Wednesday October 10, 2012Coach Amanda Butler Discussed the 2012-13 Gators on Media Day
Florida women’s basketball head coach Amanda Butler discussed the 2012-13 Gators during the team’s annual media day.
“It’s great to see everybody. There are a lot of familiar faces and some new ones, both very exciting just because for us this means that we’re really beginning.
“There has been a lot of lead-up with a great summer of workouts. (They’re) a really talented group of young ladies who I think have exceeded a lot expectations already with their work ethic and in how dedicated they are. It’s a giant freshman class, I think maybe our biggest ever, but very excited about everything that they bring with their freshness and eagerness. The two freshmen redshirts who were here last year (as true freshmen) but (didn’t play) due to injuries and different things will be joining that class.
“We are just very excited about all the things we’ve seen up to this point, especially the intangibles and the things that are beyond how talented they are; (the things) that are certainly very hard to coach and instill in someone. I think this group is exceptional. With the way they work and the way they love each other, the way they represent Gator Nation and they are really excited to officially begin that journey.
“We’ve had five practices and we’ve been very encouraged by what we’ve seen. We have a long way to go and a lot to learn as you can imagine with all the newness. At the same time, I think our leadership is better than ever.
“We have one senior this year, Jennifer George, who I think is a brand new woman in a lot of ways and has really stepped up her game and her leadership: all the things she knows she has to do to make this a special season. Certainly the junior class has some faces returning that we are excited about. Jaterra Bonds and Lily Svete I think will have tremendous seasons and have evolved at an elite level. Vicky McIntyre, who a lot of people have heard about already, is our transfer from Oklahoma State. It’s a really unique situation on how she got to us but we’re just really proud she is a Gator and adds a lot to our team dynamic.
“From top to bottom though, this is a group every day we discover something new about them that is positive and they are eager to learn. They are putting in the work and on this day, there is not another October 10th that I’ve experienced as the Gator head coach that I’ve felt the way I do about this bunch. We’ve had some pretty impressive groups of women here.
“I’m very excited for what the future holds for these guys. I hope and pray they can stay healthy because I think they have already raised the standard and the expectation by the way they’ve started off this season. We’re just going to continue to work hard every day, get better and do the things we need to do to try and get closer to a championship.”
What is the most difficult thing for new players to learn in this program?
“I think it’s the way we play defense. I think just aside from the freshman transition, things you experience and the level of intensity and level of work that is new and different. The way we play defense especially in the half court and the way we ask them to do some things that are maybe a little different from the way they used to do play in high school. Technically, there is a whole new set of terminology we are asking them to learn and we’ve spent a lot of time on that. Those of you who have participated in basketball in high school, college or whatever, you know defense is hard… it’s hard to play defense. It is not the fun part of our game and they’ve embraced that part. The work they’ve put in, they really understand that’s a huge part of our identity here and a huge part of how good we’ll be on offense.”
On Jennifer George and how she has transitioned from last season
“I think one of the things that really jumps out and something her teammates (will say), it’s just the way she has embraced her role and embracing how important she is in every way: in how important she is and how she’s leading on and off the floor. In the past, Jennifer has been one of those types of players that was waiting to be led and I think that has changed for her. I think if you talk to our new strength coach, Tyler Stewart, there is very little he can do to challenge her even because, physically, she is at such an incredible level right now. The leadership role and the sense of urgency only seniors can bring, a lot of those things that we are seeing in her. (It’s) a different level of seriousness, a different level of intensity and a different level of drive and setting her goals very, very high. That’s really encouraging. “
On if she thinks the team can be successful with the amount of newcomers this season
“I think they certainly have the chance to be. There are a lot of things that you predict and think in the recruiting process and even while you’re in practice but you don’t really know how things are going to turn out until you turn the lights on and put uniforms on and play somebody. So I think they have a tremendous opportunity, though they are young, to really have that level of talent to take us to another level. But you have to combine it with the right amount of work, the right attitude and all the other things that we think serve as glue to be a championship team and they definitely have a chance to do that.”
On building from last year NCAA Tournament appearance
“I think that’s motivation; our coaches could deliver messages and issue challenges, but having that experience for those returners, (knowing) how that felt and how eager that made them feel getting started for this season is something we can’t really create as coaches. I think there is a different level of expectation and a new standard that I think those returners are doing a great job of this season. Not only because they are hard workers and they are driven but because of last year’s experience. I think they are a little bit hungry and a little bit more ready even at this point in the year because of that experience. They definitely have taken that to heart and are using it as motivation, no doubt.”
On Jaterra Bonds being the leader among the guards
“Jaterra is so ready for that. It’s who she is made to be. She is a leader in every regard and she is one of the most comfortable kids I’ve ever coached in being vocal and not being hesitant to encourage a teammate or get on a teammate and ‘bring the fire’ as I like to say a lot of times. I think she is really embracing that opportunity. Is there pressure involved with that? Absolutely. That pressure of being one of the most experienced guards not going to be dispersed among anyone but her. She’s got Carlie Needles who I think has a lot of the same qualities and characteristics JT does that makes her a great floor general. But in the experience factor, she is on her own, but I think she’s equipped to handle that and I think she’s going to thrive in that role.”
On recent level of recent success and how the program is evolving
“We certainly hope (it’s evolving) and there are tremendous strides and one of the things I think that is a big indicator to me is some of the things we have already talked about: the way a player like Jennifer George has evolved into her senior season and the way Jaterra Bonds is taking ownership of our perimeter players and just the way our practices have felt. They are taking care of each other off the floor. I think there is certainly a cultural improvement in our program that is very significant that I think is present in championship programs or certainly the ones I’ve had the honor of being a part of. I think some of those things have been the biggest indicators to me. However, just like I said a minute ago about how much talent we may or may not have, you have to prove it when it’s time to play and it has to show up on the court. You’ve got to carry it over: from team building and team bonding experiences and great practice and fantastic weightlifting sessions. You have to make it translate into wins and beat good teams and handle this challenging non-conference schedule we have. You have to go on the road and beat tough opponents and certainly protect our home court, which I think we have done in the last five years.”
On Carlie Needles returning from an injury
“Carlie is doing great. I compared her to Jaterra in the way she leads and the way she is so aggressive in how she controls the floor and is not hesitant at all to approach a teammate in a positive way and sometimes when it has got to be in an enforcing way. But she’s totally healthy and certainly better than ever, we’d like to think, physically. I think when injuries occur, you hope that whoever the young lady is that she is going to be able to use that and I think Carlie has taken full advantage of the year she did have to sit and wait. She’s already a kid whose fire has burned pretty bright. It was almost like pouring a bunch of gasoline on the passion that was already inside of her. It’s been fun coaching her again and I’m excited to see what this season holds for her. She’s worked exceptionally hard and she looks really, really confident right now and I think we’re going to see some good things out of her.”
On the non-conference schedule
"When you play in the best conference in the country, you have one of two ways to approach that: you can say we have to play this really soft non-conference schedule because it is going to be hard to win games in conference. We have to create a cushion for ourselves. You can say we play in the best conference in the country, we are going to get ready to win that conference. We are going to play the best that is out there. We better put together a non-conference schedule that is going to prepare us for what the SEC is going to feel like. The latter is what we chose to do. This year worked out with the home-and-homes that most of those challenges against the top-25 programs will probably come on the road. We will still have a significant amount of challenges some at home from postseason teams from last year. That is by design. When we roll into that first SEC ball game, we want to feel like we have been tested. We have played on a similar level to what we are going to face in our conference. You all know what conference play is like: it is difficult, challenging, there's never a night off, there's never a team that is supposed to win or lose. Everybody knows from the opening tip to the last second ticks off the clock, anything can happen. You do have the best players, coaches, and competition in the country. We have to get ready for that."
On the newcomers coming in and making an impact
"I hope they do. They came here because they wanted to find out how good they were. They wanted a challenge and they wanted to be part of something special. They wanted to have an immediate impact as freshmen. We think this can be a special season if we continue to do the right things. I think they are excited about those challenges. They can't wait till their first game and get out there, see what it's like. They want to see how good they are. Those are the type of people we have recruited.
On which freshmen will make an impact
"I honestly think you will see all of them. Right now, we have no idea who we put out there first. I guess we would draw straws if we had a ball game tomorrow because there has been a high level of work. They are all pretty bright. They are absorbing the things we are throwing at them daily. They are doing a good job of carrying that over from day-to-day. I think a lot of that credit also goes to my staff. We have a new coaching staff member, Angela Crosby. David Lowery and Murriel Page do a great job of reinforcing the things we learn in practice, whether it is in the conversations we have or watching extra film. I think all seven of them will be contributors, especially early as we try to figure out who is the most reliable, who can play in the big games, who can make plays, who will stay healthy and some of those things we don't have control over. I think they are all going to play a role, there's no doubt about that. Right now, I couldn't tell you which (one) more than the other."
On the recruitment of Cassie Peoples
"Cassie Peoples was a really unique situation. She lived in Florida when she was much younger, eighth or ninth grade. Early on, she was someone that we identified as very special. She had been to campus; we had the chance to develop a relationship with her. Her first year at Texas, things didn't end up the way she wanted them to. There were a lot of challenges, being injured, the coaching change, so on and so forth. It was pretty natural for her to want to come back to Florida and join a team that she already had some relationships with.
Cassie is a really dynamic scorer. She is very smooth. She is very strong and powerful. I think offensively she does a lot of different things. She passes well. She is a person who is going through the transition defensively to playing the way we want her to play. I think she is physically equipped to do that. She'll make an impact on both ends of the floor whenever we are able to get her out there. She is very dynamic with the ball in her hands. She sees the court well and scores in a lot of different ways. We are confident with the ball in her hands that she can make the plays."
On Viktorija Dimaite
"She is in a boot right now. She is off the floor for a couple of weeks. She will be returning for us. She was a freshman like Carlie Needles who did not play last year. She has done a fantastic job in that redshirt year building size, building confidence, learning the way that we want her to play so she can be that impact player in the paint. She is definitely going to be one of those players in the freshman class that you will see. I've liked what I have seen. A little bit of a hiccup, little bit of a hurdle to get past with this early-season injury. We should get her back to practice soon and hopefully she will miss no game time.
"It was more precautionary than anything. It was something that looked like it could be the beginning of a stress fracture. They diagnosed it as a bone bruise; one of those injuries that just needs to rest. She is chomping at the bit; it is very hard to keep her off the court. We tell her to sit down and rest. We want her to be healthy in two weeks."
On the dynamics of the offense
"I don't know. We have a lot of discovering to do with this team. When we start teaching and building this team, we start with defense. I like our offensive options. Our defense allows us to play fast and attack and be athletic. We certainly did lose a lot. When you go shooter-for-shooter, one of our freshmen, Chandler Cooper, is someone that will help fill that void. From three-point shooting, I think Lily Svete has a chance to emerge as one of the best in-conference. She has put up a lot of shots this summer. Offensively you are still going to see some of the same things. We are still going to play fast and aggressive. I think this year's team, just based on what we have seen so far, may be a little bit better in a controlled setting. That is a more legitimate option. If we want to walk up the ball, we can and something successful will happen. I think we will see a lot of varieties with the players we will put out on the court. There will be some different looks out there. It is definitely going to be a process. It would be hard to tell you right now."
On her similarities to Chandler Cooper
"Clarksville is very close to my hometown. I worked at Austin Peay for four years, which is in Clarksville, at the beginning of my coaching career. Between Chandler and I, we talk about how we are two blondes from Tennessee who decided to become Gators. We both grew up in an area where basketball is so important. It's close enough to where we have a lot in common and know some of the same people. I think that it was easy for Chandler and I to connect in the recruitment process. I am really glad she chose the Gators."
On the consistency of Jennifer George
"I don't think she really struggles with that as much anymore. I think the inconsistency in the past just came from her not realizing how good she was. I think she has matured out of that. She has grown into an expectation for herself and it matches more what the coaching staff and her teammates expect. I think the challenge for Jennifer will be the expectations from everyone. She is going to draw special attention from other coaches and teams. She is going to be ready for it. It is really hard for teams to keep her off the boards and (because) she makes plays in such unorthodox ways, it is really hard to guard her. That will be a different challenge for her, but I think she is ready. "
On someone that she can mix and match in different spots
"She (Jennifer) can play on the wing with anyone that we put on the floor. The other thing that accompanies being a little bit taller is having a greater wingspan. We look that and we really value getting tips and being disruptive on defense. I think right off the bat she is trying to do that and get into our system. She's a coaches daughter, has a high basketball I.Q. and is someone who picks up things quickly. She'll make an impact on both ends of the floor as she continues to learn and grow."
On who sticks out in the SEC
"We have a lot of folks that are getting a lot of people back and a lot of newness. It's hard to make predictions. There are new coaches at Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Tennessee has a new coach and may have a new way of doing things with a different staff. Georgia got just about everyone back. Vanderbilt got just about everyone back. It's going to be a wide-open field. We’ve gotten to know about Missouri and Texas A&M. We know Texas A&M is bringing a national championship from a few years ago. I think it's wide open, but it is going to be really difficult. There is never a year when we don't think it is going to be difficult. Kentucky is one of those teams that returns a lot, as well. There will be some of the same challenges and some different challenges. Our biggest challenge is going to be to make us the best that we can be. That is the only thing we can control."