Donovan’s discipline, Wilbekin’s work, Young’s extended hand set up Florida Gators for success

Much has been written about the offseason suspension of senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, which lasted five games into the 2013-14 season, and the road laid out for him by head coach Billy Donovan to return to the Florida Gators.

During a Monday afternoon appearance on ESPN Radio‘s SVP & Russillo, Donovan provided additional insight into Wilbekin’s offseason struggles, explaining why he put so many obstacles in Wilbekin’s way while relating a story about how, with one gesture, his floor general went from outcast to full-fledged team member.

First, some background. Suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules – his third infraction overall and second in a seven-month span – Wilbekin was told by Donovan that it would likely be best for him to transfer and start over elsewhere. If he did choose to stay with the Gators, the Gainesville, FL-native’s hometown team, earning his way back in the good graces of his coach and teammates would be a tall task that he may not have the necessary motivation or discipline to scale.

“Scottie Wilbekin’s situation was a unique one not only from the standpoint of a suspension, but I do think there were some guys on our team that were disappointed in him, there were some guys that had to regain trust, so to speak.. And he needed to be put into a situation – because he does have good leadership qualities – to be able to do that,” Donovan began.

“One of the things I felt like in looking at the whole thing is I was very disappointed, our team was very disappointed in some of the choices and decisions Scottie made. When he made the decision that he wanted to stay here and he wanted to battle and fight his way through, I do think there was a lot of guys on our team that were a little bit skeptical of how committed is he to us. How committed is he to this team? He’s making bad choices and in the past he’s not been committed [off the court].”

Continue Reading » Donovan’s discipline, Wilbekin’s work, Young’s extended hand set up Florida Gators for success

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Billy Donovan (Coach), Scottie Wilbekin (Player) claim AP SEC awards for Florida Gators

No. 1 Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan and senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin were named the 2014 Southeastern Conference Coach and Player of the Year, respectively, by the Associated Press on Monday, sweeping the awards after receiving the same honors from league coaches last Tuesday.

Donovan secured his third unanimous (coaches and AP voters) SEC Coach of the Year award, while Wilbekin cemented his place as just the second Florida player in the history of the award to win SEC Player of the Year.

It took Donovan 14 seasons to receive his first conference coaching honor despite winning two national championships (2006-07), coaching in three title games (2000, 2006-07) and leading his team to three-straight SEC Tournament victories (2005-07). Since winning his first SEC Coach of the Year award in 2011, he has dominated the voting with three in the last four seasons.

Donovan, who is one win away from matching Dale Brown (LSU) for all-time wins at an SEC school, had help leading the Gators to their 32-2 record while setting a number of school marks along the way.

Continue Reading » Billy Donovan (Coach), Scottie Wilbekin (Player) claim AP SEC awards for Florida Gators

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Led by Donovan (Coach) and Wilbekin (Player), Florida Gators clean up at 2014 SEC awards

Updated on Wednesday at 1:15 a.m.

The No. 1 Florida Gators cleaned up on Tuesday when the Southeastern Conference released its 2013-14 year-end awards as voted on by league coaches, earning five of the six honors and placing three players on various All-SEC teams.

SEC Coach of the Year: Billy Donovan
SEC Player of the Year: Scottie Wilbekin
SEC Defensive Player of the Year: Patric Young
SEC Sixth Man of the Year: Dorian Finney-Smith
SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year: Patric Young

Leading the pack were head coach Billy Donovan, who captured his third SEC Coach of the Year award (all in the last four seasons), and senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who became just the second Florida player in the history of the award to win SEC Player of the Year.

Senior center Patric Young was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year and picked up his third-straight SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year honor, while redshirt sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith was awarded SEC Sixth Man of the Year for his contributions off the bench.

It took Donovan 14 seasons to receive his first conference coaching honor despite winning two national championships (2006-07), coaching in three title games (2000, 2006-07) and leading his team to three-straight SEC Tournament victories (2005-07). Since winning his first SEC Coach of the Year award in 2011, he has dominated the voting with three in the last four seasons.

Continue Reading » Led by Donovan (Coach) and Wilbekin (Player), Florida Gators clean up at 2014 SEC awards

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Top 13 for 2013: Florida’s best moments of the year

For as bad as things went for the Florida Gators at times in 2013 (see the Not Top 13 for 2013), there were more than a fair share of bright spots. From breathtaking moments and game-winning plays to earning championships and setting records, the Gators had plenty to be proud of in 2013. Check out OnlyGators.com‘s Top 13 for 2013.

13 » A NEW TRADITION
Florida’s football program did not get much right in 2013, but instituting a new pre-game tradition – a “celebrity” serving as Mr. Two Bits in honor of the original, George Edmondson – was absolutely a bright spot. The Gators also picked the perfect person to kick off the new tradition with former running back Errict Rhett performing as if he was made for the role. Others had trouble stepping up to the high benchmark set by Rhett, but the honorary Mr. Two Bits was nevertheless a great sight for fans all season long…even if the team was not. OnlyGators.com sat down with Rhett after his appearance for an extensive interview about the experience and his career.

12 » 15-INNING MARATHON
In the fourth-longest game ever played at the Women’s College Series (longest since 1992), Florida softball prevailed 9-8 over Nebraska in a night game that lasted 15 innings and more than five hours, spanning into the early morning of the next day. The Gators lost two separate leads in the contest before rallying to score two runs in the top of the 15th; UF conceded a run in the latter half of the inning but held on for the victory. Unfortunately for Florida, it had to suit up just hours later for an elimination game against Texas at 1 p.m., one it lost 3-0. The Gators were ranked No. 2 entering the 2013 NCAA Tournament but fell short of a title.

11 » ALL HE WANTED WAS A CHANCE


Redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy waited patiently as he got overlooked time and time again, most recently by head coach Will Muschamp and his offensive coordinators in favor of younger players with higher ratings coming out of high school. When junior QB Jeff Driskel went down with a fractured fibula against Tennessee, Murphy finally got his shot and made the most of it. Over a three-game stretch including games on Sept. 21, Sept. 28 (at Kentucky) and Oct. 5 (vs. Arkansas), Murphy completed 39-of-54 passes (72.2 percent) for 530 yards with five touchdowns and just one interception. (He also gained 135 yards and picked up two more scores with his legs.) Unfortunately for him, Murphy injured his shoulder on Oct. 12 against LSU and was simply not the same player as he took the field in more pain than he or the coaching staff decided to admit publicly. Murphy missed the final three games of the season due to that injury and ultimately transferred, feeling Muschamp would not give him a fair chance to win the starting job in 2014.

Continue Reading » Top 13 for 2013: Florida’s best moments of the year

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FOUR BITS: Embree, Pounceys, Driskel, Tebow

1 » Former Florida Gators tennis star Lauren Embree was named the 2013 ITA National College Player of the Year on Wednesday, just months after she was named the organization’s National Senior Player of the Year. Embree, who helped lead Florida to two national titles and eight total league crowns, has been training in Boca Raton, FL, and California over the summer as she prepares to begin her career as a professional. Be sure to check out OnlyGators.com’s extensive feature on Embree from May in which she goes in-depth about the tough conclusion to her college career.

2 » According to ESPN’s John Clayton, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins plan to speak to Maurkice and Mike Pouncey, respectively, about their decision to don “Free Hernandez” hats while in a club on Saturday night. Though neither player is expected to be reprimanded by his team in any tangible way, each is considered a locker room leader and centerpiece of his respective team’s future. On Monday, Maurkice Pouncey released the following apology: “I fully recognize the seriousness of the situation involving my former teammate, and I regret that my actions appear to make light of that serious situation. I apologize to anyone who was offended by my actions.”

3 » Participating in a “Air-It-Out” competition while serving as a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy over the weekend in Thibodaux, LA, Florida junior quarterback Jeff Driskel put together a strong performance and finished second amongst the top-tier signal callers in attendance (Miami’s Stephen Morris placed first). While Driskel seemed to do everything right while in attendance, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel was a whole other story. According to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, Manziel was out at a bar early Friday morning and showed up late for one of his coaching sessions hours later. The next day, he completely missed a Saturday morning coaching session, did not alert anyone he would not be there and then left that afternoon. Manziel told staff later in the day he was not feeling well – his father later claimed he was dehydrated, which, presumably, is simply a nicer word to use than “hung-over” – and the staff responded by suggesting he go home. Adding to speculation that Manziel was indeed hung-over and not simply “dehydrated” are reports that he was spotted still having a good time as late as 1:27 a.m. Saturday morning.

4 » Eight-time MLB All-Star right fielder Darryl Strawberry, who has dealt with his share of drug and health problems over the past 30 years, has turned his life around and now spends his days working as an ordained minister. Using religion partially as his reasoning, Strawberry told USA Today last week that he simply wishes he could have been more like New England Patriots quarterback Tim Tebow as a young man. “I wish I could have been like a Gary Carter or a Tim Tebow when I was playing,” he said. “I look at Tebow. He gets bashed because of his faith. Let ‘em laugh. Let ‘em talk. He’s a greater man than anyone who might be greater than him as an athlete. He’s a real man. … I admire him more than he could ever imagine.”

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Lauren Embree prepared to move on after bitter conclusion to her outstanding Florida career

It took her a few days, but Lauren Embree found her smile again.

The jovial, outgoing and exceedingly accomplished star of the Florida Gators women’s tennis team faced the toughest stretch of her playing career one week ago while being uncharacteristically upset in a pair of singles matches within a three-day span. Her college career, which she thought could end with a third team national title and perhaps even a singles championship, came to screeching halt sooner than she, her family, teammates or coaches could ever have expected.

Entering a 2013 NCAA Tournament semifinal round showdown with Stanford on May 20, Embree had not lost as a singles competitor in dual match play. The No. 1 player in the country was 20-0 on the season, 11-0 against top 25-ranked opponents.

But none of that mattered when she lined up across from No. 13 Nicole Gibbs, who had Embree’s number from the get-go. Gibbs thwarted her 6-0, 6-1, not only earning a huge upset victory over arguably the best player in the country but also putting Florida’s season on the brink in the process.

The rest of the Gators fought hard but ultimately lost, dropping the match 4-3 to the Cardinal and getting knocked out before the finals for the first time since 2009.

Embree was understandably devastated yet had no choice but to regroup quickly as she was also competing in NCAA singles action two days later. She never could have guessed what would happen next.

Matched up against No. 21 Jacqueline Cako from Arizona State, Embree put up a better fight than she did two days earlier but was still defeated 6-3, 6-2 despite having numerous opportunities to make a run in the second set.

After a career that earned her the well-deserved nickname “Ms. Clutch,” her most recent outings left her feeling like she was anything but.

“Obviously those were not good performances,” Embree said in a conversation with OGGOA on Tuesday. “It was heartbreaking, and it’s definitely a feeling that I had my freshman year in the finals [loss]. You don’t want to ever feel like that, but it’s a part of sports and it happens.

“Starting with the [loss in dual match play] and then having to play individuals, kind of regroup and try to get my mind clear, it was obviously not the way I wanted to go out and end my college career.”

Continue Reading » Lauren Embree prepared to move on after bitter conclusion to her outstanding Florida career

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FOUR BITS: Meyer, Merklein, Harvin, Miami

1 » Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer sat down for a question-and-answer session with CBSSports.com’s Jeremy Fowler (believe it or not) that was published on Friday. In the piece, he mentions the Florida Gators on a few occasions, the highlights of which are below. Check out the other topics by clicking here.

On why ‘no question’ he would still be at Florida if health issues never surfaced
“I realized not too long after [around February 2011]. I called Jeremy [Foley] and said, ‘I made a mistake.’ Once I felt like everything was under control, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what did I do?’ I just told Jeremy as a friend in conversation. The talk was more about one day getting back into it. He was very supportive. Then I started at ESPN and had a ball with that, but is that enough? Is that what I was called to do? I planned to take more than a year [off] though.”

On regrets for the way his Florida tenure ended
“I didn’t at first. I thought we did a good job. We did our best. I look back now, the way it ended was certainly a regret. Does that mean it haunts me? Not at all. I’ve always felt our job is to do a good job and do it the right way, do it ethically and for the best interest of the student-athlete — check, check, check. I’ll always be associated with the school, and my great friends are there and all that. Absolutely none with that. It just wasn’t a normal way to move on. There would have been if I would have stayed out. I was worried about survival for a little bit.”

2 » Florida brought back a huge name in Gators tennis on Friday when the school announced that Mark Merklein has returned to the program as an assistant coach with the men’s team. Merklein, a two-time national champion (doubles in 1993, singles in 1994) and the 1994 SEC Player of the Year, earned four All-American nominations and three All-SEC nods while at Florida and was inducted into the UF Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005. Considered by many to be the best men’s tennis player in school history, Merklein wound up competing as a professional for 12 years and even serving as a volunteer assistant for the Gators from 1998-2002 while he was on the tour. He was the head coach of the USTA Player Development Center for six seasons (2006-11) before being hired by Michigan as an assistant coach for the past two years (2012-13). “When I left I even said to everyone, including Mr. [Jeremy] Foley, that it was a goal of mine to one day come back and coach and win national championships,” Merklein said in a school release. “I’ve said it so much now, it’s time to actually do it and put the work in. I’m excited to do that alongside [head coach Bryan Shelton].”

3 » Wide receiver Percy Harvin has only been employed by the Seattle Seahawks for a few weeks now, but he is already turning heads at the team’s facility. According to The Seattle Times, Harvin’s teammates and coaches have already begun taking notice, and second-year quarterback Russell Wilson is ecstatic about the potential of Seattle’s offense this season. “His talent level is unbelievable, off the charts,” said Wilson of Harvin. “He brings an explosive mentality to the game, which a lot of our guys already have. But to have him is truly tremendous. He’s a guy that’s been one of the best football players in the National Football League for the past several years.” Harvin also told the paper that he expect to play some running back on occasion and will likely be back for kickoff returns.

4 » ESPN’s decision to kick-off Florida second football game of the season, on the road against the Miami Hurricanes, at noon has caused quite a stir amongst fans over the past 24 hours. The Gators and Hurricanes will square off on Sept. 7 in Miami Gardens, FL at Sun Life Stadium in a game which everyone involved assumed would be played at night, likely at 8 p.m. Instead, Florida-Miami will take place under the extreme heat of the South Florida sun with kickoff just after noon, earlier than any UF-UM game has been played since at least 1987. The Miami Herald’s Manny Navarro did some digging to learn why ESPN chose that time slot.

According to the network, ABC will be airing a NASCAR race at 8 p.m. while ESPN is broadcasting Notre Dame-Michigan. The 3:30 p.m. slot on ABC will be used for regional games (those in Florida will see Oregon at Virginia). Hurricanes AD Blake James apparently tweeted that Miami “requested and lobbied” for the 8 p.m. slot, while ESPN spokesman Mike Humes pointed out that the network values its noon window. “We average probably around three million viewers for that time slot. So it wasn’t like, ‘Let’s put the worst game on at noon.’ The noon window does really well with fans,” he said. “We view this as a great matchup. Scheduling games is like putting together different puzzles with different time zones and commitments, and this was the best window.”

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Lauren Embree named National Player of the Year

Florida Gators senior tennis player Lauren Embree was named the 2013 ITA National Senior Player of the Year on Tuesday.

Just the third player in school history to receive the honor (Nicole Arendt in 1991, Jessica Lehnhoff in 2002), Embree is the reigning 2012 ITA/Rivera Women’s All-American Singles Champion. She is currently ranked No. 1 by the ITA and was announced on Tuesday as the No. 1 overall seed in the 2013 NCAA Singles Tournament, which opens play on Wednesday.

Embree is also a three-time Southeastern Conference Player of the Year (2010-12).

She has led Florida to four-straight Southeastern Conference regular-season titles (2009-12), four consecutive SEC Tournament crowns (2009-12) and back-to-back NCAA National Championships (2011-12) with her singles victories clinching both national titles for the Gators.

In NCAA dual match play, Embree is Florida’s career leader in singles wins (15-1), doubles wins (19-3), combined wins (34-4) and combined winning percentage (.895). She usually played her best when it meant the most for the Gators.

Photo Credit: Ron Irby/Tampa Bay Times

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