Donovan sees Gators making progress

Billy Donovan still doesn’t have a team that is full strength, but he knows a lot more about his 13th-ranked Gators than he did back in early November he was playing with a short bench that was profoundly affected by foul trouble. As Florida (5-1) prepares for a tough four-game non-conference stretch that begins Friday  with in-state rival Florida State at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center (7:30 pm. ESPN2), Donovan sees a team that is making good progress.

The Gators go into Friday’s game off their most complete performance of the year, an 86-60 win over Jacksonville University Monday night. The Gators shot the ball extremely well (59.6% from the field and 61.5% from the three-point line) while limiting the Dolphins to 37.3% from the field and only 35;7% from the three-point line. The JU game marked the return of senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin (12 points, five rebounds, seven assists and three steals), which more than compensated for the loss of freshman Kasey Hill, who went down with a high ankle sprain against Southern University, forcing Donovan to play Middle Tennessee State without a true point guard.

It is quite a contrast from that second game of the season at Wisconsin when neither Wilbekin nor Dorian Finney-Smith were available.

“With the hand that we’ve dealt with game-to-game we’ve done a very good job,” Donovan said. “Now how much that holds up or continues to hold up against Florida State or UConn, Kansas, Memphis, Fresno, we’ll see. I thought our guys competed really hard against Wisconsin. I thought we learned some things. I thought we got better from that game. But, I think our guys, to their credit, are trying to do the things we’re asking them to do. And I think they’re doing a pretty good job of it.”

In one respect, having to play short handed against Wisconsin and point guard-less against Middle Tennessee will help the Gators in the long run. They’ve been forced to play multiple players at the point and there have been times when walk-on Jacob Kurtz was playing center with Casey Prather at the power forward and Finney-Smith at the point.

“I’ve always said this before, the more opportunity you have as a coach with guys who can play more positions, the more multi-dimensional you can be but a lot of that is predicated on the fact that can those guys play two different positions, can they absorb and remember what they’re supposed to do.”

Against FSU Friday night, Donovan will probably go with a lineup that includes Wilbekin and Michael Frazier in the backcourt with a front court lineup of Prather, Will Yeguete and Patric Young but not even that is set in stone. Donovan said he could foresee a lineup that includes Finney-Smith or one that has both Wilbekin and Hill on the floor at the same time.

“A lot is going to depend on who we are playing against, matchups, those kind of things,” Donovan said. “I think it’s a good thing we have that flexibility.”




Hill is still in a walking boot and certainly out for the Florida State and UConn (December 2) games, but beyond that, nothing is certain. Through the first four games, Hill was averaging 10.3 points and 4.3 assists per game.

He’s getting better and he’s healing,” Donovan said. “I think the trainer is still holding our right now 3-4 weeks for him. He’s not going to be available for the game against FSU. So you know, I really don’t keep a whole lot of pulse on that. Once I find out what the injury is, the trainer’s dealing with him and kind of gives me updates. He is progressing, he is getting better, he is improving. But he’s not remotely close to getting back to the court yet.”


DeVon Walker, a 6-6 sophomore from Winter Haven, started Florida’s first six games, and was just starting to come on as an offensive player when he went down against Jacksonville. Injured at the seven-minute mark, Walker never returned to the Monday game but the injury isn’t serious. Donovan said that Walker could be out as much as 10 days, but could be back perhaps for Florida State, depending on how quickly he heals.

It’s day to day right now,” Donovan said. “X-rays came back negative, no break. It’s not even a sprained ankle. It’s a mid-foot sprain. He tweaked his ligament kind of down on the bottom or the side of his foot so he’s just doing treatment day to day and he’s not even going to practice today. He may practice tomorrow so I’m not really sure where he’s at.”


South Carolina transfer Damontre Harris, a 6-10 shot blocker who made the SEC’s All-Defensive team two years ago, is still not with the team. Donovan says Harris has certain responsibilities that he has to take care of and that he has to make up his own mind what is important to him.

At a certain point, he’s got to want to say this is what I want and this is what I’m prepared to do,” Donovan said. “He has not done that. He has said this is what I’d like. I want to play on the team. Well, this is what you have to do. What he wants and what he has to do are not matching up. I’m now at a crossroads in the dilemma. Does he want to play? Does he not want to play? It;s easy to say that, but there’s going to be some things he’s doing to have to go through to get back on our team. He’s not going to just come in here and say, ‘I want back on the team.’ Great, come on down to practice, we’ll throw you on and give you a uniform. He has got a lot of work to do.”

Although he wouldn’t get into specifics about what is going on with Harris, it is obvious that the players on the team are reaching out and doing their best to help within certain limits.

I think our guys like Damontre and want to help Damontre, but they’d also like to see Damontre help Damontre.” Donovan said. “That, I think, is what’s so difficult as a coach. When you have all the resources here at Florida to really help someone in every possible area — on the court, off the court, academically, weight room, film — and you’re not taking advantage of it, at some point he’s the one responsible.”

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.