Thoughts of the day: March 9, 2014

A few thoughts to jump start your Sunday morning.


If there is a secret to sustaining Billy Donovan’s system it is the concept of sharing the basketball. Donovan has always believed that the team that functions best is the team that has players who can score at every position. Take a look at the past week. Michael Frazier squeezed off 18 3-point shots and made 11 against South Carolina as part of a 37-point night. Against Kentucky, Frazier was 3-8 overall and 3-7 from the 3-point line. Kentucky made stopping Frazier the focal point of its defensive effort, so much so that the defense was stretched and there were lanes opened up for Patric Young (18 points) and Casey Prather (15) to slice and dice in the lane. Florida finished the game with 20 assists on 28 made baskets, which is phenomenal. Kasey Hill had seven assists and one turnover while Scottie Wilbekin and Dorian Finney-Smith each had four. Under this system, the Gators are never going to have the SEC’s leading scorer but that doesn’t bother anyone. The chemistry is so good and the players have bought into the system so well that they know that by sharing the ball opponents can take one guy out but someone else will step up and make them pay.


As the Gators cut down nets and celebrated Senior Day as well as a perfect 18-0 run through the Southeastern Conference, University of Florida president Dr. Bernie Machen stood near midcourt beaming. He really loves this basketball team – “They’re all great young men who have represented the University of Florida in a first class manner and all four will leave here as graduates,” Machen said – and he particularly loves the basketball coach.

“Every place he [Donovan] goes, every time he opens his mouth, everything he does as a human being makes me so proud of him,” Machen said. “You know the whole Billy Donovan story. It’s more than coaching. It’s his life and the way he lives it, the way he respects his athletes and the way he always gives back to his community. We are so blessed to have Billy Donovan – and Christine, too, she’s wonderful – here at the University of Florida.”

Donovan has made Machen a believer in the very mature way he handles discipline and other problems. Machen strongly believes Donovan presents the right image for not only UF basketball but the entire university.

“I don’t know if there is a better person than Billy Donovan,” Machen said. “Look at how he stuck with Damontre Harris. Look how he stuck with Chris Walker and that situation. Scottie Wilbekin could be a lost soul right now but he’s not and I think he’s forever headed in the right direction.”


A couple of weeks ago, Billy Donovan was asked about how he goes about shifting gears once the regular season comes to an end. Now that the Gators have completed the regular season, it’s tournament time and that means one and done in both the SEC and NCAA Tournaments. The Gators won’t play again until Friday at 1 p.m. when they face the winner of Texas A&M-Missouri in the SEC Tournament. Donovan will let the Gators rest up because the SEC Tournament is a 3-day grind with no days off in between. “There’s no question that’s the first point, once our last SEC regular season game takes place, that’s at the point where now everything’s one and done,” Donovan said. “And it’s the first time we’ve experienced that. We haven’t played in any preseason tournaments where there’s an elimination tournament.  It’s always here comes another game, here comes another game, here comes another game. Well, you get to the SEC Tournament and there is no other game. You’ve got to be able to play and continue on and move on and advance. And the same thing in post season. When you’re talking about the NCAA Tournament, those are things where it’s a game where you’re in a one-and-done situation and it’s a little bit different.”


The Gators are going to be a #1 seed which means they will start the NCAA Tournament in Orlando on March 20. Barring something totally unforeseen, the Gators will be the top seed in the South Regional, which means if they get past the two games in the opening weekend, they move on to Memphis. With Arizona’s loss to Oregon Friday night, there is every good chance the Gators will be the #1 overall seed for the entire tournament. Right now, CBS bracketologist Jerry Palm has the Gators #1 in the South playing the winner of the play-in game between Alabama State and Weber State on March 20. Palm has Kansas as the #2 in the South but that could change with the Kansas loss to West Virginia.


Florida is in. Kentucky is in. Tennessee is in. Beyond that it’s anybody’s guess. Arkansas was thought to be a mortal lock to get in until Saturday when the Razorbacks reverted to their road kill ways and got blown out by Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Arkansas might have to win two games in the SEC to get back in the tournament committee’s good graces and winning two would mean beating Tennessee next Friday somewhere other than Bud Walton Arena. So that might not happen. Tennessee hammered Missouri in what was a de facto elimination game. Missouri is 9-9 in league play and will probably have to win the SEC Tournament to avoid the NIT. Everybody else in the SEC will have to win the SEC Tournament to get into the NCAA.


The Gators return from spring break today and will spend the next 10 days getting prepped to begin football on March 19. While there is so much focus on the offensive line and linebacker positions, watch carefully what happens at receiver. Kurt Roper’s offense produced at least one 1,000-yard receiver in four of the last six years at Duke and produced two in 2012. What we are about to discover is if the Gators really do lack playmakers on the perimeter, which has been the excuse the last couple of years, or is it a case of the offense hasn’t been the right fit for the personnel. I tend to lean towards the offense not fitting the personnel. I think there was so much emphasis placed on running a power game that there was far more emphasis on receivers learning to block than there was receivers stretching defenses. I’m convinced that Demarcus Robinson, Ahmad Fullwood and Chris Thompson are going to emerge as playmakers in this offense.


The #1-ranked Florida (22-1, 1-1 SEC) softball team rebounded from its first loss of the season to trounce Ole Miss, 10-3, Saturday. Kelsey Stewart went 4-5 with three RBI and Lauren Haeger went 2-3 with four RBI plus pitched three innings of two-hit relief. The Gators face Ole Miss at 11 a.m. in the final game of the weekend series … Florida’s baseball team (9-6) went extra innings with UConn for a second straight day, edging the Huskies, 2-1, scoring the winning run in the bottom of the tenth inning when Zach Powers was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. The Gators used seven pitchers with Bobby Poyner picking up the win with a scoreless 10th inning. Florida faces UConn in the final game of the series at 1 p.m. … Florida’s #5-ranked lacrosse team hammered Michigan, 20-4, behind four goals each by Shannon Gilroy and Sam Darcangelo and three by Molly Stevens. Next up for the Gators is Winthrop on Wednesday … The #2-ranked Florida women’s tennis team (11-2, 3-0 SEC) wiped out South Carolina, 4-0, in Columbia. The Gators face Tennessee in Knoxville next Friday.


Now that Texas A&M has escaped the shadow of big brother, aka Texas, don’t count on the Aggies offering up a positive response to any overtures from Texas to resume their football series. Texas A&M is thriving in the SEC and no longer has to take a back seat to the Longhorns or their TV network. New Texas coach Charlie Strong wants the rivalry to be renewed, but that’s probably just wishful thinking. The Aggies have outrecruited Texas the last couple of years and they’ve raised more money, too. Aggie fans seem to like the idea of playing the likes of Alabama, Auburn and LSU every year. There is also the matter of the SEC likely going to a nine-game schedule so the Aggies might find it very convenient to leave the Longhorns off their schedule.


On the way to the O-Dome for the Florida-Kentucky game, “The Long and Winding Road” began playing just when I turned off University Avenue into the media parking lot. I parked the car and there were still two minutes left on the song. I sat in my car and sang along. I don’t know about you, but The Beatles tend to affect me that way. You can’t get out of the car mid-song if The Beatles are on the radio.

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.