Thursday, October 17, 2013
Impressions: SEC media day 2
By Eamonn Brennan
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- I like my team. That's the first line of any coach's typical media day script. On Thursday, Florida coach Billy Donovan tossed that script into the shredder.
It's not that Donovan went rogue. Nor was he particularly negative. On Day 2 of the SEC's media days, Donovan merely acknowledged reality: His 2013-14 Gators team, though undoubtedly talented, is so beset by injuries and personnel issues that there isn't much of a team for Donovan to like in the first place.
Between injuries and off-court issues, Florida coach Billy Donovan has been running practices with only seven scholarship players.
To wit: Eli Carter and Will Yeguete are both recovering from injuries suffered in the spring. Michael Frazier II is being tested for mononucleosis. Point guard Scottie Wilbekin is still serving an indefinite suspension. Damontre Harris is working through a hamstring issue. And star freshman forward Chris Walker is still working to attain his academic eligibility and join the Gators in December.
As a result, Donovan -- a two-time national champion and perennially successful recruiter -- has found himself running practices with just seven scholarship players. He admits he has no idea what to expect.
"We have a lot of unknowns," Donovan said, "with our injuries, not having a full complement of players. ... I'd tell you today, if we had [all our players available] and we could start Oct. 11 fully healthy, then I'd tell you we have a chance to be really good. Hopefully we can get there as the season goes on. But we're not there right now."
That adversity has led Florida's players to adopt an incongruous new slogan for the 2013-14 season: "S.W.A.G." But it's not just about confidence or flash (or slightly outdated tween lingo).
"It means 'Strengthen When Adversity Grows,'" senior forward Patric Young said. "We need to strengthen as adversity gets more and more in our face. We need to stay together and be connected."
Donovan was willing to praise his team on that front. He said his players were forming a "different bond and different connected-ness."
For now, it seems, chemistry is the least of the Gators' numerous worries.
Other notes from SEC media days:
When coaches weren't being asked about Kentucky's loaded incoming class, they were answering questions about the SEC's overall strength (or lack thereof). Uncertainty reigns. Even Kentucky, the surest bargain in the bunch, has earned that status despite most of its players never having played a collegiate game. "As soon as they play a real top team," Young said, "they're going to see it's not just a walk in the park. One-and-done is not for everybody."
There was at least one thing every SEC coach could agree on: The NCAA's new rules, designed to eliminate handchecks, arm bars and shaky charge calls, are good for the game -- with one caveat. The referees must remain consistent.
Not all teams will be affected equally by the new contact rules. Teams that thrive on physical, lane-clogging defense or that lead with a press will have to adjust their style this season. Case in point: Last season, Arkansas forced opponents into turnovers at one of the highest rates in the country. It also ranked No. 316 in the country in opponent free throw rate. "I've got a task on my hands," Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said.
South Carolina coach Frank Martin would like to clarify one thing: He's not as scary as you think. "There might 30 10-second snippets of me in a foul mood," Martin said. "I can promise you, that's [the only] 300 seconds out of a whole year that I'm in a foul mood. I love people. I love to laugh. I love to make people laugh. And if you asked anyone who knows me, they'd say you can't find anyone in the world more loyal than I am. ... So I'm not the big grizzly bear I'm always made out to be." Martin did not disclose whether he does, or does not, dance like no one's watching.