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Monday March 26, 2007Men's Basketball Prepares For UCLA In National Semifinal

Gainesville, FL

University of Florida Head Coach Billy Donovan

Media Luncheon Quotes

March 26, 2007

 

Opening statement:

“We’re excited to be able to go to the city of Atlanta and participate in this year’s Final Four. It’s been a great accomplishment for our team, and for the other three programs as well, and it’s so difficult to get to this point in time of the season. We got back in around 10 o’clock last night, so we’ll be taking today off, and we’ll try to get back tomorrow to prepare for UCLA and get ready to play an outstanding team. We know we’ll have to play well on Saturday to give ourselves the best opportunity to win, but we’ll start with our preparation on UCLA. The coaches started working on that last night a little bit, and will continue it all day today and tomorrow. We’ll get with our team to work on it together. I think the biggest thing right now for us is that we’re just excited about being a part of this in Atlanta.”

 

On similarities between UCLA and Florida:

“Their team is like our team. There are changes, but there are players that are back from UCLA’s team (from last year). There are a lot of players back from our team. The biggest difference for them is there’s a guy like Jordan Farmar, who is now playing in the NBA, Darren Collison has come in for him, and has taken over that lead role at the point, has done a terrific job, he’s a big player. You’ve got (Josh) Shipp, who didn’t play last year against us. Their frontcourt, their coaching, they’ve got a lot of returning pieces that are all very good. Our coaching staff is probably prepared because they get to watch it a little bit more, but our guys understand UCLA, the history, the program, the tradition, the talent level in the team they have right now and how good they are.”

 

On judging a season as successful:

“I think it’s really hard to get to a Final Four in this day and age. There are so many programs and so many good coaches, and good players, because of the NBA situation, there’s a lot of turnover in personnel, there’s a much shorter gap between what would be considered mid-major programs, and there are a lot of really great, high quality programs across America. I view success a little bit differently. Certainly there’s a clear line – you either win a game or you lose a game, but I think when you’re coaching guys and you start your first day of practice in August, there are things you go through with your team that will not always be defined by just wins and losses. For instance, this has been a great success for me as a coach with a guy like Joakim Noah, because a couple weeks ago, he said to me that if he hadn’t come back, he would never have learned what he’s learned about basketball, about life, about expectations, so much that you learn through going through this. So, sometimes people say that success is defined by 20 wins, winning a conference or tournament championship, making it to the NCAA tournament, winning the NCAA tournament. We talked about this – the expectations were so high on our team this year that we were never going to be able to reach and meet expectations because the expectations are how you’re supposed to play every single minute of every single game. These kids are human. To see what happened last year when there was no expectation at all – we weren’t even ranked – and for these guys to understand what can happen when you play together as a team instead as a group of individuals, what can happen, and what happened, the team concept was just reinforced so strongly. Now, this year, you start pre-season as the No. 1, people are talking about national championships and they’ve been able to get to this point in time this season two different ways: one is with no expectations, and the other is with a lot. How you coach, how you reward success, has to be a lot of how you handle it. It’s been an incredible experience to see these kids grow and develop and see what they’ve had to go through. I hope we can continue playing as long as we have to play to win, but I like to evaluate the season when it comes to a close and when it’s over.”

 

On handling the attention this season:

“I’m proud of our guys right now. Up until this point, I’ve been thrilled and happy with them because it has been totally different from a year ago. As I mentioned, we made it to the Final Four last year with no expectations and we made it back this year with great expectations. It’s been a different road traveled, and it’s been a different path. Today, I’m very happy and pleased with these kids because of their mindset and I think it takes a special, unique individual and young man today to be able to deal with the attention. Twenty years ago, when I was playing in college, or even when I was playing in high school, no one knew who the high school players were. Maybe once in awhile you’d see a game on TV, where it was the game on a Saturday and I’d watch Billy Packer and Dick Enberg, or with Magic Johnson or Larry Bird, but you didn’t really know all the players across the country. There were always a couple key guys. But to me, the sport across the country has been made smaller because you have AAU stuff in the summer time and the kids all play against each other, to get exposure in high school, and they all become these household names. To be able to handle all that, to me, is hard in this day and age.”

 

On the importance of unselfishness:

“When our season ended last year, there was a lot of speculation surrounding our kids and what was going to happen, and what we were going to do. But we asked them, and when we found out that a good core majority of our guys were coming back, I really tried to spend a lot of time with them and figure out what the distractions could be from getting us to playing to the best of our ability. The first thing that came to mind was the unselfishness part. When you have the success you have last year and you win the national championship and you’re young, people can make you feel that your role is a lot more important and like you alone are the reason the team won. I use Joakim Noah a lot because there’s a lot he’s had to go through, but last year it was that, ‘He was the reason we won the national championship, he was the most outstanding player, he was the player that was seen as the pre-season Player of the Year candidate (this season), he was the SEC pre-season Player of the Year candidate (this season).’ I made the comment that Joakim Noah will never be the national Player of the Year, or the SEC Player of the Year. I knew that because you see these guys up close every single day and he didn’t want that, but that image was created that that’s who he was going to be and for our guys, I felt like the unselfish part of playing was our greatest strength, and we couldn’t leave that part of our team out. We’re a team – that’s our greatest strength right now. Playing together, all being working parts, and they all have deficiencies and flaws and they all compliment each other so well. The unselfish part of it and keeping them grounded is so important. They’re all good kids, so it wasn’t overly hard, but we had to guard against the human elements of selfishness and complacency, a lack of motivation. We’re all human – these kids are not machines or robots. They have ups and downs, good days and bad days, you go through these things but you try to make them aware of the human element so they can all reach their greatest potential and reach the team’s highest potential. It’s no different from last year: ‘Let’s be the best we can be and let’s not let these things take away from our team and who we want to be.’

 

On players leaving early:

“Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, I’ve had guys leave here early. Mike Miller, Donnell Harvey, Jason Williams, Matt Walsh, Anthony Roberson. I think a lot of coaches have had to deal with it. I think sometimes it’s easy to be a coach when you’re recruiting them, it’s like you’re so happy they chose Florida, it’s great and it’s awesome. Then, all of a sudden, they come and decide it’s time for them to leave. And it becomes, ‘Well, that’s a bad decision, it’s wrong, the only decision is Florida.’ I think that you have to balance that. I have stayed away from deterring or telling guys not to go to the next level. I try to tell them the information they need and let them make the decision. It was a lot different with these guys last year when our season ended than with any other guys I’ve dealt with. One thing I respect about the guys that all left early, they all handled it with unbelievable class and character and we talked and they kept me in the loop, and I understood and respected their decisions. When our season ended and a couple of our guys would pass by, I knew a lot of people would be wondering what their intent was, and I sat down with them and asked them where their heads were and what they thought, and they all looked at each other and said we’re coming back. I think when they announced they were coming back, everybody was like, ‘well, that’s for now. They have to say that, they need to say that. At the end of the day, the pressure and money will be too great and they’re all going to have to leave.’ I felt that I wasn’t concerned about them changing their minds. And if they did change their minds, it was their decision. It was their decision to come to Florida; it would be their decision to leave. I think I need to be supportive and give them the information. They need to take the information and use it the way they see best. It’s not anything I really work on. I don’t have this game plan. I just try to keep the coach-player relationship open and in constant dialogue. I think as a coach when you want them to just listen to you and you need them to come back because it will hurt your program, and its’ like they’ve got to come back, it creates a situation where the player doesn’t want to be around you and he doesn’t really trust you. They need to be able to talk to me and I’m not going to judge them, but I do have to be honest with them and give them what I know. They just have to make the best informed decisions. For two guys – Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh, while I was supportive of their decision, but they still went un-drafted. Mike Miller, I was supportive of his decision and he was the fifth player taken. There are different things that happen, but I try to just be supportive because when it’s all said and done, I still want a relationship with these guys beyond Florida.”

 

On whether any draft talks have taken place:

“Again, these will be decisions these guys will have to make at the end of the season, but we never talk about that. What we talk about now is the team, and we enjoy ourselves as a team right now. There will be the same situation that there was last year. There will be a lot of attention of what they’re going to do, and they haven’t informed me of anything, we just haven’t talked about it. It’ll be the same as it was last year – we’ll sit down, we’ll talk about it, I’ll try to gather information and help them, but ultimately, they’ve got to make the decision that’s best for them. I think right now, they’re just focused on playing together and enjoying playing together, and the reason for coming back was to play together.”

 

On evaluating the success of the program:

“I think sometimes coaches talk about a five-year or a seven-year plan. I’ve never really understood that. I have a one-day plan. All I do is try to work hard and make the program better. All we can do is be the best we can be. I felt like Florida had some pockets of success during their basketball history, but there wasn’t really anything sustained for a long period of time and I didn’t really know if it was possible or not. There were people arguing both sides. I had some belief that Jeremy (Foley), the administration and the president of the University, they wanted basketball to do well, and we had to go out and do well in a lot of different areas. I can’t sit there and say that I’ve had this thing all mapped out and planned. I don’t know if we’re on target at Florida, because I never had a timeline. You’re hopeful, and you hope that you can get there, but I think that UCLA has such a tradition. Norm (Sloan) had success here, Lon (Kruger) took over a tough situation and really had to change some of the identity of Florida and how people viewed Florida, and Lon did a great job getting that integrity and character back. He took a team to the Final Four. When you look at it over a period, there’s nothing that states that it can be done. There have been a lot of firsts here at Florida, it’s neat to be a part of that as a coach.”

 

On this UCLA game being different from last year:

“I think our guys have to understand that last year’s game is over and done with, especially with Jordan Farmar being gone and (Darren) Collison being in the front. They’ve also got a little bit of a different point guard back there. I’m sure UCLA is excited about the opportunity to play us again. But I can honestly tell you that our guys are excited about playing them again because they know the tradition and history. They have great respect for UCLA. We’re going to have two teams that are excited about playing each other, and it’s going to be a great basketball game.”

 

On how last year is over:

“I’ve said it before – I don’t think your past equals your future. Last year’s game was already played. I don’t know what that has to do with anything. Last year is over, it’s been played, written about, talked about and it’s over with. Our guys have great respect for this team and I don’t think our guys are thinking it’s going to be easy because we did it last year. I think they realize it’s a big opportunity, a big challenge, and the ball is going to go up, and we’ll have to play really well. That national championship game last year – it doesn’t score us one basket, one point, it gives us absolutely nothing. We’ve got to go out and play.”

 

Florida player quotes

March 26, 2007

 

Junior center Al Horford:

On going to the Final Four again:

“It is a different feeling. We have really worked hard to get to this point in the season, and we are really excited about the chance.”

 

On playing UCLA again this year:

“It’s two different teams. It’s going to be a different game. We can learn from some of the things they did last year, but it is going to be different game.”

 

On how this year’s team is different from last year’s team:

“I feel like we are more experienced, and we have people off of our bench who can really come in help us out. Last year, we had the same thing, but I think this year, with Walter being a year older and Chris stepping his game up a lot more, I feel like we are a deeper team.”

 

On playing in the Georgia Dome again, after having just played there for the SEC Tournament:

 “We’ve always like playing in that dome and we really enjoy the city of Atlanta. I’m really excited about that.”

 

On how the team knows they will look back on their careers in ten years:

“We are doing something special right now. It might not all sink in now, but when we look back on it, we’ll see that it was meaningful.”

 

On what kind of problems UCLA present for the Gators:

“They are a tough defensive team. They really take you out of a lot of things that you want to do. They also have really talented guards.”

 

Junior forward Joakim Noah:

On playing UCLA:

“We’ve played UCLA before, but they have different personnel. That’s the thing about the tournament though – any given night anyone can beat you. It doesn’t matter if you are the better team or not. It’s not like the NBA, where you have a series and can have an off night. If you have an off night, you’re going home and your season is over.”

 

On if the team is just as hungry this year as they were last year:

“Definitely. Last year our team motto was Ph.D. – that stands for poor, hungry and driven. This year, I feel like it’s the same thing. We still have to have that Ph.D., but there is just so much more thrown at us, but I think that we are still hungry and we still have a lot to prove to ourselves. I just feel like we’ve gone through so much this year that it would just be unbelievable feeling to win another national championship, but we realize that our total focus has to be on UCLA.”

 

On what the key is to being such a talented, balanced and unselfish team:

“I think that the key is just not taking anything for granted. I remember being in this same room a month ago, when we lost three games, and everybody was like ‘What’s wrong with this team?’ and ‘This team is going to lose in the first or second round.’ I feel like we’ve played in some tough battles, but I feel like we can still play better. When you step on the court there’s no lying – it’s not predictions or talking. When you step between those lines, you have to go out there and play the game. That’s something we’ve been doing since we were little kids. In the end, you just have to go out there and play basketball. I think that we realize that – that’s our strength.”

 

On why he feels the team is still not playing its best:

“I feel like we are always capable of playing better. Things have to go your way to play the perfect game. You can never really play the perfect game. Even when we won basketball games this year, and people were like ‘Florida is so great,’ Coach Donovan – after every game – showed us the things that we did wrong, like the missed block outs, missed half blitzes as we call them, the way we were supposed guard pick and roles, the X’s and O’s and the game within the game that Coach always talks about. I feel like you can always play better. We’ve been shooting the ball pretty well, but I think, defensively and in transition, we can do better.”

 

Senior guard Lee Humphrey:

On if the team has a better chance to win this year compared to last year:

“I don’t think we have any better chance to win than we did last year just because we are national champions. I think it’s probably just the same chance as last year. There are a lot good teams there, and we will have to play well to win.”

 

On if he is feeling like the team that everyone is rooting against this year:

“I’m not really feeling it that much. I really don’t pay that much attention to it. I think it’s probably just because we’ve been a No. 1 seed. Growing up, I used to pull for the lower seeds to win just because I liked to see upsets, and I think that’s what the fans like to see. When you are playing, you just can’t think about that stuff.”

 

Senior forward Chris Richard

 

On playing UCLA in the Final Four:

"We played against them last year, but that was last year. They have a different team. I haven't seen them play a whole lot this year, but I'm sure they're a completely different team this year, just like we're a completely different team. I think it'll be a different game than last year."

 

On if playing in Atlanta will help Florida have more fans:

"Even if we do have a lot of fans, I think a majority will still be against us because there are three other teams. We do a pretty good job of taking the other team's fans out of the game and making it between the two teams on the court."

 

On playing any of the three teams left in the Final Four after playing those teams in the last two years:

"I think they could come out with more energy and fight than they had in the past. But at the same time, we will too because there's a lot at stake and we want to win just like they do. Whoever comes out and plays the best and wants it more will end up winning it all. It's kind of like playing in the conference when you play every team in the SEC East twice. Once you play against a team and you beat them, they come back hungrier the second time. As long as we match the intensity they come with, then I think we'll be okay."

 

On potentially having just two games left in his career:

"I've done everything I could do since I've been here. We've won every championship that there is to win. I won the SEC's Sixth Man of the Year this year and that was great. I don't think there's really anything left for me and Lee Humphrey to do except to win another national championship. We'd like to do better than Adrian Moss, who went out as a senior with a national championship. Hopefully, we go out as seniors with back-to-back national championships."

 

 

Sophomore guard Walter Hodge

 

On the effect that the exposure Florida has received the last two years will have on recruiting:

"I think it's good. When you go to the Final Four two times and kids see that, it's definitely good for the program. We're building the program up, and Coach Donovan is trying to do something special."

 

On what Florida's conditioning drills are like with strength & conditioning coach Matt Herring:

"We try to get in some conditioning runs and do a little bit of weights. When you're in the season, it's not very hard, but in the off-season, he makes it really hard. He knows what he's doing and we see the improvements every time we do what he tells us to. When I came here from high school, I didn't have any power, but doing to squats and other stuff has really made a difference. He does a great job."

 

On if he thought two years ago that Florida would have gone to two Final Fours:
"When I came here, people thought I was crazy for not going to Kansas because they win championships there. I knew we were going to win, but I didn't know if we'd win a national championship. But when we were practicing at the beginning of last year, I knew that we had the potential to win the whole thing."

 

 

 

Junior forward Corey Brewer

 

On if he thinks about how he'll feel about playing on this team 10 years from now:

"I kind of think about it. That's why we came back to school for another year because we knew we could never get this back again - just being together, being on the same team, having the bond of living together. In 10 years, it's going to be a lot of fun to get together and laugh."

 

On how tough it is to focus on academics during the tournament:

"It's tough, but our academic advisor, Tom Williams, does a great job of making sure we get our work done. We're always on the road and in hotel rooms, but there is a lot of time where we don't have anything to do in the hotels, so that's when we get our work done."

 

 

Junior guard Taurean Green

 

On if he's concerned that UCLA has a revenge factor from last year:

"They may have it in the back of their minds, but it's a different year. Last year was last year. It's over with. We have a different team, they have a different team. Their personnel is different, our personnel is different. You really can't think about what happened last year because this is a new year."

 

On playing in Atlanta again:

"We've been fortunate enough for our SEC Tournament to be in Atlanta. It's a good environment and we're used to the surroundings, so I think that'll be good for us."

 

On what problems UCLA might present to Florida defensively:

"We don't really like to pressure, and they like to get out and put some heat on the ball. We're just going to have to do a good job of going against that pressure and initiating our offense. We need to take care of the ball and be patient."

 

On the relationship between the players and their families:

"We're close. Every time we see each other, we give each other hugs. If I see Corey's mom or Joakim's mom, I'll give them a hug and they do the same thing with my mom. We all have a great relationship with each other's parents."

 

On how the 2007 season is different than the 2006 season:

"Last year, we were sort of under the radar. We came out going at everybody and giving them our best shot. This year, we were ranked high in the polls and everybody had high expectations for us. We're getting everyone's best shot. We've had to grind games out. We can tell that it's been a lot more difficult, and we've had to go on a different path then we did last year."

 

On the unselfishness of Florida's team:

"We all just love playing with each other. We love seeing each other do well out there on the court. We try to make the game easier for each other. We like to go out and have fun and play the right way."

 

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