Donovan Back to Coaching

After missing Monday's press conference to nurse an ailing back injury, coach Billy Donovan appeared to be relatively recovered and excited about getting back to the hands-on coaching that he loves. Donovan addressed several questions about his health and the progression of the team as they prepare for their first game against Flagler College next Thursday.

"This has, for me, been an ongoing problem for a long, long time that's gotten progressively worse," Donovan said. "Sometimes when I get fatigued or twist or turn the wrong way I can just throw it out. I think as time has gone on, it's gotten to a point when I do that, it's taken a lot longer to get back."

As the season nears, preseason prognostications and expectations are becoming all the more prominent. While the Gators were unranked in the season's first Coaches' poll, sophomore Marreese Speights made the list of candidates for the Naismith award, given to the nation's top player.

"To put anybody on that list that has played or averaged two or three minutes a game, to me, I don't think is fair to Marreese," Donovan said. "Obviously, it's a great honor for him and I think to even be mentioned in that type of category is tremendous. But I've always been a big believer that you've got to earn things like that. You've got to go out and perform and do things. With what we had in the frontcourt last year, I think people want to say ‘Well, if he did play 35 minutes a game he'd average 25 points and 14 rebounds' and that's ridiculous."

As the team's only true frontcourt presence, Speights' role on the team will increase dramatically. He struggled with some of the off-the-court aspects of being a student athlete but with a year to mature, Donovan is seeing the signs that he's beginning to turn the corner.

"I think Marreese has gotten better," Donovan said. "I see a kid that's come a long way from where he was when he first got on campus to where he is now. Some guys, maturity wise, handle the hoopla, the expectations, the notoriety better than others.I would hope that in talking with him and explaining things to him that stuff would seep in. I think his focus has been on our team and playing."

While Donovan is hopeful for a big season from Speights, he was skeptical about any sort of recognition at this point, for his team or for Speights.

"I think any preseason ranking on our team or any ranking of where we're supposed to be in the SEC, to me, is completely unrealistic just because none of these guys have played," Donovan said. "So no one knows. And no one knows with Marreese." The foremost of Donovan's concerns is the team's conditioning. It's one thing to say that the strategy is to push the tempo and beat teams up and down the court. But it's another thing to do it with so few scholarship players and so little experience.

"The one guy that I thought could have had a much, much better summer and offseason was Dan [Werner]," Donovan said. "He came in with about 14 percent body fat and has gotten his weight down and is in better shape than he was when he first got back here. I think Jonathan [Mitchell] and Marreese focused on it. Those guys have really changed physically. They've changed for the better."

While the players are for the most part physically prepared for the season, Donovan stressed that when fatigue sets in, their fundamentals slack significantly. Recently, the team has begun to show some improvement in that regard.

"I'd say the last two days they've made some really positive strides in playing at the level we think that they have to play at to be in a position to win," Donovan said. "So that was encouraging to see that."

Donovan emphasized the need for the team to not only develop physically, but mentally in order for them to be successful this season. Though the sophomores have already been with the program for a year, the roles that they will assume this season will demand a much more than physical ability.

"In essence, we're coaching eight freshmen," Donovan said. "The only guy that gets it and understands it is Walter Hodge. After showing them film and breaking things down and talking to them, they're starting to have a better understanding of what we're talking about and they're doing a better job. But I think for Dan, Marreese and Jonathan, although their bodies have changed, they are still trying to develop that mental toughness that they need to have that maybe wasn't tapped into last year because they didn't need to be mentally tough all the time because practices weren't all the time so grueling."

Questions or comments? Contact's Blake Bonsack

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