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March 14, 2011

Billy Donovan

Q. Your reaction initially to the 2 seed?
COACH DONOVAN: I know there was a lot of -- at least we flew back right when we heard our name called because we had a 7:00 o'clock flight out, so I didn't see any response or analysis. I'm not surprised the all.
Did I think we were going to get a 2 seed? I didn't know. I thought we were right in the middle of a 2 or a 3. I think the one thing that's really, really helped our league, and I think Jeremy has a lot to do with this too.
Three years ago when we really only had two teams going into the SEC Tournament as lock NCAA tournament teams that were going to get at large bids, and then Mississippi State won the conference tournament so we got three teams in.
There was really, really a huge emphasis among the athletic directors and the commissioner about the non-conference scheduling and what we all needed to do. I think with the commissioner being on the selection committee, he really talked to us about what goes on inside that room and what they're looking at. And that they really put a large, large emphasis on, not so much your league because those 16 games are already pencilled in you've got to play them, but what are you doing with the games that you can schedule?
So I think if you look at our whole body of work, I think we this year probably had as many wins against the RPI top 50 as any school in the country.
Then I think you look at the fact of where you play on the road and what we did on the road and what we did in our non-conference schedule and who we played. I wasn't surprised if you look at the whole entire season. Then, obviously, get together championship game yesterday and then winning the league outright, I think that they looked at the whole season.
So if we would have gotten a 3, we probably would have been very close to a 2. We got a 2, and we're probably on the higher end of being a 2. We're probably right in the middle there.
But I wasn't necessarily surprised by it. I think we probably got rewarded for the whole body of work of what happened during the course of the season.
I know there's been a lot of talk about it. Maybe teams look at the Jacksonville game, the Central Florida game as being tough losses, but those are two games. But there were other games, Xavier, Florida State, Kansas State, what we did on the road inside the league. I think we had some very, very good quality wins.
Then we played the second game of the year, the number one overall seed in the entire tournament in Ohio State. If you look at our RPI and our strength of schedule, it's all inside the top 10. So our RPI and our strength of schedule kind of matched up.
I've always said this to you, you can play a great, great schedule. But if you don't win those games, it really doesn't make a difference. We were fortunate that we were able to win some of those games on the road or at home.

Q. Any feelers out on Cal Santa Barbara?
COACH DONOVAN: We'll get into that. We'll try to do that today. Did a little last night. We've got some game film on them. They've got the leading scorer in the league who is a very, very good player. Nunnally's a terrific shooter. But we're in the infant stages now of trying to gather all information.
This is a pretty quick turn around for us in the fact that playing yesterday and having to play Thursday, so there is a lot to get prepared for. We're not going to do anything physically today having three games in three days.
This will be a day where we'll meet later this afternoon and talk about Santa Barbara. We'll talk about the SEC Tournament, and then try to get prepared to get some work done tomorrow physically.

Q. How do you deal with the mental part? Last year you were so glad to get in and having that tougher number, and then this year comes with expectations?
COACH DONOVAN: Yeah, I was worried about that last year going into the NCAA Tournament. There is that thing you want to get in, you want to get in, and then you get in, and then you were about going in and then you're just happy to be there. I didn't think we did that.
We got down in the second half to BYU by double digits, and our guys made a great fight back and we took the lead. It was a double overtime game. I think our lack of depth there in overtime had definitely an affect on the game.
But I felt like our guys went into that game not just satisfied to be there. I'm happy for our guys. I think when you go to a different phase of the season, it gives you an opportunity to look back. I think what our guys have done in a non-conference schedule and winning an SEC Championship, coming up a little short yesterday against Kentucky. These guys have earned, I think, the right to play in the NCAA Tournament. Now it's a different season all together.
But this group, none of these guys have won a game in the NCAA tournament, and I hope that in itself is motivation and fuel for them to really be focused and understand the importance of going from one game to the next.
We've played sometimes this year with one day in between prep, so to speak in our league, Thursday, Saturday games couple of times, even our non-conference schedule we've had one-day preps. But this group's never won a game in the NCAA Tournament here in Florida. So it's a great challenge, a great opportunity, and we'll have to play well.

Q. The way you guys started games (Inaudible)?
COACH DONOVAN: No, huh-uh. I think that there were two things. I think there's always a positive and a negative. I agree with you. I wasn't happy with that. I didn't think that we at times played great for 40 minutes.
I think there is a mental and an emotional advantage, so to speak, when you're playing against a team that you've beaten twice. You know you're coming out and collectively as a group they're really going to try to play hard, play well, and give you everything they have. I think Tennessee certainly did that, I think Vanderbilt did that, and Kentucky we split with during the year.
I wish we would have played better. I think we responded better in the second half of those games. Ideally as a coach I'd love for us to go from start to finish as we played both second halves against Alabama at home, against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, and Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament.
But like I said, the most disappointing thing to me even yesterday was just they've got to understand that when you get to this point in time in the season, it is all about grinding. You cannot get emotionally and mentally frustrated. You've got to be able to deal with things not going your way.
What didn't go our way yesterday was really we missed a lot of shots that maybe those first two days we had made. And I thought our offensive lack of productivity, and the ball not going in the basket, it bled into us having a level of being frustrated. We need to be tougher fighting through those things.
So what I'm hopeful for, I've always talked about you want your issues to kind of flower itself. This is a great opportunity for me for some of this stuff flowered in what happened here in the second half with the game against Kentucky. We have a great opportunity to learn from this. And what kind of jump do we make as a team dealing with what you're talking about?

Q. Nobody likes to lose, obviously. But seems like a lot of teams will get to a conference final. But with the good teams it can be a very, very (Inaudible)?
COACH DONOVAN: I'm hopeful. '06-'07, it didn't have any effect on those guys, but I'm hopeful. Sometimes people silt there and say, well, a loss is good before the tournament, or you want to go into the tournament on a high.
I think it's all about what you learn from your past experiences of how you get better from your past experiences. We've got to learn from some slow starts against Tennessee and Vandy. We've got to learn that if the ball's not dropping, there are still some other things that we've got to try to find a way to do.
I thought we had an opportunity on several possessions and several occasions in the game to get fouled and get ourselves. And sometimes the best way to manufacture points when you're having a tough time scoring is by getting fouled. You can offset a tough shooting night if you get fouled.
I didn't think we got fouled enough in the game at all, and we didn't get to the free-throw line enough. We needed to be more physical and around the basket. We missed a lot of shots around the basket.

Q. Patric played well all year. But does he seem to be like one of those guys that kind of waits a little more in terms of time? He was pretty good?
COACH DONOVAN: I think the one thing with Patric that we desperately need is you got in the game, and when Scottie got in the game, they can provide a jolt of energy with our team, just with their energy. Both players are physical, they're tough.
When we got off to a slow start against Kentucky, and we were down by 7 points, we took the lead with he and Scottie in the game. Scottie knocked down a couple threes, got a great drive to the basket. Patric got an offensive rebound and a put back, a blocked shot, couple defensive rebounds.
We just need his energy. That's what we need. We need his presence out there. When he's playing hard with a high energy level, there is no question it impacts our team. It takes pressure off Vernon and Alex a little bit when he can come in there because he can affect the game without scoring.

Q. Are you the least bit surprised at the maturity level that Scottie's showing? This is a 17-year-old kid who is out there. He doesn't seem to be fazed by anything.
COACH DONOVAN: I think his confidence when you're that young, I think a lot of times your confidence comes from what you know and you believe you can do on the court. And I think for Scottie -- I said this all the way back in November watching him practice.
He has two things as a young kid that I didn't know if he would have. He has great feet. He has great feet. He can really move and defend and keep people in front. And we've put him on some pretty good offensive players in this league. The other thing, too, he's got a very strong body for a guy that young. He's also not afraid to put his body in there and make physical plays, loose balls, long rebounds; he can get in there.
I don't think Scottie's coming in there thinking I'm going to be a scorer. But he knows athletically and physically he can go out there and compete. He also can impact the game with his defense, and making an open jump shot, and doing some of the things he's done.
I didn't know what we'd get out of him mentally being so young. But I think as I've watched him play, his confidence comes from the fact that he knows there are certain things he can do out there on the floor, and that's great. When you're a player and you step on the floor, your confidence can build based on knowing what you can do out there.
I thought Erving yesterday really, really struggled because he didn't get any clean looks and he tried to drive it to the basket and nothing was going for him there. So he's trying to figure out how do I impact the game? Where Scottie knows I can impact the game by playing defense. I can impact the team by getting the ball where it needs to go.

Q. He knew he was going to be pretty good or else you wouldn't have signed him. But is he better at this stage than you thought he would be?
COACH DONOVAN: Oh, no question. He's better now. I didn't know. You talk about a guy emotionally leaving his senior year of high school, now all of a sudden the guy's in an SEC Tournament championship game, and gets off the bench and knocks down his first two threes, drives it to the basket and scores 8 points in 30 seconds. I can't tell you we envisioned that happening when we signed him as a freshman.
But sometimes in recruiting you sign somebody. The one thing, I talk to these young guys about this all the time, Patric Young's expectation level of what he's supposed to do as a freshman, really, really hard for him to reach that.
But for Scottie, his expectations were so low that anything he does maybe exceeds expectation. And he's certainly exceeded expectation.

Q. Are you concerned now going into the postseason you're going to face quality teams from here on out, the issue of facing their guards, bigger perimeter players like Kentucky, that kind of scenario developing in postseason? How do you address that?
COACH DONOVAN: Yeah, I mean, we've got Walker outside with weights on his ankle hanging from the monkey bars right now to see if we can stretch him a little bit.

Q. Doesn't work.
COACH DONOVAN: Have you tried that? Yeah, you've grown a little bit by doing that (laughing). I think the thing about it is if that does happen against bigger, athletic guards, this could be a great learning experience for Erving. He needs to watch film from yesterday because he did some things that put our team and himself in bad situations where there were other options and things open for him.
He's not going to grow. He is what he is. He can still impact the game, but he's got to understand how.

Q. It seems like it's more than just Erving. You're giving up size in two of the three positions and speed in others. It's kind of a collective thing. People always associate, okay, the guard issue with Erving, but really, you know --
COACH DONOVAN: That's why I'm so impressed with what these guys have been able to do to this point in time. We play with two smaller guards, and Chandler has got great length and size for his size. But obviously playing against quick athletic wings, like a Miller, like a Scottie Hopson, those are tough match-ups. But he's been able to hold his own, Chandler. But Boynton and Walker are competitive enough kids that they can do some things.
The other thing too with those guys in Walker and Boynton is you have to account for them on the floor. So there is a positive because it does stretch teams a little bit. Those guys, you have to come out and play those guys.
And I was somewhat disappointed not in the way Vernon played, but the way Vernon handled the ball when we got it to him. He needs to do a better job. Because the five turnovers he had, there are guys open that he's got to make the play if teams are going to come down and try to take him away. And those are the plays that can free up Boynton and Walker.
I felt like throwing the ball inside, we didn't get much more post because we turned it over too much. And then Kentucky pressing up on Walker and Boynton, they got down the lane and two deep.
We needed to establish a little more of a front court because Kentucky's front court is too deep. We needed to put them in a position where we were attacking them. We didn't do a great job attacking them.

Q. I was going to ask you about Vernon. He struggled with his passing. Do you have to tell him to refocus on his passing?
COACH DONOVAN: It wasn't his passing. It was him catching the ball, and as he started to go make his move, him putting it on the ground. He was way, way too soft and loose with the ball when he put it on the floor.
There are two ways to double the low post, and we tried to do this against Ezeli. A guy like Tompkins, it's really, really hard to double team him when he's got the ball in his hands. So you have to do one of two things. Come there and get the ball in the air and get there early. So right when he catches it he's trapped or you have to come on the dribble. Lot harder for a big man.
When he catches it, he looks. Now you put the ball on the floor. Now he's got to pick up his dribble and make a pass. I thought Vernon in the game, there was no double team. Then he put the ball on the floor and came, and he still continually tried to go. He's got two or three guys slapping at the ball.
Where he needed to take his dribble, pick it up, throw the ball right back out and get better ball movement. We didn't handle that part well enough.

Q. How much of an advantage is it to be in Tampa, close to home?
COACH DONOVAN: I think any time you can play close to home in a tournament it's always a great thing. I think our fans have always been good when we've traveled -- even in the non-conference schedule -- when we've traveled to Orlando or Tampa or Jacksonville, we've always had a good turnout. I hope we can have a good turnout Thursday night, and our fans are good about doing that.

Q. Those first couple of years with Chandler, did you see a Player of the Year waiting to get out?

Q. Has this progression mirrored the couple of tough years after the titles?
COACH DONOVAN: Yeah, I think that's the thing that's most rewarding for me is be not so much. I said this before as you look at Chandler as a player, his game hasn't changed that much. It's not like -- obviously, he's gotten a little stronger. Shoots the ball a little better. But his game is like it is.
I've always said this. Joakim Noah you could visually see the strides from his freshman to sophomore and junior year. He was a totally different player. And the same thing with Horford, just totally different players. Lee Humphrey was kind of the same player he always was. Good shooter, good defender, didn't make you a great jump.
Chandler's made an incredible jump mentally, an incredible jump. As big of a jump as Joakim Noah made as a player, that is the jump that Chandler has made going into the games and understanding what he needs to do.
As a coach, those are the battles you have to try to refocus them, rechange their mindset, rechange their thinking. And that was a battle for me for two years. I think he's starting, through his own experiences and probably me talking to him, has probably seen things differently today than when he first walked on campus.

Q. How did he see things when he walked on campus?
COACH DONOVAN: We're going right to the Final Four, first round draft pick. I'm leaving after my freshman year, NBA, All-Star, just all that stuff. Just the expectation level of himself.

Q. Why not, coming in on the heels of those guys?
COACH DONOVAN: I've often said this: He never focused on his problems. Not that he had any problems. He's a great kid, I love being around him, great family. But he never focused on the things that were preventing him from reaching his potential.
He thought his things were physical. I've got to get quicker; I've got to get stronger. No, you need to change your approach. Your mental approach to what this is all about needs to change.
I think he would tell you, I thought it was going to be a lot easier. And the worst thing that happened to him, the worst thing was his freshman year he played about 18 minutes a game. And I think the expectation level that this guy's going to be a really good player, 6'9", 6'10", got a year under his belt.
That's why I was so upset after the SEC Tournament because I knew what was going to happen the next year. It was all about just because they were sophomores they were going to be better. And his mental approach from his freshman year going into his sophomore year couldn't have been more poorly prepared.
What I mean by that is just the way he was talking, just what he thought he could do, what he was going to do. He had this whole plan of how this year was going to go for him. And I think he really, really got humbled after his sophomore year. And I think he really started to address, okay, these are the things I've got to focus on, and these are the things I've got to do.
Everybody's journey and path is a little different. I said this before. Joakim Noah, it's hot, don't touch it. It's hot. No, he's going to touch it because he has to see what hot feels like. Whereas, Al Horford, you tell him that and he would learn.
Chandler had to go through it. He had to go through. That's the hard part in coaching. Because you realize you have them for such a small period of time that you're trying to create epiphanies for these guys where the light bulb goes on. The bulb goes off.
I think for Chandler it took two years for the bulb to go off. If you look at where he was, and the fact that it's the first time ever in the history of this program that the university of the Florida has a Player of the Year in the SEC and this conference is pretty impressive.
He deserves all the credit, because you know what, he was the one that put all the work in. He really did a great, great job. Because of his approach, I think he's going to have a career at the next level somewhere. I really believe that.
But he understands the importance of winning. He understands what winning can do for him, and he was probably a guy that was maybe a little bit more wrapped up in his stats, and winning wasn't quite as important. More concerned about what am I doing, points, rebounds, assists, and missing out on what winning can actually do for you.
Everybody wants to win. Don't get me wrong. But I've often said do you despise losing enough? And I think that he was one of those guys that felt like, okay, if I get points, assists, and rebounds, that means I've played well.
But there are certain things on the stat sheet that don't show up. Loose balls, charges, extra pass, good decisions, being in the right position defensively, there are a lot of things that he was really missing as a player. Really missing as a player.
To be honest with you, in a lot of games when he was younger, he was a disaster coming down to the end of games. He really was, but he's learned. And the one thing I would say about him, and I think this is a reflection of our team, he is as resilient of a kid as I have coached.
When he has setbacks, he really tries to come back and fight. He's not a guy that feels sorry for himself. He's not a pouter. He's never had a bad day of practice. He gives me everything he has. But he's a young kid that needed to learn. He's learned some great things and done a great, great job.

Q. You talk about guards having respect of Walker and Boynton, and then you have Macklin and Tyus and Patric, Chandler for stability. Having to face so many different teams potentially in the tournament, do you think this is a team that's built to handle different types of teams on the short turn around?
COACH DONOVAN: Yeah, I think everybody talks about a team built for the NCAA Tournament, a team built for a long run. I don't know how you say that. What's that entail?

Q. You have teams that if they doubled up on a big man down low --
COACH DONOVAN: And I think that we have that. I'm not saying that these guys are that team; they're not. We have that.
But here's my thing, let's say they double down on Macklin or Tyus or Patric Young and the ball comes out and we don't make shots? You can say all you want about your team being built for the tournament. You've got to go out there and play. You've got to be able to go out there and play.
More than anything else you're dealing with different systems and styles. That is the bigger issue, the lack of familiarity system-wise that you're dealing with. Same thing can be said about us in terms of teams playing against us.
So you want to take advantage of different things offensively and defensively. But then you have to execute, perform it and do it while you're out there. And that will be the big key of if teams try to take away Vernon Macklin, can we take advantage of the three-point line and create as you're talking about, those dilemmas?
If they're taking away Boynton and Walker, can Vernon and Macklin go inside and score and get fouled make some free throws? So either one of those things you'll have to do and produce on.

Q. I know you only worked with him for a short period of time, but are you pretty happy for Shaka Smart at VCU?
COACH DONOVAN: I was very happy for him. He's done a great job. He's a great guy. He played a good schedule. He's had some good quality wins in the non-conference. They came up a little bit short in the conference tournament. But for him to be able to get in, that was terrific. I was really happy for him.

Q. On the same token, Anthony doesn't get in, and obviously Arkansas. Can you talk about those things?
COACH DONOVAN: I feel bad for Anthony, and I feel bad for our league because I really thought we had an opportunity. And this is not taking anything away from George because I thought George had a terrific year. I think Mark Fox has done a great job, and they are definitely deserving to be in the tournament.
I just thought everybody talks about the difference between the east and the West, and with Georgia getting in as a 10 seed. The more and more I watch this stuff, you see last four in, last four out. I'm not sure if anybody knows who the last four in and out are. Because Georgia was clearly in the NCAA Tournament, and as of yesterday they said they weren't getting in.
So I told Mark Fox on the text last night, now you know what I felt like last year. He said we actually used your team as an example after the Alabama game. But Alabama had more wins against the East than Georgia did, and they beat Georgia twice in head-to-head competition.
I just thought not that they should have gotten in over Georgia. I think Georgia should be in. I thought Alabama should have gotten in.
They won 13 league games t 12 in the regular season, and one in the SEC Tournament. They played the team that obviously won the SEC Tournament in Kentucky. I just thought they could. But I'm sure Virginia Tech feels that way and a lot of other schools are sitting there looking at that too. So I was disappointed.
You know, John's situation, I feel bad for. It's an unfortunate situation because I'm not really sure, I mean Stan Heath I think took two teams to the NCAA Tournament. And they make a change.
Then John goes in there and goes to the NCAA Tournament with all of Stan's players and does a good job coaching them. He's in his third year with his entire team returning with a top 5 recruiting class, that doesn't make sense to me.
I think at Arkansas they're going to have to make a decision, are they going to let somebody -- because every time you make that kind of decision, first of all you don't know if any of the recruits are going to stay. You don't know if any of the older players are going to stay. So if you have mass exodus there, they're starting off worse than when John took over.
The unfortunate part is they're going to get a good coach, and it's a good program, and it's a good situation. But at some point they're going to have to let whoever is in there be able to do the job.
I think in John's case, I know it was four years, but it really was three years. That's to me somewhat remarkable that they wouldn't give him what he's got coming in, what he's got coming back to see, okay, maybe we're on the process of turning the corner a little bit.
The guys got 18 wins, improved from last year. I think he's done a good job with the hand he was dealt. But I understand that the athletic director and the president of the institution has to do what they feel is best. It's their right to do that. John's a good coach, and he will definitely be somewhere.

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