UF coaches say winning starts with mental prep

If there is one thing Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan understands, it is the pressure of high expectations regardless of the age of your players.

Coming off of consecutive national championships in 2006-07, Donovan was faced with a young squad of up-and-comers who were expected to pick up where the Oh Fours left off. While his players had confidence and held those same expectations, there were plenty of factors working against them in addition to their inexperience.

“Players, when they’re young, they look at a program or a school or a team and think, ‘If I go there, this is going to happen for me.’ They don’t understand the commitment and the understanding of what goes into it,” Donovan explained on Monday. “When young guys are playing, it’s not just a guarantee that guys understand how to win.

“It takes time to do that.”

It all starts with understanding how to win at the collegiate level, something Donovan related to what the football team is going through right now after three-straight losses.

“Young players have to go through that to understand what goes into winning. There’s a process. You don’t just go in and just win,” he continued. “No one is immune from it. Everyone has to go through it. It just doesn’t happen because you’re ‘at Florida.’

“‘Because we’re at Florida, we’re going to win.’ It doesn’t work like that. That’s the beauty of competing – there are ingredients that go into practice habits, preparation, the mental part of the game, chemistry, covering for each other, knowing when it gets really hard how to handle adversity. A lot of times, when these guys are young, it’s the first time these guys have gone through adversity.”

Adversity is exactly what the football team has been faced with recently, and head coach Will Muschamp on Tuesday agreed with Donovan’s assessment that it all starts with gaining an advantage in the mental aspect of the game.

“I talked to Brian Orakpo this summer, a guy I coached at Texas,” Muschamp said. “He was an All-Pro his rookie year. I asked him, I said, ‘Being an All-Pro as a rookie is very difficult. How did you do that?’ He said, ‘Will, everybody I play against is as good as I am. I watch 30 more minutes of film. I stay on the field 25-30 more minutes after practice.’ He’s gaining the mental edge of what it takes to be successful.”

Muschamp has been trying to explain to his team how important that factor is for winning for months, but he notes that the inability for some young players to understand that from the start may be due to how much success they saw in high school.

“That’s what’s hard, especially with the way recruiting is nowadays,” he said. “Young men have an inflated opinion about where they are as a player. So when they come in, they don’t understand what Billy referred to as the process it takes to be a good player. What is that process? The mental preparation. The physical attributes may be the same as the guy you’re lined up against. What’s going to be the difference at the end of the day? The mental preparation, the mental edge, the mental belief in what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. And that’s called ‘discipline.’

“There’s no question that young players that generally mature quicker are players that understand what it takes to be successful and understand that it’s not just about what happens on the field. It’s about what happens in the classroom. It’s about what happens in the meeting rooms. It’s about what happens in the weight rooms. And they continue to advance their professional career the right way off the field not necessarily what you’re doing on the field. There’s no question that’s a huge growing process. Generally the ones that play as freshmen and contribute and play a lot and play well are the ones who are mature enough to understand what it takes.”

That’s not to say Florida’s mental preparation is lacking in all areas, but it certainly needs to improve. Another thing the Gators have to fix is the team’s health, something Donovan said has undoubtedly cost them some victories thus far in the season.

“The other thing with the football situation just to me on the outside looking in – and I know nothing about football,” Donovan joked, “it is very clear that if you take a team’s starting quarterback and starting tailback away and replace them with a freshman quarterback…that would be like taking Erving Walker and Patric Young out of our team and expecting to be really good. That would be an incredible blow to our team.”

Muschamp, who has refused to use injuries as an excuse because they happen every year in one way or another, did admit Tuesday that he does not think Florida has a long ways to go in order to step up their game to the next level.

“We’re not that far away. I really don’t believe that. I just don’t. I think the biggest issue we have as much s anything is depth right now,” he said. “In this profession, something that has held true for me is that it’s never as good as it seems and it’s never as bad as it seems. It’s somewhere in between. I don’t think we’re far off – I don’t. I don’t believe that. I think we’ve got good players in this program.

“I think we’ve got some depth issues we have to work through because that helps competition. It’s different when you got a guy standing behind you that’s ready to take your job. Right now, quite frankly, at some positions we don’t have that. That gets better play – it gets more consistent play.”

Considering the Gators have half as many upperclassmen (19 seniors, 16 juniors) on the roster as they do underclassmen (34 sophomores, 33 freshmen), depth is looking like something Florida may find very shortly with another solid recruiting class or two.

How those future Gators prepare mentally to be part of a winning football team is what remains to be seen.

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Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford: “It was a no-brainer for me to represent my country.”

Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford, having recently completed his fourth NBA season, is in his prime and playing the best basketball of his career.

Averaging career highs in points (15.3), field goal percentage (.557) and free throw percentage (.789) while also posting 9.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game in 2010-11, he was named a NBA All-Star for the second-straight season just months after Atlanta locked him up long-term with an impressive five-year, $60 million contract extension in November.

OGGOA caught up with the two-time National Champion, two-time NCAA Finals Most Valuable Player and member of the 2008 NBA All-Rookie Team while he was in Lexington, KY practicing with the Dominican Republic National Team. Horford, who is working out in facilities usually occupied by the Kentucky Wildcats due to his team being led by Kentucky head coach John Calipari, has found himself learning a new system in enemy territory. He spoke with us just after completing practice about a variety of topics including his new contract, reminiscing with the Oh Fours, representing his country and performing some Gator Chomps in the near future.

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Last time we spoke was a year and a half ago just before you played in your first All-Star game. You went back and posted some career highs this season. To what do you attribute your continued improvement?
AL HORFORD: “There’s really no secret behind that, it’s all about putting in the time in the summer. I always try to focus on something different in the offseason that I want to work on and improve. This past summer I got a chance to work with [veteran skills trainer] Rob McClanaghan, a great basketball trainer who works with a lot of other guys in the league including Derrick Rose. He helped me a lot with my game, but I think at the end of the day it is just all about taking the time and making a commitment to work and keep getting better in the offseason.”

AS: Is there any type of competition between you and Jo[akim Noah]? Obviously you were came out of the same school and were picked high in the 2007 NBA Draft, but you’re also playing the same position and competing in the Eastern Conference, too.
AH: “Nah, not really. Me and Joakim, when we talk, we rarely talk basketball. I’m sure he wants to do good and great for his team, and I do the same, but I think at the end of the day we’re not caught up on so much individual stuff. For us, it’s more about our teams and winning and stuff like that. Obviously he has the upper hand on me because of their team because of the playoffs. I know he was happy about that. We’re not competing individually, it’s [more like] how much we impact our individual teams.”

Read the rest of our exclusive interview with Al Horford after the jump!
Continue Reading » Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford: “It was a no-brainer for me to represent my country.”

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3/23: Florida’s Sweet 16 press conference quotes

Arriving in New Orleans, LA for their Sweet 16 match-up against the No. 3-seed BYU Cougars in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan along with senior Chandler Parsons, Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin met with the media to discuss a number of topics. OGGOA has compiled most of those quotes for you below (click the link below) with the rest coming in a post Thursday afternoon.

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Taurean Green: “We knew nobody could beat us.”

Overseas in Spain starting every game for C.B. Gran Canaria 2014 of the ACB, former Florida Gators two-time National Championship-winning point guard Taurean Green took some nearly 45 minutes out of his busy schedule to sit down with OGGOA for a wide-ranging, in-depth interview late Tuesday evening.

Green, one of the four members of the Oh Fours and an integral part to the team’s success from 2005-07, discussed at length his college career and continuing relationship with his Gators teammates and coaches. He also provided some insight into what the current team is going through during their 2011 NCAA Tournament run and how they can improve going forward and make the most out of their opportunity.

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: With your father being a former NBA player and college coach as your adviser, what was it about Florida and Billy Donovan that had you winding up playing for the Gators out of high school?
TAUREAN GREEN: “Obviously Coach Donovan was a huge factor, the style of play, Coach [Anthony] Grant was a huge factor, too. It was just basically the style of play, how they get up-and-down [the court], and he’s a guard’s coach. I knew that he played for a great coach in Rick Pitino at Providence, and then he played some years in the NBA. Just from what everybody told me and from what I heard, he’s a guard’s coach and you’ll definitely get better [playing for him]. He’ll give you freedom out there but along with the freedom comes responsibility in running the team.”

AS: Your first year at Florida was obviously an adjustment as there were still a bunch of upperclassmen holding starting roles on the team. How was it walking into a team with established guys like David Lee, Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson already comfortable with each other and running the show?
TG: “That was good for me. Some guys can adapt – you see freshmen get thrown into the fire right away nowadays. I felt like I needed that year to go against Anthony Roberson and all those guys just to get my feet wet. At the same time, I knew that I was going to be getting better going against Peep every day in practice. They led the way, and we just tried to contribute in whatever way we could.”

AS: You won the SEC Tournament that season and were a No. 4-seed going into the NCAA Tournament. What was it like playing at such a big stage so early in your career?
TG: “It was fun! When I was at Florida, the main thing was we just lived in the moment. We took it game-by-game. We wanted to do stuff that no other team really had done at Florida. We knew that we had David, Matt and Anthony, and we just wanted to contribute in any way we could. The main thing was just going out and playing hard, doing whatever it took to win.”

Read the rest of our exclusive interview with Taurean Green…after the break!
Continue Reading » Taurean Green: “We knew nobody could beat us.”

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Gainesville native returning home with Kent State

For most players and fans, the Florida Gators squaring off against the Kent State Golden Flashes is just another out-of-conference game against a mid-major opponent before the Southeastern Conference slate begins. However, for Kent State walk-on and Gainesville, FL, native Brian Frank, Thursday’s game is a dream realized.

Growing up in Gainesville before going off to prep school, Frank never thought he would play college basketball. With encouragement from his brother and the Oh Fours, Frank wound up playing Division III hoops for the College of Wooster before deciding to transfer to Kent State – where his father is a provost – last year.

And even though he broke his wrist last week and will be unable to play on Thursday, just being on the court at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center dressed in a college uniform means the world to this driven young man.

OGGOA spoke with Frank on Tuesday (thanks to the good people of the Kent State athletic department) and asked him what it meant to him to be returning to his hometown on a college basketball team.

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Thanks a lot for sitting down with us tonight. I know you guys are in the middle of finals while simultaneously preparing for Florida in a few days. Let’s start with how it all began for you. What was it like growing up in Gainesville?

BRIAN FRANK: “It was awesome. I was really growing into my love for the game right around the time the Oh Fours came to UF. My brother is good friends with them and, being a kid in high school, having Taurean Green and Joakim Noah and Al Horford sitting in the stands to watch you play is really something. I think what really made me want to follow basketball was my brother’s close relationship with them. Growing up, my brother was always my inspiration and he continues to be the reason I play, but he would always try to bring the Florida players around me to give me a good look at what college basketball was all about.”

AS: Spending so much time with those guys, did they say something in particular that resonated with you or gave you that little extra push to give college basketball a shot?

BF: “They were just always real supportive of me. To give you an example, I was on Facebook today and Taurean messaged me to check how things were going. When the [Atlanta] Hawks came to Cleveland, Al got me a couple tickets to see them play. Little things like knowing they care about how I’m doing really means a lot. But if you’re looking for a quote… When Joakim was at my [Bucholtz] high school games, he would always yell, ‘Take it to the baja little Frankie!’ That was fun.”

Read the rest of our interview with Kent State’s Brian Frank…after the break!
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2010-11 Florida Gators basketball season preview

Finally returning to the NCAA Tournament after back-to-back appearances in the NIT, the No. 9/11 Florida Gators basketball team is back in the preseason top 10 and looking to return to the glory it experienced just a few short years ago. With forward Dan Werner now graduated and five new freshmen in the fold looking to make an impact, head coach Billy Donovan hopes to get back to his winning ways.

STARTING FIVE:

PG Erving Walker – junior, 5’8”, 171 lbs.
2009 STATS: 12.6 PPG – 4.9 APG – 3.3 RPG – .339 FG% – .347 3P% – 32.9 MPG
A spark plug who often appears to prefer shooting and penetrating to passing, Walker was named to the Southeastern Conference All-Freshman team two years ago and the preseason All-SEC second team this year. He had trouble performing at a high level last season partially due to the lack of depth behind him on the bench. Donovan has noted that Walker’s shot selection, stroke and defense have all improved over the summer. He plans to keep him fresh by utilizing a number of other players at point guard during games and hopes that Walker will improve his ball handling, court vision and willingness to dish the ball – three things he needed to work on at this point last year.

G Kenny Boynton – sophomore, 6’2”, 183 lbs.
2009 STATS: 14.0 PPG – 2.7 APG – 2.6 RPG – .376 FG% – .294 3P% – 32.9 MPG
A five-star recruit coming out of high school, Boynton was the pride of the Gators’ 2009 recruiting class. Quick both with and without the ball, Boynton is highly competitive and athletic with the ability to play either backcourt position. He led Florida in points and was second in minutes played (Walker) in his first season, catching on fire in his final two games scoring a combined 50 points on 16-of-33 shooting while also going 9-of-18 from downtown. He can get his shot off at will, whether it be a pull up jumper, deep three-pointer, floater down the lane or penetrating layup. Boynton is also a tough defender who is strong with quick feet laterally but, like Walker, was gassed late in games last season due to lack of depth. Also similar to Walker, Donovan is impressed with Boynton’s improved shot selection and decision making this offseason. He was honored with a preseason All-SEC second team nomination this year.

This post contains 1,818 words previewing the season. You have already made it this far, so you might as well continue reading the rest…after the break!
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10/18: Donovan speaks on leadership, freshmen

Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan likes to talk – and we like to listen – which is why we have compiled some of the key news and notes from his latest media availability in the following post. Additional quotes after the break.

POST PRESENCE SHOULD HELP SHOOTING PERCENTAGE

A lot of factors contributed to the backcourt’s inefficiency shooting the ball last season. Looking back on the 2009-10 team, junior point guard Erving Walker and sophomore guard Kenny Boynton were basically on an island without any depth behind them. This led to the duo being fatigued and forced to shoot lower percentage shots earlier than preferred. Donovan believes that will no longer be an issue this year. He expects Walker, Boynton and senior forward Chandler Parsons to get “better and cleaner looks” than they had previously as Florida will be making it a point to establish a scoring presence inside early and often.

“[The players] have shot the ball pretty well in practice. Right now our defense is probably ahead of our offense. Chandler even made a comment to me that he thought in practice it was a lot more difficult to get to the rim, it was a lot more difficult to rebound, things that maybe he was able to do the last couple of years he sees as more difficult,” Donovan said. “The shooting part of it, I think Kenny and Erving and even Chandler will be better shooting the ball just with having a better understanding of shot selection. Both Erving and Kenny, part of their struggles percentage-wise, was a lot of minutes fatigue wise, we really needed them to score, and probably were in situations where they had to take some more difficult shots. Those guys, up to this point, have shot the ball better – maybe because they’re older.”

LEADERSHIP MAKING AN IMPACT

For the first time since the Oh-Fours left for the NBA and the remnants of the back-to-back National Championship teams graduated, the Gators have strong leadership in the form of upperclassmen who can do so both with their words and by example. “In terms of our older guys, they’ve been very good leadership-wise, they’ve practiced well,” Donovan said. “They’ve done a good job trying to lead. We went some tough physical practice here Friday, Saturday, Sunday. So far up to this point in time I feel like we’re moving in the right direction.”

Donovan also spoke about how important it is to have a team with some depth experience-wise. “Any time you have leaders and older guys that have been through it there’s no question it’s helpful. They can set a standard or measuring stick for your younger guys to understand where they got to get to,” he said. “Any coach would always want some upperclassmen and older guys on their team. That’s always a positive.”

PATRIC YOUNG “PLAYS LIKE TARZAN”

The entire freshman class has impressed Donovan with their energy, enthusiasm and effort through his team’s first three practices. And while all of the freshmen stand out in different ways, physically no one commands attention like four-star power forward Patric Young. Listed at 6’9” (though he will argue 6’10”) and 245 lbs., Young looks as if he was chiseled from stone and plays as if no one can hurt him.

“He’s been really, really blessed physically,” Donovan said of Young. “You can see guys that look great physically, but they don’t’ play well physically. It’s the old, ‘Looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane.’ He plays like Tarzan. Physically he goes after it. He enjoys contact, he wants physical confrontation – he likes that. There [are] a lot of guys that don’t want any part of that.”

One of Young’s most promising characteristics is his love for defense and shot blocking, something Donovan realizes is a major positive but must be corralled and used appropriately. “We are definitely a better shot-blocking team [with Young] and have more of a presence at the rim,” he said. “When you’re constantly leaving your feet to block shots, there [are] two things that really end up becoming a problem. One is fouls of guys being out of position and getting fouls. The second thing is, when they leave the floor, you can break block-out situations and you can give up a lot of offensive rebounds. So as much as Patric Young, energy-wise, just wants to jump around the lane and try to block shots all the time, for every shot he blocks he’s given up two or three offensive rebounds when he doesn’t block-out. And the decision of, ‘When do I go chase a shot and try to block it or when do I have to go back and try to block-out,’ those are things experience-wise that take a lot of time to figure out.”

QUOTES (After the break…)
Continue Reading » 10/18: Donovan speaks on leadership, freshmen

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SIX BITS: Oh-Fours, Donovan, Spikes, SEC, Marotti

1 » Asked his thoughts about the one-and-done mentality perpetuated by the Kentucky Wildcats, Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan decided to reminisce about the 2007 season, when his National Championship-winning team decided to take the unselfish route and return to school to repeat. “I don’t know all the situations in terms of [Kentucky players] with their families,” Donovan said per the Knoxville News Sentinel at the 2010 Southeastern Conference Spring Meetings. “My situation was very, very unique. There was an incredible chemistry and bond. And coming off a championship, they also wanted to try and do it again. Three of the [starters’ fathers] were professional athletes. I think the one thing their parents talked to them about was that they would never, ever play on a team like that, and that the NBA would always be there.”

2 » Donovan also spoke about his passion for the Florida program and how he does not envision leaving anytime soon, citing how nice the Gainesville, FL, community has been to raise a family and build a life. “I’m in a unique situation,” Donovan said. “Florida’s been great to me. I still have a passion for it.”

Four more BITS on Brandon Spikes, potential conference realignments and strength coach Mickey Marotti…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Oh-Fours, Donovan, Spikes, SEC, Marotti

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