Billy Donovan, Gators Aren't Biting on Early Hype
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Florida Gators are favorites to win the SEC men's basketball title for the first time since winning the national title in 2007. A panel of SEC and national media members picked the Gators to unseat Kentucky in balloting earlier this week.
UF coach Billy Donovan, however, has a different view. He wants to make sure perception and reality are not skewed. Sure, Donovan sees a team that went to the NCAA tournament last season and returns all five starters. He understands the fuss and why many believe the Gators should be really, really good. But Donovan also points out that UF needed a late run and three-game winning shots last season to help it advance into the Big Dance, where it tumbled in the opening round to BYU.
That's Donovan's reality.
"So the reality is that this group really hasn't done a lot," Donovan explained. "This group really hasn't accomplished a whole lot."
Of course, the Gators should have the opportunities -- and skill -- to accomplish plenty this season. No other SEC teams returns more players than UF. There's a sense of urgency, too, and that can be a good quality. Seniors Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus, the headliners in the recruiting class that arrived at UF after consecutive national titles, realize they are running out of time to define their legacy in Gainesville, Fla.
"I think it's totally different," Parsons said of the team's mindset as it enters the season, which, for all intent and purposes, begins with Thursday's exhibition against Florida Tech.
"We want to make noise. I think our goals are a lot higher this year. Not getting to the NCAA tournament my first two years, last year we were just like we have to get there. I think we are just worried about (practice), getting our chemistry right, getting all the plays down and just coming together and becoming the best team we can."
Parson isn't just whistling into the wind.
At 6-foot-10, he has developed into one of the SEC's top post players since his freshman season. Parsons finished third on the team in scoring as a junior (12.4 points a game) and tied for the rebounding lead (6.9 per game) with Tyus. He also became a cult hero by hitting a pair of game-winning shots at the buzzer, one at N.C. State and one at home against South Carolina.
Even so, Donovan is looking for more out of Parsons this season, specifically from a leadership role. It was only two years ago when Donovan questioned his entire team, saying he didn't believe in the players' drive and dedication.
"What got him into trouble was his perception of what went into winning," Donovan said of Parsons. "As a senior he has to understand what that means and what it takes to go out and win. If he's an extension of myself reaching out to those guys, not only talking about it but doing it, that's how he can really help."
Tyus, meanwhile, has also made significant strides entering his senior season after he averaged 11.8 points and 6.9 rebound a year ago. He contemplated entering the NBA draft following last season, but opted to return to school. Tyus worked extensively on his game over the summer at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. He's also counting down the minutes.
"We are trying to get our team goals together and get started on achieving them," Tyus said.
Naturally, the optimistic view of the Gators rests on the return of all five starters -- Tyus, Parsons and Vernon Macklin up front, and Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker in the backcourt -- as well as the addition of forward Patric Young.
Donovan also expects his team to be more physical and feature better depth this season.
Of course, in his eyes, it still has plenty to prove, too. That's his reality.
"I was certainly very proud of the stride and progress they made a year ago, but the reality is that we're a team that got knocked out in the second round of the SEC tournament, first round in the NCAA tournament, and clearly Kentucky and Tennessee on our side with Vanderbilt were clearly the better teams," Donovan said.
"Kentucky beat us twice and Vanderbilt beat us twice and we split with Tennessee, so there is a lot of excitement with this group because of what's returning and what's coming back in, but the reality is that this group has a lot to prove, a lot to accomplish, and a lot to get done."