It wasn’t long before the guys began to sound like a broken record.
The word was on loop, intermediately broken up by concurrent phrases such as “no execution” or “no energy” and the real dagger, “no passion”.
Following a 79-61 loss to LSU, the Gator basketball team had to begrudgingly admit what Billy Donovan had feared all season…they were nowhere near where they need to be.
The loss was the worst Florida has taken on their home court since November 2010 and that was a fact Dorian Finney-Smith just wasn’t ok with.
“Losing in the O-Dome”, he shook his head in disgust, “by that many points, we just didn’t come to fight”.
While Doe-Doe made sure to give the Tigers credit for their explosive offense, he spent the majority of his 3 minute and 50 second post game interview harping on the lack of discipline and seething at the inadequacies that lacking it has exposed.
“We just got to be more disciplined offensively and defensively. Got to move the ball…just got to figure it out as a team, got to get in practice and talk about this, figure it out…we got to get stops. We don’t come together. We got to get stops…we’re not where we want to be right now…me and Michael Frazier got to do a better job of leading. Whatever we’re doing, we got to change it.”
Whatever we’re doing, we got to change it.
All in all, 74 words of the same story. It was being repeated 3 feet away with Michael Frazier as well, who was saying much of the same.
And just across the way, Alex Murphy was throwing out the lines as well, explaining the game and much of the season with “no passion. No fire”.
Over it all hung a heavy pall, tinged with an emotion that hadn’t snuck into the Gator locker room in years; panic.
One person who wasn’t panicked though was Billy Donovan.
The head coach walked into his post game press conference frustrated and resigned, but still at ease. He took every question asked of him and answered honestly; telling reporters who inquired, “how do you fix the lack of discipline” with an exasperated “I don’t know”.
“I really don’t”, he continued. “I don’t have any answers. You know in terms of [lack of discipline], we work on it. We try to practice it. We try to put those guys in situations…I think what happens sometimes with these guys is they get so concerned with themselves. And again, I want to clarify what I mean by that. It’s not like ‘hey I’m not scoring’. They want to play well first, then they want the team to do well and the mentality is wrong. They got to flip that to the point of doing their job. We don’t do our jobs. Just calling it like it is.”
Donovan says that this has been the case for a long time, but with a previous season led by four veterans, the deficiencies of his younger guys were covered up. Now as the minutes go up, so does the awareness of problems.
Kasey Hill and Michael Frazier led the team with 33 minutes each versus LSU on Tuesday. Hill scored nine points and Frazier finished with eight.
Compared to the same time frame last season (January 18 versus Auburn), the numbers don’t show too much of a difference. Hill played 25 minutes in that game, tallying seven points. Frazier played 19 minutes and wasn’t able to make a basket.
But their stats were offset by Casey Prather (29 min., 21 pts), Scottie Wilbekin (37 min., 16 pts.), and Patric Young (31 min., 13 pts.).
Without that safety net, this team is fumbling for footing that Donovan says they never really had.
“Doe-Doe and Kasey Hill and Frazier and Chris Walker, they had the same issues last year that got totally camouflaged, totally camouflaged. And I knew it and we talked about it coming out of the summer. You know ‘you guys are gonna have to do that for us to be a really good team.’ And that’s been the challenge for these guys, is a point of being able to focus and being that discipline. Some of it’s habitual, we’re talking about really having to change habits in some of these guys.”
It’s more than just the discipline though. As Alex Murphy pointed out, there was no passion except for a brief span between the under 8 and the under 4 timeout in the second half.
The fire is what Donovan is missing the most. He alluded to Russell Wilson and the drive that the Seahawks quarterback was able to lead on Sunday in order to win the NFC Championship. After throwing four interceptions, Wilson and the Seahawks came onto the field with around four minutes remaining and put together a comeback that included two touchdowns in regulation, an improbable two-point conversion and another touchdown in overtime to advance to the Super Bowl. Donovan liked what he saw.
“Wilson throws four interceptions and has the toughness mentally to move past that and do what he did at the end”, Donovan says with a passion matching what he wants to see.
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“That’s what I’m talking about…Until you’re inside a locker room, until you’re in the heat of the moment, the heat of adversity, the heat of a challenge and see how guys respond, you will never know [if they possess that]. Because everybody says the same thing. ‘I work really, really hard, I’m a winner, I want to win’, you know what I mean? But until you get in the heart of that [you don’t know]. I didn’t know [Al] Horford and [Joakim] Noah had that, I had no clue! Once they got here, I was like ‘wow’.”
Now he’s stepping into a locker room that’s missing that and it’s showing up most on the court. While Billy has always been quick to defend his team and their chemistry, saying they love playing together and are a very unselfish team, he’s also admitting, that’s just no longer enough.
“Not enough competiveness, not enough fight, definitely not enough at all. I think hopefully they’re learning in a lot of ways, just because you’re here and because of things that happened in the past, it’s not a level of entitlement or a right of passage that’s gonna happen for you. They have to earn their way just like any other team has to earn their way. A lot of preseason rankings had nothing to do with our team and had a lot to do with our past teams.”
The ten guys on the roster may but just starting to face that harsh reality now, but just like he’s said all season, Donovan assures fans that this isn’t a shock. He expected this. And he asks for patience. Every team is different, and every season requires a new style.
“If I want to be honest about all that”, Donovan says, “the biggest thing from team to team is figuring out as a coach how do your individual players learn best. As much as I want the process to be fast forward, sometimes with these players they have to go through certain things before they actually can really grow and develop and become the player that maybe we envision or they envision for themselves.”
Going through those certain things will take some baptism by fire. The heat is quickly turning up as the Gators now sit at 3-2 in the SEC and it’s what Donovan hopes makes the difference.
“I’ve tried a lot of different things with them”, he admits, “but they’re going to have to, as much as I hate to say it, they’re going to have to go through it to figure it out.
The good part of this right now, is that when you’re a coach in the offseason and you’re explaining these things to a team and they think they’re gonna be really really good, it’s really hard some times to get your message through. But now, the crystal ball so to speak, looking into it like, wow this is a lot different than I thought, or I didn’t think it was gonna go like this. I’m not surprised at all. I’m not. There’s nothing here that’s surprising to me.”
So this is the point they’ve come to. A team picking itself up from the feather that knocked them over and a coach who saw it coming and did his best to cushion the fall. Now he’s ready to give them a hand up and the support they’re finally admitting they need. Together they prepare a plan to move forward.