January was a warm month for those in Gainesville, and it’s tough not to wonder if the sizzling team housed inside of the O’Connell Center was the culprit of the emitted heat waves.
However, after a scorching 7-0 start against mostly questionable SEC competition, the Gators will be challenged by a tougher slew of opponents during February, starting with the surprise of the conference — No. 16 Ole Miss — on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Up until Tuesday, the Rebels were the other talk of the SEC, as they had raced to a 17-2 start, including a 6-0 in-conference mark. However, Tuesday’s loss to Kentucky left a bruise on Mississippi’s pride and perhaps most importantly, its roster.
Ole Miss will be down two starters against Florida, with guard Nick Williams out indefinitely with a foot injury and forward Aaron Jones gone for the year with a torn ACL.
However, the Gators will still have their hands full this weekend when they take on the visiting Rebels in yet another Saturday sell-out in the O’Connell Center. Ole Miss is led by charismatic junior guard Marshall Henderson, who, while building a reputation for his antics on the court, is also tearing up nets in SEC gymnasiums, averaging 19.3 points per game.
“He’s a good player. He’s an all-around very, very good offensive player,” Donovan said. “Our guys need to understand how they try to utilize him and how they try to utilize (Reginald) Buckner and Murphy Holloway and (Jarvis) Summers and all of those guys. For us, for me, it’s more about getting our guys prepared and ready to play.”
Behind the Scenes
The life of a high-major basketball team is one that offers little rest and little preparation for the next opponent. When the Gators play on a Wednesday, and then turn around and have to prepare for a Saturday game, that leaves the team with only two days to get ready for another conference foe.
With Donovan and the team having little time to look ahead, the onus falls on Florida’s assistants to have a game plan outlined once the time to comes to focus on the next opponent.
“Well we’ve got the three assistant coaches are always well out in front of it,” Donovan said. “So for example we play Ole Miss on Saturday, one of the guys has been watching Ole Miss for probably a week and a half to 10 days. After this game we’ll play Arkansas. And somebody has been watching that for like the last week or so. So they’re way ahead of it.”
While there isn’t a lot of time afforded to head coaches like Donovan to delve completely into teams, Donovan said he still spends an inordinate amount of time on scouting.
“I watch an enormous amount of tape,” Donovan said. “That’s why I ask questions when someone ask me, ‘Have you seen so-and-so play?’ I never get a chance to watch college basketball on TV, because I’m watching our team or who we’re playing.
According to junior forward Will Yeguete, it was assistant coach Matt McCall who put together the game plan for South Carolina, but Donovan said that all of his assistants are invaluable.
“Those guys do a phenomenal job,” Donovan said. “Rashon Burno, Matt McCall, John Pelphrey, those guys are really good, and they work very hard at it.”
Charity Stripe Woes
If there was one glaring problem for the Gators against the Gamecocks, it was the team’s performance at the free-throw line, in particularly, post-players Patric Young, who hit 2 of 7 attempts, and Yeguete, 1 of 4 from the line. According to Donovan however, the big men have been putting in work at the charity stripe.
“Patric Young, to his credit, and Will Yeguete, to their credit, both those guys have put extra time in,” Donovan said. “We get 20 hours a week. That time gets used up pretty quickly between individual instruction and practice.
“There’s got to be guys that have a commitment on their own to work on certain areas of the game that we’re not able to spend more time on. I think free throw shooting is one of those things.”
Yeguete has been impressive on the boards this season, snatching 127 rebounds in the Gators’ 19 games. According to former AAU teammate Scottie Wilbekin, for as long as he’s known the France-native, he’s had a knack for cleaning up the glass.
“I remember the first game I played with him when he came over from France,” Wilbekin said. “It was an AAU game. I had never met him before, but he came like 15 minutes before the game and he was just grabbing all the rebounds. I was surprised by how aggressive he was and how hard he played.”
So if he could already snatch rebounds, was there anything Yeguete couldn’t do when he first arrived to the state of Florida?
“He didn’t speak any English.”