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Wednesday October 9, 2013Coach Butler Previewed the 2013-14 Gators at Annual Media Day

Gainesville, Fla.

Florida Head Coach Amanda Butler

Opening statement:

“It’s great to be back up here again. When you start practice and you have that energy from actually knowing you’re on the floor and practicing again, but having this opportunity to actually talk about my team to someone other than my staff, them [the team] and my mom, is also a great indication that the season is really starting. We’re excited. I think it’s going to be a really fun year for us. We have ten players – the “perfect ten” – we’ve heard a lot about that and hopefully, if you’ve kept up with our tweets and that sort of thing, we’ve been working really, really hard and our kids have had an amazing summer. I think they really value the opportunity, the ones that aren’t seniors, to do their best to prepare and get ready and give Terra [Jaterra Bonds] and Lily [Svete] the senior year that they deserve. Those two have been fantastic leaders in their careers here and certainly as we’ve gone through the preseason and summer conditioning, have just been phenomenal. I’m really, really proud of them and I hope this season starts off well in most regards. We have a little bit of injury, but we hope that they get all that they deserve because they’re super hard workers and great Gators. Like I said, ten kids, but we’ve unfortunately already taken a little hit, so we’ll just go ahead and get that out of the way. Viktorija Dimaite tore her ACL again and unfortunately we have to wait another year before we get to see her debut. I know that she will come through quickly and rehab hard and the team will stand by her side and she’ll stand by theirs when game time comes. But, despite that, the team has got the right attitude, the right approach and the right level of determination. We’ve dealt quite a bit with trying to build our culture and having that based on the trust, loyalty and commitment that we have for one another. When you see them play together, that really will show through – that level of love and measure of chemistry. That’s what I think really gives this team, combined with the amount of talent they have, a tremendous chance to be really special. There are a lot of new Gators, new faces. There’s been a lot of talk about Ronni Williams and she has been fantastic. As a freshman, she already has established herself as a very important person on this team. Two other young ladies, who are debuting as Gators, Cassie Peoples and Antoinette Bannister, transfers that sat out last year who are also starting their careers here, I think you’re going to really enjoy watching them. I would love to answer any specific questions. There’s a ton that I could sit up here and talk to you all about, but I would rather know what you want to know.”

 

On Jaterra Bonds’ last year as a Gator:

“When you start thinking about all the players you’ve coached and who’s the best this and who’s the best that, there’s no question that I’m very, very proud of her and there’s also no question in my mind that she set a very high standard for being the best leader that I’ve ever coached. The fire she brings, she backs it up with the way that she plays, the consistency in which she practices and how hard she works. It’s been a blessing to coach her and it’s kind of one of those things, with her and Lily both, where I’m very excited for them to finally be able to call themselves seniors. That’s a big deal, but it’s also bittersweet to know that this is their last year with us. I purposely chose to talk about them in the light that I did and I hope they get all that they deserve because they’re really special people. Jaterra has been out front in everything we’ve been able to do in the last three years that she’s been here and has also been out front in the things you haven’t seen – no behind the scenes. She is really a special young lady.”

 

On how the playing field has leveled since Tennessee Head Coach Emeritus Pat Summitt’s retirement:

“I don’t know that I would go quite that far. I don’t know if they’ve [Tennessee] lost the appeal that a lot of people think that they have lost. Obviously, there’s no other way to describe Pat unless you’re using words like “icon” and “legend” and that was an immediate draw to a lot of young ladies. Tennessee has a fantastic tradition and I think it reaches beyond her. They’re still recruiting very well. Is there more of a level playing field in our league? I think our league is phenomenal from top to bottom. When I look at last year, and we just had an in-person fall meeting with all of our coaches, you start looking around the league and who has who returning and who the seniors. You’re still looking, when you’re looking at just about any roster, at the best players in the country – whether you’re looking at the top or the way the bottom finished last year. We do miss her though. There’s no question.”

 

On losing Viktorija Dimaite and how it impacts the team going forward:

“It really is more about Vikta. Her and I talked and we got the bad news yesterday morning. We talked a long time yesterday afternoon, after she had a chance to process it and talk it over with her family. She is amazing in how tough she is. She is very stoic, and obviously she is very disappointed. She worked really hard to get back. That is kind of where all of our emotion has gone. I think as a team and as a unit, we talked as we started practice and even in some of our summer workouts, adversity is going to come and we know that. We just don’t know how it is going to happen and we’ve got to be ready for it. I think this unit will do it. They will play for Vikta and be a little extra motivated with the energy that she would have brought.”

 

On Jaterra Bonds’ leadership:

“It was evident pretty early on that Jaterra had those qualities that are present in leaders. People are born leaders or they can make themselves that way. I have people that have been influenced in that direction. She is very vocal, which is not necessarily every leader that is out there. She is not afraid to say something if it is going to help her team win. She has that ability that is not as common in women sports where you have a really strong female that is also very vocal. She is fueled by her competitiveness and she has learned in the past three years of her career how to channel that into a positive direction. She makes sure that her fire is something that ignites her teammates. I think fire, spirit and leadership combined with the work that she puts in every single day, gives us a great chance, no matter who the opponent is.”

 

On role of transfers:

“Well, I don’t know if you have heard, but we only have nine people. They are all going to have a big role. We’ve talked about that a lot, and I’m not teasing you by asking this question, but it is a great question. They are going to have immediate roles. I think that is part of the reason that they chose to come here, besides their relationship with our staff or to get a degree from this university. They knew that this was a place and a program in position to do great things, and they add to that. They have come in with that spirit and are both very talented. Ronni (Williams) has gotten a lot of press for being a McDonald’s All-American. Cassie (Peoples) was a McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school as well. Sometimes you don’t get it right the first go around. There are factors that life throws at you that makes you reconsider your initial decision. We just happen to be blessed to be the recipient of those two young ladies maybe not getting it exactly right the first go-around. They are great ball players and learning how to be great teammates with this new cast. They are both talented, shoot the ball very well and create their own offense. They both like to play fast and are very good with the ball in their hands. They will be exciting to watch.”

 

On the importance of conditioning this year:

“Conditioning is always an emphasis for us whether we have nine people or whether we have 15, which rarely happens. It is something that is a staple of our program. I feel that we have the best strength and conditioning coach anywhere in Tyler Stewart. He does a great job of getting them ready in the summer, not just physically but mentally. I think he has done a tremendous job of knowing that our numbers are going to be smaller and that you’re more likely to be in a situation where you need a rest, but you don’t get one. That is not as much the physical, but the mental challenge. Embracing that challenge. I think he has done a really good job of preparing not only their bodies, but their minds. It is always a huge deal for us. They take great pride in the work that they put into the summer and the preseason. I think you will see that with the speed that we will be able to play.”

 

On depth:

“I would like to have 10 because that means Vikta would be healthy. But we started out this season with 10 and were excited about 10. I think that there is a lot of fault in philosophy that goes into or maybe an idea of ‘oh gosh, that is not very many.’ But we often forget that there’s only five people on the floor at a time. When you look at teams that have done really well over the past couple of years, they are typically not playing 10 or 11 people. They playing seven people, they’re playing eight people. That is where a majority of their minutes are. We are in a great situation with having nine people that are ready to go, capable of starting and capable of playing any amount of minutes. We have nine players that can play. That makes me really excited about that number because of who those nine are.”

 

On the schedule:

“I think the total number is 15: ten NCAA Tournament teams and five WNIT teams. I think that is the breakdown of it. That obviously is on purpose. We get to choose a lot of those games. There are six that are conference games. We know what that looks like. We know what that feels like. To me as the person who gets to decide what that schedule is, we better construct a nonconference schedule that gets us ready for that. I think we have significant challenges at home and significant challenges on the road. We’re playing in a great tournament in the Bahamas on Thanksgiving. We will have an opportunity to compete against some really good talent on a neutral court. We are blessed to be at a place where our administration allows us to take trips like that and make things like that happen. I really like our nonconference schedule, but there is not one part of it that is easy. Right now, since we are getting closer and closer to it, we’re not looking at it as the whole as much anymore, all we are talking about right now is the first game against Bethune-Cookman.”

 

On team chemistry:

“I think going back to the initial questions, going back to numbers, that is one of the advantages of having a smaller group. We are able to have some connections that are more intimate and a little bit tighter than if you have a bigger group. They really have to operate as a family and they really have to dwell on that chemistry piece of the puzzle that they are going to be special, and they know. I do think it gives you an advantage when the group is not as big. Very early they identified that as something they want to be a strength of this team. They have invested in one another off the court. They have invested time when it wasn’t required. Every weekend, it is kind of easy to figure out what they are doing and who they are with because they put it on Instagram and they put it on Twitter and all of these things. More often than not I see pictures of them together. I like that. I think that makes us a better unit. I think it will make us a better passing team and a better unit defensively.  A lot of the things that go directly to chemistry go straight to communication.”

 

On team leadership having a hand in team chemistry:

“I think it has really been spread across the group. I think you have to look at your seniors, first and foremost. Carlie Needles is also one of those people that is a connector. Kayla Lewis has made a big effort to be involved with her teammates and staying engaged with them. These kids have so much going on in their life that I think it is really special when they choose each other in their extra time because their lives are full with academic responsibilities and basketball responsibilities. When they get a few minutes, the fact that they still want to pour into one another is a great indicator. It has been pretty spread within the group.”

 

On if she or assistant coach Murriel Page suits up for practice:

That would be Murriel. But that is a great question. I appreciate you asking that. I know that I look athletic in my tennis shoes today, but probably wouldn’t raise morale for me to be out there. We get the advantage in women’s basketball of having a scout team. Obviously they are going to play a big role in what we do in terms of being able to limit our reps and give us competition where we’re not always having to go head-to-head against one another. We have to be smart with using those scout guys. We have to be good managers of our times and bodies as coaches as we figure out how much time we need to be on the court each day and each week and to be really smart how we distribute our days off. And then I think that the focus shifts to the student-athletes. They have to do a great job of taking care of their bodies and treating their bodies like they are elite athletes. You have to get rest. It doesn’t make any difference about that test that you should have started studying for a couple of days ago. You have to budget your time. We live in Florida, even though that it is a little chilly today, we have to keep water in our systems. All of those factors are going to work together. Everyone is very aware of that.”

 

On Cassie Peoples and Antoinette Bannister:

“They are jacked up, y’all. They are going to be like they were shot out of a cannon. We may have to put them in the game and then take them right back out. I’m just excited for them because they are both great ball players. They are very dynamic on the court and really high energy kids that can make plays all on their own but also make plays within the team and the structure of the team. It is just going to be fun for them to be back out there. This is their dream, to be on a college stage at a big-time university in a big-time college environment doing what they love and what they have been doing since they were little girls. I am really excited for them to now have that chance and I am really excited that they are doing it in Orange and Blue. I have big expectations for them. At this point in the season, I don’t know that we are getting real specific to who we expect to average this many minutes or this many points. I think the strength of this team is that we are going to be very balanced. We have a lot of weapons. Going back to what I said earlier, I think we have nine players that can play. There is no one that when I look at this roster that I say, ‘maybe she will have it by January. She is a step or two behind everyone else.’ There is really none of that. There are nine very talented women, with Vikta who is the fantastic, unfortunately, cheerleader again this year. She knows how to play that role for us. The expectations, I can tell you are across the board in height. That is not just from the coaching staff to the players but that is for themselves. It is fun listening to them talking about that.”

 

On chemistry:

“The two aspects of the game that really show upare how you pass together and how you play as a defensive unit. That is where you see great chemistry on the floor fully come to life as a basketball skill. There are things that you see that we hope are an indication of the culture that we have built around here. How they treat each other after a play. When Jaterra (Bonds) takes a huge charge and gets knocked on her butt, there are four other teammates racing out there to help her up off the floor. That camaraderie of how they cheer for each other, how they pick each other up and how they operate in huddles, all of those things that would fall within that intangible category and are things that are indicative of a championship team and culture, I think you will see that. That will be an indication of having nine with great chemistry.”

 

On worrying about injuries:

“I’m not worried about that at all. I won’t sleep all year if I worry about it. Unfortunately, it is a part of our game. I hope it doesn’t happen and if does, we will handle it because we have nine players that can play. If we have to play with eight, we will play with eight. If we have to play with seven, we will play with seven. Like I said, I’ll get worried if we get down to four. I don’t think that is going to happen.”

 

On momentum from last year’s WNIT run:

“No question for the returners to do what they did at the end of the postseason and to maturely handle not being selected for the NCAA tournament, we knew we deserved to be in that field and not hang our heads, to take the show on the road and show what we are capable of. I think that made them really confident about who they are as a group and what they can do going forward. Our season did end last year. One of the things we talked about was that the season wasn’t necessarily ending. It was for Jennifer but she had a lot of big things ahead of her. But for the rest of returning group, it was really the beginning of something special. It was really the beginning of hopefully an era of success that we haven’t seen here in a while. I think they are bearing that mindset.”

 

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