Basketball Roster Starting to Stabilize Again

It's rare to see a program be forced to rebuild after winning back-to-back national championship, but that's what Billy Donovan was forced to do. After the players who won the national championships left for the NBA, the transition period was supposed to stop. Instead, it only got worse.

Transfers seem to pour out of the program. Injury issues to players like Adam Allen and Kenny Kadji hurt the depth. Marreese Speights and Nick Calathes surprised everyone by leaving early for professional careers.

"It's been tough on our program when you have those early departures." Billy Donovan said. "Coming off of two national championships, we all knew that group was going to leave and pursue the NBA. They did a lot for the University of Florida. I don't know if anyone expected or thought that Marreese Speights would have the opportunity to be a first round draft pick. Nick Calathes got a terrific opportunity in Greece. You never know when opportunity will knock, and those were our two best players that we looked at as being the future of our team."

Continuity was a thing of the past for the team. Every season, a new group of players was forced to get used to playing together. There was no familiarity between key players, causing chemistry issues on the court.

"We started to lose players off our team where we already weren't deep," Donovan said. "We were constantly starting over. It was difficult to deal with, but we're all dealing with it in college basketball."

Donovan went through the same process again in the offseason as Alex Tyus considered leaving school after his junior season and putting his name in the NBA Draft. It's a process Donovan has gotten used to dealing with, but he felt like Tyus just wanted "the experience of putting his name in the draft."

"I try to be supportive and provide as much information as I can from talking to NBA teams," Donovan said. "As a coach, when you get involved and try to manipulate an argument that staying in college is better, if they do come back, there can be a level of resentment."

With Tyus returning, the Gators have their five starters from last season on the team this year, including three seniors. Chandler Parsons and Vernon Macklin are the vocal leaders for the team, but Tyus leads by example.

"We've got to create and develop leaders," Donovan said. "We've got guys who have been through experiences where they should be ready to lead. Our seniors have the opportunity to lead, and we've got a good group of young guys who are ready to lead."

Florida was picked as the favorite to win the SEC Championship this season, and Donovan is doing his best to reel in the expectations. There have been a few times this season where he takes a step back and reminds his players of last season. The team returns plenty of experience, but the same group was eliminated by BYU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year.

"It's always interesting to me the spin that gets put on certain situations," Donovan said. "We were a team on Selection Sunday hoping we'd get in the tournament. We did, and our guys played their way in. It's also a little dicey there when you're waiting to hear your name called. We found out that because of our non-conference schedule, we were much deeper in the field than we originally thought."

The USA Today Coaches' Poll ranked the Gators No. 11 in their preseason poll. The expectations continue to be raised for a team that hasn't proven much in the past.

"Because of that feeling, I wonder if the feeling would be different if we didn't make the tournament," Donovan said. "We're a feel good team right now with five starters returning and the NCAA Tournament, but the reality is, we got knocked out in the first round and finished fourth in the East last year. Our guys have to understand what the reality is for our team. It's okay for people to make predictions and forecast what should happen, but we've got to understand what has happened in the past, and what we've got to do to correct things in the future."
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