Gators Trying To Get Motivated

After a second consecutive season of fading down the stretch and coming up short of an NCAA Tournament bid, the Gator basketball team faces the challenge of getting motivated for another run in the NIT. Florida will host Jacksonville Wednesday night in the opening round of the tourney.

The Gators are one of the four top seeds in the event, which means Florida gets to play at home three times to earn a repeat trip to New York for the Final Four of the NIT. They would face the winner of Providence and Miami in the second round and if brackets hold, Penn State next.

But the real question surrounds just how excited this team will be about a second straight year of being relegated to the second tier event. Sophomore guard Nick Calathes insists that won't be a problem.

"I think we just want to play, get back on the court and go at it," Calathes said. "I think we were a good enough team to make the NCAA Tournament but we just didn't get it done."

Calathes said while no one sets a goal of making the NIT, he and his teammates look forward to keeping this season going.

"It's a great opportunity. If you look at the NIT there are some really good teams that didn't get in like Vandy and (teams) like that. I think it's a good opportunity to finish the year out the way we want to."

Last year the Gators got those three wins to advance to the Big Apple before losing in the semi-finals to Massachusetts. Calathes was asked if winning the whole thing would ease the sting of not getting an NCAA bid.

"I don't know if it'll make us feel better, but winning the NIT is a huge accomplishment especially with the teams that are in there right now."

Florida coach Billy Donovan also had higher goals for this team, but the Gators have to settle for trying to make some noise in the NIT. I asked Donovan if he has any sense of his team getting excited or motivated about playing more ball.

"I would say that this is definitely a different group than I've dealt with," Donovan said. "They act the same way every singe day so it's hard for me to say. I wouldn't say they're an overly enthusiastic group, but they do give you good effort and they do try hard. I think we have to get physically tougher. I think we really need to get a whole lot mentally tougher."

Donovan also said that there's been nothing different on the practice floor the past couple of days.

"I think practices have been like they've been along. We had a chance to get together on Saturday and did some things on Sunday. Sunday was a little bit more of a difficult day because we didn't find out until 8:00 or 8:30 who we were playing."

The Gators enter the NIT having made a slight bit of progress from last year. Florida won one more game in the SEC, one more game in the regular season and one game in the SEC Tournament. They are a No. 1 seed as opposed to a No. 2 in last year's NIT so that's something. However for this season to truly seem like a step forward they have to reach the final game in NYC. That process begins Wednesday in the O'Dome.

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