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March 11, 2007

Billy Donovan

Al Horford

Joakim Noah


THE MODERATOR: All right, we're ready to continue on with Florida. We'll ask Coach Donovan for some opening comments, his thoughts on the game, and then we'll take questions for Joakim and Al.
BILLY DONOVAN: I'm really, really proud of these kids, and what they've been able to do, not only this year, but the last three years here. This was a game where I think probably fatigue played a factor for both teams, but our guys found a way to manufacture points, and play together and defensively were able to get some stops.
But I'm just proud of what they've been able to do. And I want them to enjoy this experience, because, you know, win the season championship, and then coming into this tournament and being able to win a tournament championship, I think it is a great accomplishment, and it's a great tribute to those guys. I just want them to have fun enjoying this moment. I've kind of said the whole thing about this season is, I want them to enjoy what they're doing every single day, because I've seen teams that have expectations and get the enjoyment taken out of it. And they need to enjoy what they're going through. I think that they've done that so far up to this point in time, so I'm very, very happy for them.
THE MODERATOR: Okay, questions for either Joakim or Al.

Q. Sonny on the other team was saying that you guys played with swagger, how do you ensure that you play with swagger the rest of March and April?
JOAKIM NOAH: I think it's important for us to just stay -- have a swagger, but stay humble and realize -- not take anything for granted. I think that's really important, especially at this time of the year. Because I think what's important this time of year, is to realize that if you don't play hard, and you don't win, you're going home. And I think that's something we realize, and I think it's -- Coach always talks about playing on edge, but I think that that's the most important, just playing on edge, almost playing a little bit, a little bit scared. I think that playing a little bit scared, and being scared to lose can be good.
So playing with a swagger, but also realizing what's at stake.
AL HORFORD: Yeah, I feel the same way. I feel like we had to play out there. We have a swagger, but we're aware that if we get too high, you know, we can lose, and we can't get too low either. We've got to stay on edge like Jo said, and just go out there and fight for your life. It's a war out there.

Q. This is for both Jo and Al: Would you talk about the defensive effort the last three days. You guys held three straight teams under 36%.
AL HORFORD: I think our team defense has been really good. We're back to playing, I feel like, together as a team on defense. We have each others' back, and on rebounding by our guards, being able to get in there and rebound, that's helped us a lot. So we're doing what we're supposed to do. And I feel we're getting better.
JOAKIM NOAH: I feel like our defense has definitely improved, but we have to also realize that this time of the year, that you can't take anything for granted. Just because we played well defensively the last three games, doesn't mean that you're going to play well defensively the next game. And I think we just have to realize that it's just taking one game at a time, and playing possession by possession. And I think that's what Coach always emphasized. Like that's what he says when we always make fun of him by saying, "Live in the moment, live in the moment," but it's true. It's really what we've got to do. It's all about the next possession, whether it's defense or offense.

Q. This is for Joakim: When Kentucky won the 2003 SEC Tournament in New Orleans, they didn't cut down the nets because they said the nets were going to be cut down in New Orleans in the Final Four three weeks later. Y'all had no problem cutting down the nets today, and seeming to enjoy everything, is that part of living in the moment, the precious present, that sort of thing?
JOAKIM NOAH: Definitely. I feel like as soon as we have an opportunity to cut down nets, we're going to cut them. We did that really early in the season and I think that after we cut down the nets, there was a little bit of a letdown, we lost some games, and we didn't play with that hunger and that energy that we were supposed to as a team. But you know what, I feel that we've learned a lot. I feel like we might have learned more this year than we did last year. I feel like this year has just been such a learning experience for me, and I think the whole team. Just because I think that every situation is different, and every game is different.
But yeah, as soon as you have an opportunity to cut down nets man, cut them. (Laughter).

Q. If both players could comment on the second half. It was relatively close at halftime, and you guys really turned it on, what happened there?
JOAKIM NOAH: I think that -- I mean, basketball is a game of swings. You're going to have your moments where you're going to make a run, and I feel like we just kept pushing it, and kept pushing, and knew that they played four games in a row. We knew that if our style of play, we play like this all the time, and we just wanted to run and make those -- get those bigs running up and down the floor. Just outwork them, that was our motto. Because when you're playing in the tournament like this, you don't have a lot of time to go over the X's and O's.
So I think it's just at this time of the year, it's all about just playing harder, and just trying to be the most aggressive team.
AL HORFORD: I feel like we came out in the first five minutes of the second half, and came out strong, and it's important for us to keep that intensity level up throughout the whole game. And I feel like we were able to do that tonight. Anytime they try to get close, we pulled away. I think Coach has told us we've got to be able to handle their runs. He always tells us that, and teams are always going to make a run at you. You've just got to answer back and stay focused, and I think our team did a good job of that.

Q. For both players, you talk about stopping runs and not letting them have runs, until the end of the game, when the game was over, no team scored more than five points in a row against you. A lot of that was defense, but a lot of that was answering with big shots, can you talk about how you're able to keep teams from getting a run against you?
AL HORFORD: Yeah, I think our team, we did a good job of not panicking, and just running our offense, and different guys just made big shots at different times. And I think that's what's so unique about our team, is any guy can come in, and step up and take a big shot and, you know, we always consider it a good shot. So I think that's the big key for us limiting other team from runs.

Q. You guys at this point in time last year, is this a more confident team than it was last year? Is there a difference?
JOAKIM NOAH: I think that we were always -- I think that we've always been a confident team. Yeah. That's it. (Laughter).

Q. For both players, Stan talked a minute ago about, you guys had always beaten them with guard play. Today they made a conscious effort to try to really take the guards away and put it in your hands. He said it probably turned out worse for them. Did you guys sense early that the game was going to be up to you to some degree?
AL HORFORD: We just take what defense gives us. If that was their game plan to come out and shut down our guards, I think our bigs did a good job of getting inside and getting open. And we were able to just keep pounding it inside, and once they went in, we kicked it out for open shots, that's the way that we play. So if that was their game plan, we've just got to -- we just found a way to get around that.
JOAKIM NOAH: He was right on the money.

Q. This is for both players: How different is it coming from nowhere, as you supposedly did last year, you kind of came from nowhere, and this year, you kind of come from somewhere, everybody expected it? Is there a different level of enjoyment to kind of be conscious of what you're doing rather as opposed to being stunned by everything?
JOAKIM NOAH: I think there is. I think there is a big difference between this year and last year. Like last year, there was no expectations. I just feel like this year I've learned a lot more this year than I did last year. Just in terms of just growing, not just on the basketball court, but as a human being. Because I feel like last year, I mean personally, I feel like everything I did was okay, I could do anything, and this year I feel like I'm under this microscope, and everything I do, people are going to analyze it, and have something to say. I mean, the expectations on me before the season were just like almost unbearable. Like I remember before the season, it was like I remember -- yeah, like a week before the season, I had a hard time. I couldn't sleep, I was just so nervous. I was excited, but it was just -- it was intense. But I feel like I've learned a lot, and I realize that I can't get too high, I can't get too low, and you know what, this is something that I realize. I realize that I'm playing for the people that I love, and I'm playing for my teammates and my family. I'm not playing for people, what people say on TV. And everybody has something to say. You know, that drains you. That wasn't there last year. That wasn't there last year. So it's definitely different.
So I think that's why Coach always, when you guys talk about cutting down the net, I feel like Coach always made sure when we had an opportunity to cut down the nets, we were going to cut them, because you have to enjoy all of this.
Just because people think that you're supposed to win, you know, that doesn't mean anything. They don't know all the hard work that goes into this. We work hard for this, you know. I think that Coach really emphasized that, that as soon as we have an opportunity to cut down nets, that's something special, and don't take none of it for granted, regardless of what people say.

Q. Can you top that analysis, Al?
AL HORFORD: That was a pretty in-depth analysis. (Laughter) He basically told you guys everything. I don't have anything to say.
THE MODERATOR: Okay, we'll excuse the players. You can return to the locker room. We'll continue with questions for Coach Donovan.

Q. Bill, would you talk about the defensive effort in the last three days, in particular the effort today. You clamped down on the three-point line. You always said that's a great equalizer, and you all kind of unequalized things the last three days.
BILLY DONOVAN: I think there's things they said, there's times you go through certain points and junctures in the season where you get an opportunity to learn, I think that in probably some of our losses closing out the year. We could look at teams' three-point field goal percentage and teams' shooting percentage against us, and really look at that as being a reason why we've lost some games. And I think it just reinforced our guys to what we've been trying to tell them all the time; it is about defense, it is about rebounding. And offensively it's about playing unselfishly, and taking the ball, and taking what the defense gives you. And really we played three games in this tournament, we were guarded three different ways, in my opinion. Georgia would try to get out and try to pressure us. Ole Miss played zone, and tried to pack it in, take away our bigs and make us beat them from overtop. And today they wanted to beat us up front. So offensively we've got to take what the defense gives us.
But the main thing that's got to be constant is our defense. There are going to be nights you don't shoot the ball well, and you don't have a good shooting percentage from the three-point line. You still have to give yourself a chance to win, and the best way to do that is through defense. And a couple of losses throughout the year, we didn't give ourselves a chance to win, because our offense was not great at all. And on top of that, we get too high of a percentage from the three-point line in the field.

Q. Coach, are you playing as well as you played all season right now?
BILLY DONOVAN: One of the things I tried to talk to these guys about, it's really not about that. When we won an SEC Championship, all the talk was how great we're playing. How great we're playing, and then, you know, we dropped a couple. What Florida team is going to show up today? What's wrong? You can't embrace what just happened the last three days. I don't know. I really don't. You're dealing with human beings, and you're dealing with the human element of what goes into this. We played very well in this tournament, that's all I know. I hope we play equally as well in the NCAA Tournament, but it's a new challenge, new opportunity, and what has happened in the past doesn't have anything to do with the future. And what I mean by that is, you know, after watching us play against LSU on the road or Tennessee or Vanderbilt on the road, if someone would have said, you know, Florida's going to win the SEC Tournament Championship, people would have said, well, there's a possibility they're not playing well enough to do that, doesn't make a difference what's happened. That's why I try to get these guys to understand. People try to fast forward too far into the future, or they try to bring up the past, and these guys can never live in what's going on right now in your life. You know, it's about right now.
So I don't know, we played great these three days. I don't know how that translates into going forward.

Q. Because of all the expectations, is this the sweetest of the three SEC Championships?
BILLY DONOVAN: They're all really enjoyable. I think this was a unique one just because we won the regular season championship over a 16-game league schedule, and to come in and win the tournament championship, to be able to combine both of them in one year was really special. Last year I'm not sure where we finished, maybe second on the East. I'm not sure where we were overall, but we didn't win a regular season championship, we came in and won the tournament. I think for these kids, the one thing that's special for me is to see Christopher Richard and Lee Humphrey be seniors, to know they had four opportunities to play in these games, and they won four out of three of these games.
I don't know which one is better. People may say the first one, but they all share a unique excitement for me personally because there are different challenges you have to go through to get to that point.

Q. Coach, is there a way to actually coach swagger, and if so, how?
BILLY DONOVAN: You know, I think there's a fine line between overconfidence and having what I would call genuine true real confidence in yourself. I think when you deal with somebody that is overconfident, they have not put in the work, they haven't put in the time, and they rely on their individual ability, or they have an inflated opinion of what their individual ability is. I think when you've put your work in, and you've worked as a team, and you've worked as an individual, that should promote and instill confidence from within, through practice, that should promote confidence within.
So I think that swagger you're talking about is a preparation that you go through. I don't know if we have a swagger or not. I do know that we're a team that has been humbled in a lot of different ways. And I think like Joakim said, you need to stay on edge, and there needs to be a level of concern. Because nobody in this country is good enough just to sit there and say you know what, I can just rely on my talent. And sometimes playing with a little edge, and a little nervousness that, you know, if you don't play well, you're going to get beat, you know, that maybe creates that feeling. I think when you walk in, thinking you can just show up and play, and however you play, you're going to win, I think that's a sad, sad mistake that young people make.
So I don't know if I'm trying to or they're trying to create a swagger. I am trying to create them having a level of on edge and concern.

Q. Billy, I was talking earlier about how nobody had a run bigger than five points until the very end there. Obviously, when they really had something going, you were able to answer with a shot or a stop, can you talk about how important that was.
BILLY DONOVAN: I think you've got to be able to make a shot or get a stop when you need to. The biggest game, and we were really challenged, was the Georgia game. We got up by 21 points at the half, and they started to chip into it a little bit. We traded baskets back and forth. And they really built on the lead. The last two games we played against Ole Miss and Arkansas was -- we built on our leads. We were up by 8, and we built it up to 25, we were up by 15 against Ole Miss, we built it up to 20-plus. So being able to silence a run by your opponent, you know, a lot of that is -- the best way to do it is by getting stops defensively. You've got a little bit more control of that. Sometimes you're going to miss some shots, but I thought when teams started to make a little bit of a run, Ole Miss cut it to 10, I think we knocked down a three, put it right back to 13. We had an answer. But really I thought the last two games our answer was defense.

Q. Did you feel, like Joakim said, do you feel a greater sense of anticipation having something to defend, as opposed to last year where you didn't have anything to defend, you were just trying to get after it? Is there a different feeling you have now at this point, again, having something to defend?
BILLY DONOVAN: I think it's all your psyche and how you look at things, because I think like Joakim said, and one of the things I've spent an enormous amount of time on as a coach, is just the expectations, and what people's expectations are on them, and how everything's going to be looked at. So it is a different feeling for them. And I think what happens is sometimes that feeling can take the enjoyment out of playing. And I've tried to make sure they keep the enjoyment, and understand that the only way they can be truly happy is if they're truly happy with themselves as people, and truly happy with their teammates. And they can't listen to criticism, and they can't listen to how great they supposedly are, because you're just being set up to fall. And we've got to rely on each other.
You know, what should be the main focus is, how do we view each other? If somebody in our team is not happy with the way someone's playing, the effort, we should be able to confront that as a group. But if somebody says outside that, he's not playing well, he's not this, he's not that, you've got to let that go. And sometimes when you're young, you hear criticism, you hear things, and you start to believe it. Or if you're being told how great you are, you start to believe that. And I think for Joakim, the thing that I was most excited about this year is the learning experience he was going to go through. So that is exactly right, the whole defending thing, we're not defending anything.
Our arena, for however long it's up there, that banner for National Championship in 2006 is not going anywhere, it doesn't make a difference if we go 0 and 60, it doesn't make a difference if we lose every single game we play for the next five years, that National Championship banner is not going down. So they've got to understand they're not defending that. It's not like they said, hey listen, if we don't win it again this year, somebody's coming in and taking the trophy away, someone's taking the banner away, and it all goes away, what you guys earned, you lose.
But people talk about the word "defending, defending, defending," and we've got to get out of that and understand it doesn't make a difference what happens the rest of their lives. In 2006, they're always National Championships, regardless of what happens going forward.

Q. Coach, has it been any easier to coach this group compared to the team last year?
BILLY DONOVAN: I couldn't imagine going through what we've had to go through this year coaching any other type of guys but these kids. I think the biggest thing that's happened is although things have changed around the perimeter, in a lot of different ways, they haven't changed. One of the things that I tell them, I say, anytime you have a high, high level of success at something, there's always some stuff that comes with it that you don't realize. You know, they want to win a National Championship, they want to get to the next level. There is stuff that comes with it that you've got to be able to deal with. The dealing with those things and getting them to understand that, you know, to me as a coach, I'm so proud to hear Joakim Noah say this is such a learning experience, because I've tried to help him through a lot of stuff. And I think his teammates have helped him through stuff. But when you have that level of success that's really, really high like that, people don't understand the extra things that come with it. And I talked to those guys about it well before the season started, and then I think they realized like, wow, now I understand what Coach was talking about, and how to handle some of those things, because it can be a distraction that can get in the way.
I'm not sure if I answered the question correctly.

Q. Kind of a two-part question here: Does this week's experience give you an advantage should you return here for the Final Four? And did you have any sense or feel that attendance was a little down this year from your previous SEC Tournaments here?
BILLY DONOVAN: I don't know if it gives us an advantage or not. There is some familiarity with the building, obviously, getting a chance to play three games here. But so much is sometimes the surrounding area can be different, and it can make a place look different. I don't know if it's going to be the same exact format here for the Final Four, but to me I'm not even worried about that so much as I'm concerned about who we're getting ready for in the first game, and trying to get ready for Thursday or Friday's game.
You know, the attendance, I felt like we had a good showing by Florida fans. I wasn't at all the games, I don't know what the attendance is, where the league is and all that. I think sometimes attendance can go down as a tournament goes on, because you have a lot of people who are rooting or supporters of a certain program, and they don't want to stay and watch anymore, they want to go back. But I thought our fans traveled pretty well this year. I thought we had a good showing and good following this year.

Q. Coach, you said the other night, or I think yesterday, that this is just luck, that you're lucky. How do you instill that in your players and keep them motivated throughout the season?
BILLY DONOVAN: Well, what I say is the lucky part is sometimes you don't know in recruiting the type of competitors and teammates you're getting, and these kids are a very, very unique group. What I was saying was, it wasn't like I saw all this stuff during the recruiting process, and was able to figure out there would be so much chemistry and gelling and blending. You're always working as a coach on some of the stuff we worked on with our guys. But most of the them just have a very unselfish spirit inside of them.
I think that's really what it comes down to every game, it comes down to competition. Every game is its own individual competitive battle, and that's what I meant earlier when I said sometimes you think because you won a lot in the past, that that earns you the right to be able to step on the floor and just win in the future. And each game, each competition is its own individual challenge. It really doesn't make a difference what you've done a week, two weeks, three weeks, a couple years ago.
Experience, a lot of times though it can help, it's got nothing to do with it. Last year we had no tournament experience at all, and we won a National Championship. So because we did gain experience, if we think that's going to help us in this year's NCAA Tournament, we're mistaken. It's about each individual competition and how we handle it.

Q. Coach, you kept talking about for the moment, for the moment, but is there a big picture attitude, phase one, regular season, phase two, conference tournament, phase three, now the big picture, the crescendo part of it?
BILLY DONOVAN: I think absolutely. When you start your season, you're always going to have team goals. Our team goal was to try to win an SEC Championship, and with this tournament started to win the tournament championship. At least 65 teams starting, trying to get here to Atlanta to play for it all. So I don't think that those goals are any different from any other program out there. But I also think too, what happens is you get so far saying that you don't enjoy -- I understand the country and the focus is on the NCAA Tournament, that is the biggest thing. But sometimes we dilute regular season championships and conference tournament championships, and I never want them at Florida, at least while I'm coaching, to ever be deluded or feel unimportant. What these kids have done up to this point in time, is special, it is important. It needed to be celebrated. They need to enjoy today. They need to enjoy this today. Tomorrow will be here fast enough, we'll have to worry about where we're seeded, where we're going, who we're playing, match-ups, all of those things.
But right now these kids have done unbelievable things in however many games we've played to this point in time. And I think for me, there's not necessarily the bigger picture. It's about the next challenge that we've got to take on. And all we're focused on is our next game. It's not about getting here to Atlanta. We'd love to get back to Atlanta, but if we're so far focused down the road on that, we're going to miss the opportunity to try to even get there. I think it's like even today's game, you want to win the SEC Tournament Championship. It's a process you've got to go through before you try to win the game. I think there is a process to go through, and you want them during the process to enjoy the steps along the way, at least I do for them. Because I know when people sit there and say you're supposed to do that, people don't understand how hard it is.

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