Preparing for the Final Four

Billy Donovan knows what his team will go through this week when it gets to Texas. None of the players do. The Gators will play in the Final Four with their eyes set on the opportunity to win a national championship, but with everything that goes into an appearance in the event, it doesn't always feel like it. The challenge for Florida is to stay focused on why the team is making the trip.

It's the fourth trip to the Final Four for Donovan as a head coach after leading Providence to the 1987 Final Four during his senior year. He knows what must go into the preparation for such a big event, and after winning back-to-back titles in his last two Final Four appearances, the Florida coach knows how to experience success at the highest stage.

"You get into a situation during the course of the year where you get into a routine," Billy Donovan said. "Then you go to the Final Four, it's like the Super Bowl in a lot of ways. There are a lot of different demands on your time when you travel. Most of the time we travel to the SEC Tournament or even to the NCAA Tournament, outside of some open shoot arounds, for the most part you're traveling schedule is relatively the same.

"This is a very, very time consuming thing, and there's a lot of things that I think can distract you from playing."

There will be multiple media demands on the time of players and coaches for each team before they start the Final Four on Saturday. The teams will arrive in Texas on Wednesday to start their preparation, but there are media requirements and public appearances to be made on Thursday and Friday.

And then there's the practice time. The Gators have multiple practices in AT&T Stadium to get used to the shooting backdrops in a dome that can expand to 105,000 seats with more space for standing room only. The Florida players downplayed the impact of the new backdrop on Monday.

Those practices will be the most important things the team undergoes in its two full days in Texas before facing Connecticut on Saturday, but it may not feel like that with everything going on. That's the challenge on the docket for Florida.

"There is obviously an enormous amount of attention placed on the event, and our guys just need to understand that we're there to play basketball," Donovan said. "Sometimes with all that takes place in the Final Four, you can really, really get distracted on some of those things, so it will be very important that we keep ourselves focused mentally and emotionally, and even physically on things that we need to do to get ourselves prepared to play on Saturday."

The good news for the Florida players is that they have a coach who has been through this before. Donovan's track record breeds instant credibility, especially when the team looks at the success they've had this season from buying into its coach's philosophy.

But there is an added trust this week because of Donovan's success and experience in the Final Four.

"It's means a lot," Michael Frazier said. "He knows what goes into trying to win this thing. Our biggest thing as a team right now is listening to everything he has to say because he knows what's going to happen, from the distractions all the way up until game time. He knows. He's been through it. I think the biggest thing for us is taking his advice on things and listening to him."

His leadership will be instrumental for even a veteran Florida team.

"We always follow him and we always listen to what he has to say because he always says good things to us, motivational things," Scottie Wilbekin said. "I'm glad that he's been there before so he can kinda warn us how crazy it's gonna be because we've never been there before. We have ideas of what it might be like but he's been there and he knows what it's like so he can tell us and get us prepared."


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