Donovan knew preseason FGCU was good

FGCU's Chase Fieler is soaring with the Eagles

They may have been a surprise team from the early going for most of America, but not Billy Donovan. His friendship with Florida Gulf Coast University head coach Andy Enfield almost led to a preseason match-up between the schools. Instead, the head Gator was more worried about facing a team the Eagles just upset in the tourney. Donovan knew back then this team from SW Florida was really good.

Billy Donovan was trying to prepare his team for an upcoming game against highly ranked Georgetown at the beginning of the season. He had an option to play a team similar in style to Georgetown in Rollins College or a fast break up-tempo team like we all know in FGCU.

Donovan chose the former because of the ability that Rollins afforded in style of play. As it turns out, the game with Georgetown never finished and was cancelled, and instead his team will play the other option in the NCAA's Sweet-16 match-up in Dallas on Friday.

"Andy called me back in September or October wanting to try and scrimmage," Donovan said of FGCU's coach. "At that time we were looking at a couple of options and they were one. One of the things I was looking for as a coach was that our first game was against Georgetown and having Air Force on the schedule as well it was a unique style of play that we don't normally see. At that time I decided to play against Rollins in a scrimmage to get us prepared for the Georgetown game.

But during those conversations, Donovan gleaned a little knowledge about the Eagles. Their coach was very high on his team and having known Enfield for quite some time through the coaching ranks, he believed his good friend and coaching counterpart.

"I am not one bit surprised about the year they had," Donovan said. "When I had a conversation with him, he was telling me about how really good they were, how special he thought his team could be, they had a lot of good players. I am not one bit surprised based on my conversation with him in early October."

The two head coaches have known each other a while and use a lot of the same philosophies in their game planning and style of play.

I have obviously known Andy for a long time working with the Celtics, then he went to Florida State and just him being in the state here for a while," Donovan said. "I have always had a good relationship with Andy as a person and a coach and he has obviously done a great job there."

Enfield's travels and different stops on the coaching circuit will certainly allow him to create his own niche and overall style of play a little different from others.

"When you take over as a head coach, there are probably some things you will take offensively and defensively from people you have worked with," the Florida skipper said. "Ultimately it will come full circle and you will end up playing the best way you see your team playing. I am sure his experiences with Coach Pitino, with Leonard Hamilton and the different places he's been, he will take some of those things and his own ideas and put that into his program as well.

"They do a lot of different things very well."

Donovan isn't fooled by the skid marks on the Eagles basketball record this year. They lost to the likes of Maine, Lipscomb twice, East Tennessee State, and Stetson. Yet finished second in the Atlantic Sun conference, won the A-Sun Conference Tournament, and have been able to knock off Sweet-16 bound Miami and top ten Georgetown on the way to a 26-10 record.

The head Gator knows all too well about not meeting expectations night in and night out.

"I think a lot of teams have some very high and low moments," Donovan said. "We went through them ourselves. I remember going back to the beginning of the year and my conversations with Andy and he was really excited about his team. He thought they were really good. Obviously it came full circle when they beat Miami.

"They are just a really good team and as good as anybody we will play this year. You can't just go in and beat Miami, a top five team all year, and Georgetown, a top five team, unless you're really good. You don't get to the Sweet-16 unless you're really good.

"The only thing surprising to me about them is that they were a 15-seed. They are way better than that. For us to watch them on film, they play at a very high level and played exceptional in the post-season."

According to Donovan and after watching film on the Eagles, they are an all-around quality team.

"Part of being a good team… you have to be good at a lot of things, you can't just be good at one thing," he said.

"They shoot the three really well. They have a point guard (Brett Comer) that has terrific vision, who can see the floor and get the ball where it needs to go. They are a high steal team with over 10 steals a game. They are very active with their hands. They are a great finishing team on the fast break. They have front court players that are active and athletic and can block shots. They can score the basketball from five different positions.

"Defensively they change defenses, they give you match-up zone, they play man-to-man, and they give you full court press. All of those things they do at a very high level."

The film tells the tale for his team and Donovan is confident that his team sees what the Eagles are capable of and won't buy into the 15-seed and the "Cinderella" tag a lot of folks are pinning on FGCU.

"I think going to any game right now the country may give a team a label, but we never do that," Donovan said. "We are looking at a team on film and what they do and the things we have to do against them. We have to prepare for this game like any other game. This is a really good team that is playing exceptionally well and is playing as well as any team in the country right now.

"The seeding doesn't mean anything. When the ball goes up in the air you are going to have two teams playing against each other. This is a team we will have to play well to move on and advance. As I said earlier it is a team that knocked off Miami, beat Georgetown, beat San Diego State. They won their conference Championship basically on the road. You don't do those things unless you are really good."

And one thing as we have seen by the explosion of high lights from their games is the propensity for FGCU to dunk the ball, especially in transition. The home town of Fort Myers has now been dubbed ‘Dunk City" and these guys know how to fast break and slam it with the best of them. Donovan knows a lot of it is from fast-break basketball.

"The one thing that I will say is that they are outstanding in transition," he said. "They get out on the break and push it really hard. Their point guard (Comer) is a great assist guy. He reminds me a lot of (Missouri's) Phil Pressey, not so much the build, but the vision that he has. He is one of the best passers in the country. When you have a point guard that has that kind of vision and can make pin-point passes like that, it takes their team to a different level.

"Where they do get a lot of those lobs, we have to get back in transition, taking care of the basketball, and those kind of things. When they get out and use their speed and quickness, they are very good. They are really really good at getting out on the break and get the ball up by the rim for their athletic front court guys to go up and finish."

All of this said, don't expect Florida to change style of play. The Gators want to run and they want to force things on defense. Of course things could change in the game, but expect Donovan's team to try and force tempo if they can which is what they try and do in every game.

"I think this time of year you are going to always play to your style and system," Donovan said. "We like to fast break and they like to fast break. I don't think anyone this time of year is going to go away from their identity and who they are. I think Florida Gulf Coast is going to play to their identity and we'll play to our identity."

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