Billy Donovan Waiting for His Team to Learn How to Handle Success
"I don't know if you can all of a sudden instill that in guys," Donovan said.
Donovan, however, is going to give it a try.
The No. 20 Gators are coming off a shocking, 71-68, home overtime loss to Jacksonville on Monday at O'Connell Center. They barely resembled the team that 48 hours earlier had beaten previously No. 6 Kansas State, overcoming a 12-point deficit by dominating the second half. It was the Dolphins' first win over UF in 16 years and only the fifth in 33 all-time meetings.
Will the real Florida please stand up?
"They will bounce back. That's what they do," Donovan said.
"But if they really want to be a great team, they have to handle prosperity. Right now it's almost like they allow people to fill up their balloon with a lot of great stuff and feel good. In reality, it doesn't really mean a whole lot."
The Gators, favorites to win the SEC title for the first time since winning the national title in 2007 on the strength of five returning starters, have four non-conference games remaining before opening SEC play against Ole Miss on Jan. 8. They are at home Wednesday against Radford.
Donovan entered the season optimistically cautious about his team. He saw a team that went to the NCAA tournament last season and returned all five starters, yet needed a late run and three-game winning shots last season to help it advance into the Big Dance.
"I think you know why I am optimistically cautious," Donovan explained. "I am probably not even optimistic right now, I am really cautious."
With good reason.
Donovan's waiting on his team to learn how to handle success. After beating a talented Florida State team on the road to end November, for instance, the Gators opened December with a 57-54 defeat against Central Florida. The loss was UF's first against UCF in 10 meetings.
After upsetting Kansas State, Donovan was anxious to see if his players' level of maturity had improved. Nope. The Dolphins were the next underdog to expose the Gators, leaving Donovan questioning his team's competitive drive in any circumstance.
While Donovan didn't want to compare his team to past UF squads -- apples and oranges, right? -- he pointed out an obvious difference.
"I think one of the things that happens here is the human element part," Donovan said.
"You can see it through all sorts of sports. There are certain guys that I would put in that were just killers. When they lined up (against) competition, it doesn't make a difference. There's just a certain kind of guy that it doesn't make a difference what happened yesterday. They do not live in any level of success. They are just focused about competing and putting their reputation on the line every single time they play and compete ... they had the ability to be able to move from one thing to the next to realize, 'okay, here's a new challenge.' And they get excited about it.
"(These players), they go back to who they are, they drift back into that."
The Gators looked ready to break the game open against Jacksonville midway through the second half when they went on a 13-4 run to lead 56-49. But instead of running away with the game, UF handed it back.
The Gators had held their previous five opponents to 50 points per game, allowing none to score more than 57.
While Donovan blamed himself for UF's lack of effort, it's also the players who must respond.
"The one thing I've always said about competition, it's the most unprejudiced thing that goes on," Donovan said.
"It does not make a difference what you did yesterday, 10 hours ago, two weeks ago, a month ago, 24 hours, or even 36 hours ago. When the ball gets thrown up, that's it. It's between the lines.
"You are dealing with either prosperity or adversity. We are dealing with adversity. Our guys handle adversity pretty well. They really are a resilient group. They bounce back pretty quickly, they fight, they try to get better, they try to improve. But in order to be a great, great team you have to be handle prosperity."