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March 11, 2009

Billy Donovan

Walter Hodge

Dan Werner


CLAUDE FELTON: Coach Donovan, some opening thoughts on the Gators heading into the tournament?
COACH DONOVAN: I think this is always an exciting time of year. Every team's probably very excited to be here in the SEC Tournament. You know, Arkansas's a team that we both faced each other very, very early in the SEC schedule, and certainly a lot of time has passed by, you know, for both teams.
I think it was maybe our third game of the year, so it's been some time. The last couple of days just trying to get our guys reacquainted with them, and I'm sure the same is for John with his team.
We're just excited to be here and excited for the opportunity to play tomorrow.

Q. Arkansas went 2-14 in the league. Is there any chance you guys are overlooking them? What do you think about playing a 2-14 team?
WALTER HODGE: We always have to be ready to play anybody else. You know, you can get beat any single night. So we have to be focused and do the right things to win the game.
DAN WERNER: It's a new season, everyone's 0-0 right now. You look around the country, and anyone can beat anyone. So we're just coming out with the right mind focus and being ready to play.

Q. What do you think when you're not immune to the Sportscenter or ESPN, you know, the Internet sites and newspapers. What do you think when you hear that the SEC is one of the worst conferences in the nation this year?
WALTER HODGE: I would say that we've got a lot of talent in this SEC league. We're a little bit down this year, but I think we've got great players and great coaches. So we're going to be fine.
DAN WERNER: I mean, people might think we're down, but I still think we have some really good teams. You never know what can happen. I just think we have good teams. No matter what people think, I still think we have good talent.

Q. Can you talk about he was talking about your not immune to seeing Sportscenter and all those things. When you see Florida come up, can you just let that brush off?
DAN WERNER: Yeah, I mean every year they're wrong and stuff. Some guys say some team is in and it turns out to be wrong and stuff. You've just got to play the game and not worry about those things. Because no one knows, and that's the bottom line.

Q. Are you guys approaching this tournament differently this year compared to last year after what happened against Alabama?
WALTER HODGE: I would say that last year is over with. This is a new season. So we just have to come here and do the right things and play our best.
DAN WERNER: We've got different kind of players and stuff. We play a lot harder, so I would say you can't compare and look back at what happened with that, because it's totally different.

Q. DAN, where would you guys be without nick? He's just had an unbelievable season?
DAN WERNER: Yeah, Nick's our point guard. He can score, he can pass, rebounds. You know, he does a lot of things for us. You know, he's a major part of on our team and stuff. Like I said we probably wouldn't be here right now without him.

Q. How big an advantage is it to play in your home state because that hasn't happened in a long time that the tournament's been in Florida?
WALTER HODGE: I think it's great. We're going to have great fans. You know, we've got a lot of fans in Atlanta, but I think we're going to get a great crowd. It's great to play at home.
DAN WERNER: I think they should let us play in Gainesville instead of here. But no, hopefully we can get a great crowd and the fans are behind us.

Q. Has it started to dawn on you are you getting emotional about the fact that this is your last SEC Tournament because you've had a lot of highs and lows in this thing?
WALTER HODGE: I told those guys I'm going to give my best. This is my last time over here, so I want to finish the right way and do something special.
CLAUDE FELTON: Thank you, you can return to the locker room. Questions for Coach Donovan.

Q. I know you've been asked a number of times about John Pelphrey and you'll be coaching against him again. Talk about your relationship with John, and the job you think he's done the first couple of years at Arkansas within your own conference?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, obviously, having a chance to coach John for three years at Kentucky, and then being able to hire him as an assistant at Marshall. Then really the job he did for two years at Marshall and the job he did for us at Florida was really remarkable.
You know, I think John took over a really, really hard situation in South Alabama. You know, he had to build that back-up. I think it's probably, you know, somewhat similar in the fact that I think John knew walking into the situation last year that he had a lot of seniors and a lot on of upper classmen in a position where he's starting over.
But I think the one thing that's great for John and he totally understands is that I think as a player, you know, going through the probation at Kentucky and being 14-14, and then getting to a point his senior year where he was a shot away from going to the Final Four and being at Marshall where it was a situation that we had a lot of work in front of us and the same could be said at Florida. I think John's been in those situations.
I think for any coach in a new situation, everything always takes a level of time. He's doing a great job. He's a terrific coach, and certainly a lot of the success that I've been able to enjoy at Florida is directly attributed to him and the things that he was able to do for our program while he was there.

Q. We hear a lot about youth and inexperience. Could you talk about specifically what some of the challenges and hurdles are to overcoming that?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, I think it's different for every player. There are players, you know, that can overcome it because they're extremely talented like an O. J. Mayo or Michael Beasley. There are different players that can handle it mentally, and they can go in and understand what goes into winning at this level when they're young. Then there are some other guys that maybe come in that are talented and have no idea or concept of what really goes into it. And that maturation process for everybody takes a different level of time.
You know, a guy like Irving Walker for us, his adjustment from high school to college has been a lot different than maybe Kenny Kadji's or Ray Shipman's for that matter. I think that's the case. Every young guy is dealing with some different things. Some guys are able to come in and do it right away. What the reason is for that? I don't think any of us as coaches really know.
You really don't know when a guy's coming out of high school what kind of adjustment period he has. What you're looking at is skill set, athleticism, and how well he handles and passes and shoots and what kind of size he has and quickness. You can see those things.
But the things it to me that impact winning and a guy making major contributions to a young player has much, much to do with their make-up, their mindset, and the way they are as a player.
I've had a variety of different young guys that have adjusted very quickly, and I've had guys that it's taken a lot longer. And everybody's process as you mature takes, you know, can take longer, it could take shorter. I don't know if there's any reason behind it.

Q. Just wondered if you could talk about your take on the freshman seasons Fortson and Clarke's had, playing against them and studying up on them. And the kind of future they have as a back court there for John.
COACH DONOVAN: Well, I really like John's young players. They've got a lot of young guys. And Fortson has probably come in and he's made a major a contribution in this league as any freshman on a team with what he's been able to do.
You know, watching film, I've got great respect for both those guys, and great respect for Clarke. He's a phenomenal shooter. A lot, probably, put on both of those guys plates in the back court as young guys having to play a lot.
But the experience that they're gaining through the season, and the playing time that they've been able to receive, I think will prove to be invaluable for them as they go forward throughout their career.

Q. When you talk to your guys in practice, off the court, when you look into their eyes, do you get a sense from them that man we really don't want to go back to the NIT again this year? Do you notice a sense of urgency or man we just don't want to do this again?
COACH DONOVAN: It's hard for me to say that, because I look at things totally different than that. You know, Sunday will get here soon enough. You know, right now it's Wednesday. We have a game tomorrow.
So I think a lot of times in life it's so easy to get ahead of yourself or look too far behind yourself, and you don't take advantage.
All that stuff doesn't really mean anything. The only thing that matters is the fact that we have a game tomorrow. That's really the only thing that matters. So I really don't talk to them in those terms because none of that stuff really, really makes a difference.
It would be like obviously whether or not we're fighting to get in and games we've got to win and all those thing that's we've talked about. It's the same thing that maybe a team that's definitely in a tournament that's going into a conference play tournament, and somebody saying, well, how many games do they have to win to get a 1 seed?
It doesn't make a difference. You have a game in front of you right now. So everybody is dealing with all of that same stuff.
I just have always been a big believer that you focus on what's in front of you. You're ready to take care of what's in front of you. You're ready to try to do your very, very best of what's in front of you. Then the next day you try to do the same thing.
I don't have any control. We don't have any control other than the fact that we play tomorrow night and we have the opportunity to go out as a team and play to the best of our ability.
And if our mind is anywhere else other than being on that, then I think we've made a mistake that we haven't narrowed our focus on what we need to do today and tomorrow.

Q. DAN had a funny comment about playing in Tampa, a neutral site. But we all know there's a huge Gator presence here. Does it feel kind of like a home game? Your team played so well at home this season, a home setting. You're going to have a packed house in a late game. Do those guys feed off that at all?
COACH DONOVAN: I don't know. I certainly hope that there is a great turnout, not only for us but just for the tournament. You know, economically when you start talking about postseason play for fans and things like that, it can be hard.
But all the allotment of tickets between the schools were all divided up evenly. It would be great to have a great crowd tomorrow. And how our fans are able to get tickets, you know, I'm not sure.
But I don't know if I have necessarily this expectation that the whole place tomorrow will be Florida. I don't necessarily feel that way. I think Arkansas is a team that travels very well. I think Arkansas fans have made this SEC Tournament a great tournament as has the rest of the fans in this league.
So how they end up getting tickets and those type of things, I'm not sure.

Q. What is your take on the quality of play in the SEC this year? And while it seems to be a very deep league, you don't have the normal number of teams ranked where they normally are.
COACH DONOVAN: Right. I think that there can be a lot of reasons for this. The one thing that's probably unfair to every league is the RPI and the rankings going into league play. There's no question that a lot of the teams in the league in November and December, as they matched up against teams from other major conferences. We were a league that people looked at and said geez, they haven't done too well outside their conference in November and December.
And there's maybe been some upsets or games that different teams in the league have had a chance to win and haven't been able to win. But I don't think there's anything ever taken into consideration for how much a team can improve over a two or three month period, a two-and-a-half-month period.
So I think for our league Ole Miss went through an enormous amount of injuries going into league play. And struggled there for a while, and really, really took off. Auburn right now, when you look at them, they ended up losing some games in November and December, and they've won 8 of 9 or whatever it's been that they've won. They really have started to play really, really well.
I don't know if you really can use that as a measuring stick on on how much the teams in the league have gotten better from November and December to here in March. There's no measuring stick for that. But I also understand going into league play the reason maybe for some of the people feeling that way.

Q. Last year you guys came to this tournament and can you use that and say guys, here's what happens if you don't show up. I'm sure they were embarrassed by it.
COACH DONOVAN: Well, there's always human elements that get into everything. Maybe the youthfulness, being naive coming in. You know, we certainly talked about as DAN mentioned, that it's the start of a new season for everybody.
I've never been a big believer that your past equals your future. And just because something negatively or positively has happened in the past, doesn't mean it's going to happen the same way in the future. There's no question from a year ago, we have an opportunity to grow as a team.
I think our main focus as a team just needs to be that we play to the very, very best of our ability. I think last year maybe for those guys, it was somewhat of an eye-opening experience coming here. So I think you always want to try to learn from the past. But it's not like I as a coach have dwelled on last year.
I think there's enough things that we can take from even our own season against different teams this year where, you know, if you don't come ready to play, it's really, really hard to win it. It's really hard to win.
The margin for error for everybody is so small. The margin to be able to win is so small that, really, in a lot of ways you have to have a narrow focus. Your focus needs to get more and more narrow as the season starts to unfold.

Q. Talking with John Pelphrey earlier, and he said the success with the Gators start with Nick Calathes, he compared him to John Stockton. He said it may be a premature comparison early on?
COACH DONOVAN: It definitely is, because I played against Stockton, so I know pretty well.

Q. He talked about his ability to see the floor differently, most guys reading defenses and being able to pass the ball around. Can you talk about how different of a player he is this season where his maturity is, and where do you want him to be and where do you see him being?
COACH DONOVAN: I think a lot has been put on Nick's plate for our team. And some of it, you know, maybe a little bit unfair to him. He had an unbelievable freshman year, and he had a guy in the back court with him and Jay Lucas that they both kind of shared the responsibility.
Last year when you go into the season you're thinking about, all right, I've got two freshmen back court players here at the point. That's usually a disaster for turnovers. What ended up happening is those two guys really had a lot to do with us having the best assist to turnover ratio last year in the league.
As a coach you're saying, okay, how are they going to handle this? And Nick played off the ball a lot and still had a lot of assists and he scored and did a lot for our team. Then he comes into this season and he's at a totally different position than he was a year ago. The adjustment period for him not only having somewhat similar numbers as a year ago, maybe even better in some respects, it's also been, I think a growing process for him to understand really what it means to play the point.
Here he goes into as a freshman just trying to come in and contribute and help and wants to play well, and it's his first experience going through it. So now he's got to step into some form of a leadership role because the ball's in his hands and he's got to make decisions.
So he is a phenomenal passer. He can really, really make plays for our team. I think he's played very, very well. He's gotten better in a lot of areas. But I still think for him, there still, the thing that's great about him is he has a lot more opportunity for growth as a player. And that's the one thing that I think should be encouraging for him as a player is the opportunity to grow and get even better.

Q. You've been asked a lot and talked a lot about the deficiencies of this team and what needs to be done for them to improve. But on the flip side what is it that you do like about this team?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, I think last year I was pretty well stated how I felt about them a year ago. I think everything starts off with a work ethic. I think it all starts there. When you see a group of guys that, in a lot of respects, are trying to play to the best of their ability, and they're trying to really learn and get better, and there are some deficiencies that in certain situations they're not able to overcome.
You feel good that at least they're moving in the right direction. I thought last year was a rite of passage. We're at Florida. You know, this is just going to happen. And they didn't really understand the work that needs to go into it.
Our freshmen right now, they need to get better with their work ethic, but I see the guys that return from a year ago that they have gotten better with their work ethic.
I think any coach wants to walk off the practice court. Wants to walk off the floor during a game and say, you know what, our guys played really, really hard, and they really gave their very best and they're trying to play together as a team. I think there is merit in that as a coach that makes you feel like, okay, these guys are doing that.
So those are the things that I would say that I like about them, because my reference point for them is last year or the last practice or when I was with them, that's my reference point.
So when you see growth, it's somewhat unfair for Alex Tyus to be playing the center position for us at 27, 28 minutes a game when the guy really never came here to be a center. But he has to play there and he's trying to do the best he can.
You know, DAN Werner probably came here with the idea there were going to be some other players around him at the power forward position that maybe we could take advantage of his ability to shoot and pass a little bit more. But now he's become our best low-post defender.
There's been certain things I think inside of our team especially in our front court that they've had to overcome, and there's been some times that they could have done it better. But they've also, I think, are trying as well as they can with the physical capabilities that they have.

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