Starting on Friday had the Gators beginning practice later than most teams. It’s something Billy Donovan prefers to do, letting him stack two practices during some days. Florida practiced twice on Friday and twice on Saturday.
It helps the players get into the flow of practice easier. They’re submerged in what Donovan wants to do on offense and defense, spending more consistent time around it. If practices started earlier, the team would be forced to take more off days and the retention might not be as strong.
“I’ve always liked getting into a rhythm and a flow," Donovan said. "That’s one of the things I’ve always worried about with starting a little too early; you practice two days, take two days off, then you’re having to reteach some things.
“When you get into the regular season, we’re going to have one day off a week. I like when you start going and there’s a rhythm and a flow. I don’t like to say, “OK, we’re going to go at 40 days out, and we’re going to go 2-3 days, then take a couple days off.” This time of year, you want carryover, so a lot of times at practice, we’re rehearsing what we did the day before and kind of refreshing and going through it (again).”
The early practices gave Donovan a chance to get a closer look at the strides his returning players made. He mentioned Dorian Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill and Chris Walker as three players that showed improvement during the first weekend of practices before nothing that “all of the veteran guys” have shown progress.
What happened over the weekend isn’t the key for Donovan. It was about installation and repetition, and while the players’ performance is important, what means the most to Donovan is how the players look two weeks from now during the grueling stretch of practices.
“Can they sustain that? Can they keep moving in that direction?” Donovan asked rhetorically. “Their attitude was good. They worked hard. There was really good effort. I thought there was sustained intensity.”
The only injury update was about Eli Carter. The guard was dealing with an ankle injury and missed practices over the weekend, but he was back on the court when the Gators practiced on Monday.
Donovan’s practice philosophy is to throw as much at the players as he can early. He’ll go through what offense and defense the Gators will run in the first few days and put a lot on the players to remember. That makes sure all the players are aware of the information, but they’re also at least somewhat familiar with it when things slow down and the team goes through them more in-depth in the first few weeks of practice.
It’s especially challenging for the freshmen. Donovan throws them into the mix at the same learning curve as the veterans, trying to see how quickly the newcomers can learn. Through the first few practices, the early returns are positive on Chris Chiozza and Devin Robinson.
“I thought the two freshmen, there was a lot thrown at them in those first four practices on Friday and Saturday,” Donovan said. “They seemed to absorb it, were pretty good basketball IQ, picked things up. I think those two guys will continue to get better.
“I'm always encouraged when we start throwing stuff at guys and they've got to play, can they pick up and play at the same time? And those newer guys have done a pretty good job so far."
The early opinions of the full court press aren’t as positive. It’s not a big surprise, as the Gators are replacing four starters that were important pieces of the press. Donovan and his staff are now trying to figure out the best places to put players in the press, but the early struggles have been disappointing.
The good news is that the returning players aren’t the problem. They’ve been in the right position early in practice, but the younger players still have room to grow.
“It’s not good right now,” Donovan said. “That’s not good right now for John Egbunu, Jon Horford, Devin (Robinson), Chris (Chiozza) and those guys. That’s an area where we’ve got to get a lot better there. We’re not very, very good right now.”