Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Donovan begins rebuilding project with Gators
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's rebuilding project began with
a couple of relocations.
First, coach Billy Donovan returned to Gainesville after an
awkward few days as head coach of the Orlando Magic. Then, Jonathan
Mitchell, Marreese Speights and Dan Werner moved into the same
on-campus apartment shared by Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, Al
Horford and Joakim Noah the last two years.
The moves could be huge as the two-time defending national
champions essentially start over.
Donovan's return give the Gators much-needed continuity after
losing 85 percent of their offense and even more of their
rebounding and shot-blocking. Mitchell, Speights and Werner hope
their move will help them develop the kind of chemistry that made
Brewer, Green, Horford and Noah best friends, unselfish teammates
and repeat champions.
"It's kind of cool being in their room and (knowing) what they
left here -- their legacy," Werner said Wednesday at the team's
annual media day.
Brewer, Green, Horford and Noah lived together from the day they
arrived on campus, spending their first year in a dorm and the two
championship seasons in the apartment.
The foursome, along with sharpshooter Lee Humphrey and sixth-man
Chris Richard, led the Gators to three straight Southeastern
Conference tournament championships and 18 consecutive postseason
Without them -- Humphrey is playing professionally in Greece and
the other six are in the NBA -- the Gators hardly look the same.
"It's totally different," Mitchell said. "We have a whole
different makeup and stuff, but that doesn't mean were not going to
be good. We have a bunch of guys that can really shoot and know the
game. We're going to have a lot more guys on the perimeter and
we're going to utilize the 3-point line. On defense, we're going to
have to play smart and play bigger than we actually are."
Junior guard Walter Hodge has the most experience of the group,
having played 79 games with 11 starts. But everyone around him is
The Gators also have a highly touted recruiting class that
includes guards Nick Calathes and Jai Lucas, the son of former NBA
player and coach John Lucas.
Still, Florida's success could rest with the 6-foot-7 Mitchell,
6-10 Speights and 6-7 Werner. The Gators need the sophomores to
step into expanded roles much like Brewer, Green, Horford and Noah
did in 2005.
Maybe the apartment will at least provide some karma.
"I don't want to know what went on in there," Werner said.
"But those guys are great guys. Just to have a part of where they
stayed is cool."
Although Brewer, Green, Horford and Noah didn't leave the new
tenants any furniture, Humphrey gave them a massage recliner that
fits nicely in the living room. Humphrey also provided them with
the fourth resident: his former roommate, swimmer Shaune Fraser.
Are the new living arrangements paying off?
"Definitely," Mitchell said. "We're together 24/7. If we see
somebody sneaking off to the gym, the other two are going to go. We
just get that bond and we're talking, playing video games, just
hanging out, watching movies. We kind of took on what they did."
After helping the Gators become the first team in 15 years to
repeat as national champions, Brewer, Green, Horford and Noah
decided to leave school a year early and enter the draft.
Donovan briefly followed them to the NBA, accepting the job with
the Magic in early June. But he wanted out almost immediately, and
the Magic reluctantly released him from a five-year, $27.5 million
contract a few days later.
"Any time you have to make a big decision, you always look at
the regret part," Donovan said. "I never wanted to have regret. I
didn't want to be sitting in Orlando saying, 'Why did I leave?' and
I didn't want to be sitting here at Florida saying, 'Why didn't I
"That's what I was battling with going back and forth. I wanted
to make the right decision for myself and it was hard. But now that
I've had a chance to go through what I went through, I have no
regret. ... I know it was an uncomfortable situation for many
people, but at the same time, I think I got to a point where I know
what I did was best for all parties."
Especially for Florida, where Donovan spent the last 11 years
turning a mediocre basketball program into a national power.
Now, can they stay there?
"This may sound off the wall, but their goal should be to be
the type of team that we've had here the last two years," Donovan
said. "And not that there's five pros on our team or anything like
that, but how they played the game. These guys in this program have
a great model to look at, and that should be the goal: to play the
game like those guys played and let the chips fall where they