It would be pretty easy for the 2013-14 Gator basketball team to strut into Orlando with an attitude. They’ve won 32 games; they’re the only team to ever go 18-0 during the regular season in the SEC. They won the SEC tournament by beating Kentucky for the THIRD time this year and they finished the season ranked #1. Put their number one seeding in the tournament on top of that, and their resume for this season is already pretty impressive.
But they’re not like that.
“For us being number one is a great honor and a great compliment, but I really don’t know what it means,” Head Coach Billy Donovan said during his press conference on Wednesday. “We’re in a bracket, we’ve got to play tomorrow and that’s the only thing that really matters. When you’re in a one-and-done tournament if you have a game where you don’t play well, chances are you’re not going to advance.”
Sometimes you can get a bunch of different answers from players, but this Gators team stays on message. And that message comes from Donovan.
“Coach D does a good job reminding us that no matter what the rankings are every year, there’s upsets,” the SEC Player of the Year Scotty Wilbekin said prior to the Florida shoot-around at the Orlando Arena. “It really doesn’t matter once the ball goes up. Anything can happen, anybody can beat anybody.”
Patric Young has been on Florida teams that have had some success and plenty of failure. He was able to put Florida’s past record and their current ranking into perspective. “Our first three years here, we were never the number one team in the country, and when we finally achieved that this year, we were just like, okay, I mean, everything is the same, nothing has really changed.”
It’s probably good that the Gators ascended to the top spot in the rankings as early as they did, because they got used to the questions and the attention that goes with that lofty ranking. Donovan reminded everybody, including his players that all that goes with that kind of recognition is that everybody gives you their best shot.
Playing so close to home, Florida will have plenty of fans in orange and blue come game time and it’s pretty much as close to a home game that they could have gotten in this NCAA Tournament. While the players admit that’s a good thing, they’re trying to stick to their routine. One scribe inquired as to why the Gator hadn’t allowed the team Moms to come in and cook for the players.
Actual home cooking.
“We’re going to focus on what we’ve always done,” Donovan said. “We’re not going to change routine. Everything we’re focusing on is what we have the responsibility to do and that’s to prepare, to practice and get ready to play. All the other stuff, we’re going to focus on anything that helps us play our best tomorrow.”
That’s the sound of an experienced, successful coach. While the Gators have been on this route before, this team, this year, this coaching staff is uniquely different. No matter what experience you’ve had at the tournament, each year has it’s own pitfalls. Donovan’s job is to anticipate those things and navigate around them.
We’ll see how they respond when the ball goes in the air against Albany.