The summer B session at the University of Florida has started and so have the team workouts for many of the athletic teams on campus. Billy Donovan and his crew of basketball players are already getting after it and ready for another year of improvement. Donovan spoke with the media on Monday and believes his guys are ready.
“I think our guys are excited and looking forward to preparing for the season,” he said.
Florida literally ran out of steam at the close of last season, especially in the backcourt that was manned almost completely by the duo of sophomore Erving Walker and freshman Kenny Boynton. Donovan really didn't know how things would go for the pair, but believes that year of experience will go a long way this coming season.
“I didn't know what to expect,” Donovan started. “...any time you lose the best player from the year before in Nick Calathes and he's your point guard and Erving Walker played in the 2-guard spot, because Nick was a great assist guy and one of the best players at his position in his sophomore year. Kenny Boynton came in with all the hype out of high school, but we didn't know what it was going to be like for him making that jump to college. I was really proud of them because there was a lot put on their plate as a freshman and a sophomore.”
The two played all the time it seemed, both averaging just under 33 minutes a game on the court. It limited some of the things that Donovan was able to do with his team.
“We had very limited depth in our back court and those guys got caught playing way too many minutes,” he said of Walker and Boynton. “We would have liked to press a little more and done some more things defensively, but it was difficult because we relied on both of those guys to score some.”
Getting through the tough times and the weary legs should pay off big time this season. Still, the Gators added a couple of pieces in the off-season in true freshmen backcourt players that should help alleviate some of the time that Boynton and Walker spend on the court.
“Coming into this year with a year under their belt and the year of experience that Boynton gained as a freshman and the amount of minutes he played will be helpful for this season,” Donovan said. “I think the same thing can be said for Walker. His first year playing the point guard spot, he learned some very valuable things that will hopefully make him a better player going into this season.”
“We still have a little bit of depth issues back there although we did add a player in Scottie Wilbekin who will give us some minutes and Casey Prather who is a perimeter player that will give us some depth in our back court as well. It will be interesting to see how much improvement they have made and how much help we ca provide those guys in the backcourt.”
The Gators return all five starters in Walker, Boynton, and seniors Alex Tyus, Chandler Parsons, and Vernon Macklin in the frontcourt. Tyus flirted with going professional in the offseason, but his return should help make this a very deep squad in the frontcourt.
“This the first time I have had a player put his name in the draft and come back,” Donovan said of Tyus. “It was really his decision. I think he really listened to what the NBA office had to say about where he was going to be projected. There was no pressure on him and he made the decision he wanted to make.
“Any time you bring a player back like Alex who is athletic and gifted talent wise, who has been in the program for three years, and going into his senior year, it will only help your team. I think it is an area of our team we do have some depth with Alex, Vernon Macklin, Erik Murphy and then adding (freshman) Patric Young. I think Alex really improves that depth in coming back for his senior year.”
The Gators added five freshmen to the roster and Patric Young seems the frontcourt player most ready to add to the team this season.
“He is a guy that is very aggressive and physical,” Donovan said of Young. “His offense will grow and get better as time goes on. One thing he brings to the team right away is great energy. He plays with great passion and brings a physical presence and rebounds his position very well.”
The Gators were eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament in a double over time game against a very good and hot shooting BYU squad. The team is showing up in preseason rankings near the top 10 and closer to where Donovan wants his program to finish. It appears they are on the way to making the right moves.
Donovan touched on an issue that was brought up at the SEC media days last month. The SEC tournament currently seeds teams based on their division. This year Florida finished with the third best record in the SEC but also third in the SEC Eastern division. That finish meant the gators would get a three seed in one side of the SEC brackets while two teams from the SEC West were given top two seeds and ahead of the Gators.
Donovan recognized the issue, but isn't sure there is a healthy plan that can fix it just yet.
“There have been some years when the West was stronger than the East and this year the East was probably stronger than the West,” Donovan said. “The teams with the best record should get a bye...
“I don't know if there is a fair or legitimate way to do it. We just didn't know where to go and we all came to the conclusion that the teams should be seeded in the tournament based on what teams had the overall best records.”
“I also think the teams with the best records should get the best times in the tournament. There are times when the best team in the East or West play at late night hand have to come back the next day and play in an early game. There is another team getting significantly more rest and doesn't have as good a record. If you can't seed a tournament based on record, then the top four seeds should be given the best opportunity time wise with rest and recovery when you are talking about playing a four day tournament like that.”
However, Donovan isn't in favor of rushing into a decision and knows solutions need to be looked at further.
“When you get into a meeting and talk about it for the first time, I just think that none of us thought it was in the best interest of the league for us to jump into a decision without giving it some serious thought,” he said. “I think we should give it some time this summer, off-season, and preseason and there will probably be some things that we will have to think about as coaches going forward. I don't see the tournament changing this year.”