ORLANDO– For four seniors, Thursday it begins again. Living out of suitcases, increased media obligations 48-hour turnarounds and unknown opponents at neutral sites. In other words, it’s NCAA tournament time for the last time. They were all smiles on day one before shootaround. Guard Scottie Wilbekin and forward Will Yeguete joked under their breath as Casey Prather answered a question from a member of the media next to them. They were loose, laughing and cutting up, not thinking about the reality of the situation, the pressure of being the No. 1 team in the nation. They don’t primarily because their coach doesn’t let them.
These Gators have a robotic, almost automatic regurgitation of their coach’s “next game” mentality. Don’t think of the bigger picture because it doesn’t matter, take care of the little and the big will take care of itself.
When asked about what they were doing to get over “the barrier” of the Elite Eight, Young said this: “Well, first, as far as this year, we have to get past Albany first before we get to the Elite 8. Hopefully we can overcome that obstacle.”
Wilbekin took a crack at the question next: “Nobody on our team or on the coaching staff is thinking about the last couple of years,” he said. “We’re just focused on this game. Like you said, it might be cliché, but that’s all we think about is the next game, and that’s Albany.”
A few questions later, the “one game” mentality was heard again from Prather when he responded to a question about whether this group was more anticipatory about their last tournament together.
“For the most part, he said. “I feel like each and every game is a different opportunity, another challenge, so I feel like this tournament is just about executing and taking care of one game at a time and so we really don’t try to look at the bigger picture as far as the end results of the tournament.”
They are tough nuts to crack –that much is a certainty, when you spend as much time around Donovan as they have it’s probably natural to echo his sentiments almost on command. But the assembled media finally got a human response about what lies ahead from Wilbekin when he responded to the same question posed to Prather. As the clock ticks down on their college careers the point guard admitted this one is different.
“I feel, this being our last time, it feels a little bit different,” Wilbekin said. “But once we get into like all of this, like media and practice, being at the hotel, it kind of feels the same, but there is that in the back of my mind that this is the last go around.”
If you think about it, what would they gain from getting caught up in the hype? What benefit is there from reading press clippings and running around chanting “we’re No. 1, we’re No. 1?” They’d probably end up losing themselves in the moment and if you lose yourself in moments too long you tend to lose games, and then you suddenly aren’t No. 1 any longer.
Maybe, subtly, that’s the point Billy Donovan’s trying to get across, one game at a time.