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March 12, 2008

Nick Calathes

Billy Donovan

Dan Werner


THE MODERATOR: We'll ask Coach if he'll give us just some opening thoughts on the Florida team headed into the tournament and then we'll take questions just for the student athletes.
COACH DONOVAN: We're excited to be in Atlanta. I think this has really been a great city for the SEC Tournament, and I think there's been a great relationship between the SEC and Atlanta. A little bit of a unique situation for us tomorrow in playing Alabama. That was actually the first game we played of our SEC schedule. So certainly a lot of time has passed between the last time both teams played, and I'd say both teams are a lot different in a lot of respects, just going through a 16-game league schedule.
But we've got a lot to -- have a lot to get prepared for in playing them, and this is a game that's at a neutral site, and it's kind of the start of a new season for both teams. We're just excited about having the opportunity to play them tomorrow.

Q. Dan, can you talk about coming back to this arena where obviously you guys had a lot of success last year? Kind of the friendly surroundings?
DAN WERNER: Yeah, definitely. Last year I was a part of a lot of great things between the SEC Tournament, NCAA Tournament. I think they started calling this the Gator Dome. Hopefully will there be a lot of Gator fans here tomorrow just cheering us on.

Q. Dan, how do you describe the -- you know the mindset, what it was a year ago when you came into the same situation. How different is it now for you with this team, and just what is the general mindset for this team after it's kind of struggled coming into this one?
DAN WERNER: Last year we were the No. 1 seed, kind of had a target on our backs, everyone coming after us.
This year in my opinion we're starting a new season. The regular SEC is over and this is a tournament, and we've just got to come together and do the best we can.

Q. Nick, you've had a really good year, and you've grown individually at your position, perhaps as well as any freshman in the country, certainly in the league. These last few games where you played well as a team but weren't quite good enough to get the W, you know, the Tennessee game, the Kentucky game on the road, do you feel like this team has now maybe grown from the better efforts that you've had recently, even though they've come up with a defeat at the end, that maybe you've got a little momentum going coming into the tournament just in terms of the way the team has been playing?
NICK CALATHES: I think so. I think we're humble coming into the tournament. I think we lost our last three, but they've been nail-biters. I think our team has come together since these last three games. We've been working hard in practice, and like Dan said, we're looking at a new season, and I think we're going to come in and play tough. We're against a tough team, Alabama, and they just beat Vanderbilt, so they're going to come in with the same mindset.
THE MODERATOR: Fellows, we'll excuse you. You can return to the locker room. We'll continue on with questions for Coach Donovan.

Q. I asked Kevin Stallings this question early. It goes to the subject of divisional play. If you didn't have divisional play in this league, like Kevin would have been a fourth seed instead of where he is right now. Have you thought about this league not having divisional play? What are your thoughts on divisional play?
COACH DONOVAN: Are you just talking about meaning the east and the west playing against each other?

Q. Just having divisions.
COACH DONOVAN: You know, I never really worry about it because I've got no control over it. It kind of is what it is. We're going to play our teams on the east, and we're going to play everyone in the west once. That's kind of the way it falls. I think that's probably for the commissioner and the athletic directors and the presidents to deal with. We know our schedule coming in, and you go out there and you play your schedule.
I think on given years the East has been stronger than the West and on given years the West has been stronger than the East. I think that probably depth-wise when you look at the league, certainly the East for this season is a deeper and maybe has been a little bit -- I don't know if stronger is the right word because I think anybody in the West can beat anybody, but there have been more teams on the East that have had the opportunity to be ranked throughout the course of the season.
I look at Mississippi State and Arkansas, pretty consistent, but Ole Miss got off to a great start, and they were the 1 team I think at the start of the SEC schedule that everybody thought was really on fire, them and Vanderbilt. But when you go through a league schedule a lot of things can happen. Alabama, for example, Mark has done a great job with his team when you start off 0 and 5 and they've had a great run against one of the best teams in our league in Vanderbilt the last game. It's hard for me to get caught up in the emotional part of should we all play each other, how are you going to work that. I think in any given year anything can happen, and I think in any given year anybody can beat anybody in this league.

Q. How do you think your team has benefitted over the last week and a half, two weeks, playing the way you've played? Playing well but losing.
COACH DONOVAN: Yeah, I definitely think that we've made strides, and I think sometimes you always focus on the result of winning. I think more than anything else, the thing that I'm hopeful that they've seen is, I really feel like our guys -- not that they didn't do it early in the year, but I didn't feel this season we were a team, and there was no reason for them to be a team because there were so many new faces and them coming together.
But I felt like they really threw their heart and soul into the last two weeks of the regular season in trying to become a team, that when you do that and then you don't get the result you want, I think it tests you of how bad do you want to be good. There's certain teams that go to a certain point and say, you know, it's just not that important. There's other teams that really fight through and they push, and it becomes very, very important to them.
So I do think we've gotten better as a team, but in respect to the teams that we've played I think you've got to give Tennessee who's 14 and 2 in our league credit, I think you've got to give Kentucky credit, Mississippi State credit, so those were our last three games. We had a chance in all three of them, but as you mentioned, maybe we weren't good enough to get the job done.
I think if anything I'm hopeful that it shows them how hard it is to win at this level and now the next thing is once you find out how hard it is, every player is going to say they're committed to that, but you can find out who's really committed to doing what it takes.

Q. Kind of a follow-up to that, what kind of shape do you think you all are in to make a run deep in this tournament, the kind of run you need to make to make it to the next step?
COACH DONOVAN: I just think when you're playing one-shot games like we are right now, it's one and done at this point in this tournament, if you lose, you go home, and I think anything can happen on a neutral site. I don't think that there's anything outside of Alabama's personnel and maybe playing against them one time and having an understanding of how strong Hendrix is and how athletic Gee is and how well Riley shoots and getting a feel for Pickett and who will linger and other guys they've played against, I don't think tomorrow there's anything to do with anything. I think each game has got its own separate identity and its own separate competitive challenges, and whether it be going forward or behind, the only thing that our team can be focused on is playing Alabama, and there's probably no reference point of playing them the first time and beating them. We don't start the game up 10-0 because we won on December 9th. That doesn't happen.
I think in this tournament anything can happen with any one of these teams because we're all familiar with each other and everybody is good enough in this league in my opinion to advance and move on.

Q. It seems that teams that have had tremendous length in their backcourt have given your team some trouble. I think the Mississippi State game, that sort of bore out, and when LSU upset you early in the year after Butch had gotten the job, their length sort of bothered you in that game. How does Alabama match athletically to those guys, teams that have historically given your guards who are smaller some issues trying to get shots off and that kind of thing?
COACH DONOVAN: I think the length in the front court has really been more of an issue for us than the length in the backcourt. I think the Chris Johnsons and the Anthony Randolphs have caused problems, I thought Charles Rhodes and Varnardo caused problems, I think Steven Hill and Charles Thomas causes problems, no question.
I think going through the SEC schedule and playing Alabama as we did first at that time in the season, I had not seen everybody in our league. But I would say physically gifted, talented, athletic, I would say that Alabama is in the top four teams, five teams in our league physically. You've got a phenomenal -- one of the best low-post players in the league in Hendrix, you have a tremendous, strong, athletic wing who can shoot in Alonzo Gee, you have a knock-down dead-eye shooter in Riley from the three. I think the one thing that probably caused Alabama maybe some struggles as they went through the season is you can't lose a Ronald Steele and sometimes expect a freshman just to come in there and take over like he has. But that's why I think Alabama is a different team today than they were, because Pickett, who will linger, some of those guys in the backcourt now become a little bit more seasoned.
If you're going to talk about strength, quickness, athleticism, size, shot blocking ability, ability to shoot from the three, ability to throw to a post-up player, I would say Alabama is as good as anybody in our league at doing that.

Q. They're not turning it over as much as they are?
COACH DONOVAN: No, and we did turn it over quite a bit in the second half when we played them in Tuscaloosa, and a lot of that has to do with in my opinion one of the best guards in the league, Ronald Steele, being out. I just don't think you miss a guy like Ronald Steele and you expect a freshman just to come in and take over your team. It just doesn't happen like that.
You know what, teams can overcome injuries with older guys. It's much easier if you've got a guy out and you have older guys, that they know how to handle it. They can take over the reins. When you're constantly turning to a young guy in every situation at that position, it can make it tough.

Q. They were talking about it's a new season, but it's also a new experience for your freshmen. They've never been in a tournament like this, they've never shot in this arena. Can you talk about your concerns about not only tournament basketball for the freshmen but playing in a spacious arena?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, I think with our team's disposition, there's positives and negatives that I see that they've got to get better at. But it's kind of like one goes with the other. You would think as a coach going into the SEC playing the first game at Alabama to start an SEC schedule, Super Tuesday, ending the last season of the year at Rupp Arena, playing against Tennessee on the road, going at Ole Miss, playing against Arkansas, when you're dealing with guys going through it for the first time, you expect to see those guys have that glazed look like, wow, I've never been through anything like this before. And they really have never been like that. They really have had a steady calmness about them that they're unphased by a lot of stuff.
Now, the negative part of that is I really think that it bleeds into the passion level that I don't like, you know, but I probably can't have it both ways. I can't have this steady, calm team that is going through an experience, as you mentioned, for the first time and they're steady and calm but then on the other end they're going to have all this passion and energy and enthusiasm. It doesn't work that way for the first time.
I don't see these guys coming in here at all, just based on my experiences with these guys, they weren't even phased at all going into Fayetteville, they weren't phased going into Tuscaloosa, they weren't phased going into Lexington. They don't have that look. And I don't think they'll be phased coming in here tomorrow. I think they'll come out and do what they've done all year long. They'll try to play hard, they'll give a good effort, and they'll have to find a way deep inside to dig in and find a way to win the game.

Q. Coming back here today for the first time since last March, were you struck by any kind of nostalgic twinges or by how much things can change in a year?
COACH DONOVAN: There's no question that was probably it, how much things change year to year to year. You know, it was great because Noah was in town and came by practice today, and just seeing him, knowing that we were going to the SEC and him coming by practice and seeing our guys, and then really looking at him and looking at our guys going to Atlanta and what happened in Atlanta the last year, all that happened from an SEC Tournament Championship to the National Championship, and then having that connection from Noah to this year's team and then knowing we're coming here today. It's kind of very, very clear that, you know, in a lot of ways we're starting over, and that to me is very exciting in a lot of ways, starting over and trying to get back to that point and knowing to get back to that point takes a lot of luck, takes a lot of really good players, takes a lot of guys sacrificing and working hard and playing together.
But I think you look at coming in there, a lot has changed for Dan Werner. I think somebody may have asked him what's the difference coming into this building a year later. His role has certainly become a lot bigger and he's become a better player and he's got a year more of experience. It's amazing how a year can change all of us in a lot of ways. There's no question, coming here, this place is always going to be special I think for any team or any coach. Any time you win a championship in a building, it's always going to have some type of meaning when you walk in the place every time.

Q. This is sort of related to that, but I'm wondering if the challenges of a new season make you appreciate even more what you were able to do the last two years?
COACH DONOVAN: You know, I really think that I've made comments several times over the last two years. I'm very, very lucky and fortunate to be able to coach a group of guys like that. I don't think I look back on it now and sit there and say, wow, I enjoyed every moment coaching those guys. I'm enjoying every moment coaching these guys. That was a different group and a different time for us. I don't think that I ever took those guys for granted, so to speak, or felt what we were coaching wasn't special.
I really believe, and it's amazing -- I shouldn't say it's amazing, and I think Tim Brando and I talked about this when he did one of our telecasts, they are clearly one of the greatest teams in all of college basketball, and the only reason I say that -- not that they're mortal entered. Name me another team that's ever won back to back national championships and has done it one year unranked and one year ranked No. 1 in the country? Those are two totally different set of circumstances, and when Duke did it they were probably ranked very, very high both seasons. John Wooden's great teams were ranked very, very high in both seasons. When you talk about winning at two completely opposite ends of the spectrum, one being unranked to start a season and then starting the season No. 1 in the country, that says a lot about those guys.
So believe me, going through that, I knew and appreciated them, and they remind you every day as a coach what you're striving for and how far you have to go to get there, but that's the challenge and that's the fun part about it.

Q. I just wanted to beat the dead horse. Along those lines have you had to remind yourself that you really kind of were starting over with the exception of some of the role players from last year? Have you had to remind yourself of that?
COACH DONOVAN: No, not really. I know exactly where we were at. I knew that I think probably back in May and June, what challenge do I really want to take on. I know where we are and where we have to get to and what a challenge it's going to be. I'm excited about that. There's always going to be a connection from one year to the next. There's always a little bit of a connection.
Next year at this time or next year for the SEC, people will be talking about this year's team in connection to next year's team. So there's always going to be a comparison from one year to the next.
But no, I think I have that part of it pretty -- I feel personally in perspective, that I know where we're at.

Q. Kind of a follow-up to that, going back three years ago when you look at that team and what they did, back to back the last two years, maybe touch on some similarities that you see with this team that you like, that maybe they're going to grow into the role that happened the last two years.
COACH DONOVAN: Not a whole lot (laughter). Not a whole lot. I don't mean that in a bad way, but you're talking about a totally, totally different disposition than what our team has right now. Going into it, I said earlier there's a steadiness, there's a calmness about our team which I really, really like because one of the things that's a formula for a disaster is when you have two freshmen point guards. Generally you're going to be the worst turnover team in the league. We have the best assisted turnover ratio of anybody in the league. So that's a great credit to those guys.
But I think the one thing that those guys had that was so much different than most teams is they had an incredible passion, and you could see the passion that they had. And I don't know -- you can't fake that. You know, that's playing for one another, playing for a cause, playing together. And I think for me it's hard to take that team and sit there and say, draw upon the similarities, because there really are no similarities between the two teams at all.
They've got to develop into a team. They've got to develop that passion. They've got to develop that calmness. I think our team is a very -- if there's one thing that I would say, probably comparison part, I would say that our team right now has a very, very high basketball IQ, and I thought our team last year had a very good basketball IQ. But it's hard for us to model what we had when you're talking about five guys being drafted in the NBA for the first time in the history of the game. You have three players taking the top ten, and someone says, well, give me the similarities between the two. It's just there's really not.
Now, the makeup part of it, I think we're totally different. We're totally different makeup-wise, and we've got to develop, I think, a better makeup.

Q. That's what I was getting at, the makeup.
COACH DONOVAN: I thought you meant the way they played.

Q. I meant more the makeup.
COACH DONOVAN: Yeah. They're different. I think our guys need to -- I don't know if our guys are totally -- if they understand it's clear -- someone asked me a little bit earlier about did our team get better through having some tough losses. When our team two years ago, when they lost three games in a row, there was an altering change that was really incredible. I don't know if our guys really see, and you point it out, but if they really see or understand what wins at this level. And that's the one thing that I would say that I would like for them to have some similarities in.
But I would say probably the makeup part would be their mind. I think that last year's group was a very highly intelligent group, and I think this year is a pretty highly intelligent group, as well. They're very cerebral for a young group, which has helped us in a lot of ways.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much.

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