Like a visit to the dentist, it arrives each year— and for Executive Associate Athletics Director Mike Hill, it probably has similar appeal: A “Q&A Session” with yours truly! But to his great credit, it is never ‘pulling teeth’ to get Mike to enthusiastically discuss Gator basketball or answer questions offered by the Gator Country community. He graciously did so again, offering his insights on a variety of topics ranging from Coach Donovan’s NBA suitors to the O’Connell Center renovation project. Heck, even “Coach Sayre” was thrown into the mix. Mike is a true “hoops guy” and one the Gator Nation is most fortunate to have at the forefront of its basketball program. And so, I give you Mike Hill:
BM: Last season, I personally found Final Four loss to UCONN to be among the most difficult to endure. In its wake – - – at least initially – - – it was hard to reflect on and appreciate the greatness of that season and team. Looking back now, what are your thoughts and memories?
MH: I can certainly understand the disappointment after the UConn loss, but I promised myself going into the Final Four that the outcome would not diminish the joy that the season brought. It was one of the most amazing seasons I’ve ever witnessed in any sport. To go undefeated in the SEC, including three wins over Kentucky, and roll off 30 straight wins against the likes of Kansas and Memphis, it was truly stunning. Watching Coach Donovan and his staff take a team that had all kinds of issues early on and then come together to produce greatness was spectacular. And those seniors – who will ever forget Pat, Will, Scottie and Casey kissing the O’Dome floor and celebrating with the Rowdy Reptiles on Senior Day? Those are moments I’ll never forget.
BM: Almost immediately following the season – - – the typical rumors linking Coach Donovan to various NBA jobs began. But this year it seemed a bit louder. Were you ever concerned?
MH: We never, ever take Billy for granted. He’s a slam dunk for the Hall of Fame and is still a young man, so you always take things seriously when the NBA is circling. That said, it’s also pretty clear that Billy has established himself as one of the greatest coaches in the history of college basketball, and with each year here he further cements a legacy few men can ever achieve. When we were at SEC meetings in Destin last spring, I watched several administrators from rival schools go up to Billy and express to him how glad they were that he was staying at Florida, because he is so good for the game of college basketball and the SEC. And that sentiment is real. There is immense, genuine respect for Billy Donovan, not only here at UF, but at a regional, national and international level.
BM: There is the standing perception that Jeremy Foley maintains a “list” of potential coaching candidates should the football program ever endure a change. Does a similar list exist for whenever that dreaded time comes for the basketball program?
MH: Well I sure hope that we aren’t in that position for a long, long time, but it’s our responsibility in every sport to pay attention to the landscape, to know who the rising stars are in the business, and to be prepared for every scenario.
BM: The message boards buzz each season with few “annual topics”. Some of these you have touched on in previous years, but here are a few questions from the sometimes restless Gator Country natives:
1) What the heck is going on with Midnight Madness? Will it ever return?
MH: We’ve had some great Midnight Madness productions in the past, but it has been awhile since we’ve staged one for a number of reasons. Honestly, in the end, it is all about how it fits into our basketball team’s preparation for the season. Last year, we had a record number of sell-outs without staging Midnight Madness, so clearly it did not hurt the promotion of Gator basketball. But I do hope that one day we are able to resurrect it, because it’s so much fun for the fans and for the team. We could probably convince Billy to stage one if we landed U2 for the show.
2) There was mention that the camera angle may switch or seats may swap so that television broadcasts show our student section. Is that still in the plans?
MH: We are still looking at this as part of the renovation, but we’ve discovered that it would be extremely expensive – seven figures, believe it or not – to move the cameras to the opposite side, so it’s possible that this won’t make the budget when we make final decisions on O’Connell Center renovation priorities. Moving the fans/students/benches to accommodate such a move creates far too many problems as well, so that is not likely an option either.
If we don’t flip the primary camera locations, we are also considering installing robotic cameras opposite the student section so that TV can get some great shots of the Rowdies.
3) The NCAA allows programs to take international summer trips every four years. Any plans for the Gators?
MH: There is nothing imminent. We’re letting Coach Donovan carry the banner for us each summer with USA basketball!
BM: A big topic of discussion is, of course, the O’Connell Center renovation. Can you update the status/timeline, and perhaps touch on the topics such as: game scheduling/location during the renovation, new seating capacity, when final renderings may be available and how season tickets will be handled?
MH: The planning process is moving along very well. Chip Howard does a tremendous job with our facilities, and we are working closely with the O’Connell Center staff and UF to ensure that the renovation is a big success. The goal remains to begin the project in mid-March following basketball and gymnastics, with a completion date in advance of December 2015 graduation. Because we will install chairback seats in the lower bowl, total capacity will be slightly reduced by a few hundred seats.
We hope to have a couple of non-conference games played in the renovated O’Connell Center, with the balance of the non-conference games played around the state combined with some true road games. Part of our scheduling strategy is to reduce travel time for the team by playing two games in a weekend. For example, we might travel to Jacksonville for a weekend stay and play games on Friday and Sunday. We’re in similar discussions with Tampa and Orlando. We’ll start a major home-and-home series with an undetermined opponent on the road, as well as return a game to Miami. Plus, we’ll play at the Orange Bowl Classic and the Hall of Fame Classic in Connecticut. I think that given the circumstances, we’ll have an excellent schedule planned. Our season tickets will be based on the 9-game SEC schedule plus the two non-conference home games.
BM: A couple years ago you mentioned the famous TupacBiff, indicating your familiarity with the message board. So, do you know “CoachSayre”?
MH: I was really hoping that you could reveal him to me. I remain sleepless at night over this mystery.
BM: Any predictions or insights on the upcoming season?
MH: I predict that it will be another fun season for Gator fans. There’s a lot of talent on the roster. But don’t expect the same storyline from a year ago. There are too many guys in new roles who will have to grow into those roles and develop chemistry. The schedule is difficult right from the start, so don’t be surprised if the ride is a little bumpy at times, especially early. With Coach Donovan and his staff at the helm, though, you know that this team is in great hands.