Monday, March 17, 2008
Donovan kicks NIT-bound Gators out of $12 million practice facility
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- When the Florida Gators lost in the first round of the Southeastern Conference tournament, they knew it knocked them out of the NCAA tournament field.
They had no idea it also would get them kicked out of their practice facility.
Coach Billy Donovan, feeling like his players had settled into a state of complacency and entitlement, banned them from Florida's $12 million facility. He also told them they couldn't wear any Florida attire.
"Probably in some respects the confetti is still falling down around them," Donovan said Monday. "When you have great success like we've had, I think it's very, very easy to become complacent and to lose sight of how good things are around here and to have an attitude of, 'I'm at Florida. This is just what's going to happen.'"
The two-time reigning national champion Gators (21-11) lost eight of their final 11 games, including the last four, and missed out on the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998. They became the first defending champion to not make it back to the tournament since probation-stricken Kansas in 1989.
Florida settled for a spot in the NIT, where they will host San Diego State on Wednesday night.
The Gators also found themselves fighting to get back into their state-of-the-art facility, which houses the team locker room, the practice court, the video room, the weight room, both national championship trophies and pieces of both floors on which Florida won it all.
Players spent the last four days shuffling between the O'Connell Center practice floor and the antiquated Florida Gym.
"He just wants to teach us a lesson that it takes time to earn stuff," freshman guard Nick Calathes said. "He's really going to make us earn it. I like that. I don't see that as a problem at all. I think it will help us in the long run."
Added freshman Jai Lucas: "When he feels we're ready and playing like the University of Florida should play, then we'll move [back] in."
It might not happen anytime soon.
Football coach Urban Meyer, who has developed a close relationship with Donovan, pulled a similar move in summer 2005. Meyer barred players from the locker room and told them they couldn't wear orange and blue or anything with the Gators logo on it.
He also removed the large replica gator head that was on display between the locker room and Florida Field. Players typically rub the head for good luck before games.
Meyer's players responded by winning nine games for the first time in four years. They won the national title the following season.
Donovan can only hope for similar results from a team he has criticized for not having enough dedication, passion to win and willingness to play defense.
"One of the things that creates a tremendous level of complacency in anybody is after something very, very big happens," said Donovan, who has used motivational tactics extensively in recent years. "It's very easy to have a letdown. It's not these guys' fault. They walked into this. They walked into what happened.
"They got a facility that the administration has invested a lot in. It's one of the best in the country. They've got a massage therapist to make sure they're OK after games. They've got a private plane that they take to games. The meals that they eat. All those things, these guys came here and went right to the penthouse."
Calathes and Lucas acknowledged that players felt a sense of entitlement during this season. They also echoed Donovan's remarks that none of the players knew what it took to win at the college level or what they needed to do every day in practice to make the NCAA tournament.
Now, Donovan hopes missing the tournament -- they actually practiced during the selection show since there was no reason to watch -- will prove to be a humbling experience that will pay off down the road.
Kicking them out of the locker room could help, too.
"I think we're going to have this taste in our mouths all the way until we make the NCAA tournament," Lucas said. "This is something that will never leave us. This pain is unbearable. If this doesn't [motivate us], I don't know what will. This might be one of the worst things that could happen to the team."