THE FRESHMEN HAVE TO CONTINUE TO IMPROVE
In Florida’s 84-66 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday, the Gators’ five freshmen (Scottie Lewis, Tre Mann, Omar Payne, Ques Glover and Jason Jitoboh) combined for 33 points, 14 rebounds, six assists, two steals and five blocked shots. Their greatest impact was in the first half when foul trouble sent Andrew Nembhard and Keyontae Johnson to the bench early with foul trouble. Because Kerry Blackshear Jr. had a foul and Mike White didn’t want him to pick up a second in the first half, there were times when the Gators had four freshmen on the court. The kids played grown-up basketball as UF took a 48-19 lead at the intermission.
The second half wasn’t nearly as impressive as the first but in some respects that’s understandable. It’s hard to keep focus with a bunch of kids when you have what is essentially an insurmountable lead. What White saw against Vanderbilt was the kind of overall contribution that he’s going to need the rest of the way as the Gators (16-9, 8-4 SEC) try to earn a double bye at the SEC Tournament and play their way off the NCAA Tournament bubble.
At his Monday press conference, White was asked if the freshmen are where they need to be at this point of the season.
“It’s all relative depending on where you want to be,” White replied. “If we’re going to make a lot of noise at the end of the season, no. We’ve got a ways to go but am I pleased with the development of our freshmen? Yeah, somewhat pleased, certain guys more so than others but collectively, we’ve made a jump with those guys. The attitude has been pretty good. The worth ethic has been good. I think we’ve had more buy-in lately, more connectivity. A bit part of that are the freshmen and how they handle coming into a game and not reverting back to how they affected a game for their high school team or their AAU team. It’s I’ve got to play a role on this team, I can’t hurt us. I’ve got to get into the flow. I’ve got to take our shot. We’ve got to follow through on the scouting report. So, we’re growing.”
The freshmen have to continue their growth tonight when a desperate (16-9, 4-8 SEC) Arkansas comes to town to face the Gators at the O-Dome (7 p.m., ESPNU). The Razorbacks have lost four in a row and seven of their last nine, going from a team expected to easily make the NCAA field to one that needs some wins in a hurry to prevent another trip to the NIT.
This is a game the Gators can win if they play solid defense, particularly on Arkansas guards Mason Jones (20.8 points, 6.0 rebounds) and Jimmy Whitt Jr. (14.6 points, 4.8 rebounds). The Gators can’t fall in love with the three-ball as defending the deep shot is what the Razorbacks do better than anyone in the country, but if they move the ball, make the extra pass and use their size advantage on the interior, the Gators should win. Especially if the kids play like they did Saturday night.
SEC BASKETBALL Tuesday’s games Arkansas (16-9, 4-8 SEC) at FLORIDA (16-9, 8-4 SEC), ESPNU Vanderbilt (9-16, 1-11 SEC) at Tennessee (14-11, 6-6 SEC), SEC Network Ole Miss (13-12, 4-8 SEC) at Missouri (12-13, 4-8 SEC), SEC Network #10 Kentucky (20-5, 10-2 SEC) at LSU (18-7, 9-3 SEC), ESPN
Wednesday’s games #13 Auburn (22-3, 9-3 SEC) at Georgia (12-13, 2-10 SEC), ESPN2 Texas A&M (12-12, 6-6 SEC) at Alabama (14-11, 6-6 SEC), SEC Network South Carolina (16-9, 8-4 SEC) at Mississippi State (16-9, 7-5 SEC), SEC Network
TUESDAY THOUGHTS ABOUT BILLY DONOVAN
Of all the college basketball coaches in the last 30 years who decided to ply their trade to the pay for play ranks, Billy Donovan stands front and center as the most successful (60.5% wins, four playoffs in four years), remarkable since he’s lost three of the NBA’s biggest superstars to free agency or trades. With a boatload of first and second round draft picks coming his way as a result of shrewd trading by the Oklahoma City Thunder management, Donovan could easily become the only coach in history who won NCAA championships as well as a title in the NBA.
There is a reason why Billy has been so successful. Al Horford pointed it out this past Saturday night prior to the University of Florida honoring Donovan by naming the O-Dome court after him.
“What Coach Donovan has never done is make it about himself,” Horford said. “He has always made it about his players and the team. He can make you want to be part of something bigger than yourself.”
By making it all about his players and the team, Billy was able to allow Joakim Noah to suck all the oxygen out of a room by his mere presence without hurting the concept of the team. Jo had to be Jo and Billy was able to let that happen while at the same time appealing to Noah’s sense of belonging. Noah wanted and needed to be a part of something even bigger than his enormous personality. Donovan’s concept of five guys on the floor playing as one made that possible. Jo could be Jo and still be the good teammate who didn’t care who scored or did what as long as the team won.
If you want to know the real legacy of Billy Donovan the basketball coach, it’s about getting players to embrace the concept of being a part of something greater than themselves. Florida never outrecruited blueblood programs like Duke, North Carolina and Kansas but the Gators won championships with teams that believed they were the sum of all the parts.
One final note: The starters for the 2006-07 back-to-back national champions were Noah, Horford, Corey Brewer, Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey. Brewer was a 5-star that Kentucky wasn’t interested in even though his home was two hours from Rupp Arena. An SEC head coach told Donovan he would be fortunate if Horford could contribute by his junior year. Other prominent coaches told him Noah would never make it. Taurean Green was Florida’s third choice for point guard in the 2004 class, getting his Florida offer after Jordan Farmar (UCLA) and Darius Washington (Memphis) chose someplace else. Lee Humphrey wasn’t even offered by Tennessee, just an hour from his hometown.
GOOD QUOTES FOR MONDAY From Seth Davis of The Athletic, an unidentified SEC basketball coach speaking out about what he sees of the Florida Gators: “Their two freshmen, Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann, came in as McDonald’s All-Americans, but they haven’t lived up to that. Mann doesn’t impact the game, and he’s not very tough. They’re good college players, but they’re not the type who can come in and really impact the game in a huge way. They have limited depth. Kerry Blackshear is a good college player, but he’s not what people think. He’s not very athletic. He’s smart, but he’s not a shot blocker. He struggles with his back to the basket. You just have to try to take away his angles, because he’s not a guy who will jump over you and make shots. Mike White is a really good coach, but his talent was overrated.”
From ESPN, Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner vents about how Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred didn’t go far enough in doling out the punishment to the Houston Astros for their sign-stealing scandal: “Now anyone who goes forward and cheats to win a World Series, they can live with themselves knowing that, ‘Oh, it’s OK … we’ll cheat in the World Series and bring the title back to L.A. Screw [manager] Dave Roberts and score [general manager] Andrew [Friedman]. It’s just those guys losing their jobs. I still get to be called a champion the rest of my life.’ So the precedent was set by him yesterday in this case.”
MORE TUESDAY STUFF
(1) John Beilein is the latest college coach who should have never ventured into the NBA. The former Michigan coach may be forced to resign this week by the Cleveland Cadavers, who are currently mired in last place in the NBA Eastern Division with the second worst record (14-40, only the Golden State Warriors are worse) in the entire league. Beilein is in the first year of a 5-year deal with the Cadavers so he’ll get the full buyout when the canning takes place. Because of his age (going on 67) many college athletic directors will be hesitant to hire him but Beilein is such a straight arrow that he might find a nice landing spot at a place like Arizona, Southern Cal, LSU, Kansas or Oregon where the NCAA shoe is about to drop like a 10-ton boulder.
(2) Long-time NFL expert Peter King offers the following landing destinations that make the most sense for NFL free agent quarterbacks: (1) Tom Brady: remain with New England; (2) Drew Brees: remain with New Orleans; (3) Taysom Hill: remain with New Orleans as the successor to Brees; (4) Teddy Bridgewater: Tampa Bay; (5) Phillip Rivers: Indianapolis; (6) Ryan Tannehill: remain with Tennessee; (7) Cam Newton: Los Angeles Chargers. King also offered these predictions about draftable QBs: (1) Joe Burrow to Cincinnati; (2) Tua Tagovailoa to Miami unless the Dolphins trade the pick.
(3) The Atlantic Coast Conference Monday backed a Big Ten proposal that will allow all undergraduates in any sport to transfer once without having to sit out. Currently, football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball and hockey players have to sit a year unless they get a waiver but the new proposal will eliminate those restrictions. Under the proposal, a player making a second transfer would be required to sit out and there would be no waivers allowed. This is a much-needed proposal since it would eliminate the hypocrisy of coaches being able to come and go as they please while athletes are stuck where they are. It would also eliminate the hypocrisy in the waiver process where kids who can afford a good attorney (see Justin Fields; see Tate Martell) routinely beat the system.
(4) Former Gator tight end Jordan Reed is expected to be released by the Washington Redskins this week. He suffered a concussion in an exhibition game against the Atlanta Falcons and never was cleared from the concussion protocol. He’s never played a full NFL season and has suffered several concussions. I know how players love the game and I realize there aren’t many jobs out there that pay the kind of money you make playing in the NFL, but there comes a time when you have to think about life beyond football and this is one of those times.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, on ESPN’s First Take with Stephen A. Smith, ripped into accusations by Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett that he only swung his helmet at helmet-less Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph after Rudolph used a racist slur. Tomlin pointed out that no one on the Browns or the Steelers has corroborated Garrett’s accusation … As if the Houston Astros need any more bad publicity with the continued fallout from the sign-stealing scandal, relief pitcher Francis Martes was suspended for 162 games for testing positive a second time for a performance enhancing substance. Martes tested positive for Boldenone, which is commonly used on horses … In the Rising Stars Challenge at the NBA All-Star Game in Chicago, Zion Williamson bent the rim with a hard dunk. Bending is pretty powerful, but pales in comparison to Wilt Chamberlain breaking a rim in half with a dunk back in the 1960s ... Mickey Wright died. In her incredible LPGA career, she won 82 tournaments including 13 majors. She was 85.