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Thursday October 24, 2013Billy D gives Gators a lesson in playing through pain

Updated: 7:49am, October 25

Billy D GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Billy Donovan’s team got a painful/meaningful lesson Thursday in the difference between being hurt and being injured.

Yes, there are Florida basketball players who are smarting. Plenty. Sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith rolled an ankle Wednesday and can't practice. Sophomore guard Dillon Graham did his ankle last week and has not been able to go since. Senior forward Will Yeguete, who had offseason knee surgery, is having his reps managed. Ditto for junior guard Eli Carter, who’s had a difficult rehab from breaking his leg last February while playing for Rutgers.

For those players, Donovan has empathy.

But woe to any Gator unwilling to play through the minor aches and pains; or even complain about them.

That was the message to his team Thursday night -- about five hours after Donovan threw his players out of their afternoon practice in exchange for an evening reboot.

Most of the nightcap live action was 4-on-4, what with the lack of numbers due to injures. The Gators, though, worked with intensity and efficiency.

“Practice tonight was exactly what it should have been this afternoon,” Donovan said afterward. "I realize we're limited, but we still have work to do."

Florida is one week from its dress-rehearsal exhibition game against Florida Southern Nov. 1 at the O’Connell Center. The Gators are two weeks from opening the 2013-14 regular season with a home game against North Florida.

But ask Donovan and he'll tell you the team is months away from being a where it needs to be.

The way the Gators will get there is by practicing with a purpose and working their way -- effectively, prudently -- through the everyday discomforts that come with playing basketball. 

“Coach Donovan told us we have to have a level of toughness,” senior center Patric Young said. “If you’re dealing with an injury, he said to ask yourself, ‘If it was Joakim Noah or if it was Al Horford, would they be playing through this type of thing?’ ”

When trying to make a point, why not go with your best material?

“Listen, we’re never going to put anybody in harm’s way in terms of getting them hurt, but there are going to be ailments they’ll have to deal with,” Donovan said. “Everybody is going to be tired, banged up and sore. It’s part of the deal. Some guys have a better resiliency and toughness to deal with those things.”

That didn't happen Thursday afternoon; at least to the satisfaction of the coach. The complaints and grimaces reflecting aches and pains struck a nerve. Out they went.

[Note: Donovan has been throwing his teams out of practice since he got here in 1996 (couple times a year, usually), with a teaching moment always attached to the ploy]

Players who say they're unable to practice are sent to treatment, then sentenced to extra sessions with strength and conditioning coach Preston Greene, who's normal training routines are demanding enough.

Green's goal for these extra visits is to make a player choose to practice.

Example: Let’s just say junior center Damontre Harris, who has been in and out of practice with hamstring pain and is lagging behind in his conditioning, may opt to work through some discomfort next time.

“He’s really out of shape and has a long way to go,” Donovan said.

These tactics are not about punishment as much as they’re about establishing a mindset very early with a team down in numbers.

“There’s definitely a sense of urgency to get guys back on the court as soon as possible,” sophomore guard Michael Frazier said. “Coach is always saying battle through adversity, take on challenges. We understand that.”

Frazier is a good example. Last week, he was sidelined for two practices while being tested for mononucleosis. The day the results came back negative, Frazier was cleared and on the floor practicing.

It’s a mindset.

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