installing new offenses, defenses and plays from out of bounds. Instead he wants Florida to try and perfect what has already been implemented before moving forward and adding more layers.

“We could play in a game right now. There’s enough things offensively, defensively and on the sides. I feel confident we could play in a game. I don’t know how good we’d be in a game right now, but there’s enough things in,” he said. “What we need to do right now, before we start putting some more in, is really try to work on the execution part of getting better at what’s in right now. This time of year there’s always a fine line. […] Most of the guys are coming back so there’s not anything that’s drastically new for them. I’m not dealing with five new players that this is the first time. We’re probably, in terms of the group understanding, a little further advanced. However, in terms of executing it, we’re not great in that right now.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Donovan said junior forward Erik Murphy got a “finger to the eye” on Wednesday and ended up missing practice. He added that it was not his cornea, but a part of Murphy’s eye was scratched. There was swelling and he couldn’t open his eye but after visiting a doctor he was told that there was no damage to the eye and he was cleared to practice Thursday.

» Donovan on if he’s still pleased with the team’s backcourt chemistry: “I feel good about it right now. Our guys are trying to play the right way. That’s something that has been there. We’ve talked a lot about it. They’ve seen film of it. They’ve seen how you can look when there’s an understanding. It’s not so much the extra pass part. That’s a piece of it.”

» Donovan on how Larson has been playing: “Cody has been a guy that is doing a lot of really good things right now in terms of the little things that aren’t going to show up on a stat sheet. I’ve been pleased with what he’s been able to do for our team physically because we need another physical presence up front. I think Will provides that exact thing as well.”

» Donovan on if he’s seen improved shooting from downtown: “I look less at the shooting percentage right now as I do look at the total number of shots being taken. Patric Young has gotten the most shots, and that’s a good thing for our team. After the first five days, Erving was third to last on the number of shots taken. He’s been very dominant in practice with what he’s been able to do. I’m more concerned about the shot distribution in practice rather than the percentages. Casey Prather has not taken a whole lot of shots, and his shooting percentage is not great, but to me he’s playing his best basketball since he’s been here up to this point in time. The percentages come from ball movement, player movement, extra passes, getting good looks and making shots in the flow of the offense. Then what we can do is repetitively work with those guys in practice to get them better shooting the basketball just through the number of shots they’re going to take. We’ve got a very good shooting team. I’m not so sure the stats indicate that now, but I feel confident that we are where we should be.”

» Boynton on being ranked No. 10 in the preseason: “That’s a good accomplishment, but we haven’t proven anything yet. We have to go out and prove that we’re worthy of that ranking.”

» Boynton on if he’s being worn out by practice: “Not really but we’ve been going hard.”

» Boynton on who has been the best in practice: “So far Pat has been going hard. Erv’s been leading the team. Casey and Will have been doing good from last year, they’ve stepped up a lot..”

» Boynton on how Prather is progressing: “His confidence. He’s not forcing it. He’s taking the right shots, finishing and on defense he’s very intense.”

» Boynton on the chemistry in the backcourt: “So far it’s good. Everybody’s making the extra pass.”

» Boynton on what it’s been like playing with three guards: “We’ve been good. Pretty much it’s been fun. I feel like when we play different teams we’ll have a mismatch on someone.”

» Boynton on how the team is doing with the pressure defense: “We’ve been pressing every day. When we all get together on one team, if we try a three- or four-guard lineup, we’re going to get a lot of turnovers. […] It’s the same press. With our speed this year, we’re going to be alright out there. We can cheat some passes because we have the speed to get there.”

» Boynton on what he’s been doing to improve his game: “Overall I’ve just been hitting the gym a lot trying to keep getting more repetitions. […] My left hand gotten a lot better, as did my finishing at the rim.”

» Prather said this role this year is to be a rebounder who defends and can slash to the hoop. “We definitely lost Chandler [Parsons], Vernon [Macklin] and Alex [Tyus] so we need people like me ot rebound and defend,” he said.

» Prather on having an opportunity to excel at small forward: “That’s like one of the main reasons why I came here, because of the tradition they have at the three-spot.”

» Prather on how Yeguete is playing: “He’s playing so aggressive, looking tos core more, get to the rim and control the offensive rebounds”

» Prather on how Larson is playing: “He’s physical. He still brings it every day. He bangs with Pat, and that’s hard to do. He just accepts it and doesn’t back down.”

» Prather on why recruits should commit to the Gators: “Because we win here. It’s all about tradition with Coach Donovan and the University of Florida.”

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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.

FRESHMEN A WORK IN PROGRESS

“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.”

WALKER’s UNSELFISHNESS A NICE SURPRISE

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.”

YOUNG HANDLING ADVERSITY BETTER THAN EXPECTED

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.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» 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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