Gators Get Well Deserved Day Off

Coming off their second consecutive SEC tournament championship, the Florida Gators need a break. With a 27-6 record and running through a gauntlet of three tough games in a row, Coach Donovan is giving his team the day off today. Ex-Florida assistant John Pelphrey will lead his University of South Alabama (24-6) basketball team against the Gators at 2:45 p.m. on Thursday in the Jacksonville regional.

Their time off is deserved and much needed. The Gators were rewarded for their play this season with a short trip to Jacksonville, but that reward also means they will have to play a day earlier than some other sites. Donovan and crew will have to work harder and smarter when they get the chance.

"We've got a very quick turnaround," Donovan stated at his Monday press conference. "We have to play on Thursday and we have a mandatory shoot around (on Wednesday) that the NCAA makes you do, which always throws a wrench into your plans. I think having to do (the shoot around) at that time of day really takes away from your preparation. When you go somewhere else (Jacksonville) and have to wait to practice, the day becomes very, very long."

"Physically, I feel like our guys have to take today off. In talking to our trainer and our strength coach, they feel as though we have to take today off. We're going to have to get a lot done in a very short period of time tomorrow, because as I said it's hard to get a quality practice in when you're on the floor for 50 minutes in the middle of the day (Wednesday). My main focus right now is getting our guys back physically, mentally, and emotionally. Hopefully, they'll be very excited to play on Thursday."

The coaching match-up will be the first time that the two have met as opposing coaches. Donovan and Pelphrey have spent quite a lot of years together as part of the same team.

"It's always exciting to get a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament," Donovan said. "It's really exciting this year when you consider where and who we are playing. It's a thrill for me, you spend three years coaching someone and then eight years working with them so closely and then all of a sudden you're coaching against them. The NCAA must have a sense of humor with the way they try to pair things up."

"I'm very, very proud of John. It makes me feel proud to be here and see John have the kind of success he has had. It also creates a level of opportunity for Donnie Jones and Anthony Grant. It helps those guys because someday they want to be head coaches. It makes you proud to have someone that worked under you set the school record for most regular season wins and have a team in the NCAA Tournament in their fourth year. It makes me very, very proud that I may have played a small role in that in terms of helping him get prepared to be a head coach. That means a lot to me."

Does that mean he wanted to go up against Pelphrey and his Jaguars? Not exactly.

"I watched the Western Kentucky game as a fan," Donovan said. "I probably would have been rooting against him if I'd known we were going to play."

NCAA selection humor and coaching friendships aside, Donovan knows this tournament and the season is all about the kids and the University of Florida basketball program.

"At the same time, I don't want (the coaching match up) to take away from the fact that South Alabama had a great year and the University of Florida had a great year. This time of year should be about our kids and about both programs."

Donovan is aware of the many similarities the two teams possess. It isn't that hard to believe with the fact they are both from the same coaching family tree and have spent so many years running the same types of systems.

"Certainly there are a lot of similarities between both teams in terms of style of play," he said. "They are a team that has great depth, they are a great three point shooting team. They shoot it basically from all five positions. Our ability to guard them from behind the three point line is going to be critical. Their backcourt has good speed and quickness and can get by you on the dribble and create penetration. They are a very good basketball team. It appears, looking at the stats, that they've gotten better as the season has gone on."

Donovan at Peace with Successful Seasons

For many people the season is defined by what their team does in the NCAA tournament. Heading into their eighth straight tournament and 20 plus win season, the Gator fans are like everyone else and want more at the end of the season. Early exits in the last few years have fueled criticism from some including sports writers that want to downplay the accomplishments of the team that made it to the tournament in the first place.

"It doesn't bother me. I'm at peace with it," he said about the early exits in the tournament and perception by some of the program because of that. "Obviously, it's the world. It's the culture we live in. I'm not annoyed or bothered or upset that that's the way it is. I think everything is defined by the NCAA Tournament and that's OK."

"That's the way people view it, but I don't think I need to view it that way. I'm not downplaying the NCAA Tournament. It's a great time for college basketball. It's a great time for the kids. When you can win three or four games in the tournament, it's a great feeling. In my career as a player and coach, I've had the chance to experience three Final Fours and one national championship."

"It would be like saying we are going to evaluate your ability to write from one article. And that will define who you are. It would almost be like taking a doctor and saying 'If this one surgery doesn't go well, you're a bad doctor.' It's hard for me to buy into that. If people choose to look at it that way, I can't change that. The key for me is am I at peace with myself and my team and I really am."

It's all about looking at the entire season as a whole. "There are guys that cover us every single game and are here all the way through and then someone shows up in March and is going to tell Billy Donovan 'Your season was unsuccessful'," he said. "I don't think you would agree with that if you've been with the team for the entire ride, through all the ups and downs, and see the way the kids have developed. If someone wants to say 'What Florida has done up to this point in time means absolutely nothing, the regular season doesn't mean anything, the SEC Tournament championship means nothing', that's fine."

"The regular season means something because you have to win enough games to get in. Everyone wants more, I want more. I want more in the NCAA Tournament. I remember when we were first got here, we had a little more success in the NCAA Tournament than we did in the SEC Tournament. I got asked 'Do you care about the SEC Tournament? It almost appears that it's not that big of a deal to you.' We've been to three straight SEC (tournament) finals and that's behind us. Now we have to get to the second weekend (of the NCAA Tournament). We're striving to try to do that. We want to be able to do that."

On that note, he thinks his team is ready and Donovan likes the feel of his young team. It is a team that has not been blown out of any game and had a chance to win every single game they played this year in the final minutes.

"I think we're confident," he said. "When you play that first tournament game, so much is different. The officiating is different, you're playing in a new arena, and you're playing against an opponent you've never played before. You're facing finality for the first time all year. There are so many things that come into play. I think my job is to get them to go in there and play with great confidence and great freedom. We're 27-6. We got here by doing something. I don't think we're a loose team, I think we're a confident team. We know that we're going to play hard, we're going to compete. I think that's all positive, you need that at this time of year."


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