Freshmen battling inconsistency in practice

Chris Chiozza thought he was doing well in practice. And then Billy Donovan exploded.

The freshman point guard was a half step late to rotate on defense, allowing a Florida player to take a three-pointer. Chiozza thought he contested the shot well enough, and it didn’t go in the basket. But that didn’t save the rant.

The frustration from Donovan came back out the next day when the team was watching film and the same play came up on the screen. It showed Chiozza how important it is to focus on the minor details at the college level.

But it also reminded the freshman point guard why he fell in love with Billy Donovan during the recruiting process.

“I knew he could do that, but I wasn’t expecting it so quick,” Chris Chiozza said with a laugh. “That’s one of the reasons I liked him in the recruiting process. He showed he’s got a little feistiness, and that’s something that’s like me.

“He’s a great coach and pushes his players past where you think you can be. That’s why his players are always so good.”

Even when the rants aren’t coming all the time, the Florida freshmen know what they’re up against. It’s still a challenge for Chiozza and Devin Robinson to remember things in practice. That’s not unusual for a freshman under Donovan.

The future Hall of Fame coach doesn’t baby his freshmen. He throws them into practice with the veterans when the coaches go through the installation of the system on offense and defense. They’re expected to learn at the same pace -- even though Donovan knows that’s unrealistic -- to see how much they can handle.

With one week remaining before Florida’s exhibition game against Barry University, the freshmen still have a long way to go. The effort is consistent but the execution isn’t.

"I think the biggest thing is they really have been able to sustain the intensity,” Donovan said. “That's what you always worry about. Both of those guys have a long way to go, especially defensively. Way, way behind. I wouldn't say any further behind than any freshman that's come in here, but you can see a huge gap between those guys and the veteran guys. How much ground they can make up I think will be important for us.”

Robinson is learning on the defensive end

The defensive effort isn’t a problem for Chiozza or Robinson. They’re playing hard and with energy during practice, but that energy and effort can sometimes put them out of position on defense. They’re normal growing pains that Donovan emphasized all of his freshmen go through in the first few weeks of practice.

Things start to slow down as the regular season gets closer, but it’s not a surprise since the freshmen were introduced to defensive concepts they hadn’t heard of before moving to Gainesville.

“For Devin Robinson and Chris Chiozza right now, their heads are absolutely spinning,” Donovan said. “They’ve never even thought about half the stuff we’re trying to make them do and actually what even goes into winning at this level. That’s not their fault, they are young right now.

“You have a bunch of guys that are moving into a lot of different roles that there’s more responsibilities, there’s more challenges, there’s more things they are dealing with right now.”

Add in the increased speed of the game at the college level, and it makes life difficult for newcomers. Chiozza and Robinson played against high-level talent on the AAU circuit, but that’s still much different than college basketball veterans with at least one season of experience.

“It’s real tough on D,” Robinson said. “It’s very different from high school. The close-out concept is different, put your hands up. In high school, shots would go up slower. It’s a lot quicker right now, so it’s a lot harder on defense.”

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