The No. 14/14 Florida Gators (22-6, 11-3 SEC) hope the conclusion of Tuesday’s game against the Alabama Crimson Tide (19-9, 11-3 SEC) brings the same smiles that three seniors and one junior will have on their faces before the contest even begins, as the University of Florida celebrates the achievements of redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin, senior forwards Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus, and redshirt junior F Adam Allen on Senior Day. All three players, along with head coach Billy Donovan, spoke about the special occasion on Monday.
LOOKING BACK ON FOUR YEARS OF GROWTH
Refraining from referring to ego or a sense of entitlement, Donovan discussed the trials and tribulations his graduating class went through over the course of their Florida careers – especially early on.
“I don’t think you can really be successful unless your heart really gets broken in something that’s competitive,” he said. “I did not feel, when those guys were freshmen and sophomores, that their hearts were broken. Their hearts got broken after their sophomore year. When they came in here after those two National Championships, there was no doubt in their mind they were cruising right to the same thing in 2008 and 2009. It was just very, very immature. It was not their fault. There was no one there to show them.
“They walked into the most difficult situation you could possibly walk into as a young group, and it was not their fault. If anybody, it was my fault. When I say it was my fault, I did not have enough depth or enough people around those guys that when [the Oh Fours] left, that there was enough there for those guys. They came in as freshmen not knowing anything and really got put into a very difficult situation. I give them credit because they were resilient. They did battle and they did fight and they did try to figure things out. They could have felt sorry for themselves. They could have left and gone somewhere else, but they kept battling. Where they are today from where they were as freshmen is two totally different ends of the spectrum.”
Parsons remembers Donovan locking the team out of the beautiful practice facility and taking away their official team clothes after a tough first season that resulted in a NIT berth. “That was unbelievable. That was a rough time for everybody,” he said. “Having to practice at Florida Gym with no shirt, our own shorts, having to do our laundry, come back three times a day, practicing at P.K. Yonge. That was definitely different. Those experiences have helped our upperclassmen get to where they are today.”
EMOTIONAL YET REWARDING
Like most coaches, Donovan will probably show plenty of emotion and stick his chest out with pride as his four oldest players celebrate their final game in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. “It’s always a hard thing. It’s emotional for anybody. When guys step into the arena and know it’s their last game, that’s significant,” he said. “They’re never going to play there again. When they’re young, they act like it’s never going to end. Now they realize, ‘Wow, this is coming to an end.’”
That being said, he also realizes what it took for them to get to where they are now both as players and individuals. “It’s been very rewarding, fulfilling just to see them to get to this point. Sometimes, two-to-three years ago, you don’t know if you’re ever going to get to that point in time,” Donovan noted. “They have worked hard. They have figured some things out. They still know there is a lot left of this season to be played.
“Those three guys deserve a lot of credit in terms of trying to get better, trying to improve and dealing with the adversity and growing pains of trying to be successful.”
Macklin in particular realizes he has made huge strides since first joining the team as a transfer from Georgetown. “I came a long way. I was mentally and physically weak when I got here,” he said. “It was tough for me to realize that coaches and these players actually care about me. Me sitting out, these guys treated me like I was actually playing that year. That made me feel like those guys really wanted me to be here. That helped me out a lot, and I think I’ve grown a lot from there.”
Read more from the mouths of Parsons, Allen and Macklin…after the break!
Continue Reading » Parsons, Tyus, Macklin celebrating Senior Day