Not long afterwinning his first national title, last spring, Gators coach Billy Donovan bentthe ears of two friends who have led teams to back-to-back championships: theNew England Patriots' Bill Belichick and the Miami Heat's Pat Riley. Florida isthe first NCAA champ since Arizona in 1997--98 to have all five of its startersreturn--those Wildcats made it to the West Regional final--and no team hasrepeated since Duke in '91--92. "We talked about dealing with outsidedistractions and hype," Donovan says. "They came back to this: You haveto go with your gut."
So Billy Dfollowed his instincts. He asked his players to spend the summer inGainesville, the better to elude the clutches of agents. He organized apreseason exhibition trip to Canada to resume the daily grind of practice. Andhe preached the value of actively attacking a new title instead of passivelydefending last season's. Yet Donovan realizes he can only control so much."In March we could be a better team than a year ago," he says, "orwe may not get as far as we did last season. We can't worry about that. We justhave to find a way to get better."
It's hard toimprove when you already have three likely first-round NBA draft picks(forwards Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer and center Al Horford ) and remarkableteam chemistry, but it's possible. Florida (10--6 in SEC play last year) was"a mediocre team in a mediocre league," says assistant coach LarryShyatt. Even the Gators' glorious NCAA tournament run had its shortcomings,Donovan says, noting the 16 offensive rebounds Florida allowed in the firsthalf of the Minneapolis regional final against Villanova. And while Donovanacknowledges that his backcourt of point guard Taurean Green and shooting guardLee Humphrey "is probably underrated" compared with headliner big menNoah and Horford, there's room for improvement there too. "Taurean had areally good year," says Donovan, citing Green's 38.4% three-point shootingand a sterling nine-assist, one-turnover performance in the national titlegame. "But he has to finish better and become a better shooter inside thethree-point line." Green made only 33.3% of his two-pointers lastseason.
Still, theGators' biggest challenge will be dealing with their rock-star treatment offthe court. "It's definitely changed," says Green. "We get peopleasking for autographs and handing us their phones so we can say hi to their momor dad."
By March it willbe clear how well they've handled the distractions. While they're the nation'smost accomplished outfit, the Gators understand as well as anyone that the bestteam doesn't always win the title.
[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
|SF||Corey BREWER -- RETURNING STARTER||6'9"||Jr.||12.3 ppg||4.8 rpg|
|PF||Joakim NOAH -- RETURNING STARTER||6'11"||Jr.||14.2 ppg||2.44 bpg|
|C||Al HORFORD -- RETURNING STARTER||6'10"||Jr.||11.3 ppg||7.6 rpg|
|SG||Lee HUMPHREY -- RETURNING STARTER||6'2"||Sr.||10.9 ppg||45.6 3FG%|
|PG||Taurean GREEN -- RETURNING STARTER||6'0"||Jr.||13.3 ppg||4.7 apg|
|C-F||Chris RICHARD -- KEY RESERVE||6'9"||Sr.||5.9 ppg||3.6 rpg|
Can the Gatorskeep their edge now that NBA futures are set and one title has been won? ...Will Noah's newfound celebrity harm team chemistry? ... Will a home courtslipup like last year's to South Carolina and Tennessee hurt them?
Nov. 14 NorthFlorida
Nov. 21 PrairieView
Nov. 24 WesternKentucky*
Dec. 3 at FloridaSt.
Dec. 17 FloridaA&M‚Ä†
Dec. 23 OhioSt.
Dec. 30 UAB‚Ä°
Jan. 13 at SouthCarolina
Jan. 20 OleMiss
Jan. 24 atMississippi St.
Jan. 27 atAuburn
Feb. 7 atGeorgia
Feb. 10 atKentucky
Feb. 17 atVanderbilt
Feb. 21 SouthCarolina
Feb. 24 atLSU
Feb. 27 atTennessee
*Las VegasInvitational ‚Ä†In Tampa ‚Ä°In Sunrise, Fla.
COACH: BillyDonovan (11th year)
SEC record: 10--6(second)