Similarities, differences with title teams

Billy Donovan has heard the comparisons between this year's team and past national title teams. They're only natural for a program ranked at the top of college basketball that is also seven years past winning back-to-back national championships. While the success of both teams has been similar, they have similarities and differences on the court.

"The talent level is totally different," Billy Donovan said. "If you're looking at the talent level in terms of guys going on and playing in the NBA, we had three guys get drafted in the top 10. And then coming off the bench, Chris Richard was a second-round pick. Taurean Green a second-round pick, Marreese Speights the next year was a first-round pick. There was some serious talent level across the front line and there was some serious depth across the front line. That team was unbelievable."

Part of what made the back-to-back national title teams so special is what makes this year's Florida team look even better. The Gators don't have the talented of previous teams. When NBA scouts frequent the O'Connell Center this year, it's mostly to watch players on Florida's opponent.

Some of Florida's seniors could get drafted in the second round of the NBA Draft this summer, but there aren't scouts in the O'Connell Center for every game like there were during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons.

And yet Florida sits at No. 1 in the college basketball polls to close out the regular season for the first time in school history.

"What these guys have done in the regular season has been really, really remarkable and special," Donovan said. "I would hate to have that accomplishment all the sudden be compared to something else, because what they did has been, in my opinion, totally unique and special. It kind of stands on its own of what they did in the history of this program."

Even without the talent of years past, Donovan believes this year's team handled the end of the season better. When the Gators clinched the SEC title during the 2006-07 season, they struggled to play with the same intensity to close out conference play. This year's team saw it as a challenge with its eyes on perfection. And it worked, closing out an 18-0 conference season.

The pure talent on the roster isn't the same, but Donovan did admit there are a few similarities in the personalities. This year's team doesn't possess the shot blocking of years past, and the Gators press more this year than during the back-to-back title runs because of the added depth. However, there are some similarities.

"I think when you look at the team, the parallels you can make is a guy like Horford was this big, strong, kind of physical player. Patric is like that," Donovan said. "Noah was this outspoken, Patric's got a lot of emotions, Will's kind of a little bit quiet. Humphrey shot threes, Frazier shoots threes. Prather was an athletic wing player, Corey Brewer was like that. Scottie Wilbekin, Taurean."

But there is no similarity between the two more obvious than the bond between players. The chemistry is what made the back-to-back title teams special, and it's a big reason the Gators sit at the top of college basketball this season.

"I think the thing that both teams share that would be similar is there is really, really good connection inside of our team. I think that's very, very similar," Donovan said.

The success on the court this season is a product of years of hard work off the court. For as long as Donovan has preached unselfishness and playing together, his teams continue to mirror that on the court. It's no more obvious than this year's team.

Their bond has strengthened throughout the season, and the chemistry came early in the offseason. It was a challenge the Florida coaches faced but ultimately aced with flying colors. The four seniors have been on campus since the 2010-11 season, but this team's team has been a work in progress. There's a sophomore on the roster that transferred in and two freshmen getting minutes during their first season on campus.

And they've aced the test of team chemistry.

"What's made them special is their willingness to be unselfish, their willingness to forgive," Donovan said. "When you spend as much time as we do, there's going to be issues in your team, guys are going to upset guys, there's going to be things that bother them. To be able to put those things behind and really get to a place where they really care about each other. The thing I'm most proud about this team is there's an unselfishness and a care for the next person, and to me that's one of the most valuable lesson these guys can possibly learn while they're in college and move onto the next step."

The lessons of chemistry from Donovan aren't only basketball related. It benefits the Gators in the season and has shown why on the court this year, but the Florida coach spends his time lecturing his team about it because of the importance in the future for each player.

"Wherever you go to the next step of your life and whatever you do, you're going to be part of team -- whether you're married with kids, whether you're part of a church, whether you go to work every single day," Donovan said. "You're going to be part of a group bigger than yourself. How I can bring value to the group and the organization, how quickly can I make an impact, and the first things starts with, how can I serve? These guys have done a great job of serving one another and not being totally focused on me, I, what I want, what I need. I think that's been something that's made them special. I think when you can get young people to do that, that really allows you to create something special."

And that's exactly what this season has been.

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