Adversity making backcourt pair stronger

Billy Donovan the mentor. It is part of the job that he cherishes and a big part of the reason he is still in the coaching of college basketball. That doesn't mean the mentoring is always easy, or that it always works, but for Donovan it is one of those things that draws him to young people and his backcourt has need that mentoring and the tough love he can provide at times.

As the Gators maneuver themselves through the NCAA tournament, they can look back on a year of great successes that have propelled them to this point… a point that leaves them as one of the final 16 teams in college basketball playing for all the marbles.

The Gators have come this far three years in a row and have made it even further the last two years. One could get used to the success, soak it in, relish it, and even be spoiled by it to the point that they lower their guard and may not work as hard or be worried about continuing to do the things that got them there. They can put themselves on a pedestal and think they are above the rules.

Donovan has had to deal with all of that.

We have to remember these are young people and their lives are a lot different than 99% of the people reading this even as they traverse through college, like 99% of the people reading this. These young people are going to make mistakes. This is how Donovan sees it, who actually lived the life they are living now.

He has to find different ways of dealing with it.

Enter senior guard Mike Rosario. Rosario is coming off of a career game against Minnesota where he went for 25 points on 6-9 from the three point line, two steals, and an assist. Rosario played a very high 34 minutes on the floor against the Golden Gophers. Contrast that to the game before against Northwestern State where he was on the hardwood for just 15 minutes.

The guard with the infectious attitude on the court and crowd favorite is a guy that sometimes has to be reined in.

"Against Northwestern State he was not taking care of his responsibilities in the game,". Donovan said when talking about Rosario and how he has had to corral him at times. "I give him credit that in 36 hours he re-shifted his focus to come out and play like he did. I don't know if we hadn't been holding him accountable if he could have played that well against Minnesota."

Donovan has used the bench to keep Rosario at bay. It usually works and actually speaks to the character of a guy that isn't into doing the wrong thing, but it seems to search him out sometimes… both in and out of the game.


Rosario is capable of a big night at any time.

"There are so many things for him that I love about him," Donovan said of Rosario. "He has such a good heart and is a good kid, but things that have prevented him from being all he can be is when he is not responsible and accountable.

"One of the things we have done here is try to hold him accountable to be the best he can be not only on the court but off the court. Not that he is ever in trouble, he's just not that kind of kid, but he has responsibilities that he doesn't take care of sometimes."

Donovan and the rest of the staff's tutelage of Rosario has resulted in a guy that continues to start for the Gators and way more often than not produces at a high level by doing the things they continuously ask him to do. He is becoming a person and a player that will ‘get it' all the time. This is what Donovan loves to see with his players.

"I hope that some way his experience at Florida has not only helped him from a basketball perspective, but helped him in his life," Donovan said.

"Like any kid when they go into a game. This is a grind. He has made incredible strides. He's not playing today (like) he was playing last year. I'm really proud of what he has been able to do as a kid for our team. He is a great teammate and he loves the guys he is playing with. That is the one thing that we have always enforced to try and build with him, I have a lot of confidence and belief in Mike."

It has been a little bit of a different teaching and molding for fellow backcourt mate Scottie Wilbekin. The junior who played high school ball in Gainesville is someone that continually does the right things on and off the court. But, he slipped.

To start the season, Wilbekin missed three games for breaking team rules. It was tough on player and coach when Wilbekin found out at the last minute he would not be travelling to Jacksonville to play Georgetown, but the discipline had to happen.

"It was one of the most heartbreaking things I have experienced as a coach when I had to tell him "we aren't taking you on this trip, you aren't playing'," Donovan said. "All of our team is on the bus and leaving for Jacksonville, he has his book bag over his shoulder and our bus is leaving. He is walking back from the facility to his dorm and obviously very emotional and crying. I think those kind of events really change you."


Wilbekin is a steady leader that does everything well.

He has faced the adversity before. Last season forwards Erik Murphy and Cody Larson, two big men that Florida needed to be an integral part of the program, found themselves in a bit of trouble with the law. After things were cleared, Donovan still had to handle the discipline part of it.

Larson eventually found himself transferring after he lost his scholarship for a season. With the lack of big men on the Florida roster this could have been a big loss for Florida. Murphy has stayed clear of any wrong-doings and is playing at an elite level. Donovan pointed out that it was an eye opening experience for one of Florida's leaders.

"I think the same thing could be said for Erik Murphy when he had his issue a year or two ago," Donovan said. "All of a sudden life kind of hits you in the face. You realize how fortunate and blessed you are with the opportunity you have. I think when you are a young kid you don't look down the road or out and some of those experiences change you."

And it isn't just trouble that molds these young players. Sometime Donovan and company have to help through injury and finding that light at the end of the tunnel. Murphy had to do some soul searching before the season started when he broke a couple of ribs and thought he might miss most or all of the season. Junior forward Will Yeguete missed all of tournament time a year ago and had surgery in the middle of this season and there was a bit of worry that he might miss tournament time again.

"Whether it is Yeguete's injury, or Murphy's broken rib and not sure whether he could play again this year, Wilbekin… I think those things force you to look at thing and look at life and things you have to be appreciative for," the head man said. "I think there is no question that situation for Scottie has helped him."


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