Speights Heads Home

Even though the Gators won't be playing in the friendly confines of the O'Connell Center's court, there's little doubt the atmosphere at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa will be pretty close to a home game.

And for Marreese Speights, it won't just be a home game – it will be a homecoming. The St. Petersburg native has played in Tampa before, but this will be the first time since he became a starter.

Coach Billy Donovan has certainly had to deal with the way a homecoming can affect a players' performance in recent years. The Gators play in the state of Tennessee twice a year when they hit the SEC slate and it certainly seemed to change the way that Maryville-native Lee Humphrey played.

"I think guys get affected in different ways," Donovan said. "A guy like Lee Humphrey, when he went back to Tennessee, I never really felt like he played some of his better games there. And then there's been other guys that have gotten back home and they have played very well. I definitely think that there's something to be said for that."

Donovan also has a personal perspective of going through that kind of experience.

"I can remember being a player at Providence and going back to St. John's for the first time, playing ten minutes from where I grew up," Donovan said. "It is a different feeling, and I think everyone handles it a little bit differently."

A great deal of the discussion at Wednesday's press conference centered around Marreese Speights and his development as the team's lone inside presence. Donovan hasn't held back in his criticism of the sophomore's lack of endurance and aggressiveness, but at the same time he's always been optimistic about his progress.

"The thing about Marressee is he's a great kid and a very innocent and pure kid," Donovan said. "At times he can be shy and reserved. He never has a bad attitude. He sees the things he needs to improve and I think he wants to get better at them. None of these guys are perfect."

Speights' talent is undeniable, and to a certain extent, that can be a problem. For someone so athletically gifted, expectations can sometimes get out of hand. Donovan talked about the challenge of nurturing and helping Speights mature into the player that he's capable of being, even if sometimes he doesn't show it.

"He's to me the one guy that's in maybe as difficult of a situation of anybody I've ever coached," Donovan said. "When you see that rebounding or those jump hooks and the touch and the hands, why doesn't he do it all the time? That is a very difficult umbrella to live under because he's not capable right now of doing it every single time, and I don't know if he'll ever be capable of doing it every time. And there's nothing wrong with that as long as he continues to try to get better."

The Gators will face a solid Vermont program that has made the tournament in recent seasons and have several major upsets to their credit. The Catamounts (2-4) boast a trio of double-digit scorers, led by 6-5 sophomore forward Marqus Blakely who averages 20 points and more than eight rebounds a game.

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

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