State of Florida basketball on a high note

In the past Billy Donovan has had to fight the perception issues of basketball at Florida. That perception has been even more so when it comes to the state of Florida. Now, with three teams in the NCAA Tournament Sweet-16, the state of Florida is front and center with that orange ball of the hard wood. Donovan likes the way things are going and believes the state can stand on its own.

"It's a great time of year," Donovan said Tuesday before commenting on te NBA's Miami Heat and their 27-game winning streak. If you look at what the Heat are doing, it is phenomenal as well. I think with Florida Gulf Coast, Miami, and (us) still in the NCAA tournament, basketball in the state is great.

"So many people are captivated by the NCAA Tournament. In the state of Florida you have three teams still playing in the NCAA Tournament and in the sweet-16. I think it will certainly draw a lot of attention to basketball and a lot of people will really follow the NCAA tournament from here on out."

High school basketball in the state is also improving exponentially. Never has that been clearer than in this year especially in the eyes of the Gators. Florida has two top ten national prospects in the 2013 class in Kasey Hill and Chris Walker. That has not been the norm as Florida has had to and will continue to recruit nationally, but it appears the availability of home grown talent is getting better and better.

Donovan actually believes it has been on the upswing for a while now.

"I have always said the state of Florida is a great state as it relates to basketball," he said. "I totally understand maybe football recruiting gets seen in a different light with Miami, Florida State, Florida and South Florida. I think when you look at players that have come out whether it be a Kenny Boynton or Austin Rivers, there have been terrific players come out of the state. Udonis Haslem, Brent Wright that we've had, kids that have really played well. You look at a kid like Shane Larkin (at Miami) coming out of Orlando and the year that he's had. I think a lot of these rosters whether it is our roster, or FGCU, or Miami, there are a lot of Florida kids.

"I think it is a very good state as it relates to basketball and the state is very fortunate to have a lot of good high school coaches in the state of Florida.

Bonding on the road

The Gators are on a very long road trip staying over in Texas from last weekend's first games in nearby Austin. Counting the SEC tournament this year, last year and the two NCAA trips last season, most of this group of Gators have had a great many chances to really get to know each other. Donovan finds the bonding very beneficial.

"When they go into a different city, it isn't like they have a bunch of friends here," Donovan said talking about the Dallas area that the team is in now. "I think the bond they feel on the road when they are away like this gets stronger and stronger. I think the idea and understanding that this is toward the end of the year. I think those trips are always good for your basketball team because we will have to spend a lot of time together.

"I am fortunate as a coach that our guys have really good relationships and like being with each other. These guys spend a lot of time with each other and a trip like this only enhances their relationships."

One price of being on the road for so long is the absence of the players in the classroom. There is no forgiveness at a school like Florida or with the NCAA if a player cannot complete coursework, even with the work load of practicing , traveling, and playing in the tournament.

Florida has that covered and they decided not to come back to Florida for just a day and instead stay in Texas.

"One of the things that was hard was the travel coming out of Austin and then having to come right back here," Donovan said. "Tom Williams, our academic advisor, travels with us and organizes all of their stuff. For example, after the game at Minnesota, Scottie Wilbekin had to go back to the hotel and take a test on-line.

"We are in constant communication back on campus with their responsibilities. This is not a trip for these guys where these guys don't do anything academically. There is time set aside for these guys to take care of their work and our advisor deals with these guys in terms of what needs to be done through our staff. "


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