With tip-off for the Gators’ first scrimmage only a week away, Billy Donovan’s ball club has had little time to waste during its preseason preparations.
The Gators return a number of experienced players to the fold this season, and according to Donovan, the early returns from practice have been encouraging.
“You know I say this all the time, if your guys aren’t energized and excited about practice the first two weeks, it’s going to be a long year,” Donovan said. “Our guys have worked hard.”
Despite the number of past contributors Florida is bringing back this season, the team is also welcoming quite a few newcomers to Gainesville, which has forced the squad to identify and grow comfortable in new roles.
“We got a long way to go — execution wise, fulfilling roles, understanding roles,” Donovan said. “So far I’m excited for the way practice has gone for our team.”
Thrown into the Fire
It’s usually the custom for high-major programs to load their early season schedule with cupcake opponents, which will allow the team to gain some experience without sacrificing a potential loss.
However, this season, the Gators are skipping the practice quiz and going straight to the exam, as they will face a slew of serious contenders early on in the season.
With the Gators taking on perennial NCAA Tournament teams Georgetown, Wisconsin and Marquette before the calendar flips to December, Donovan and his club can ill-afford any wasted practices.
“Well there’s no question we’re getting thrown right to the fire right away,” Donovan said. “Our first three games — we’re playing Georgetown on a ship … and then we’re playing Wisconsin. So we’re going to get a taste of where we’re at as a team very, very early in the season.”
Re-climbing the Mountain
While the Gators certainly have a challenge in front of them, the team won’t be looking back on their failures of the past.
In the last two seasons, the Gators squandered double-digit leads in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, forcing them to head home rather than take a trip to the Final Four. However, according to Donovan, the Gators won’t be heading into this season thinking ‘this is the year.’
“Because the last two years we’ve been right there for a Final Four and have come up a little bit short — the normal tendency of any person that’s returning would be to say, ‘OK, this is the year were gonna try to break through and get to a Final Four,’” Donovan said. “I think that is probably the worst kind of mentality we can have.”
What Donovan will try to get the Gators to understand is that they will be again starting their journey at the bottom of the proverbial mountain.
“What we’ve got to understand that there’s a process you have to go through as a basketball team — and that process started two weeks ago,” Donovan said. “So although last year was a successful year and you’re right there on the cusp of getting to a Final Four, we’ve gotta be willing as players and coaches to start back all the way up.”
It could be argued that the Gators imploded in their games the last two postseasons against Louisville and Butler; however, Donovan was quick to give credit to their victorious opponents.
“You can play really, really well and still come up short,” Donovan said. “And I thought in the two games we lost, we played pretty well, we just lost on some teams — Louisville and Butler — making more plays and better plays than we did. But overall as a game, I didn’t think we performed poorly, I thought it was more of a credit to what those guys did.”
Young Getting Closer
Florida center Patric Young has been an important presence for the Gators during his two previous seasons in Gainesville.
The Jacksonville native has flirted with the NBA Draft in years past, but has on each instance, returned to Gainesville.
Entering his third year, there has been no mistaking Young’s talent and potential, but there have been questions regarding his conditioning. Donovan said a few weeks ago that it contributed to the foul trouble Young often found himself in.
While Donovan said on Thursday that Young is still improving in the conditioning department, he’s also noticed a change in the junior.
“You know Patric’s growing, he’s maturing, he’s getting better,” Donovan said. “I think the biggest challenge for Patric is just going to be his stamina — his conditioning for lengths of time. If we can get him doing that, I think that he’s going be a very, very productive player for us.”
Welcome to the conference
The SEC is welcoming in two new additions to the league this season in Missouri and Texas A&M. The Tigers have been one of college basketball’s best programs over the past few years and the Aggies have shown glimpses of potential, as well.
According to Donovan, he’s more than happy to have both teams join the fold.
“I think it’s really good,” Donovan said of the conferences’ additions. “Obviously, with the expansion going on all around the country in college basketball and in college football, and what’s going on with these conferences, you are always trying to make yourself better. … I think that both [Texas A&M and Missouri] as it relates to the academic part and the athletic part is going to be a great addition to our conference and hopefully it will be very beneficial for them as well. “