Similarities end at Youth

On the surface, there are a lot of similarities between the Gators football and basketball teams. They're both coming off a national championships, and they're both relying on talented but inexperienced players to continue their success. At Wednesday's annual Media Day, however, coach Billy Donovan was quick to dismiss the comparison.

"A guy like [Tim] Tebow, in my opinion, took key snaps as a freshman," Billy Donovan said. "Percy Harvin played a lot as a freshman. This is totally new. We have one player that has played some significant minutes on a roster of nine. I don't want to use that as an excuse but we have eight new guys, and I think there's still a way we need to play.

While the football team had to replace veterans like Chris Leak, Dallas Baker and Reggie Nelson, they still had players with real game experience. That's hardly the case for Donovan's team. In addition to being the team's only upperclassmen, Walter Hodge is the only player who played significant minutes last season. The rest of the team is still pretty much an unknown commodity.

"Workouts last 40 minutes and I've been trying to get a feel for our team and who I'm coaching." Donovan said. "We have a lot of new guys and outside of Walter Hodge I'm trying to figure out Marreese Speights, Dan Werner and Jonathan Mitchell and five freshmen. We don't have the size and strength and length to pound the ball inside like we have in the past. The positive is that we can come up with things that we can't do and some things that we can do. We've got a lot to get done before our first game and hopefully as a coach, I can help us get prepared for that."

Without the dominating front court that the Gators possessed a year ago, they'll have to come up with new offensive strategies to be score points. While there isn't a great deal of size or experience, the team‘s strength lies in its shooting and passing ability.

"I think we have to space the floor," Donovan said. "We've got to try to use the gifts that we have on offense. I think we have a skilled offensive team that can pass and shoot. Outside of Marreese Speights I don't think there's anyone on our team who is an inside presence. You can't just beat the ball into Speights because you have the dilemma where teams will take that away but you have to create some spacing where he can catch and do some things around the basket and also create some spacing around him so that opens guys around him to do well."

The challenge goes beyond scheming plays and creating mismatches. For a young team, instilling fundamentals and avoiding mistakes are even more important. It's also essential for the team to build chemistry playing together. It came so easy for the ‘04s but it's not a something to take for granted. Nevertheless, Donovan is encouraged by the team's attitude and development on and off the court.

"That's been the best part of these guys that they've been very coachable, they've worked hard and they've bought into the fact that they have to become a team," Donovan said. "They appear to get a long with each other off the court. I've never had a problem with their work ethic, their willingness to get better, their energy."

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Blake Bonsack


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