The trophy shattered, shocking everyone in attendance, including the Gators themselves.
"It was a replica," Donovan said. "It was still the biggest turnover of my life, but thank goodness it was a replica and not the real thing."
Donovan's point was clear, though. Forget about trophies, rings and past glories. It's time to start over with a new season and a new team, even if the Gators do return all five starters from a national championship team.
"The entire country thinks that with that championship we're still at the mountaintop. And we're not," Donovan said. "Everything you're being fed is poison. And if you take it and swallow what everybody's giving you and believe it, you'll die and this team will die."
Only time will tell if the Gators get the message, but so far they're saying and doing all the right things.
"We have a lot to prove,"
At the same time, there's nothing the Gators can do to top last season's accomplishments. It's all or nothing this time around.
"This year is a different scenario than last year because nobody expected us to win a national championship last year," center Al Horford said. "It's expected of us this year."
How will the Gators handle those expectations? Will they be as hungry as they were last season? Will they handle potential late-season adversity as well as they did last season?
Will it matter as much to them as individuals?
"I think all the questions about our basketball team are legitimate concerns because they're human beings," Donovan said. "More people suffer through prosperity than through poverty. Prosperity is a difficult thing to handle in our society."
This situation is even more complex
because the Gators chose their own particular prosperity. Instead of going to
the NBA draft, Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer and Horford all decided to return to
While that's honorable and commendable, you've got to wonder how that will affect the work ethic, drive and expectations of Noah, Brewer and Horford. As Donovan said, they're just human beings, and it's human nature for young people to struggle with everything that comes with newfound success.
"It's human nature to kind of take
a sigh that you've arrived,"
Then again, if any team can handle
"I think I've got a different and unique bunch of kids," Donovan said. "They are working as hard as they've worked and getting along as well as possible. I have not seen them come in with an attitude. They're receptive to coaching. They're on guard for the whole thing."
Long before the Gators can even
start thinking about the NCAA Tournament, they'll have to fight their way
through an SEC schedule loaded with land mines – especially the ones named LSU,
"I think it could be a phenomenal
LSU made it to the Final Four last season and returns a slimmer, trimmer version of Glen "Big Baby" Davis, as well as point guard Tack Minor, who missed most of last season with a knee injury.
Who did we forget? Oh yes,
"They've got a great blend of some very experienced, talented guys along with some very, very good freshmen that were heavily recruited," Donovan said. "They're one of those teams to me that could have an off-the-chart year. They could get to the Final Four this year. I don't think there's any question about it."
The Wildcats might be flying under
the national radar at this point, but as Smith himself said, "
"We've been the program many people
measure themselves by," Smith said. "
The SEC will be particularly competitive in the low post, where some of the nation's better players will be banging around this season.
Several of those post players are back because they learned a valuable lesson in 2005, when seven SEC players entered the draft and only one was drafted.
"They've learned from some of the
mistakes of the past,"
That's a big reason why the SEC is
loaded with talented post players such as Noah, Horford, Davis and
"I don't think there can be a basketball conference in the country that has the quality of post play and post players that our league does," Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said. "There are some terrific bigs."
And that's all despite the loss of Tyrus Thomas, who left LSU after his freshman season to become the third pick in the 2006 NBA Draft. While Thomas took the jump, Noah, Horford, Davis and Davidson all chose to return for at least one more season of college basketball.
"Ten years ago, our collection of
post players wouldn't have been a big deal,"
Between the return of those players and the expected growth of Morris, Hill, Mississippi State forward Charles Rhodes, LSU forward Magnum Rolle and Arkansas forwards Darien Townes and Vincent Hunter, driving the lane, posting up down low or battling for a rebound could become a dangerous risk for many of the SEC's small forwards and guards.
"It's certainly going to require
some defensive commitment to play those guys, because one-on-one there are
several of those guys who can't be guarded," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings
said. "So all of us are going to have to think about what we do defensively to
deal with Glen Davis, or deal with those two kids from
The number of quality big men in
the conference makes
The Vols will have a difficult time
replacing would-be senior forward Major Wingate, who was dismissed from the team
due to a failed drug test and is now playing professionally in
"It was huge. He left a pretty big
At least Bradshaw is making good progress in his recovery from offseason surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right wrist. The wrist proved to be a problem for him throughout the second half of last season.
"What the doctor told me is you need to have 60 degrees both ways to shoot a basketball," Bradshaw said. "I have that, so it seems like it's ready to go, but I'm looking forward to getting stronger and stronger in weeks to come."
While Ole Miss doesn't carry the
same expectations as
Curtis, who averaged 13.6 points
and 7.6 rebounds per game last season, will likely miss the first two weeks of
the season, including the Rebels' opener against
"They don't want to do surgery," Kennedy said. "But they want to give it more time to do its own healing."
Without Curtis, Ole Miss will turn to junior forward Jermey Parnell and junior college
transfer Kenny Williams in the post.
The best quote from the SEC Media
Days came from
The Gamecocks, of course, have won back-to-back NIT championships.
Richard Scott is a Birmingham,