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Thursday, December 2, 2010
Billy Donovan chides Gators for selfish play

By Eamonn Brennan

College basketball coaches are rarely willing to say something negative about their team in public. Sure, coaches will call out a player here and there; every once in a while they'll insinuate negative overtones. But few coaches are willing to go into full-on rip mode, preferring instead to keep that stuff in the locker room. (This makes sense. After all, ripping a player in public can backfire, and it's hard to ask your players to moderate their postgame quotes if you're taking them to task by name every night.)

Billy Donovan is not one of these coaches. In the ilk of Tom Izzo, who, when warranted, is willing to openly discuss his players' shortcomings, the Florida coach is just fine with saying what he thinks is going wrong.

Wednesday night was no different. Donovan called out his senior players after Florida's 57-54 loss to UCF on Wednesday, telling the media his veteran players were too "wrapped up in what's going to happen to me." From the Orlando Sentinel:
“Those older guys are, to me, less concerned about trying to do something great collectively as a group and are more wrapped up in what’s going to happen to me,” Donovan said. “All of our older guys are way, way too wrapped up in their offense.”

“Let’s get Vernon the ball,” Donovan said. “But we’re too wrapped up in I didn’t get a shot now or I missed my last one.”

Donovan continued: “They’re not playing together and they’re not utilizing each others’ individual talents. The disappointing part is these guys all played together last year. We have a bunch of guys on the floor that make nobody better.”

It's harsh stuff, but it also happens to be true. Florida forward Vernon Macklin was dominating UCF in the post at will -- he had 20 points on 10-of-11 shooting -- but Florida had several extended stretches in the second half (from the 17:34 to 12:14 marks, and again from 9:14 to 3:13) when Macklin didn't touch the ball, let alone get a good look at the bucket in the post. Instead, Florida took long-range shots from Chandler Parsons, Erving Walker, and Kenny Boynton, as UCF built and maintained its second-half lead.

For what it's worth, Parsons agreed with Donovan, even though he was one of the culprits keeping Macklin from getting touches:
“We have a lot of talent,” Parsons said. “But to be a great team, you have to be a team. You can’t have any selfishness.”

What does this say about the Gators? It's not encouraging, but it's also not a death knell. Yes, Florida is a veteran team with all five starters back from last year's squad, so you wouldn't expect flowing play and sharing of the ball to be major concerns. But players -- especially well-coached ones -- eventually do what makes winning the easiest. If that means more Vernon Macklin, then that's probably what will happen.

If it doesn't, Donovan will go to Defcon 2 freakout mode, begin benching his starters, and everybody will get the picture eventually.

A bigger question about this Florida team is whether the Gators are a bit overrated. Florida is, for all intents and purposes, the same team that went 21-12 and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament to BYU last season. Preseason media analysis always focuses heavily on returning minutes, and any time a decent team returns five starters (especially when some of them are making the coveted freshman-to-sophomore leap), there's a rush to assume the team will improve by leaps and bounds. That's why Florida was picked to win the SEC, and why the Gators started the year ranked No. 11 in the country. (Well, that and the addition of touted freshman forward Patric Young.) They were supposed to be good right away.

But what if those starters didn't improve? What if Kenny Boynton is his same inefficient self? What if Chandler Parsons hasn't gotten better at drawing fouls? What if the Gators defense is still merely mediocre? (Thus far, it looks that way.) What if Florida is just, you know, the same? Is it really that unlikely?

There's still plenty of time to iron out the wrinkles, but selishness is only one of the concerns here. That virus can be contained. A much scarier scenario for Florida fans -- who were told their team had Final Four potential this year -- is that the Florida of 2010 is still, in essence, the Florida of 2009.