Gators Shore Up Defense With Shyatt

FAYETTEVILLE -- Florida coach Billy Donovan didn't exactly bristle at questions about his addition of Larry Shyatt to the Gators staff during the offseason, but he did feel he should set the record straight.

The general theme of questions from a steady stream of reporters at Southeastern Conference Media Days was that Donovan had brought in Shyatt to shore up a weak Gators' defense that ranked near the bottom of every category in the SEC last year for their 20-11 team.

Shyatt was the head coach at Clemson from 1998-2003, was an assistant coach under Texas coach Rick Barnes while at Providence from 1988-94 and brought a defensive reputation with him to Gainesville.

Donovan, a disciple of Rick Pitino's fullcourt defense while a player at Providence and an assistant at Kentucky, pointed out that the hiring of Shyatt isn't a sign he doesn't know how to coach defense or that it's not important to him.

"The perception out there is that Larry Shyatt is just in charge of defense and we're playing the way he played," Donovan said. "That's not true. We're playing the way we want to play.

"Larry's not a guy that pressed a lot, but we're going to try to get back to pressing, forcing turnovers, create havoc and get out on the break a little more."

Donovan said not to get him wrong. He still loves offense and believes it's indispensable to winning and "winning big."

Along with David Lee, Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh, who averaged 13.3, 17.9 and 15.8 points, respectively, the Gators are also bringing in a recruiting class with four players who averaged between 24 and 30 points in high school.

To put Shyatt in a category as just a defensive coach is unfair to him as a good all-around basketball coach, Donovan said. The move is about fresh ideas, not an admission of failure by Donovan and the rest of his long-time staff.

"The bottom line is the guys will play defense if the commitment from myself and they understand that for me, it's important," Donovan said. "If they feel it's important to me, then hopefully we can get better.

"That's not to say it wasn't important to me last year. Last year, with some of the things we went through, my job was to put us in the best position to win."

The toughest thing Florida went through was playing the nation's toughest schedule with the third-youngest team.

The Gators also weren't helped by the abrupt departure of Christian Drejer, who abandoned Florida in February lured by an overseas pro contract.

Donovan had to resort to zone defenses and relying on Matt Walsh, David Lee and Anthony Roberson to outscore opponents.

If any or all of those three had an off night, it was going to be a long night for the Gators, just as it was in the first round of the NCAA Tournament when Manhattan smoked Florida 75-60.

Donovan blamed himself for the roster deficiencies and the lack of defensive pressure.

"I think at times, over the last two years, I've put our young people in bad positions because we haven't had that senior leadership" he said. "Last year we had one senior, this year we have one senior.

"I think when you talk about defense, a lot had to do with our youthfulness and we had nine freshmen and sophomores who had a difficult transition they were maybe not ready for."

Lee, the lone senior on the Florida roster, said one thing Shyatt has brought is a detail-oriented approach that challenges the players' definition of defense.

"If the offensive player makes a post move and misses the jump hook and the defense gets the rebound, in the past, that was 'Good stop. Good rebound,'" Lee said. "Now it's, 'You got lucky. The guy should have never gotten the ball in the post. You should have been here, you should have been helping.'

"Players aren't getting away with stuff they might have used to."

That's fine with Donovan, who said his clarification of Shyatt's role wasn't about his ego.

"People say, 'Wow, if you get better Larry is going to be the reason,'" Donovan said. "Hey, that's great. He's doing his job. I'm not so egotistical that I'm remotely concerned about me coaching our team or Larry coming in.

"My job at Florida is to put us in the best position to win. If Larry can do that, great. It's all part of the team."

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