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March 25, 2011
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
COACH DONOVAN: Well, we're playing against a team that is extremely, extremely physical, don't think there's any question about that, a team that has got a lot of players that know about success in this tournament from last year. You know, really, really impressed with Howard, again, how physical he is, how hard he plays, and just the different ways he impacts the game on both the offensive and defensive end of the floor. Mack is clearly one of the better point guards in the country, but you know, very, very similar to BYU, and I said this going into the game playing them, is they've got a very good team. Those guys score a lot of points, but you look at Vanzant, what he's been able to do, Smith, just their whole entire team, they do a great job defensively. They're a hard team to guard offensively, and I think our guys understand that we're playing against a terrific team that is very talented, physical and gifted and playing terrific basketball right now.
Q. Billy, could you just talk about the significance for your program, what Mike Miller's shot did to fuel the future success for your program? And also following up, if Chandler could also address what you may remember as an 11, 12 year old when that shot went down.
COACH DONOVAN: Well, I've always said this: You know, in order to experience something like that, you've got to be in the NCAA Tournament. And that group before that, the year before that, experienced a very, very devastating loss to Gonzaga at the buzzer to go to the Elite Eight. But I think if you look at the best programs in the country and you look at the amount of years and how many times they've been to the NCAA Tournament, that's where you have a chance to do something really, really special. You've got to get there often enough to make a run at it, and certainly Mike's shot and play gave us the opportunity to play another game. And that was the first-round game, but it gave us an opportunity to continue on and move on and advance. When you get a chance to advance and move on in this tournament, it's always very, very exciting for your program and for your players.
CHANDLER PARSONS: Yeah, I mean, honestly I was so young that I don't remember watching it. But when I got to high school and Florida started recruiting me, I obviously saw that and just -- it was a really amazing shot, just a good shot.
Q. Chandler, Matt Howard was just talking about rebounding and it being the want to, kind of what you've talked about this year. Do you see him as a player somewhat like yourself and how difficult is it to guard someone like that?
CHANDLER PARSONS: I think he's very difficult to guard. I think he's one of the most physical players in the country and he plays smart and just relentless and he doesn't stop and he's got a really good motor. So a guy like him, he just battles for 40 minutes and you're not going to get anything easy with him just because his effort is off the charts.
Q. Can you talk about how you guys learned or figured out how to win close games this year versus maybe past years? And is there one element that allowed you to do that this year?
VERNON MACKLIN: I think for the most part, we come together and we grind it out in the huddles. Chandler do a lot of talking. After Coach Donovan and the coaching staff speak, and we just get in the huddle again and talk amongst each other. We want to go out there and play as hard as we can and fight until the horn go off.
ALEX TYUS: I also feel like our experienced helped us out a lot. We've been in a lot of close games this year and even last year, and I just think we try to fight together and stay together and help each other and pull off close games.
CHANDLER PARSONS: Basically the same thing they said, just maintaining a level of focus throughout the whole game and understanding that anything can happen on any given play. You can't take anything for granted and play until the buzzer stops.
Q. Just sort of on that same note, Chandler, have you paid attention to Butler and the way they've played in close games? And do you see some similarities in the way they've been able to finish, especially in the NCAA Tournament?
CHANDLER PARSONS: Yeah, like coach said, they've got experience. They obviously played for the national championship last year and they only lost one guy in Gordon Hayward, so we've got a lot of guys that have been in this situation before and understand what it takes to win. They started off slow and I think they won 12 straight and they've been playing the best basketball they've been playing all year lately. They're a team that's really playing well right now and they're similar to us in some of the actions they play on offense, how physical they play, and they guard really well, so I think that's kind of similar like. They're just going to compete and it's going to be a dog fight for 40 minutes.
Q. Kenny, how does your ankle feel after last night?
KENNY BOYNTON: It feels great. I did some icing last night to help it out a little more, and when we get back to the hotel, I'm going to ice it some more.
Q. What's your playing level right now?
KENNY BOYNTON: My playing level is good. I think I got tired a little bit last night because I hadn't practiced a lot this week. But I think it's going to come back to me with more running.
Q. Coach Donovan, once upon a time you had that same title that Coach Stevens has now, which is best young coach. I wonder, what do you think of that title for Coach Stevens, and is there any burden that comes with that title of being the great young coach?
COACH DONOVAN: You know, I've never looked at it that way as it relates to age. I think a lot of times it's what you're exposed to and what you have a chance to experience. And Brad has been around a lot of terrific people, a lot of terrific coaches, and he's a terrific coach himself. And I think a lot of times people can label somebody based on their age, and I don't think that that's fair to Brad. Brad has been a terrific coach, you know, before he made it to the national championship game a year ago. And he was a terrific coach before last year started. I think the one thing I respect and admire about Brad in getting to know him is he's got a great passion and enthusiasm for the game and for coaching, and I also think he has a tireless and relentless attitude to try to get better and improve. And he loves the game.
But a lot of times people look at someone's age and at what point are you past young? Are you calling me old now, because I don't feel like I'm that old, you know. (Laughter).
But maybe because he hasn't been a head coach for a long time, he's been around the game for a long time, and he's worked very, very hard. And I think Brad will tell you, too, besides his knowledge and his expertise in the game, you know, he's done a terrific job and his staff has done a terrific job recruiting some very, very good players, and maybe some players that really evolved out to be special.
Chandler mentioned Gordon Hayward last year. When last year started, Gordon Hayward wasn't on anybody's radar screen. He gotten a lot better. So I think it's a combination of guys coaching and the players buying in and everybody being together on the same page going off the same goals and everybody is focused, and I think Brad has done a terrific job with his teams.
Q. This is for Chandler and also for Erving. What is it about you guys? All five of you guys were big scorers, et cetera, in high school. What is it about you guys that enables you collectively as a team to buy into a system where really there are no scoring stars, everybody scores 10, 11, 12, 13 points a game?
CHANDLER PARSONS: I think we all understand that we're willing to do whatever it takes for us to win. Any given night, anybody can score. I don't think there's any selfishness and we just love playing with each other and our chemistry on and off the court is great. And like I said, we play very unselfish and it doesn't matter who's scoring, just whoever is open gets the ball, and we're not worried about that stuff, we're just worried about winning.
ERVING WALKER: I would say just, you know, listening to coach and telling us this is the best way. We all bought into it, and it's clearly working for us now, and we've just got to keep doing it and stay together as a team.
Q. Chandler and Erving, back to the close games, is there a different feel for you guys on the court in the huddle at the end of those close games this year as opposed to last year when you didn't have the success?
CHANDLER PARSONS: I mean, I think we're confident. I think we were confident last year, but I think this year we're doing a better job of staying focused and keeping our composure and understanding what's there on offense and not forcing anything. And we understand that when we need to get a stop, we have to step up and get a stop together. I think we're just very confident at the end of games and very comfortable in those situations.
ERVING WALKER: Basically the same he said. I mean, we were confident last year, but this year I just feel like we've got a much better understanding. Defense is the most important thing, and we've gotten a lot better at that, Alex, Vernon and Chandler getting those rebounds that we need in the clutch situations that maybe we didn't get last year.
Q. Coach Donovan, Brad said that he gave you a call earlier this year when his team was stuck in a little bit of a rut and it was for advice post-Final Four, post-championship game appearance. Can you sum up what words you gave him?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, you know, I think a lot of times when you're coaching, it's kind of like a lot of times when you first become a parent or you first get married. There's never like a book or advice on how to do through it.
A lot of times when you experience what Brad experienced with his team, there are residual effects, and there's baggage that comes with it after it's all over and done with. We had a chance just to talk just about those things.
In 2006, that group of guys came back, and we kind of had to deal with the baggage that came with that and had to deal with the baggage in 2000 getting knocked out by Michigan State.
Like, there's things that happen that you have to carry over, and I think Brad was just talking to me just about his team, and he just wanted to know maybe some experiences. I've known Brad for a long time and I would consider him a good friend. He comes down to our clinic every summer, he's on our campus and we've spent a lot of time together.
So it was one of those things where he was just reaching out looking to share ideas, and you know what, he shares ideas with me, too. We bounce different things off each other, and it's great when you get a chance to be able to talk to someone like that.
Q. Vernon and Alex, last night you knocked Jimmer out of the tournament. Tomorrow night you're playing Butler who everybody embraced last year as a Cinderella. Do you look at yourselves as the bad guys and do you like being the bad guys?
ALEX TYUS: I don't think we really think about that. I think we just concentrate on what we have to do to win the game. We're really excited about the challenge.
VERNON MACKLIN: Yeah, I don't think we're labeled as the "bad guys." I think we've just got to go out there and worry about us and execute our plays on offense and defense because we play against two great teams and Butler is a great team on offense and defense.
Q. Billy, you said that Brad is one of your good friends in the business. Can you remember the moment when you guys first made a connection where you actually had a chance to sit down and talk and sort of establish a connection that would have your relationship go on for as long as it has?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, when we played Butler, I think it was in 2007 maybe, you know, it was a hard fought game. I think that game was to go to the Elite Eight. Maybe it was after the Sweet 16. And Todd Lickliter was the head coach and he had moved on to Iowa and Brad took over. We like to invited different coaches on campus, and Brad was somebody that I think our coaching staff -- you know, playing against Butler in 2000, playing against them in '07 just respected the way they played, what they did, and we invited him to come to the clinic. He wanted to do it.
We had a lot of different coaches there in August, at the end of August, and that's probably when it started was probably three or four years ago. And from that point we've been able to see each other in July recruiting. And he reached out to me here during the year probably back in December or January and we talked.
But you know what happens is when you're coaching, you kind of get somewhat isolated. You're just dealing with your team, your staff and watching film, and maybe there's a couple people you reach out and you talk to every once in a while about different things that are going on, and Brad was somebody that just kind of reached out to me I think because of the relationship that got developed over several years of him coming down to the clinic.
Q. Erving and Chandler, how much have you guys had to rely on Billy and the staff this year because you've done a lot of things that your classes have not done before? And then how important is it with a one-day turnaround that they know what it's going to take to come out and have a good game tomorrow?
ERVING WALKER: We relied on them a lot. We've got all the trust in the world in him and he's done a great job. Out of all of us, he's the only one who's been in these situations and moving forward, and we just trust him and the whole coaching staff has done a great job with the one-day preps and we feel like the coach has got us ready to go tomorrow.
CHANDLER PARSONS: I would agree completely. I think our whole team has totally bought into what they're saying and what they're preaching to us. We're just trying to do exactly what they say because they've obviously had success and they obviously know what they're talking about.
Q. Billy, this is obviously a team that returns five starters and I know you touched on Butler's NCAA Tournament experience. Is this a match-up that kind of shows the value of building a team over time?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, you know, I think it was very, very unfair to Chandler and Alex in particular because they're still here and what they got thrown into as freshmen. Patric Young and this year's freshman class with Will and Casey, Cody Larson red-shirting, they've been able to observe and see a lot of different things, and I don't think Alex and Chandler were ever really afforded that opportunity.
The one thing, I've said this before, that I admired about them was with what we lost after 2007. Not only those three guys that were in the lottery, but you lose two second round draft picks and the all time three-point field goal maker in NCAA Tournament Lee Humphrey, and there's absolutely no leadership and no real personnel that played significant minutes coming back. I mean, they had to go through a very, very difficult process, and it started off with just understanding how to come to practice and work. And it really was an unfair situation for them.
But you know what, to their credit, you've seen a lot of really, really good programs that have lost the kind of good players that we lost that have really -- not even been able to get into postseason play and had losing records. These guys have never really lost. We maybe fell short a couple of years of getting into the NCAA tournament. We were on the cusp, we were right there. And they deserve a lot of credit because I hope through this experience, the one thing that they learn is they can't go on later in life -- there's going to be difficult situations they're going to face throughout their life because I think life only gets more difficult as you get older. But I'm hopeful that they can take this experience of starting off really at the ground floor and getting an understanding through their experiences of how they've grown and they've become resilient. I think the same thing can be said for Vernon, because Vernon didn't get a chance to play a lot at Georgetown. He sat out here and watched our team go to NIT the year he sat out. And he was kind of part of that, as well. So those guys have done a great job persevering and staying on top of it. I think Erving grew up in a way after his freshman year because he was in the NIT. I think Kenny came in and is a very high profile guy that gave our team a different dimension athletically and scoring and defending.
But I'm really happy for those guys because as a coach that really most rewarding thing is when you can see guys go through the experiences that you realize not only valuable in terms of winning games but hope experience they went valuable as they go on this in their life.
Q. Billy, prior to scouting the game last night, what preparation were you able to do for the possibility of a Butler-Wisconsin game?
COACH DONOVAN: You mean myself personally?
Q. Or your staff and how much you did with the players, if anything.
COACH DONOVAN: Well, what ends up happening is -- and I'm sure this is no different for Butler. Coming to New Orleans on Wednesday or Tuesday night, our staff had basically divided up. We had obviously somebody that was scouting BYU, but our staff had started watching Butler and Wisconsin right after we played UCLA.
So the first that these guys really heard anything in depth about Butler was really this morning because it was a late game by the time we got back from the arena and had those guys get some rest and get up this morning. So most of what they started to hear in depth and in detail really started this morning and then obviously continued on at practice today.
Q. You guys went through Tampa this year, you've been through Jacksonville in '06. Orlando is now looking to possibly host an NCAA. You played at the Amway Center this year. Do you feel like Orlando would be a righteous host to an NCAA? And how nice is it for you guys to know if you have a good year, you have three locations within two hours that you could be playing at?
COACH DONOVAN: That would be great. I mean, the Amway arena was a great arena. We had the chance to be the first college basketball team along with Central Florida playing in that arena. You know, it would be a great venue. And I think a lot of these pro arenas that are being built now are really state of the art. We really didn't get a chance to get on a complete tour, but I can just tell you in terms of the atmosphere and the environment in that building, I think it would be terrific and it would be certainly great for basketball and the state of Florida, as you mentioned, Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville.
Q. Kenny, can you talk about Coach Donovan a little bit and what appealed to you about him when he was recruiting you, and how is he different from other coaches that you've had in your career?
KENNY BOYNTON: I think as a coach, when he was recruiting me in high school, he showed a lot of, I'm going to say -- he kept coming at me. He came to all my games in the summer, and I heard that he played at Providence. I watched some tapes on him, and I knew he was a guard, and he let his guards play. I watched Erving Walker his freshman year playing. He just lets his guards play freely and he had great success with the 2006 and 2007 national championship.
Q. Billy, the Butler coaches and players seem to be very even keeled or nonchalant with the Cinderella tag. I'm just wondering, as an opposing coach, do you feel that that program has risen above that tag because of the success that they've had?
COACH DONOVAN: You know, absolutely. I think one of the things that's happened in the NCAA Tournament that you're starting to see more and more of is you're starting to see the teams that maybe are non-BCS teams moving on and advancing in this tournament, yet several years ago in 2006 George Mason made it all the way to the Final Four.
Last year you had Butler making it to the national championship game. I think Butler has proven that they're as good as any program in the country. And you don't get to a national championship game or the amount of Sweet 16s that they've gotten to by just being a Cinderella story. That doesn't happen year after year.
They have done a terrific job, and I think you can go all the way back to Thad Matta, to Todd Lickliter, their athletic director was there right now, Barry Collier has done a great job, Brad has done a great job. They've got great tradition, a great basketball program. I don't think our basketball team at all looks at Butler as a Cinderella story. We look at them as being a terrific program who's got a great team, will be a great challenge for our group tomorrow. But I do think because of the NCAA Tournament and that label of Cinderella, people maybe want to put that on them. But I don't think anybody up here or our program feels that way at all. We realize that they've got a terrific program and have been as successful as any program for a long, long time.
Q. Alex, do you ever think about how your life might be different if you had not taken your name out of the NBA draft last year? And considering how much fun you seem to be having now, is this better?
ALEX TYUS: No, I really don't think about it too much. You know, I just try to stay in the moment, concentrate on what I have to do at that time. I'm really happy about where we're at right now, and I just want everything to just keep going on.
Q. This is actually for all the players, I guess. Every team that gets this far has a gut checkpoint in their season. I was wondering if December when you lost the two in-state schools was maybe a time when you had to refocus, if that was maybe the one point where you weren't playing very well, and what did you do to come out of that, what type of adjustments, any team meetings, anything that got you going?
VERNON MACKLIN: I mean, the coaching staff talked to us about our play, and we had to play hard and meet our expectations, and we also met as a team. The starting five seniors and the freshmen, we talked and we had to go hard in practice, and we wanted to fight to get what we wanted because we had a list of things we wanted to do before the season and we felt like we weren't doing those things, wasn't playing defense as well as we should, weren't sharing the ball as much as we should. Coach Donovan made sure we came back and played hard and did those things the next couple games.
ALEX TYUS: Yeah, I felt like we really didn't know who we were at the beginning of the season, and we've came a long way. I think we continued to get better, and we had to realize the things that we have to get better at, and we just made more of an effort to grow and get better as the season went on.
CHANDLER PARSONS: I would agree with both of them. I think those games we really grew as a team. I think it was really a humbling experience and I think we just understood that we needed to get back on track and work hard and stay together as a team.
ERVING WALKER: Yeah, I mean, I agree with everybody. Go ahead, Kenny. (Laughter).
KENNY BOYNTON: I agree with what they said. We had a team meeting and we just basically came together and said in order for us to get where we want to be, we have to play as a team, and that's what happened.
Q. Billy, you were talking about the Butler program. If you look at the recruiting pedigrees of their players next to you, what is it -- there's maybe not a lot of comparison. What is it about either the way they play or the coaching or whatever that enables them to go toe to toe with Pittsburgh, Wisconsin and now presumably you tomorrow night?
COACH DONOVAN: I think one thing stands out that they do as well as anybody in the country, and there's obviously a lot of things they do. But one thing they do very well that allows them to play against the teams they're talk physical team in the country. You know, people may look at them being from a non-BCS program and teams maybe being taller, maybe built bigger or stronger, it means absolutely nothing. They've got a tough, hard-nosed group of physical guys, and they take on physical confrontation, and they do a great job of initiating physical confrontation. And that's the way they play. And that has allowed them to do what they do.
And then I think on top of that, they've got very, very good players. They shoot the ball always well from the three-point line. They have a guy in Howard that they can throw the ball inside to. And they have a very, very terrific team, very good team.
But I think the one thing that stands out is how physical they are.
Q. Coach, I'll ask you the same thing I asked the players about. Was that the gut check time in December when you lost? And what did you see how you were playing them and adjustments or how you came out of that, period?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, you know, I think it was a combination of a couple things. The first thing was I didn't think that we handled success very well, and if you look at those losses, they came after maybe some teams that we were not expected or supposed to beat. One of them was after the Kansas State game down in Miami. They were ranked third in the country and we won the game. And we had a Sunday practice and played Jacksonville on Monday and lost that game.
Same thing happened, we were on the road at Florida State, went on the road at Florida State and came back and played Central Florida in Orlando and really were handily beat. And there was a couple things that were going on that I was able to see, and I told the guys after the Central Florida game that we have bigger problems than the fact that we didn't win this game. And the problems were they were not utilizing each other the right way, even like they did the year before. And I think what happens sometimes with young players, we got to the NCAA Tournament last year, we kind of got over that hurdle, and we had five starters back, and everybody was talking about all this different hype about our team to start the season, we were ranked in the Top 10. And I think what happens is players mentally get into a place of what they're going to do when the season starts, how they're going to play, what they're going to try to accomplish.
And I don't think our players are any different than anybody else's players. We've got three seniors that would love to play beyond college. We have young guys that want to play beyond college. And what happens is you can get into a mindset of what you think you need to do, not only to help your team but what you have to do to get to where you want to get to, and it wasn't selfishness, it was just more of a lack of awareness of how much they were not playing with each other, helping each other, and all they did during those times is they frustrated each other.
It would be like Alex Tyus is running the floor or he's wide open for a 15-foot jump shot and we had miss him. Boynton would be on the break and he'd be wide open and we'd miss him. Macklin would be posting up in the middle of the paint and we'd miss him. And what happened was it just kind of got into our team. They never, ever didn't get along as -- unbelievable chemistry off the floor. They all like each other a lot. But there was not good chemistry on the floor.
And then I think it took some humbling experiences to force them to look in the mirror to say, you know what, this is going to have to change and here are some things we're going to need to do differently. I don't think we're any different than maybe some things that Butler went through midway through the year trying to out some things when they came off of what they did a year ago. There was like what I call that residual, there's baggage that comes with that stuff, that if you're not smart enough and sharp enough to understand how to handle it -- we're fortunate, our schedule was so hard in the non-conference that our opponents forced that to flower. Because we could have really gone through the non-conference schedule and gotten to league play and we were dealing with those issues in January and instead we were able to deal with them in December which probably helped our team.
Q. Kind of the same thing I asked the guys, a little bit of what you're talking about, you're the only one who's been through this, this has all been new for these guys. How did you get them to the point of this is what it's going to take to get to where we want and maybe when did that happen?
COACH DONOVAN: It probably happened for the three seniors two and three years ago, because I think what happens with young players sometimes is they think they have an idea or understanding of what goes into winning. People talk about the close games, and someone may look at Erving Walker's three-point shot against Georgia or his drive or different things. It's not so much the shots; it's the loose balls that Erving Walker came down with last night in regulation that gave us a chance in regulation to win. I don't know if it would have been too good for our team to have to play defense against Fredette with 15 seconds on the clock. Anything can happen in that situation.
But Walker had the presence to come up with the loose ball. It's the defensive stops. It's helping each other. A lot of times -- we lost games not because of a shot going -- because shots are going to go in. It's the other things. It's covering for each other, it's rebounding the ball, it's executing and screening and doing the right things. It's understanding changing defenses or changing preparations or what we're doing at the end of situations. And it took those guys getting their heart broken, you know, for it to happen. I don't think in life -- something that you really, really care about a lot or want to be good at, until you've gotten your heart broken and your back gets put up against the wall where you're forced to fight to figure it out, you never really find out where you can go. And these guys' backs got put up against the wall because as you mentioned they lost some of those games.
We won two national championships, went to two NITs, and they're trying to figure it out, and it took them a while, that process took a while.
I think they have a much better understanding what goes into playing in these situations. That doesn't mean it's always going to work out in our favor, but there is a better understanding of what goes into winning at this level.
Q. Billy, do you think one reason you and Brad have become very good friends is because you see a little bit of yourself in him?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, you know, I always felt like when you're starting out, obviously Coach Pitino was somebody that I was around all the time, someone I talked to. And then I was fortunate when I was at Kentucky, Ralph Willard was there, Herb Sendek was there, Tubby Smith, Jeff Van Gundy coached me in college, Stu Jackson coached me in college, Gordy Chiesa, who was with Utah Jazz for a long time. So I was fortunate to be around a lot of really, really good coaches at a very young age. I was able to learn from a lot of different coaches.
And I always felt when I was younger that those guys always went out of their way to help, or if I had questions or talked to them about different things. They always went out of their way to help.
Through some of the things that have happened in our program, I've been able to get a chance to spend time with Bill Belichick or Tony LaRussa or Pat Riley because I love talking about different things that go into trying to compete at the highest level. And it's very interesting to listen to all of them talk. I've just always felt like my responsibility as a coach is to share. If I have experiences that I've gone through, been through, and in some way can help somebody else, I think that's my responsibility. The one thing I'll tell you sometimes coaches get into is they act like -- it's like all these secrets, and I've never believed in doing that. I think you need to share.
I'm not going to share our scouting report with Brad tonight, but when you're talking about things like that, I think you've got to give. I think you've got to try to help. And Brad is a great guy. He's a good person. And he's about the right things, and I think he coaches the right ways, and I respect and admire the way his teams play.
But I think as you go through different experiences -- that was the one thing I respected about Belichick or Coach Pitino or Pat Riley is just the extending to say, I want to talk to you, and them saying, sure, let's talk. All those guys, they've been wonderful, even Tony Dungy has been great. I've always admired that the coaches that have coached at the highest level in professional sports or college sports to me have been the most generous with their time and with sharing. And I've always felt like that's my job and my responsibility to any coach if they want to sit down and try to talk to me is to be there and help them in any way I can.
Q. Going back to Mike Miller's shot that beat Butler. From what you remember, did that play go exactly as you drew it up? Was Mike Miller the first option on that play?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, you know, it was a broken floor situation because they had missed a free throw. So there really wasn't necessarily a play that was on, but one of the things that we kind of tried to get into was a little bit of a dribble weave, and I think Mike a couple times his freshman year, may have been his sophomore year -- a couple times his sophomore year in those situations he had always kind of settled for a long jump shot. He's 6'9", and we had worked on just him putting the ball on the floor with his size, if he can get to the rim, great, and if he can't, he can make the extra pass and get someone else a shot. So it wasn't really a play as much as it was we kind of came down and Pa tried to drive, he couldn't, he kind of flipped it to Mike and Mike drove the ball down the lane. He made a runner and a floater, but it was not really anything that we diagrammed, it was more Mike probably making an individual play.
Q. Do you feel like the wise sage veteran coach now? And also, outside Florida do you feel like the accomplishments of your program have received the credit or praise or whatever you want to call it that's due of a program that's won a couple of national championships and been to Final Fours and those kinds of things?
COACH DONOVAN: Um, you hit me with a lot of questions there, so I'm going to try to remember them. The first one was do --
Q. Do you feel like a veteran coach?
COACH DONOVAN: You know what, I think the one thing in life that I've learned is the minute you stop trying to improve and get better and you think you've got everything figured out, that's about the time you probably get really, really humbled. I think I've got a strong appetite to want to get better and improve, and I think the way you improve and get better is by going through different experiences and learning through those experiences, and that's what I think it's about is that constant growth.
So I don't look at myself as being this old wise man. I've been blessed that I've been fortunate enough to experience some great, great things, and I've been able to experience some very heart breaking things with teams. That's what competition is all about. You're going to have that thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. That's what comes with it. But I think I'm always trying to get better and improve.
You know, I think a lot of times people want to label people. They're young, they're old, they're wise, they're smart, they're seasoned. It's not really about that, and I've never really looked at whether or not Florida or myself, do I get enough recognition or -- I love coaching. I love the game. You know, that's really for someone else to decide. We try to compete at a high level and we're trying to continue to compete at a high level. There's a lot of great coaching, a lot of great programs out there. There's a lot of parity out there right now. So that's not something that I really have focused too much on.
My main focus, and that's probably why Brad and I hit it off, is that I think that I see not necessarily myself in him, but I see a guy like me that's trying to get better and trying to improve as a coach, and that's what I think we're all trying to do. At least I think the best ones are always trying to get better. It's no different than players. Players are trying to get better.
You know, I'll never forget this. I played a very short period of time. It wasn't even a cup of coffee in the NBA, but I remember we had a back to back game and I came into Madison Square Garden and Larry Bird was in the league for a long time, and I couldn't believe it because there was a hockey game in the afternoon and we were playing and we had shoot-around at like 5:00, and it was like a 7:30 game. So we were going to walk through a few things as a back to back. They were piecing down Madison Square Garden and Bird is in there at like 4:45, 5:00 and there's nobody around and he's standing on a piece of wood shooting shots. And I just was like I couldn't believe it, like it registers like the really great ones, they understand the level of focus, the commitment and time that goes into it, and it made it pretty clear. He was going to go down as a Hall of Fame player. But he still had that drive to want to get better. And I think in life when you've got that drive, you genuinely have a better chance of reaching your potential.
Q. Two Florida teams remaining in the tournament. Do you root for a team like Florida State or do you look at them as a state rival that you recruit against and you would rather have this stage to yourself? And also, did you think it was just a matter of time before Leonard Hamilton turned it around at Florida State?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, I mean, it's a hard game for me just because Shaka is in the game and the guy worked for me, so there's an emotional attachment there with Shaka and wanting to see him do well.
But no, I don't ever root against Florida State. I think Leonard is a great guy. I like him. He's been in the state for a long time being at Miami and now at Florida State. I think he's done a terrific job. And they've got a very, very good program. And I think the more publicity there is for the state of Florida is always a positive. I've always believed that. And this one with Shaka, playing against him, there's an emotional attachment there, too.
Q. We talked about the Mike Miller shot, but actually is it accurate to say that each time you guys have met Butler in the tournament it's been pretty pivotal for the program because of what was at stake and the victories and what it propelled you to?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, I mean, I think so. A lot of times your program is based a lot of times on perception of what happens in the NCAA Tournament. You know, it's -- the further you advance, the more, quote-unquote, it helps your program. But you know what, two national championships didn't help us a whole lot because we went to two NITs right after that.
What happens is because the ebb and flow of time, when time passes by, if you don't do something enough, it's like, well, this is the perception or that's the perception. The perception is constantly changing, you know. And I think that what you try to do is try to take the experiences your players go through and utilize them to try to help make you better.
Certainly this is a great opportunity for Butler and for Florida because both teams are playing to go to the next step of this NCAA Tournament, which is the Final Four. And a lot of times perception-wise is when you get there, everything else is gravy, and I never, ever believed that.
I think -- Mike asked me, playing UCLA is -- well, if you get to the Sweet 16, this is the perception. Any time you lose in this tournament, it's a hard thing to deal with, and it's a hard pill to swallow because you know the excitement and you want to keep playing because you're playing for a championship. Every game you play is for a championship.
Just want to try to keep moving on and us getting better as a team. And not worrying about, like you said, the perception part. You can't really control that. If you win a lot, your perception is going to be great. And if you lose a lot, your perception is going to be bad.
Q. The guys up here earlier said that they were just as confident at the end of a close game last year as they are this year even though they didn't have maybe as much success last year with it. Do you buy that, and have you seen anything different when you look at them in the huddle and on the bench in close games? Do you see anything different in their eyes? Do they seem more confident?
COACH DONOVAN: No, I think that they were confident last year. We had some games -- Chandler made a couple, the 75-footer against NC State was lucky. I don't care if he says he felt like it was going in when it left his hand. I don't buy that. But he shot the ball confidently against South Carolina.
We had some victories in some close situations, so I do think that there was a level of confidence there. But there was also a couple games where, you know, we missed some shots. We missed some shots, some pretty good looks with the opportunity to win.
I take the BYU game a year ago, I mean Chandler got a pretty decent look, but we had a chance to stop Fredette up to it and we didn't get quite there and gave him a drive for the basket. Jackson Emery made us a big three and we were up by four with a minute and a half to go. It just seems we have a better understanding of more of an urgency in understanding how fragile it all is. Much better understanding of that.
Q. Billy, in the development of this team this season, you were talking about they were developing their chemistry on the court. Was there a point when all of a sudden you started thinking, I think they're starting to get it? And would you talk about the journey that it's been with them since them and your confidence in their chemistry on the court, how it's grown?
COACH DONOVAN: I think that the three experiences that happened where I mentioned earlier after losing to Jacksonville and then central Florida after big wins, I think we experienced that one other time. I think we may have beat Tennessee on the road in overtime, and we came back and we lost to South Carolina. And then I think we got to a point there where, are we really learning about how to handle winning? Because I always felt this group was pretty resilient. When they got knocked down, I could expect them to come back and fight and try to do the best job they do.
But there's always, I think, a human element of that when you have a big victory or something positive happens, there's a feeling of I want to -- hey, let's enjoy this. I've always been fascinated, when you win a game, you're too busy celebrating and all excited. But when you lose, all you do is you pick apart all the things you did wrong in a loss. And I just tried to get those guys to a point of making them talk about during the course of the year when we're going through the SEC, why are we winning. Then we need to put our focus on those things and we need to move forward on those things, and that was a challenging part, and I think going through those three games where we had some big wins and followed up with a difficult loss, I think that they learned from that, and that experience helped them.
Q. Two quick things: One, you talked about this last night, you talked about it a little more today. The turnover now in college basketball with players going pro, can you talk about how that's affected the sport and the way you put your teams together, coach your teams? And then the second part of my question would be do you ever have any pangs in the back of your mind for the NBA, having made that decision in 2007?
COACH DONOVAN: I think that in today's day and age, I think it would make our game a lot better if they would allow these guys to leave out of high school. And whether or not they're emotionally prepared or not prepared, and I think everybody would agree if somebody stayed in school and matured and went through the process of being a college athlete and getting their degree and all those things, that sounds all well and good, but with the amount of money these guys are able to make, I think a lot of basketball players are looking at it as I've got a window that I've got an opportunity to earn a lot, a lot of money. And I just think in our game, if we would allow those players in high school that want to pursue that -- because I also think, too, you're putting the athletes in a very, very risky situation in terms of health. And what I mean by that is you could have someone that maybe is a freshman or a sophomore that's clearly a first round draft pick and all of a sudden the guy blows out his knee and that can all change. So there is a lot of luck that goes involved in recruiting.
When I say "luck," not luck in terms of who you're signing but luck on how your team looks year after year because sometimes you cannot forecast what's going to happen inside your team. I never thought that Marreese Speights would leave after his sophomore year, and he did and he had the opportunity to go, and I really didn't have a problem with it, but going in the year I didn't know if it was going to be able to happen. I'm sure Brad Stevens probably felt the same way about Gordon Hayward when the season started, if someone told him he was going to get drafted or he wasn't going to get drafted. I never thought Joakim Noah after his freshman year would even have a chance to be a first round draft pick after going into his sophomore year. He may have been the first player taken in the draft. It's really hard to forecast when those things are going to happen.
But I do think if we just let those guys go out of high school, you may see people in college staying a little bit longer. I would love to see kids stay for three years in college, but I don't know if that's realistic or fair because sometimes when opportunity knocks, I think you've got to try to take advantage of that.
The last question, I'm sorry?
Q. Do you ever have any NBA pangs?
COACH DONOVAN: I think the one thing that was always intriguing to me about the NBA is that I think for any coach you love the game of basketball and you're dealing with basketball all the time. When this ends and you hope it goes on further, ten days, but whenever this ends, that's it, I'm done dealing with our guys really. Maybe I can get on the floor a little bit, but really from April all the way through when school starts, I'm never really allowed to be with these guys. I'm hopeful that some of that stuff will change because there's this perception that they get developed in college. Well, in the NBA, their staffs are able to spend more time with their guys than we are, and that's when you see a lot of these kids flying to different places to work out because we can't go down on the floor and work with them. That was just the intrigue was just the basketball 24/7 all year long, and I think when you love the game that's always intriguing.
But I made a decision that I wanted to try to continually try to build Florida. I'm excited where I'm at and happy to be where I'm at, and it's been a great journey and a process that I've learned from.
Q. How long do you want to do this, and what kind of numbers do you think you can get to in terms of personal wins?
COACH DONOVAN: Oh, I have no idea. You know, as long as I continue to love it and enjoy it, you know -- I talked to Urban Meyer about this. When you have a chance to be a part of two national championships, you realize that the trophy brings no value to you, and what I mean by that is there's a perception publicly that all of a sudden your life is going to change, okay, and maybe there's more attention, maybe you can go on more talk shows or TV shows, but really it doesn't necessarily bring this value to your life. It's an illusion.
And what you find out is where the joy is is in coaching, is going through the process with a group of guys where you're trying to accomplish something bigger than yourself that you cannot accomplish by yourself. I couldn't accomplish a national championship by myself. It took an administration, it took players, it took assistant coaches. That is the fun part, when everybody gets together on a similar cause and focus, and all of a sudden now you make that ascent to doing something special and you realize you're a part of something special because you realize I can't do this by myself.
So how long? As long as I feel like that, I would love to do it. I don't know necessarily how many wins I can get. It probably all depends on how many -- if I continue to have pretty good players. You know, that helps.
COACH DONOVAN: 900? I don't know how long that would take me. I hope I'm still alive.
Q. I figure 20 wins and 25 wins a year, you can be almost to 900.
COACH DONOVAN: I mean, I'm exhausted right now and you're talking about 25 more years. (Laughter).
Q. No, 20 more years.
COACH DONOVAN: You know, I love coaching. I love the game. I hope I can do it for a while longer. I really, really enjoy it. I love doing what I'm doing and I've been fortunate to have a great administration and great kids to coach.
Q. Two-part question. You remember Erving's first trip down there. Did he have to sell you? You're not afraid to play small guards, but he was, what, 5'2"?
COACH DONOVAN: He was probably 5'4". Yeah, his high school coach I've known for a long, long time. I was playing CYO basketball in elementary school when he was coaching, and obviously Bob Oliva was at Christ the King for a while. He told me about this kid and he was going to come down for camp for a couple days and he was going to come with his assistant coach, and ended up coming down there. I called him on the phone, I was like you've got to be kidding me. I mean, like how about sending me like Derrick Phelps and Khalid Reeves and guys like that. I mean, call me when you've got one of those guys. But I know we're buddies here and you're trying to have me take a 5'4" guard. I think he may have been a sophomore at that time. He's like, Billy, I'm telling you this kid is tough, he makes big shots, he's a great competitor, you're going to love him. So I kind of followed him because I knew Erving had a strong interest, and then all of a sudden I started to watch the guy and he's playing against Rice, Kemba Walker, playing against a lot of really good players in New York City and saw him on the AAU circuit and there was something about him that he learned to overcome his size, and then he obviously had a huge growth spurt and he went from about 5'4" to about 5'8". (Laughter).
But he ended up -- I think it's the internal things that make up Erving Walker. It's not the physical attributes, it's the internal things, his mind, his understanding, his competitiveness. He's had to overcome to be a good player.
Q. Obviously a lot has been made about the state of New York basketball. Tomorrow there's going to be three New York kids, Mo Mo and Kemba and Erving, all playing the point guard position for their teams in the final eight. What does that say about the style of play or the development of point guards from that city?
COACH DONOVAN: You know, I think one of the things that happened even 30 years ago when I was playing, you had Mark Jackson and you had Kenny Smith and you had Pearl Washington and Kenny Hutchinson and Kenny Anderson, and these guys -- they probably got so much hype because they were New York City guards that they were all, quote-unquote, these McDonald All-Americans, best player in America, they were in that talk. My Kemba Walker I know was a highly profiled kid pretty much coming out, but Erving wasn't, Mo Mo Jones wasn't. But I think a lot of times you get more attention and recognition through winning than you do anything else, and I think Mo Mo Jones and Erving Walker and Kemba Walker have understood that they really have impacted their teams winning.
When you look at just straight-up pure talent like there was for a long, long time there, maybe they don't match up necessarily, Kemba is probably somebody that does. He's obviously terrific. And I think Erving Walker and Mo Mo Jones are, but they're not going to be at that talent level, but those guys have figured out a way to help their teams win.
Q. I want to ask you about Vernon. Obviously he was a little frustrated at Georgetown. What was the biggest thing he had to overcome when he got to Florida?
COACH DONOVAN: I think the biggest thing he needed to overcome was taking full responsibility for himself. I think any time you're leaving a situation, it's very, very easy to look at how you're being used, how you're being played. Like if you're really, really a good player, really, really good, doesn't make a difference what style system you're in, you play. You get yourself on the floor. I think Vernon got really humbled because it was the first time they had the 19 year old age limit in the NBA, he ended up probably thinking he was one and done but he's playing on a terrific front line with Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green and some other guys, and it was probably a wake-up call.
And then his sophomore year, some of those guys were still there, and they talked about the style of play, maybe a little bit different, needed to be more up and down for him, and John Thompson is a terrific coach and a great guy. I told Vernon, like listen, there's things that the coaching staff at Georgetown is asking you to do that I am going to ask you to do, too. And there's no way of getting around it. You've got to block out, you've got to rebound, you've got to defend. You're going to have to screen, you're going to have to do things.
And I think the one thing that Vernon -- and I really respect and admire him because there were some things that went on that he even acknowledged that he needed to handle differently that he did. I think that was just probably a sign of him being young and probably frustrated. Because you know, I don't know if a lot of times people can really identify with somebody that has the, quote-unquote, big ticket, next Kevin Garnett and that label, and now all of a sudden you're not living up to it and now you get kind of labeled as maybe a bust, you're not as good. There's mental baggage that comes with dealing with that. And I think that was maybe Vernon's way of handling it was by not taking responsibility.
But I give him credit because when I was recruiting him, he had nothing but great things to say about John Thompson and their staff as people. I think he really, really appreciated his opportunity there, but I think his confidence was so down because he wasn't living up to these expectations. It really took him some time to get through that and figure out what he needed to do as a player.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports