The Florida Gators take on a very good Oregon basketball team tomorrow in St. Louis. Here’s quotes from the players and coaches about the upcoming game.
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI
MODERATOR: Defending champion Florida Gators are with us. We’ll ask the coach to start off with opening statements and then we’ll go to questions for any one on the dais.
COACH DONOVAN: I’m excited for these guys and our team and our program to have the opportunity to play tomorrow afternoon against a very, very good Oregon basketball team.
I think for every game we’ve played in this NCAA tournament thus far, it’s been about different styles, from Jackson State to Purdue to Butler.
And certainly Oregon has got a very, very difficult style of play to go against. They’ve got some great guards. They’re a great shooting team. They have great personnel, 3, 4 and the 5. And so I think our guys having a chance to watch a little bit of film this morning to try to get prepared for them, understand the challenge they have and we have tomorrow afternoon.
Q. Billy, Tajuan Porter said he had gotten a letter from Florida at one point when he was in high school. Do you remember seeing him when he was in high school and what did you think of him and why didn’t you guys go after him?
COACH DONOVAN: I loved him as a player. Actually, there was a couple of players on that team. Really what happened was I think our personnel getting Walter Hodge at that time somebody in our program, Taurean was there. I think the biggest thing for me in recruiting with all these guys here, the guys here, is you’re giving them an opportunity to go out there and play and compete. And I think we already had some people in our program. I loved him as a player. I had a chance to see him play a lot with the Detroit team. He was terrific.
Actually games I saw him play I was very, very impressed with him.
Q. Taurean and Lee, talk about going up against a guy that’s 5-6 maybe and the quickness that he gives. And I know you guys went up against a guy at Jackson State that was about that size but he didn’t shoot very much. So defending him, just talk about that.
TAUREAN GREEN: Guarding a quick guy you just try to keep him in front of you and just try to make him take tough shots over you. He does a good job of creating his own shot. We just have to do a good job of just trying to make it difficult for him to score.
LEE HUMPHREY: I think both those guys, Brooks and Porter, are both extremely quick. And I don’t think their size is that big of a factor. Those guys are good at getting their shots off. The best thing we can do is make them take shots, limit their easy looks. If they’re going to make shots, make them be tough ones.
Q. What prompted you to start calling Al the Godfather? And, Al, do you like or dislike the nickname and why?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, I just felt like in the Godfather Don Corleone didn’t say a whole lot but he had great presence about himself. And sometimes I think Al, with our team, is verbally not a man of many words but certainly I think his presence and the respect level that I think the team has for him goes a long way.
So that’s how it started. That’s how it started. I don’t know how Al feels about that.
He’s probably never seen the Godfather.
AARON BROOKS: I’ve never seen the Godfather. I have nothing to say about that.
Q. Billy, you guys had great success with your bigs out the perimeter. Has that been a constant all year and can that strategy have success against these guys tomorrow?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, I think every team’s personnel provides different challenges. Butler’s system and style presented challenges and so does Oregon’s. The one thing I think you have to have regardless of what opponent you’re playing against you have to play big team defense, and everybody has got to contribute and everybody has to help the best they can.
You know, they’ve got a lot of—Malik Hairston played the 3 and the 4. And Leunen is a guy that steps out and shoots it. I know we’re talking a lot about their back court. But it’s really their whole entire starting team. When you look at what they shoot from the three-point line and their ability to put it on the floor and create a lot of different positions, I just don’t know if you can sit there and say, okay, one person is stopping him and one person is stopping this guy.
I think it’s got to be a total team effort.
Because they do push the ball hard in transition, there’s going to be times where we have different guys on different people.
And that’s going to be certainly a challenge. It’s been a challenge everybody Oregon’s played against.
Q. You guys went from the SEC tournament where you trailed three tournament games where you’ve trailed in the first half in all three games. Just talk about the challenges so far having to play uphill and how important it is to get off to a good start tomorrow.
COREY BREWER: It’s going to be real important to get off to a good start tomorrow because Oregon’s extremely talented team. And we just gotta come out and basically bring a lot of energy, just play our style of basketball.
I think we’ve been a little low on energy beginning of the games last couple of games.
But I think if we can just come out and execute the game plan, we’ll be fine tomorrow.
JOAKIM NOAH: I think every game is different. But as long as we stick together and realize that there’s going to be adversity in a 40-minute game regardless if you’re up or down, there’s always going to be adversity and teams are going to make their runs. But as long as we stick together, I think that’s all that really matters.
Q. Bill, do you think there’s a blueprint now out there for how to play you guys as far as trapping Taurean and trying to get the ball out of his hands, being real physical with the post guys? Seems like teams are starting to turn to that.
COACH DONOVAN: You know, it’s really hard to say. I don’t think that Purdue and Butler played uncharacteristically against us as they have all year long. When you’re a basketball team that’s had success and you’ve gotten to the point of the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament you’re going to play to your system and style. Jackson State played a totally different style.
I think the biggest thing, and I’ve said this before, I always look at our field goal percentage at the end of the game. You knew against Butler there was going to be a limited amount of possessions, you knew against Purdue there would be a limited amount of possessions because those teams certainly played ball control, hold on to it and make you play defense for long periods of time, and then try to be very physical and aggressive.
We’ve shot still over 50% from the field in the SEC tournament, now in the NCAA tournament.
I think that our guys understand there’s going to be some games where you get into a physical grind-it-out type of game and there’s games where you play, when the game goes up and down the floor.
I think Oregon being here at this point can do both things. They can really go up and down the floor and they can be physical. But I think any time you have the type of exposure and publicity our team has had dating back a year ago, you have a chance to watch it and look at it and try to do different things.
But I think our guys have handled what we’ve needed to do. And again I think that sometimes because of the expectation and the way people maybe view us, I don’t think there’s enough credit given to these other teams and how well they played.
But I don’t think that Butler played out of characteristic of what we watched on film. And I don’t think Purdue played out of characteristic.
And I think that Oregon will do the same thing. They’re going to play to their identity and what they’ve done all year, in my opinion.
Q. I was wondering if you could talk about the relationship between yourself and Urban Meyer having won championships in the last year. I know you each spoke to each other’s teams and you live near each other how did that relationship start and what have both these two individual, the two programs gained from it, do you think?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, I think the one thing that Jeremy Foley has done that’s been great, I don’t know how it’s worked out, why it’s worked out. But on campus there’s a great relationship between all the coaches.
And I have great respect for Urban and the job that he’s done. And the one thing that’s kind of neat is to see the relationship, the football team and the basketball team, have. I think these guys that play a lot of their good friends on campus are guys and members of the football team.
It was great being on the bus because for us in November and early November and December and January to see these guys be so excited for the success of the football team.
I think in talking to Urban, you know, playing Ohio State for the national championship game, I think he could give a perspective of what it was like for his team going in against a team in Ohio State that had that invincibility label. And he was able to talk to our guys about what it was like going into that. And he gave a different perspective. But I have tremendous admiration and respect for him. We’ve developed a very good relationship. Unfortunately, because of our schedules and our seasons recruiting I wish we could spend more time together.
But we do see each other sometimes in the morning dropping kids off at the bus stop.
Q. Al, couple of their players, Oregon players are from Michigan, I think Porter actually said he didn’t know Oregon was a state until he went out there. I’m wondering how much you knew or know about the state of Oregon or that basketball team since they’re usually playing pretty late at night?
AARON BROOKS: Obviously I know Oregon is a state.
But I knew about their football team, Oregon. They’re always pretty good in football and stuff like that. And just the general stuff. I know they have a big Nike Town over there and all that stuff. So I know a little bit about Oregon.
Q. Because people see you so much they do know your game whereas with the West Coast team you probably don’t get to see them that much. How much have you seen of Oregon play this year and what do you think of their style of play?
LEE HUMPHREY: Their games are pretty late on the East Coast. But I haven’t seen many of their games throughout the year. Probably the most part of what I’ve seen is just the films we’ve watched.
And I think coaches do a good job putting together a play splice and personnel splice for us to get a really good feel for the team going into the game. They’re an up-tempo team. They like to really get out and run, and they’re probably one of the fastest teams we’ve played against the whole year.
So I think we’ll have to be ready to run and get back on defense and transition.
Q. Taurean, you’ve been playing these teams that have kind of slowed it down, now you’re going to get a chance to get out and run for a change. Talk about the difference in style and is it going to be a little more fun to get out there and run the ball for a change?
TAUREAN GREEN: Any time we get a chance to run, we like to do that. But at the same time they like to push the ball up. We have to do a good job of getting back on defense and stopping the three-point line.
Q. Coach, on the same subject of the relative anonymity of Oregon, does a guy like Porter have an edge when people don’t know him, don’t know how to cover him, maybe his weaknesses?
COACH DONOVAN: I think you guys create the anonymity, if that’s the right word, not us.
Just because there’s a changing of coasts and time change, I feel like you’re trying to create, like, because we don’t see them there’s not a respect level there.
And that’s not definitely not the case. These guys at Oregon—that’s like Oregon in the middle of practice how much have they watched us play. There’s a time change there. But these guys understand that Oregon couple years ago was in the Elite 8. They know about Ridenour, they know about some of the tradition, some of the things of the program. I feel like you’re trying to sit there and say we don’t know anything about Oregon. We know plenty about Oregon.
We know how good they are. We know how big this challenge is. So I just want to make very, very clear in here that I feel like you’re trying to create because we haven’t seen them there’s not—maybe we don’t know anything. We know plenty. We know all we need to know. And there’s great respect. We know we’ll have to play our best game to have a chance to win.
Q. I didn’t say anything about respect. Just talked about the winning plays, techniques —
COACH DONOVAN: I think he’s (Tajuan Porter) a terrific player. I don’t think it has anything to do with whether or not you thought he was recruited heavily or unheavily. What does that have to do with anything? He’s a really good player, terrific player, as good as anybody we’re going to go against.
Q. Last night you said you’re almost begging Butler to go for the 2 point shots. Is that something that tomorrow you guard against the 3 so much you’re willing to give up some of the 2s?
COACH DONOVAN: I don’t know. I think one thing we felt like with Butler, with their players was that we wanted to try to have them finish over the top of some of our big guys. And this is a different team in Oregon because of their athleticism and their speed and their strength that maybe it was more challenging height-wise for Butler to finish over our guys.
But I think for this team it’s going to be a heck of a challenge because they do have a great ability to really shoot the ball off the dribble, which is maybe a little bit different than Butler.
So they may be better finishing, going to the basket, is what I’m saying, athletically.
Q. Talking about Oregon, Al and Joakim, have you seen many teams this year that go with four guards and don’t have a whole lot of size there? Does that present different challenges for you guys in terms of offensively how you guys are going to—do you sit up and try to work it inside them or try to nullify what they do?
AARON BROOKS: I think our league has done a good job this year in preparing us for this. We faced a lot of teams that have four guards and one big. When you talk about Oregon, all five of their guys can shoot and can put it on the floor.
So it’s going to be a big challenge for us, but we’ve definitely seen that quite a few times this year.
JOAKIM NOAH: I feel every game is different. But like the coach said, they shoot it at all five positions, so it’s just on us to kind of stick together, especially on the defensive end and do what we have to do to just get a win.
Q. Lee, would you talk about in the game where you see a lot of guard-oriented teams, the luxury of playing on a team that has the bigs like you guys have?
LEE HUMPHREY: I think it’s great for our guards. Our big guys just make us that much better. When those guys are playing good inside it really opens up some stuff for us on the perimeter. Makes it easier for us to play.
Q. Coach, with a day and a half to prepare, can you kind of take us through the timeline of what you do and also how much do you try to give to the guys strategy for them concentrate on your own team and what you do?
COACH DONOVAN: I think that’s why there’s so much respect for Oregon and Butler. It’s different because you know the Butler game you’ve got a lot of time to prepare, a Jackson State you have a lot of time to prepare.
Then when you have Purdue with one day to prepare, it makes it very difficult. We as coaches probably have a lot more information that we can give them. There’s going to be some keys in the game that we have to focus on to be able to do to try to put ourselves in the position to win.
But basically after the game, the timeline was those guys went back. They got something to eat. There was a post-game rehab that they go through with our trainer and strength coach. Got up this morning about 10:30. We had a breakfast where we started the preparation for Oregon.
We as coaches were up most of the night trying to watch film as much as we can. We had one of our coaches spend a lot of time watching them over the last several days as we had someone watching UNLV. Watched film, came over here, watched more in the locker room, cover things, got done with the shoot-around for an hour and a half. Now here. And it’s a big turnaround because we play basically in less than 24 hours with a complicated system like theirs and as good as they are and the different, unique things they do, it’s the first time both teams are playing against each other. Anytime you play each for the first time, there’s a feeling around. Oregon has does things that you’ve got to defend and stop and hopefully we can do some of the things we do well. I think we should be a great game.
Q. Coach, about Oregon’s defense, first of all, how much matchup zone do you guys face during the year and what do you think Oregon’s matchup zone versus its man defense that you see on film obviously?
COACH DONOVAN: I think that they change really well. They’re a basketball team that can get after you in the half court with their quickness. And they’re also a team that can play some 2-3 zone and match up. And they can change. We do in our league there’s quite a few teams that play matchup zone. Vanderbilt does it, Auburn does it, and Kentucky does it some. There are different zones we get a chance to see.
And I think their zone, their defense is very, very good because they have guys with a lot of interchangeable parts.
Q. Billy, how have you seen Al progress his game, get better and better? Seems like he’s on top of it right now?
COACH DONOVAN: I think the one thing with him that’s been a lot of fun for me is he came in as a freshman. I would classify him as big, strong and raw. Probably the first three weeks of practice I didn’t know if he could help us at all as a freshman.
But the one thing I started to know more and more about him, and all these guys, not just Al, really got a very good basketball mind. Very cerebral. Pick things up. Was a guy that really paid attention to detail and paid attention to little things.
And slowly worked himself as a freshman into the starting lineup. Wasn’t relied upon at all to score. I think last year got better offensively and then this summer to his credit spent a lot of time I think working on different parts of his game where he was able to shoot the ball much better from 15 to 17 feet.
He’s worked hard on his left hand. Worked hard on different things from the low post and off the block.
So it was great for me as a coach over the last three years to see his maturation and growth as a player. But also you realized the reason why he’s gotten so much better is because he’s put time in it and he’s very focused, as they all are.
Q. Joakim, you guys were in this exact same position last year, one game away from the Final Four. But even though that was only a year ago, does it feel like a lifetime ago and can you compare last year to this year?
JOAKIM NOAH: No, I think every game is very different, like I said. I feel like last year was last year and I feel like this season, it just has been a big learning experience. It’s been completely different. Every game in this tournament. I think when you start taking things for granted, things like experience, I feel like—to get to the Elite 8, like who cares? Experience doesn’t mean anything. I think right now it’s just really like focusing on the task at hand and realizing that—I mean, how many times do you have a chance to play in this situation?
Just enjoying it but not taking anything for granted. Just because we’ve been here before doesn’t give us an edge. It’s just one game. The only thing we’re given is 40 minutes.
Q. Billy, in the game today, you rarely see a team with three accomplished big guys like you have. Was that a focus of your recruiting some years ago, a philosophical thing? And discuss the luxury of that?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, I think it was a lot of luck, to be honest with you. Certainly coming out of high school, a lot of people thought that the four guys we signed and the big guys, Corey Brewer came out with a great reputation, McDonald’s All-American, but Joakim Noah and Al Horford didn’t have a lot of publicity around them and people thought they were limited big guys and they would be projects and guys that would take maybe by the third year they would help the program.
But I think the thing that makes them so interesting to coach and just work with them is they’re so cerebral. They’re very, very intelligent. And they’re smart basketball players, and they got a really good feel how to play. And I think that’s allowed them to really get a lot better as players, because they understand the game at a very high level.
The front line is as smart as any group I’ve ever coached. I really thought Udonis Haslem when I had him, a guy that didn’t have a lot of publicity and exposure coming out of high school, and really grew and developed. What allowed him to grow and develop was his mind set and intelligence and understanding where he needed to get better and what other teams are doing and scouting reports.
A guy like Al Horford, I really mean this, if we run a lot of different things, we do a lot of different things, he could tell me everybody’s responsibility from the point guard all the way to the power forward spot. I think with a young player that’s very, very rare.
Q. All five of the starters averaging double figures, are they one of the more balanced teams you’ve seen in terms of scoring? And do you let the guys chill tonight and watch other games and gather as a unit or will you try to feed them more information?
COACH DONOVAN: I think you try to feed more information when the time is right. It’s been a long day for these guys since we’ve been up at 10:30 and then coming over here. They need some time to relax and time to continue to go through preparation. As I said, Oregon is a very, very complicated team. They’re a very good team and there’s a lot to get prepared and ready for in a short period of time. So we’ve got to give them as much information as we can that can help us in the game.
But at the same point, there’s things that we have to do that have been constants for us all year long that we have to do.
Q. That being balanced, all five scorers, all five of your starters in double figures?
COACH DONOVAN: That’s a hard thing. One thing that’s unique watching them, I’ve had a chance obviously to watch quite a bit of tape. The thing that’s interesting to me is that those five starters that are getting double figures, any one of them is capable of going for 25 and plus. That’s the thing that’s so interesting about their team.
And you look at a guy like Taylor in the Pac-10 championship game, goes 11-11 from the field and 7-7 from the three-point line, then you look at Porter last night. They’ve got a lot of guys that at any time can explode and blowup and get 25. And I think that’s why they’re here because they’re so balanced offensively.
Q. Do you believe that you still have a hungry basketball team coming off a national championship? Obviously in the Elite 8, how do you guard against your guys being complacent or overconfident?
COACH DONOVAN: I don’t know if their mind set has ever been to be overconfident, but the one thing, I try to say this and I’ve said this for a long time, these kids are human beings. They have emotions and feelings like anyone else and I’m sure there’s been times during the year they felt unmotivated and complacent and not driven or satisfied.
I think that’s human nature. Those things happen when you have something big and you accomplish something big. But I think that they’ve done a terrific job guarding against those things. And they really have done a good job I think keeping that hunger and focus. Last year because we went through the NCAA tournament there was a wide margin of victory in our games, I think people anticipate that’s going to happen again.
But there’s more film. There’s more scouting. There’s more familiarity. Joakim Noah, Taurean Green and Al Horford, they were unknowns last year. No one knew about them. But I think we’ve tried to do things during the course of the year to try to keep them motivated, excited and hungry.
And you know keep them upbeat and lifted. But I think also that comes inside of you. You have to be internally competitive enough that you want to continue to get better and improve as a team and as an individual.
I can say that these guys this year up to this point in time have handled everything as well as I can possibly imagine.
Q. I know you talked about people making too much out of the experience. But you guys have been behind in the second half a lot. And there seems to be no panic, no kind of collapse. Can you talk about what you attribute to the fact—probably a lot of them playing together for so long, but the fact that they seem to hold it together late in the second half?
COACH DONOVAN: I hope it can continue. But one thing about our team going in is maybe the expectation and the outside opinion of us supposed to just handle teams. They have enough respect for their opponent that they know playing against Purdue, playing against Butler, they know that this is going to be a battle.
And I think maybe some people are surprised there’s such a battle and we’ve gotten behind. I don’t think it’s surprised our guys. I don’t sense that our guys get frustrated. I think there’s great respect and they know that, you know what, as we try to scout, these other teams scout. There’s more film available. There’s a better understanding.
As much as you wanted to maybe last year say as a coach that Joakim Noah was a really good player, the exposure and publicity from last year elevated that. So people do guard him differently. People do have a different focus towards him. But I don’t think our guys going into games have a level or opinion of themselves that, you know what, we’re just going to step on the floor and play hard and we’re going to win this going away.
They understand this is going to be a battle for 40 minutes.
Q. Al told us the other day that when he got here you and Coach Grant said you spent a lot of time actually retooling his shot. What did you see from him as a freshman and what you did you do during those sessions and what were the specific things you worked on?
COACH DONOVAN: I think one of the most difficult things to do in coaching is to take a young man who mechanically has some flaws in his shot and try to change it because they’ve been doing something for 18 or 19 years.
And I really believe shooting is something you’ve got to have confidence in. You’ve got to feel good about it. You have to be feel comfortable shooting when you start making tweaks and changes to somebody’s shot and it makes them uncomfortable. You don’t want to do too much. For instance, Joakim Noah, his shooting and his form is not sometimes a picture of beauty. But he does have a good eye. He does work at it. And there’s some minor adjustments you can change.
I think the same thing with Al sometimes is everybody has different things they have to work on with their shooting. For Al a lot of his shooting and a lot of his problems and mechanics had to do with his lower body.
So you tried to make him aware of some minor changes that could maybe help him get a little bit more arc on his shot, shoot a little bit of a softer ball, and I don’t think there’s anything like repetition.
Basketball is a game of repetition, the more you repeat things the more confidence I believe you gain.
Q. You just mentioned that sometimes you have to find a different way to motivate people. You’ve done a lot of different stunts, had a lot of different people, can you talk about your philosophy of motivation? And if you could, if you could have three people you haven’t had in into your room, who would you like to have talk to your players?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, first and foremost, God. I would love for him to talk to our team, to find out if we’re going about this the right way and it would probably start and finish with that.
I think motivation is really a tricky word. I think we all as adults can get a young man excited for three, four, five, eight minutes for a day.
But I think it goes deeper than the motivation part of it. I think it really goes into the inspiring and trying to bring out the passion in somebody. And other kids are more challenging than others, because some kids are naturally very inspired and motivated and you know there’s other guys that need to have it brought out in them.
So for me I like to try to do things that are going to make a lasting impression, not for a day, but to try to do things that are going to last for a period of time that they can take with them for the rest of their lives.
And I just like having different people, different times talk to our team that have experienced different things. They hear me every single day. That’s all they hear is they hear me every day. And sometimes a different voice and talking to them about different things is also important.
And probably one of the greatest rewards I’ve ever had as a coach is when a guy like Joakim Noah says this was the most valuable learning experience of my life this year. Just because of all that he’s had to go through.
To me that’s where it really becomes very, very rewarding. But I don’t know if there’s anything every day where I’m sitting there saying, all right, this guy’s really unmotivated, how can I get this guy excited about playing.
I try to get things that hit their heart and hit home to what reality is so they can take those things and carry them beyond where they’re at right now.
Q. Practically everything that could be said about you today has been said, but do you think the average fan realizes how unique this? I could argue that we’ll never see this again, North Carolina wins the national title, their team’s not returning intact, Georgetown, UCLA. It seems maybe this is the last time ever that particularly when you have three pros on the front line that they would all choose to return and come back and that we’re reaching not just the end of a Florida era but the end of a certain special thing in college basketball?
COACH DONOVAN: It is very, very unique I think what’s happened, because so much in our society, what goes on right now, is it’s all about money, the next level. And I understand that. And I’m not saying those things are bad.
But I think sometimes when people get to that point and they realize, you know what, there’s a lot more to life than just that, the thing that makes me proud of these guys is they did something that was completely rare.
If we did not win a national championship last year, it would have made sense that these kids came back. Hey, they want to do it again. They missed out on an opportunity and give it another shot and see where—but they could have rode off into the sunset and said, you know what, we accomplished a national championship. We’ve done it. I’m going to make the next step in my life. I don’t think any of them would be wrong, and I didn’t try to talk any of them out of leaving.
I’m happy that they did it for themselves and they did it for one another and they did it for our program and they did it for the joy of playing with one another.
That’s really what it comes down to. And to see them handle all that they’ve had to handle this year has really been very, very pleasing to me.
They’re very humble. I think because some of their parents were professional athletes, they’ve had the opportunity to learn a lot at a very, very young age and understand what it’s all about and they have great, great support base and role models at home that have really helped them.
But you’re right, I think whether or not this would happen again, you know, who knows? Because of the state of college basketball, you know, just looking at it says it’s going to be really, really hard to have a whole team come intact like they did. I agree with that.
Q. Billy, you were there when the three-point line went in and it was let’s try this distance, see if it works, go from there. Are you surprised at all that it has stayed there? And your view of it at that distance versus—I’m sure you’ve had some experimental games at the international distance, played in those. What do you think of the longer line or any impact when your guys have been there?
COACH DONOVAN: It was funny. I had a conversation with Coach Pitino many years ago about the extension of the three-point line. He made an interesting comment. “I really do I hope they move it back because that may deter some teams from taking the 3 and I’d probably want to try to take more.”
The three-point line back in 1987, 20 years ago when it came in, I don’t know if there was a coach in the country that had the experience, the understanding about the three-point line more so than Coach Pitino because of his NBA background and having to coach in that environment with the three-point line.
I remember 20 years ago when it came in everybody said it’s going to ruin the game, we’re not going to get baited into taking the 3. It’s a bad shot. The game of college basketball is going to turn into a jump shot and jump shooting basketball game.
And I don’t think anybody ever heard of driving the ball to two feet from the basket and throwing it back out for a three-point shot. Really Coach Pitino was the first one to start that. And he was way ahead of his time understanding what the three-point line could do.
But what was more impressive, and what we were able to learn at Providence through him, was defending the three-point line may be more important than shooting the three-point shot.
And it’s the only sport—I say it’s the only sport—could you imagine if football if you throw for a touchdown you’re going to get nine points but if you run in for a touchdown you only get six? You have a free throw is one, anything inside a three is two, and you have a three-point shot. When you have a scoring system like that, the three-point line alters the game. Totally alters the game. It can take a team that’s maybe not as athletic and not as talented, not as gifted, but they can really shoot and put them in a system, they can be very effective and hard to beat because of the line.
Q. What about longer than the 20-foot-6?
COACH DONOVAN: These kids are so strong today and they shoot the ball so much, I don’t know if it would alter the game that much. What it may do is create more spacing. It may make some teams like a Butler even harder to guard, because now you actually gotta cover more space.
It would really open up the game maybe a little bit more. I’m not opposed to that, if they did do that.
Q. Coach, other than maybe the stature of their players, what similarities do you see between say Butler and Purdue and Oregon?
COACH DONOVAN: Butler and Oregon, two terrific three-point shooting teams. You look at the percentages in Oregon shooters, all five of them, really impressive.
I think the same could be said for Butler. Very, very similar. I think all different styles. Oregon has got their own system and own style and it’s very effective and it’s good. Butler’s got their own style. It’s very effective and it’s good. And so is Purdue.
They’re all different in their own way. They all have created their own identity. But the one constant probably between Butler and Oregon was their ability to shoot the 3.
Q. A little bit of a follow-up to the three-point line. A situation comes up a lot of times at end of games, debated, you’re up three, five seconds left, the other team is coming down the court, do you foul before the guy can take the 3 or not? Have you encountered that recently, and if so what was your strategy?
COACH DONOVAN: I think you have to have both strategies, to be honest with you.
Now I’ve been caught in some games. I remember I was a player at Providence. This was before the three-point line. And we wanted to give a foul because we had a foul to give. And there was a press offense situation with about five seconds to go. And I went and ran to foul a guy. The ball was thrown the length of the floor. Right as I got there he shot the ball as I was fouling him. We were up by 2. They made two free throws and sent the game into overtime.
I was in a situation in Kentucky as an assistant where, not on purpose but we fouled Alan Houston up with about six, maybe less than that, six seconds, maybe less than six seconds we fouled Alan Houston. He went to the free throw line, made the first one, when he missed the second, our two front court players got pushed under the basket, wedged, they rebounded it and we fouled them and they made the shot, they made a four-point play, we lost by one.
You watched a team like Texas last year when they went to foul, they fouled the guy from Oklahoma State on the road and they called an active shooting foul. You have to be careful and your players need to know when and when not to foul. Ideally if you could take it away you’d love to, but there’s certain situations where guys are not close enough or if they back up it’s—and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with fouling at all. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not doing it. I think what you’ve got to do is go to a point where what you’ve practiced, what you feel comfortable with and can your guys handle that situation.
Q. Obviously two pretty big men up front. What’s been your experience this year and last years about teams trying to take away one or the other and which one has teams tried to take away more prominently?
COACH DONOVAN: It’s really been interesting this year. I think a lot of teams have done a lot of different things. There’s been some teams that have tried to take away the low post against us. And there’s been teams that tried to take away the three-point line. There’s teams that tried to take away the transition and slow it down. I think this year you’ve got to be effective playing different styles. Jackson State game we scored 112 points. Yesterday against Butler we didn’t score a lot. They did a great job controlling tempo. Purdue, similar situation.
You’re not going into every single game be able to impose maybe your style or your will of how you want the game to go. Sometimes the other team can slow you down and create more of their system and their tempo.
But you gotta be able to play a couple different styles to be effective. Pace-wise.
Q. Horford or Noah, any teams try to take away any of those guys?
COACH DONOVAN: Yeah, there’s teams that have trapped them, doubled them. Both of them. One of them. There’s been some people that say, listen, we’re not going to leave Lee Humphrey open. We’re going to stay up on him. We’re not going to come off of Taurean Green. There’s been people that said, listen, we’re not going to let the front court guys—we’ve seen it all.
I think what you gotta do as a team is you have to take what’s available.
Q. Do you know who Ric Flair is and, if so, did you get a kick out of seeing him in your rooting section?
COACH DONOVAN: Yes, I know who he is. Whoo!
Q. Do you know him very well?
COACH DONOVAN: I know him pretty well.
Q. Does he come to a lot of your games?
COACH DONOVAN: He’s a good friend and about seven years ago he helped us out with Midnight Madness, which was great of him.
Q. When Taurean does something that just drives you absolutely insane and you start yelling, do you ever find yourself channeling Coach Pitino yelling at you?
COACH DONOVAN: I don’t know if I view it that way. But I think part of the reason I grew into being a guy that sat on the bench to a guy that had a chance to play was because there was demands on me and there was responsibilities put on me.
And Taurean’s tough mentally that I can do that to him. And for Taurean, I think for Taurean it’s a challenge.
Taurean is not somebody I think you want to just kind of hey, it’s okay. He’s the guy that likes a challenge there. I’m not saying I do that all the time. Sometimes I get upset with him but the ball’s in his hands a lot. And there’s a lot of responsibility to his shoulders.
And with that responsibility he’s got to get us into stuff.
And I have the highest opinion and regard for him as a point guard. If I didn’t feel like he could handle it I would handle it differently. But I also think he gets motivated by that as well.
Q. A while ago Joe was saying some wonderfully introspective things about the year that he’s gone through with the spotlight following him everywhere he goes. How has he managed to work himself through that himself?
COACH DONOVAN: I told Joe that I didn’t think he could really fully reach his potential as a player unless he went through the type of season he had this year. Because eventually it was going to come. When Joakim Noah came on the scene last year a lot of people didn’t know about him. He was a kid that didn’t play much as a freshman. Started to get better and better. We get into the tournament. We make this run. Here’s this guy, six-eleven, seven feet with a ponytail, beating his chest. Everybody thought it was great. But went from that to everything that Joakim Noah does or doesn’t do is under a microscope and now everybody’s got an opinion of him.
Last year it was cute. It was funny. Hey, this guy’s unique, he’s different. He’s great for the college game. And then it came to a point where they started to dissect everything about him.
And I think he started to understand that I’m in control of who I am and how I want to be as a player and as a person. And that’s the one thing I’ve always told Joe, is when you look at him from a distance, you can sit there and say, you know, maybe rubs me the wrong way.
I’ve never been around a more beautiful kid, a more caring kid, a more loving kid and a more giving kid. Never—it is incredible. And when you get to know him, his emotion and his passion is who he is.
And I think that there’s probably been some things this year that he’s had to go through that he’s such a pleasing kid, he wants everybody to look him.
When you do get to know him, everybody does like him. That’s been an adjustment for him. That’s been a little bit different for him having that expectation and him dancing after he won the SEC championship game, everybody’s got an opinion of that.
Last year it was funny. Now it’s not so funny to some. And that’s hard for a young kid to handle. But I think it’s going to help him, because I think he treats everybody so well.
When you go and meet with him spend time with him he answers questions. He talks to you. He gives. I mean, I told the people in New Orleans when Katrina hit New Orleans and we were there, we had a chance to go through, see some of the devastation and just how the people are trying to regroup, the first day after that hurricane came in we had individual workouts in August. Coach, we gotta do something to help those people. Coach, our team’s gotta do something.
Here’s a kid that on his own will go to a children’s cancer hospital just to sign autographs and talk to kids. Here’s a kid that will go on his own because somebody asked him to speak at an elementary school. He’s really an unbelievable kid. As long as he keeps that peace in his life, I told him he needs to be who he is. Because he really is unique.
Q. Anthony Grant was around this weekend. What can he bring as an outside perspective, having been way from you guys for the year and now being around? Was there anything that maybe he could pick up on as somebody who was part of last year’s run that he sees this year?
COACH DONOVAN: I don’t know if he’s had a chance to see us play a lot. Their season is finished up, he probably catches us on TV every once in a while. I don’t know if there’s any perspective that he gave us. I think if anything else, our players love seeing him. They have a good relationship with him. I think our players enjoy being with him.
Q. Ernie Kent was in earlier talking in general about his policy when he’s approached for a job. He says, I just have—I will say I owe it to this school, whatever, to listen to them. I’m not trying to weasel a Kentucky comment out of here, believe me, but just in general are coaches in a no-win situation because they say no comment, it will come back to you; if you say I’m interested, it will come back to haunt you. Basketball, football. I mean, Nick Saban was crucified for what happened to him. Is there a good way to handle it or is it something you have to endure?
COACH DONOVAN: I think there’s a lot of different perspectives.
People sometimes want to comment and if you change your mind, you went back on your word. I really believe in those situations that the way I try to view it is I’m not in control of any decision-making process of what other people are going to do, and it’s not my place to comment on anything other than the University of Florida. And that’s really the reality of it.
And I think it’s inappropriate and it’s out of line on my part to do any of that stuff. I love where I’m at. And I can’t respond or comment about how other coaches handle different situations. That’s just me.
I don’t know if there’s a right or wrong answer, to be honest with you.
Q. Could you talk about these guys are here and also some of them are studying. Lee’s got a test Monday, how you have to deal with that and how you handle that on the road?
COACH DONOVAN: When you get to the post season when you start your conference tournament and you start the NCAA, if you’re fortunate enough to advance, it’s a great opportunity. It’s a great experience. But you also realize when it all ends you get back you realize how far behind everybody is.
And our academic people on campus do an unbelievable job, our academic advisor, all of them. And I think the people on campus, the professors the teachers that have to deal with these guys have remained very understanding. And our guys, they’ve got to work hard to stay on top of it all. But there’s no question after the SEC tournament and then last week in New Orleans and this week, they’re going to be behind.
Q. Tajuan Porter, everybody loves the kid, underdog story when he says nobody recruited me, I came here, obviously he’s a player, he can play at this level. You shake your head and say, of course. How did everybody miss him? How does that happen in this day and age with a guy like that? Is there still a short man prejudice, for lack of a better word?
COACH DONOVAN: Not really. I wasn’t trying to be smart earlier about that. But I think this underdog or, him, he’s got an incredible heart and I’m sure at a certain point maybe in his life maybe someone said because of your height you can’t. You can’t.
But when you talk about missing, look at all the NBA drafts. Look at recruiting. It’s not a science. Maybe he would not be doing what he’s doing right now if he was in a different system or playing for a different college. Maybe he is in the most ideal situation for him to flourish and grow and be the player that he’s become.
I saw him play in high school. I really liked him. I thought he was a tough kid. I thought he was a great competitor. I thought he wanted the ball in his hands. I thought he wanted to take big shots. I really admired him.
But ours was more our numbers of what we already had. In terms of the other schools, whether it be a school in the state of Michigan or around the state of Michigan, it’s hard for me to say why they did or did not. Some coaches I know like playing with big guards.
And they just want to have big guards. Other guys maybe like playing with smaller guards. I just think he’s a ball player. I think he’s just a player. You put him out there and he can just go play.
And to me his size has no impact on what he’s able to do and the way he’s able to affect the game.
Q. Billy, a lot of the Oregon players talk about they had to put self to the side to accomplish these team goals. Your guys came back for that sole purpose, passed up the NBA and did everything. Your kids made that sacrifice. Do you feel like other teams see your guys, they feel the need to do that as well?
COACH DONOVAN: There’s a lot of pressure on our players coming back. What I mean by that, you have a lot of people telling them, oh, you’re draft status and you’re going to do this or that and people constantly talking about the next step.
Oregon has done a terrific job recruiting. They’ve got a lot of really good players, a lot of guys that are high profile guys and I think sometimes those young kids, when they’re constantly talked when they’re in high school about you’re a pro, you’re a pro, you’re a pro and all of a sudden it doesn’t go how they wanted it to go, that could be frustrating and it can be very difficult.
I’ve coached guys in Florida where they come in with that mind set where they think they’re going to go right to the NBA and it’s a humbling experience.
These guys’ mind set has allowed them to get better as a player. And ultimately it comes down to competition when you’re going down there. You’re not going to fool or trick anybody. You’re going to go out there and play and compete. But I hope our guys for the game of basketball and the game of college basketball has done something that helped the game. That’s what I’ve talked to them when they made that decision, I tell them you have a chance to help a lot of other people, people may look to you for some guidance, say this is a guy who chose to come back.
And it’s happened in basketball, with Tim Duncan and Peyton Manning in football. They’re talented enough to leave earlier but they chose not to and it’s worked out well.
You know what, there’s been some guys that have left early like a LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and Garnett. Worked out pretty well for them. I don’t know if there’s an exact science to sit there and say every player should do this or every player should do that.
I think you have to go with what’s in your heart and what you feel is best for yourself. I said earlier, if they did choose to leave, I couldn’t have been upset with them. They all have to do what’s best for themselves. I don’t know if there’s an exact science. I hope if there’s a kid out there that really wants to come back and wants to stay in college that maybe those guys would be a source of inspiration and strength to sit there and say you know what these guys did it, that guy did it. I want to do the same thing. I want to do what I want to do. And if they want to leave, then you support them.
MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.