The two programs square off Friday night and Florida will not be the crowd favorite as FGCU is everyone’s Cinderella remaining in the NCAA Tournament.
Here is Coach Billy Donovan talking about the gators upcoming opponent transcribed for you. Or you can watch the video below.
COACH DONOVAN: We're really excited to have the opportunity to continue to play. Excited about playing against Florida Gulf Coast and congratulations to them advancing, as well. It should be an exciting game tomorrow. And I know our guys are looking forward to the challenge and it should be a great one for us.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about Florida Gulf Coast and obviously when you were at Marshall you kind of had similar teams. Is there something engaging about them to you, too, do you want to rush out and buy a T shirt, yourself?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, I think because they're in the state of Florida and obviously have a relationship with Andy when he was an assistant coach at Florida State. He even mentioned to me early in the year he thought his team was going to be good this year, they had some high quality players.
So for the people in the state of Florida their success is not really something surprising. Maybe for the country because people just are starting to hear about them nationally.
But being in the state of Florida, they beat Miami earlier in the year. They played a difficult schedule. They've traveled to Iowa State. They traveled to Duke. I think one of the most impressive wins they had is having to go to Mercer in a conference tournament championship game and win on the road to advance to the NCAA tournament.
And then obviously we opened up with Georgetown this year and it got canceled because we were on the ship. But I certainly know how good Georgetown is. And obviously San Diego State the last several years, and Steve Fisher has been terrific.
So I think our staff, our players, totally understand how good they are. And we've had a chance to follow them.
Q. Obviously Florida Gulf Coast has not been in this position. They went back to campus and had to deal with the hoopla and all the distractions. You stayed in Texas. Your team has obviously been here before. Talk about the focus, and are they drawing on what they've been through before?
COACH DONOVAN: For us with the travel, the way it worked out it would have been really, really difficult for our guys going back and forth. And we're fortunate enough that with our academic advisor and having time, our guys have been able to kind of take care of their schoolwork while we've been away from Gainesville.
We've kind of had to take a day off, like a normal week, on Monday. We practiced Tuesday, Wednesday, today to get prepared. I think for our guys, we kind of go into every single game with kind of the same mentality. There's a level of preparation that's got to go into it.
I can't say that we really have done a whole lot different than last week or going into the SEC tournament. We're going to try to prepare as best we can for every team we're playing against.
Q. Earlier this week Brett Comer, one of their guards, suggested that if Florida Gulf Coast were to lose it's not a big deal. If the Gators were to lose, it is. Your reaction to that perspective?
COACH DONOVAN: Yeah, I mean, I didn't hear that, but, you know, for us right now, you know, both teams are playing for finality. And I would think that Florida Gulf Coast would like to advance in the tournament as much as we would.
So that's, to me I don't view it that way, at all. We've got to go out and compete and play. The name of the game right now this time of year is to try to survive, move on and advance. And I don't know if at any time you lose in this tournament is ever a good feeling. Whether it's the Elite 8 or the National Championship, the Sweet 16, the exciting part of it is to get the opportunity to play another day.
Q. What have you seen from Brett Comer on the floor with the way he distributes that you believe you can attack, will you try to get the ball out of his hands, maybe even attack him in the back court, to kind of bring him back to earth?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, again, he's done this all year long. For people that have not had a chance to see him play, he to me is one of the better passing point guards there is in college basketball. He's got good size, strong body, he sees a lot of different things. He reads defense as well as anybody I've seen.
We had a player several years ago at Florida named Nick Calathes, who had great vision, as well. And there's just a special ability and talent that he has in doing that. So, you know, we're going to have to really do a great job against him as best we can, and it can't be against one person, because if you start running two people at him, start rotating certain ways, he's really good at seeing and picking apart what he's doing. And for us, again, it's going to be a collective job by everybody.
Q. Can you talk about playing in this arena? You've coached in a lot of big arenas. This is huge. The floor is raised up, you've got a TV bigger than Tigert Hall hanging over the top of you. And dealing with that and dealing with sight lines and stuff like that?
COACH DONOVAN: I haven't been out there yet. We haven't had a chance to take the floor. I went through that a little bit as a player being in a league with Syracuse, playing in the Carrier Dome, the Final Four in New Orleans, playing in the Superdome.
I think nowadays these guys are so used to playing in some of these bigger venues. For a lot of years the SEC tournament was held in the Georgia Dome.
But it's great we get a chance today to go out there and shoot around and get at least familiar with the site, so to speak. But probably for every team playing it's a different and unique situation.
Q. 17 years, can you just kind of take us through the journey? You were Billy the kid and then you were Billy the champion and then Billy the mentor. What are you now and how long did you ever mean to stay this long?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, after the way it went the first two years, I just hoped they were going to have me back for a third.
No, I mean, someone always asks me, did you have some kind of plan or five year plan or ten year plan to try to turn the program around? I've never kind of lived like that. I've kind of lived day by day, so to speak, and trying to do the right things and work hard and try to hopefully make good decisions, in recruiting, coaching, things that need to be done inside the program.
I don't know when I first took the job if I ever knew I was going to be here 17 years. It's been a great ride, a lot of fun, it's been exciting. I've been around great quality people. I've had good staff members. I've coached some really good basketball players. It's been really it's hard to believe it's been 17 years.
It's hard for me to believe I've been out of college for 26 years. It goes by very fast. It's hard to believe I've got two kids in college and three that are driving. I don't feel that old, but I think when you start looking at it in terms like that, I'm starting to get a lot older.
But it's been a great ride. It's been a great journey. Obviously in anything you're at for a long period of time there's a lot of ups and downs. There's some very, very low moments. There's some very, very high moments. But in between it's been a really great experience for me.
Q. If you go all the way back to when you were a player, what do you remember about the magic of exceeding expectation in the tournament ride as well as coaching?
COACH DONOVAN: Yeah, I mean, it's such an exciting time. There's nothing like this, at all. Even if you're going through a regular season and maybe you get a great road victory that you weren't supposed to win or you're a complete underdog at home and you win a game, it's kind of exciting. And then you kind of move on to the next thing.
But I don't think anything ever compares emotionally, mentally, psychologically to just the NCAA tournament because the entire nation is captivated by it. The entire nation is looking at it.
It's something that's really enjoyable, really, really fun. And it's also very, very painful, sometimes, too. That's the hard part about the tournament is there is a lot of pain and agony in it. And the tournament in a lot of ways listen, for me, personally, you know, going to a Final Four as a player changed my life in a lot of respects. This tournament has changed people's lives, regardless if that's right or wrong, and I'm not saying I agree with that. But things change for people, so to speak. And that's kind of the exciting part.
But also you think about right now there's times where coaches get opportunities because of this tournament. Players get a chance to go to the NBA because of this opportunity. Assistant coaches get the chance to move on and be head coaches. There's a lot of things that go in.
And I think it just shows that I think in life if you can do something well and be successful at it, not only does it help yourself, but it helps everybody involved. Everybody can really, really so to speak, capitalize on the success.
But the losing part is painful, too. And I think for me as a coach now, doing it for as long as I've done it, I would say that I get way, way more pleasure for myself personally in seeing other people get a chance to go through it for the first time. See a guy like John Pelphrey, see him go to the tournament, get to the Elite 8, and Matt McCall, my coaching staff. Those things have become very, very enjoyable to me.
Q. What can you appreciate about Andy and the ride he's on?
COACH DONOVAN: It's tremendous what they've done. It's been a great ride for them. They've done some incredible things. NCAA tournament history wise, this has never happened. It's state of the art, new thing. It's great for basketball in the state of Florida. I'm sure for Andy it will create all sorts of opportunities for himself, his players.
And I think if it's utilized the right way and the correct way, it's all good. And that's, I think, the one exciting part about the tournament in a lot of ways.
Q. I guess you saw Brett Comer and Austin Rivers, did you see him blossom into the player he is now?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, he was always a very good passer. They came to our camp when they both were young. Actually, Austin was there as a freshman. And had a chance to their team was terrific. They had a really, really good team. I thought he was a very, very good player.
For us with Austin at that time being committed, with Brad Beal right around the corner, Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, our back court, we had a lot of depth there. Our focus was our front court. He was a very good player.
Actually, Matt McCall, who is on our staff now, left Florida and went to Florida Atlantic, and he thought so much about him he offered him a scholarship. And he originally signed to go down there. He's always been a very good player.
Q. You talked about the psychological and emotional impact of this tournament. And you're kind of on the low key end of the dynamic in this game. Do you think you can use that against Florida Gulf Coast because suddenly they do have expectations from so many people looking at them?
COACH DONOVAN: I think all this stuff, Tom asked a question about who loses, this, or psychological to me it always comes down to the business at hand in between the lines on the court. That's the only thing that matters to us right now. We're playing against a really, really good team that's playing as well as anybody in the country right now. And they've had some incredible runs. They're explosive offensively, they're a high steal team.
All the other stuff if that could impact the game, then we would probably focus on it. All we're focusing on right now is what takes place in between the lines, and what do we have to do as a basketball team to compete to the best of our ability against Florida Gulf Coast.
And I know there are a lot of nice stories out there. But we've got to focus on the stuff that we need to do going into the game. And that to me is what we try to put our focus on.
Q. In building this program at what I think is perceived to be a football first school, what would you say were the most successful things you needed to accomplish in order to start winning and changing an atmosphere there?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, the one thing I definitely noticed when I came in there was I felt like Pat Kennedy was at Florida State and he did a great job. And Lon Kruger was at Florida at that time. And Norm Sloan was at Florida right before that.
And I always felt like there was this air, when I got there, that they were trying to get basketball, between Pat Kennedy, Lon Kruger, even Leonard Hamilton, they were trying to get basketball to stand on its own two legs in the state of Florida.
They would have these games or tournaments and they'd play them in Orlando or Miami, in bigger cities, and things like that. The biggest thing I did was I embraced football. I'm not saying those guys didn't. They were trying to create something that I don't know if you were able to create, even if you're able to create today.
What I really tried to do, when I say embraced the football thing, one of the things I felt like when I first got there, Florida, Florida State used to play in Orlando. And I'm saying, why are we playing this game in Orlando? Let's play it the Friday night before the football game on Saturday. The football team is playing in Tallahassee, we'll play there. When your team is in Gainesville, you come here and play. And it's been great.
This is what I would say, I've said this before, the passion for football in the southeast is like nowhere else in the United States of America, it's special. That being said, when it comes to the state of Florida they are extremely passionate about football. But they are not more passionate about football than they are the University of Florida. There is incredible pride.
So whether it be baseball, basketball, football, volleyball, there is an enormous amount of support, fanfare and enthusiasm, and people that are Gators, love the University of Florida. That takes precedence over everything. They want everything to do well.
If you want to talk about a sports passion that's incredible all the way around, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, it's just the way it is. So I said, geez, we've got these great fall weekends, what a great time to bring your recruits on campus.
Now I've got to be honest with you, I did tell kids when we took them to the football team, it's 80,000, that's the same attendance we get for the basketball games (laughter). It's been a great thing. I love it.
I love Steve Spurrier who is there and I loved Ron Zook and Urban and I had a great relationship, and love Will. It's been unbelievable for me being in that kind of environment all the way around.