A few thoughts to jump start your Thursday morning.
THE RELENTLESS PURSUIT OF GREATNESS
The talk among Florida’s four seniors has been the relentless pursuit of greatness this season. By any measure, what Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete have accomplished in their careers is true greatness. They’re all good kids. They’re all going to graduate from the University of Florida. They’re all going to have a chance to get paid to play basketball in the future, although it might not be in the NBA. With a win today against Albany, these seniors will tie the one-man senior class of Walter Hodge (117 win) as the winningest group in Florida basketball history. By Saturday night, they could own the record outright. About the only thing these guys haven’t accomplished is a trip to the Final Four, which would be the ultimate reward for a job well done. They say they want to go down as a special group. They say they want to be great. The only thing they can do from here on out is add to the greatness they have already achieved.
Six games stand between the Gators (32-2) and an NCAA championship that would elevate Billy Donovan into that exclusive club of coaches who have won three or more national titles. It’s a very short list – John Wooden (10), Adolph Rupp (4), Mike Kryzyzewski (4), Bob Knight (3) and Jim Calhoun (3). Donovan is only 48 years old and in the prime of a coaching career that has him on the fast track for the Hall of Fame. He has won 447 games in his 18 years at Florida (482 counting the two years at Marshall) and with a win today will tie Dale Brown for second place on the all-time coaching wins list in the Southeastern Conference. Donovan has two national championships, three trips to the NCAA championship game, three trips to the Elite Eight, six SEC championships and 16 consecutive seasons with at least 20 wins. Before Donovan there was one trip to the Final Four, one SEC championship and five (total) 20-win seasons in school history. In the 95 years Florida has been playing basketball, the Gators have won 1,326 games. Donovan owns 34% of all the wins accumulated over the years.
PUTTING IN THE FOUNDATION
The first of nine open practices is in the books for the Gators and here is what you can know: this spring will be all about the teaching moments and not just on the offensive side, although after three years of offense that rivaled peeling paint for excitement, it’s easy to understand why so many are focusing their attention in that direction. While Kurt Roper installs that new offense, Muschamp and Travaris Robinson will be revamping the secondary and defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin will be working with Brad Lawing to improve the pass rush. There is way too much to accomplish in just 15 days so think of this as putting in the foundation. The finishing touches will be added in August.
GOOD FIRST DAY FOR WILL GRIER
This has to be one of the more encouraging signs. Yes, it’s just one day, but by all reports, Grier looked comfortable with the offense and knew where to go with the football. In a perfect world, Grier would redshirt this year and be ready to go as a second year freshman, but Jeff Driskel has never made it through an entire season without missing games because of injury. Skyler Mornhinweg is in his third year and has started a couple of games, but he has neither Grier’s mobility nor upside so the idea of a redshirt is probably one of those things that looks best on paper. Reality, tells us that Grier needs to build on day one and get ready to play.
SEC OFF TO A GOOD START IN NCAA AND NIT
It was a perfect, 4-0, night for the Southeastern Conference Wednesday. Tennessee battled (22-12) back from a 16-4 deficit in the first nine minutes to take out Iowa, 78-65, in overtime in an NCAA Tournament play-in game in Dayton. The Vols had four players in double figures, led by Jarnell Stokes with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Tennessee moves on to face #6 seed UMass in Raleigh Friday night … Georgia (20-13) overcame 22 turnovers to turn back Vermont, 63-56, in the first round of the NIT. The Bulldogs got a career high 29 points from Charles Mann … LSU (20-13) got 16 points from freshman Jarrell Martin to take a 71-63 win on the road over San Francisco in the NIT … In the CBI Tournament, Texas A&M (18-15) knocked off Wyoming, 59-45. Wyoming, coached by former Florida assistant Larry Shyatt, lost six of its last seven games after Larry Nance Jr. tore an ACL.
LEWIS PRESTON OUT AT KENNESAW STATE
Former Florida assistant Lewis Preston will not return as head coach at Kennesaw State after a 9-67 record in two-plus seasons. Preston left the team in January for “personal and medical” reasons and never returned to the team. Preston was an assistant for Mike Brey at Notre Dame when he joined Billy Donovan’s staff after Anthony Grant took the VCU head coaching job following the 2006 national championship. Preston was at UF for two seasons before leaving for Penn State as the assistant head coach.
NO TIGER AT BAY HILL
Since 2009, we’ve only had occasional sightings of the Tiger Woods who once dominated the world golf scene. He’s still the most popular golfer in the world although he hasn’t won a major since the divorce. The combination of injuries and a bad back that seems to flare up far more often these days makes you wonder if he will ever be able to put together a full and consistent season again. The bad back will keep him out of Bay Hill this week and while that won’t affect crowds, it could very well affect Tiger’s chances to win at Augusta in three weeks. Tiger has always played Bay Hill well – he’s won there eight times – so he won’t get that annual shot of confidence. I do think Tiger will break Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour wins before his career is over, but I’m starting to believe he will never get the four majors he needs to tie Jack Nicklaus (18 major victories).
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Were you there back in 1982 when Talking Heads did their free concert at the bandshell on Flavet Field? I went because it was free. I didn’t know all that much about the band other than the song “Psycho Killer” and their remake of the Al Green song “Take Me to the River” but after that concert I was hooked. Their “Speaking in Tongues” album in 1983 featured “Burning Down the House” which is one of my all-time favorites. Talking Heads originally recorded “Once in a Lifetime” in 1980 on their “Remain in Light” album but it never broke the top 100 either as an album or a single. “Once in a Lifetime” became far more popular when it was the lead cut on side two of Talking Heads’ live album “Stop Making Sense” in 1984.