HOOPS: No Out Of Control Egos On This Team

Billy Donovan calls this his "throwback" team because of their unselfishness and their team first mentality. He doesn't have to deal with out of control egos and he doesn't look down the bench to find players sulking because they aren't seeing enough playing time in prime time.

In terms of attitude and in terms of willingness to do whatever it takes to win, he's got the ideal situation because he has a team that sees itself as a work in progress. They don't think they are anywhere close to reaching their potential nor do they believe they have played the perfect game so when the coach says let's go to work, he's greeted with enthusiasm and eagerness to do whatever it takes to improve.

They aren't consumed with thoughts of playing at the next level because they are having too much fun playing at this one. There isn't a Christian Drejer in this group waiting for his moment to leave his teammates high and dry at midseason and none of them have parents auditioning agents.

Right now, Al Horford is being projected as a lottery pick if he chooses to go to the NBA after this season. That means he could be set for life if he chooses to take that next step. Sure, he needs a lot of work on his offensive game but watch him defend and rebound. There are scouts thinking they have another Ben Wallace on their hands.

If Corey Brewer finishes up the season strong and the ankle is healthy, he will probably see his name move up the draft charts. He's got a lot of work to do on his fundamentals and his jump shot is anything but consistent, but he can defend, he can jump and he is perfectly suited for playing transition basketball.

Then there is Joakim Noah. He wasn't on anyone's charts when the season began but you don't find many seven-footers (I know he's listed 6-11, but trust me … he's at least 7-0) who can run like an antelope. He's really not strong enough to play in the NBA right now but he can run and he is athletic and there is always a shortage of seven-footers who can do those things.

Yet, none of the draft projections matter to these guys. They really aren't thinking about going on to the next level yet even though they all aspire to play for pay someday. The next level is too far ahead for guys who started thinking about South Carolina only a few minutes after Saturday night's blowout win over Kentucky.

Because they are so concerned with winning that next game, they are thinking about how soon it will be before Brewer's ankle is back at 100 percent or how long it will be before Lee Humphrey's shoulder has healed.

Saturday night, after he had played the best game of his career with 29 points, nine assists, four rebounds and three steals, point guard Taurean Green deflected comments about his own game. He talked about the team and how much better the team would be when everybody is healthy.

"Wait until we get Lee Humphrey back," he said. "There are so many things we can do when we have him."

Noah, who had 26 points, eight rebounds, three blocked shots, two assists and a steal in his best all-around performance ever as a Gator, turned every question about his own great game into an answer about the team. He talked about getting Humphrey back and he knows the value of a healthy Brewer.

"We need Corey at full strength because he does so many things that make the team better," he said.

Because Humphrey and Brewer have been injured, the Gators have had to rely on freshmen Walter Hodge and David Huertas as well as the ongoing significant contributions of big guys Chris Richard and Adrian Moss off the bench. Instead of talking about their own contributions Saturday night, Green raved about how the freshmen have improved while Noah said "my man Chris Richard was the beast we needed off the bench."

This isn't an exercise in political correctness by these guys. They are a band of brothers who care about each other on and off the court. They are like those teams from the 1960s that couldn't wait to get to practice and once practice was over, they couldn't wait to hang around with each other. You don't see that too much anymore.

"They really are focused on winning, playing the right way and being unselfish," said Donovan Saturday night.

He didn't know they would be like this when he recruited them but nobody knows better than Donovan how difficult it is to get the pieces of the puzzle to fit exactly. He's had teams that were loaded up with highly recruited players that weren't exact fits. But these guys fit.

"I can't say that I knew Al Horford was going to be like this or Joakim Noah," said Donovan. "They have the talent level but they don't play as well as they did tonight if they don't have the right frame of mind."

These guys come to the gym eager to learn, ready to absorb whatever it is that Donovan and his coaching staff have planned for this day. It's important to understand that they really don't think past today.

"Sometimes you stumble upon things," he said. "Sometimes recruiting is such an inexact science that you don't know what you're getting sometimes. These guys have the right team chemistry about winning."

They beat Kentucky Saturday night, the winningest program in the history of college basketball and the benchmark for success in the Southeastern Conference. College Game Day was there. Dickie V was there. The whole nation watched the Gators take Kentucky to school.

The way they took Kentucky apart was what made this win so special. They made the extra passes. They helped each other on defense. They set screens. They dove for loose balls. When the tank was empty, they let Donovan know so he could make a quick substitution. They did all the right things to win because that's the way they've been doing them all season. And once the game was over, they didn't think it was such a great accomplishment because they could all see areas in their own games that could use some improvement.

"They will come back in here Monday like it was no big deal and they'll work to get better," said Donovan.

The big deal for these guys is winning. Donovan admits the team is "devastated" when they lose but whether they win or whether they lose, they come to practice the next day with the same attitude which is to do whatever they have to do to improve as a team.

"It bothers them when they don't come to practice and work hard," said Donovan. "There is a substance about them that is maybe missing in college basketball. It's different."

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