Friday night, Tony Delk will have an opportunity to watch a team led by one of his all-time favorite coaches.
Delk will be part of the SEC Network’s broadcast of the Florida Gators’ season opener against William & Mary. Delk played at Kentucky from 1992-1996, the same time Gators head Billy Donovan was on the team’s coaching staff.
Delk said Donovan’s love for his players is what led to him following the coach to Kentucky. The former guard didn’t play much as a freshman, but during the season Donovan continued to encourage Delk, as well as teaching him the importance of hard work. The support and lessons proved to form a bond between the two.
“He believed in me, he’s a coach that believes in his players, and when you know as a player your coach believes in you, there’s nothing you won’t do and there’s no sacrifice you won’t probably put out there that will stop you from wanting to help that coach be successful,” Delk said.
Donovan has been regarded as a coach who will praise his players while holding them accountable for mistakes. At Kentucky, Donovan learned the ability to serve as mentor and disciplinarian under Rick Pitino, according to Delk.
“There were consequences behind the mistakes, so that limited the mistakes to be made at Kentucky,” Delk said. “So we know if he punished Jamal Mashburn, that at that time I was a freshman, Walter McCarty, we all were freshmen, that what made him think that he wouldn’t punish us or take us off our scholarships?”
While Florida’s offseason departures have garnered much attention, Delk thinks the team will be back in the mix, possibly as an Elite Eight or Final Four team. The former point guard cited 2014 SEC Sixth Man of the Year Dorian Finney-Smith, Chris Walker, Kasey Hill as key players, as well as Michael Frazier II, who, alongside Finney-Smith, was named to the Coaches Preseason All-SEC First Team on Thursday.
The former point guard also thinks the team will have a successful season due to the returning players buying into Donovan’s successful system. With 19 years that have included two national championships, four Final Fours and six SEC regular-season championships, the coach has shown a system that yields results, according to Delk.
“It gives them opportunity because he’s going to allow you to pass, cut, play without the ball,” Delk said. “He’s teaches you the game at a higher level than most high-school coaches will teach them, so those guys got to come in and buy in right away and when they do buy in, the success is going to happen.”
Delk feels Donovan’s basketball acumen will also help players advance their game, such as Frazier II. The former Wildcat is looking for the junior to develop a one or two-dribble move to finish inside when teams force him off the three-point line. Delk thinks Donovan will help Frazier II’s midrange shooting the same way the head coach helped him.
“I came in as a scorer, a guy that could shoot threes, but my midrange game got better, so once [Frazier II] gets better at driving to the basket, shooting the midrange, finishing over the big, is that now his game is going to be that much better,” Delk said.
The Gators have also have a lot of questions to answer with players fulfilling new roles.
However, behind one of his favorite coaches, Tony Delk feels the Florida Gators will have another special season.