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Claire Boyce FORT WORTH, Texas -- The NCAA Championships in the Lone Star State means a homecoming of sorts for the Florida gymnastics team.

Just about every other team here, too.

A survey of the 12 squads on hand for college gymnastics’ marquee event shows 28 athletes from the state of Texas (or 15 percent of the competitors), with only UCLA and Nebraska without representation. What makes that statistic all the more insane is that the nation’s second-most populated state has -- get this -- zero Division I gymnastics programs.

“It's crazy,” UF senior and native Texan Rachel Spicer said. “If they had a school [with the sport] in Texas, they would dominate.”

But they don’t, which is good news for some of the elite programs across the country, including two-time reigning NCAA champion Florida, which lists five Texans on the roster; and that doesn’t count senior superstar Kytra Hunter, who was born in San Antonio.

“I think of Texas as my second home,” UF coach Rhonda Faehn said. "I have to."

That's because recruiting well is oil-like rich with gymnasts in these parts, which is how Faehn happened upon Spicer (Highland Village), Claire Boyce (Arlington), Ericha Fassbender (Katy), Kennedy Baker (Flower Mound) and Grace McLaughlin (Allen). Each is from the metropolitan Dallas area. Baker and Boyce came out of the prestigous Texas Dreams club.

Coming this fall: Freshman Peyton Ernst, by way of Coppell and a Senior International Elite gymnast and two-time member of the U.S. Senior National team.

Yes, everything is bigger in Texas. Apparently, the gymnasts are better, too. Certainly plentiful.

“My house is literally 15 minutes from here,” Boyce (pictured above) said Thursday after the team’s NCAA practice sessions at Fort Worth Convention Center Arena. “I told [the coaches] I wanted to go home for just a few hours, but they wouldn’t let me.”

Well, after all, there is some business to tend to here. And the fact it is here -- where these athletes have plenty of family of friends -- should be helpful when the competition begins Friday at 2 p.m. (ET) with the first of two six-team sessions, with the field be cut in half for Saturday night's Super Six.

Florida will be in that first Friday session.

“We’re going to have a huge crowd backing us up,” said Hunter, whose mother's side of the family hails from Houston. “We love to have the Gator Nation represented. We get six tickets each, but everybody’s been like, ‘Got any more tickets?’ ”

Baker noted the Gators could have something of a home-gym advantage, but added a caveat.

“So will just about everybody,” she said. “I kept running into [athletes] today and saying, ‘Hey, I haven’t seen you in years!’ I know I wasn’t the only one.”

The meet is being hosted by Division II Texas Women’s University, home to the lone gymnastics program in the Lone Star, and figures to a grand showcase for the sport in a place where it could use some showcasing. Who knows what it might lead to? An actual gymnastics program somewhere in the state, perhaps?

What a radical thought.

“We're always in support of other schools trying to pick up gymnastics,” Faehn said. “It might ignite something. We would love that.”

Sunday April 12, 2015 Gators assistant Matt McCall gets head coach job at Tennessee-Chattanooga

Updated: 9:01am, April 13

McCall

Matt McCall (left) rose through the ranks of Coach Billy Donovan's staff from manager to assistant coach. Now he's off to be head coach at Tennessee-Chattanooga. 

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Matt McCall could have pursued other head coaching opportunities in the past. The timing just wasn’t right.

It is now.

McCall, 33, was hired Sunday as head coach at Tennessee-Chattanooga and will leave Billy Donovan’s staff after four seasons, 107 victories, two Southeastern Conference titles, three NCAA Tournament berths and a trip to the Final Four. He’ll take over for a program left in very good shape by Will Wade, who was hired this week to replace Shaka Smart as head coach at Virginia Commonwealth.

“My family and I could not be happier,” said McCall in a UT-C release. He thanked athletic director David Blackburn and UT chancellor Steve Angle. “It takes a special place for me to leave the University of Florida and that is exactly what we see in Chattanooga.”

He truly rose through the Florida ranks to get this opportunity.

McCall mug McCall was a manager during the 2002-03 season and was promoted to director of basketball operations where he remained from 2004-08, including the back-to-back NCAA titles of ’06-07. In 2008, McCall went to Florida Atlantic as an assistant for Mike Jarvis, where he helped coach the Owls of the Sun Belt Conference for three seasons before returning to Florida in 2011 as a full-time member of Donovan's staff after the exit of Richard Pitino.

Now in the Southern Conference, McCall will inherit a team that went 22-10 last season, including 15-3 in the league, before being eliminated by Furman in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.

“Matt has done a tremendous job for the University of Florida and he will deeply be missed,” Donovan said in the release. “I knew it would take a special situation for Matt to leave, and without question, Chattanooga is a great opportunity. The Mocs are getting a great coach and an even better person.  Matt will do a tremendous job.”

The Moccasins are expected to return seven of their top eight scorers, including junior guards Casey Jones (14.2 points, 7.0 rebounds per game) and Greg Pryor (11.3 ppg).

McCall is the fifth Donovan staffer to jump to a first-time head coach opportunity, joining John Pelphrey (South Alabama in 2002), Anthony Grant (VCU in '07), Donnie Jones (Marshall in '07) and assistant to the head coach Mark Daigneault (Oklahoma City Blue, of the NBA Developmental League, in '14).

Donovan had gone three seasons with the same assistant coaching staff, but now will be in the market to fill a post for the first time since Norm Roberts left in 2012 for Kansas and was replaced by Rashon Burno, by way of Manhattan.

Lauren Haeger smiling

It was smiles all around Saturday for the Gators, who completed their first sweep of an SEC series this season by pummelling South Carolina in both games of a double-header by a combined score of 35-3.


GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There was no reason to tempt fate.

The third-ranked Florida Gators had tattooed a double-digit lead on South Carolina for the second time in two hours Saturday at Pressly Stadium and thus were on the verge of their first Southeastern Conference series sweep of the season.

It’s the first week in April, so there’s lots of time to fix whatever is wrong with sophomore pitcher Delanie Gourley. UF coach Tim Walton -- with an eye toward the threatening clouds to the north -- wasted no time determining that was an issue for another day.

Enter Lauren Haeger with a huge lead in the fourth.

Exit the Gators with that much-needed sweep six outs later.

“We didn’t want to sit here and waste the day away,” Walton said of the threat of a rain delay. “We wanted to get it over with.”

Did they ever. Try 16-3, thanks to a couple homers and six RBI from Haeger, plus four of the team’s 17 hits from red-hot second baseman Kelsey Stewart. That lopsided victory paired nicely with the first game of the double-dip when the Gators rolled the Gamecocks 19-0. Throw in Friday’s 10-2 win in the series opener and UF totaled 45 runs (to USC's five), shattering the record for most in a three-game series.

“We’ve been working really hard on getting our bats going again, [with] line drives, ground balls,” Haeger said. “We worked hard on it all week and we’re glad it paid off.”

More like ecstatic. Especially after failing to finish off potential series sweeps the last two weekends at SEC venues. The Gators (36-4, 8-4) dropped Game 3s at both Alabama and Mississippi State, including a blown 3-0 lead in the seventh in the later series that ended when freshman Alesha Ocasio served up five runs, with the last three on a walk-off homer.

So there was a sense of urgency to finish off the Gamecocks (26-15, 2-10). Even more so when a steady rain started coming down.

Gourley “We wanted a sweep,” Haeger said. “We just had to buckle down.”

As for Gourley (pictured left), the talented lefty is going through a funk right now, with her ERA having climbed to 2.32 after surrendering 12 earned runs over her previous 12 2/3 innings.

After Ocasio held USC to just four hits in the 19-0 blowout Saturday, Gourley started Game 3 by hitting a batter and then serving up a 3-run homer in the first inning to stick the Gators in an early hole.

Credit Gourley for settling down after that -- she surrendered just one more hit in her three innings -- but after the Gators bombarded Gamecocks starter Julie Sarratt for 12 runs in the third inning alone, Walton saw the grayish clouds on the horizon, felt a few drops here and there, and pulled the trigger.

Right call.

Florida has some big SEC series ahead, with Kentucky coming in next weekend and a road trip to Georgia after that. Heck, the Gators go to Florida State for a tough one Wednesday night. They are going to need Gourley to get her groove back.

But they did not need her to find it Saturday.

“We’re going to have to change how she comes out of the bullpen,” said Walton, adding he plans to give his players a day off from defense drills, line ‘em against Gourley and see what happens. “Her stuff is plenty good enough to win. We’re going to need to look at her routine and figure out what we need to change to make her more effective.”

She probably could have benefited from a pressure-free few innings Saturday with a 13-3 lead after three, but there was too many other really good things going on for the Gators. Like the opportunity to win two games the same day in mercey-rule fashion and enjoy an off Easter Sunday with a sweep in the review.

When Haeger got the final out, setting South Carolina down 1-2-3 in the top of the fifth, there was a unison chant in the UF dugout.

“Sweep!”

Sweet.

Thursday April 2, 2015 New Donovan deal hits $4 million per season, USA Today reports

Updated: 11:20am, April 2

Billy GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Final Four week means it’s time for the annual list of the top-paid college basketball coaches, courtesy of USA Today.

The data, obtained by the newspaper via public-records requests and research across the country, brought to light that Florida’s Billy Donovan signed a contract extension in December that takes him through five more seasons and makes him one of five coaches in the country making $4 million a year.

It's the second one-year contract extension Donovan has signed in the last two years.

The inner-workings of the new Donovan deal actually began when then-UF president Bernie Machen and Athletic Director Jeremy Foley huddled in the middle of the 2013-14 season while the Gators were on their way to a third Southeastern Conference title in four years, a school-record 30 straight victories, Donovan’s fourth Final Four appearance and graduating a four-man class of the winningest seniors in program history.

The new Donovan contract runs through the 2019-20 season and includes base salary, television and radio commitments, his Nike contract, pension, expense account and longevity incentives, bringing the annual average to $4,002,834 per year over the next six years. It adds about $1.92 million -- or approximately $321,000 annually -- to the contract extension he agreed to in 2013.

According to USA Today’s annual salary survey, only four other coaches have hit the $4 million per-year mark: Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski ($9.682 million), Louisville’s Rick Pitino ($5.758 million), Kentucky’s John Calipari ($5.511 million) and Kansas’ Bill Self ($4.960 million).

Heading into the '14-15 season, the Gators had a streak of 16 consecutive 20-win seasons. That run was broken, as UF went 16-17 -- the program's first losing season since 1997-98 -- but along the way Donovan became the second-youngest coach in NCAA history to win 500 games, doing so at the age of 49.

Wednesday April 1, 2015 Egbunu in middle of Gators' reboot

Updated: 8:30am, April 2

Egbunu

Center John Egbunu (orange jersey during a practice last October) sat out the 2014-15 season per NCAA rules after transferring from USF, but figures prominently in the team's plans next season.


GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- For Florida, the 2014-15 basketball season ended nearly three weeks ago, but for a handful of players the 2015-16 season -- the preparation thereof -- has begun.

NCAA rules allow teams eliminated from postseason competition to convene eight hours per week until the start of final exams, two hours of which can be spent on the floor. Don’t think for a second Billy Donovan wouldn’t take advantage of that rule, especially coming off a 16-17 record. The Gators who are in the mix for next season had a couple hour-long practices last week, then another on Tuesday.

And John Egbunu is now a center of attention.

Egbunu cheesecake Egbunu transferred from South Florida last summer and sat out the season per NCAA rules. The 6-foot-10, 255-pound post player would have been a welcomed sight in a Florida uniform the last few months, given the Gators struggles for production in the paint, but now his preparation and repetition -- even here in April -- are for real.

Although Egbunu must wait another eight months to make his UF debut, he’s no longer a player-in-waiting.

“A sit-out year is a year for getting better, so I made every single day like a game day for me,” Egbunu said Tuesday. “Just come in and work and try to help the guys get better and get ready for the teams we were playing. That’s what helped me stay focused.”

It’s natural for players in that “sit-out” year to grow frustrated without the reward of the games. Egbunu, though, swears that was never the case with him. The UF coaches and support staff love the kid and rave about his work ethic, willingness to be coached and his locker room presence as a teammate.   

Egbunu, in turn, felt for the Gators during their struggle through the program’s toughest season in years; their biggest, most physical player could only watch -- behind the bench during home games, on television during road games -- unable to do a thing about it.

“Anytime you’re sitting down you wonder how you could contribute in any way. We worked so hard and didn’t get the results we wanted, so it was tough,” he said. “But I guess that was just part of the obstacles we had to overcome and understand going forward next season and learning how we have to handle some things.”

When he arrived from USF, Egbunu checked in at 265 pounds. He not only lost 10 pounds of body fat, but sculpted his frame under the direction of strength and conditioning coordinator Preston Greene, further honing an athletic build that already was armed with a 40-inch vertical jump.

Though far from a polished offensive player, the native of Nigeria by way of both Atlanta and Fort Walton has only been playing the game for five years. A year ago, his minimal experience was good enough to average 7.4 points on 58.9-percent shooting, plus 6.2 rebounds and nearly 25 minutes per game as a USF freshman and American Athletic Conference All-Rookie selection. When Bulls coach Stan Heath was fired, Egbunu looked to transfer and eventually chose UF over Michigan State, Georgetown, Virginia Tech and Arizona.

Then came a year of banging bodies at practice and devoting extra time with coaches in individual instruction, working on post moves and fundamentals. Like all of his current teammates, he’ll need to work on his free-throw shooting too (54.5 percent at USF).

But make no mistake, Egbunu will be a factor in the Southeastern Conference next season.

A big, physical factor.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Ran across an item on ESPN.com today, as writers Chris Low and Adam Rittenberg ranked the greatest football-basketball coaching combinations in collegiate history.

The Gators -- and some Gators ties -- were well represented.

Tough to argue the No. 1 overall duo of the “Baron” and the “Bear,” as in Adolph Rupp and Paul “Bear” Bryant in their seven years together at Kentucky (1946-53). Everyone knows Rupp’s impact on the hardwood during his time at UK, but fewer know that Bryant led the Wildcats to the Orange, Sugar and Cotton bowls in consecutive years, along the way halting Oklahoma’s historic 31-game winning streak in 1950.

Spurrier at Duke At No. 2 is Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Steve Spurrier from 1987-89. Their time together was fleeting, but it was fun (even before the gun). While Coach K was building one of the nation’s premier programs at Cameron Indoor, Spurrier (left) was doing amazing things on the football field. His “Airball” offense (that’s what it was called in Durham) ignited the Blue Devils to their only Atlantic Coast Conference title in the last half-century.

Billy Donovan and Urban Meyer showed up at No. 3, though I’m not so sure they shouldn’t be a notch higher, considering they teamed up for four combined national championships compared to none from the Duke duo ranked ahead of them. Here’s what ESPN.com had to say:

 


Billy & UrbanGood luck finding a year they remember more fondly at Florida than 2006. Donovan guided the Gators to their first national championship in basketball, which turned out to be the first of two straight national titles. Meyer delivered later that fall with a football crown, the Gators’ first in a decade. Donovan joined Bobby Knight this season as only the second coach in history to win 500 games before his 50th birthday. He’s guided Florida to four Final Fours and seven Elite Eights in 19 seasons. Meyer had the football side of it at Florida covered with a pair of national championships in 2006 and 2008 before taking a year off and then landing at Ohio State. All he’s done in Buckeye Land is go 38-3 in three seasons, including the first Collegiate Football Playoff national championship this past season. And only two FBS coaches -- Meyer and Nick Saban -- have won national championships with two different schools.

 

After Michigan State’s Tom Izzo and Nick Saban (1995-99) at No. 4, then North Carolina’s Dean Smith and Mack Brown (1988-97) at No. 5, Donovan and Spurrier both make repeat appearances at No. 6 for their time together at Florida from 1996-2001.

SOS & Billy Donovan and Spurrier each make their second appearance on this list thanks to the six years they spent together in Gainesville. Although Florida had some success in both basketball and football, Donovan and Spurrier elevated the programs to elite status. In 2007, Donovan joined Adolph Rupp as the only SEC coaches to win back-to-back national championships. He has led Florida to four Final Fours, three championship game appearances, six SEC titles and 16 straight 20-seasons from 1998 to 2014. Spurrier won nine or more games in each of his 12 seasons and dominated the SEC with an 87-12 record. He had nine top-10 finishes at Florida and later added three more as South Carolina’s coach. Both are by far the winningest coaches at their respective Florida programs.

The rest of the top 10:

No. 7: Fred Taylor/Woody Hayes (Ohio State, 1958-76).

No. 8: John Wooden/Tommy Prothro (UCLA, 1965-70)

No. 9: Denny Crum/Howard Schnellenberger (Louisville, 1985-94)

No. 10: Eddie Sutton/Frank Broyles (Arkansas, 1974-76).

For what it’s worth, the story included a second 10 that included former UF basketball coach Norm Sloan, but alongside Lou Holtz for their days at North Carolina State (1972-75), where “Stormin’ Norman” won the 1974 NCAA title.

Gruden's office

 

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- If you were following me on Twitter last Wednesday, you probably figured out I was enjoying myself during a full day lurking behind the scenes as ESPN filmed the Garrett Grayson installment of "Gruden's QB Camp" as part of its run-up coverage to the NFL Draft next month.

In case you missed my story, check it out here.

Grayson is the Colorado State prospect getting a lot of positive pre-draft buzz after the Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Year erupted for record-breaking numbers last fall under Coach Jim McElwain, now coach of the Florida Gators.

Special thanks to Gruden and ESPN producer Jay Rothman for allowing me a full day of "QB Camp" access to write this story. I covered the Buccaneers for The Orlando Sentinel for nine seasons, including each of Gruden's seven years on the sidelines. And I had a front-row seat to chronicle the 2002 world championship run that culminated with a 48-21 obliteration of the Oakland Raiders -- the very team Gruden was pried from nearly a year earlier for the price tag of two first-round draft picks, two second-rounders and $8 million -- in Super Bowl XXXVII at San Diego.

Note: Somewhere in the Tampa Bay area there is probably a copy or two of "Tales From the Bucs Sidelines," the first history book written about the franchise (co-authored by veteran Tampa Tribune staffer Joey Johnston and I), in a 50-cent bin. Enjoy it ... if you can find it.

Anyway, it was cool catching up with Gruden after a few years and doing so at the very same venue, Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports, to which he moved training camp (about 70 miles up Interstate 4 from Tampa) upon his arrival and staged three weeks of intense work in the oppressive, unforgiving Central Florida heat.

"Training camp is where you capture your team," Gruden always liked to say.

He certainly captured that first Bucs team while there. In his first team meeting, he actually challenged the Tampa Bay defense, which had defined and carried the club during Tony Dungy's six previous seasons, to be even better in 2002. He challenged the defense, in fact, to score -- get this -- nine touchdowns over the course of the year and see where that put 'em.

The Bucs' defense scored its seventh, eighth and ninth TDs in the Super Bowl.

Now, with his "QB Camp" show, Gruden has captured the imagination of fans who answer in the affirmative to one of his most famous questions; one he routinely puts to his quarterback subjects.  

"Do you love football?"

Yes.

Loved writing this story, too.

If you want to see the hour-long Grayson episode, tune into ESPN on April 18 at noon, with seven total airings of the segment on the program slate. Along with Grayson, Gruden also sat down with Florida State's Jameis Winston, Oregon's Marcus Mariota, UCLA's Brett Hundley and Baylor's Bryce Petty.

For a schedule of all the episodes with all five QBs -- both debuts and repeats -- go here.

Gruden selfie

Friday March 27, 2015 Gators 'Pro Day' open to the public

Updated: 10:45am, March 27

DJ Humphries GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Executives, personnel types and scouts from around the National Football League will be in town on April 7 as the Florida football staff hosts the Gators' annual "Pro Day" workouts for its prospects at Florida Field.

The on-field drills are scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m., with the stadium open to the public.

UF has submitted a list of 22 players who will take part in the workouts, headlined by defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., who is being projected as a top-five pick with most mock drafts placing the Gators sack specialist as the No. 3 overall selection to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Fowler, who had a spectacular showing at the NFL Combine in February, is expected to become the 14th UF player taken in the draft's top 10 and the first since cornerback Joe Haden went seventh to Cleveland in 2010.

Another Gator who figures in early round conversations is offensive tackle D.J. Humphries, who may have surprised some by opting to go pro early like Fowler. But also like Fowler, Humphries (pictured above) opened eyes that mattered with some impressive work at the combine.

Here's a list of the rest of Florida's Pro Day participants:

Gideon Ajagbe (fullback)
Neiron Ball (linebacker)
Mack Brown (running back)
Trenton Brown (offensive lineman)
Clay Burton (tight end)
Kyle Christy (punter)
Darious Cummings (defensive lineman)
Andre Debose (wide receiver/kick returner)
Quinton Dunbar (wide receiver)
Drew Ferris (long snapper)
Max Garcia (offensive lineman)
Jabari Gorman (defensive back)
Chaz Green (offensive lineman)
Matt Jones (running back)
Hunter Joyer (fullback)
Tyler Moore (offensive lineman)
Leon Orr (defensive lineman)
Michael Taylor (linebacker)
Frankie Velez (placekicker)
Tevin Westbrook (tight end)

Thursday March 26, 2015 Michael Frazier turning pro

Updated: 7:09pm, March 26

Bye, bye Michael GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The offseason basketball news cycle tipped off Thursday with word that guard Michael Frazier II would bypass his senior season at Florida and put his name in the NBA draft pool.

The 6-foot-4, 190-pound Frazier was hampered by a high-ankle sprain that spiraled his playing time and productivity the last third of the season. He averaged 12.1 points and 4.1 rebounds, while shooting a career-low 38 percent from 3-point range during his junior year, but missed eight games spanning February and early March before returning to make just two of 16 shots the team’s last three games.

The final shots of his UF career, as it turned out.

Frazier will leave UF with 998 points, two shy of becoming the 51st player in the program’s 1,000-point club. His career 3-point percentage of .432 ranks seventh in team history and his .854 free-throw shooting third all time.

The ankle injury that sidelined Frazier occurred in the first half of a 68-61 home loss against Kentucky on Feb. 7. Frazier tried to return to the game, but could not put weight or cut on the ankle.

Without a healthy Frazier to space defenses with his shooting, the Gators went 3-7 and struggled to score the rest of the year.

Where (and if) Frazier figures into the NBA draft conversations likely will depended on his combine and individual workouts. He’s never excelled at ball-handling or driving the ball and as such there are some draft sites -- such as DraftExpress.com and NBADraftNet.com -- where he does not appear in the Top 100 prospects and another, CBSSports.com, where he’s ranked as the No. 70 overall prospect in what will be a 60-player draft.

His status, though, could certainly change now that he’s officially thrown his name in the pool, as teams delve more deeply into his skills set. There are plenty of NBA teams (along with D-League and overseas teams) in need of a great shooter.

Tuesday March 24, 2015 Major weight room expansion set for basketball facility

Updated: 4:25pm, March 24

Preston and Chiozza

Men's basketball strength and conditioning coordinator Preston Greene spots Chris Chiozza during a workout at the UF hoops facility, which will undergo a $1.2 million renovation starting next month.


GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The weight room at the Florida basketball complex is about to bulk up.

The University Athletic Association has approved an estimated $1.2 million renovation to the 14-year-old facility that houses the men’s and women’s basketball programs and serves as training base for Florida's golf and tennis teams, as well. The project will double the facility’s current workout space, as well as expand office space for training coordinators and make room for a nutritional bar.  

Preston/DevinConstruction is scheduled to begin in April and targeted for completion in late August.

“The administration’s commitment to the development of our student-athletes on this front is greatly appreciated,” said men’s basketball strength and conditioning coordinator Preston Greene. “We’ll basically have twice the floor space, allowing us to implement greater training methods and protocols. Also, the nutrition station is vital to post-workout supplementation and regeneration.”

The facility’s strength and conditioning area currently measures at 1,525 square feet, but plans call for demolition of two walls that will allow the weight room to expand into space currently used for a laundry room on one end and storage on the other. The program coordinators, Greene and Tyler Stuart, will have their own offices and convenient access to the fuel bar.

When finished, the new weight room and area will measure 3,056 square feet.

“This project will enhance the top-tier training space for our men’s and women’s programs in that facility,” said Chip Howard, UAA’s executive associate director for internal affairs. “When completed, it’ll ensure our coaches can continue to recruit, retain and empower our student-athletes to perform at the highest possible level.”

Billy

For the first time in 18 years, Billy Donovan and his basketball team will be on the sidelines when the NCAA and NIT tournaments start this week.


GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- How different was Selection Sunday for Billy Donovan?

The Florida coach went to church with his family, then took them out for sushi, and after that stopped to visit his parents. He did see a portion of the NIT selection show -- the one most Gators were interested in, for obvious reasons -- but it wasn’t like he was glued to the set.

Donovan heard earlier in the day that UF was not getting in.

Whether his players engaged in the TV-watching ritual, Donovan assumed they did. And, frankly, he hopes the moment sunk in nice and deep.

“This is not a rite of passage. You build a resume and a history and you’re rewarded by what you do,” Donovan said late Sunday night after official word came that UF -- with no NCAA or NIT tournament berth -- would be out of postseason play for the first time since 1996-97, the year 30-year-old "Billy the Kid" took over the Florida program. “Just because you’re at Florida and the last four years have brought a high level of success in the [Southeastern Conference] and the NCAA Tournament, it doesn’t mean that happens the next. They’re no different than anyone else. ... The reality of it: We did not earn our way into any postseason play.”

Looking back, the Gators’ doomed “March Madness” -- and 16-17 record -- may have been somewhat self-inflicted, the coach said. UF played the fourth-hardest schedule in the nation, according to the Ratings Percentage Index, with 23 games against teams that reached the NCAA or NIT fields. Florida went 3-11 against the NCAA teams and 5-4 against the NIT teams.

Worth noting: Against the SEC teams selected for the NIT -- Texas A&M, Alabama and Vanderbilt -- the Gators went 4-2. Each of those opponents, however, had winning records, whereas Florida, with a schedule that included three games against NCAA overall No. 1 seed Kentucky, plus non-league dates against No. 2 seed Kansas, No. 4 seeds North Carolina and Georgetown, plus reigning national champion Connecticut. 

As for the NIT-bound SEC teams, A&M’s schedule checked in at No. 96th, Alabama’s 56th and Vandy’s 115th.

In retrospect, this version of the Gators may have been comparable (maybe better) than the 2008 and ’09 teams -- with Nick Calathes and Chandler Parsons in their freshman and sophomore seasons -- that ended up in the NIT two straight years, but was aided by notoriously easy non-conference slates.

“We’ll have to look at scheduling to see what makes sense for us,” Donovan said.

The coach and his assistants, bank on it, will look at a lot of things about the the program in its current state and see what makes sense. Donovan is nothing if not heavy into evaluation. That includes self-evaluation.

His players, particularly the ones slated to return, will have a lot of time to do the same; to reflect back on what might have gone wrong and ponder what lies ahead.

“Going into the year, there was an unrealistic expectation that our guys had of how good they thought they were, and I don’t think last year’s season helped with that,” Donovan said of the 36-3 rampage that ended at the Final Four. “As much as I tried to get that through to them, I think it’s an area where I fell short. I could never get them to deal with how far they had to go. In November and December, I’m sure they thought they were getting to the NCAA Tournament. Now, comes the time when you deal with truth and reality.

When it comes to college basketball, there's no more powerful truth and reality than watching March basketball -- all of it -- from the couch.

Sunday March 15, 2015 Softball team will go back to work, not overreact

Updated: 5:27pm, March 15

Team huddle

Coach Tim Walton huddles with his team after Sunday's 10-3 loss to LSU, which gave the third-ranked Tigers two wins in their three-game series against the top-ranked Gators. [Photo by Jim Burgess]


GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Lauren Haeger tapped freshman pitcher Aleshia Ocasio on the shoulder.

“I got it,” she said.

Haeger was referencing the post-game mini-scrum of media waiting to hear reaction to LSU’s 10-3 beating Sunday of the top-ranked Florida, a decisive defeat that came less than 24 hours after Ocasio surrendered a grand slam in the final inning in what turned out to be a 14-10 victory for the Tigers and UF's first loss of the season. On Sunday, it was Haeger serving up a three-run homer in the sixth to hit machine Bianka Bell, the key blow in 10 unanswered runs against the UF pitching staff.

As a senior, Haeger felt it her responsibility to speak on the team’s behalf. And make no mistake, as a senior she’ll also make it her responsibility -- as well the rest of veterans on this team -- to do whatever is necessary to bounce back from two eye-opening outcomes.

“We need to play better. We need to execute better and have better approaches at bat,” Haeger said. “That was not our best series at all.”

Far from it.

Coming into their Southeastern Conference opening series, the top-ranked, unbeaten Gators had played a difficult non-league schedule and along the way surrendered just 28 runs in 27 games.

Well, third-ranked LSU left town with 27 runs over three games. And with two wins on the road, the Tigers (27-1) likely left town as the nation’s new No. 1 team.

It’s also just March 15.

Florida has 25 more games to play.

“I don’t think we’re going to overreact,” said junior center fielder Kirsti Merritt, who provided all of UF’s offense with a three-run homer in the third to give the Gators a 3-0 lead that the Tigers vaporized over the final three innings. “They’re a good team. We’re a good team. We just have to keep going hard at practice. As long as we do that, we’ll be OK.”

Rest assured, the Gators will keep going hard. Coach Tim Walton knows no other way.

“I’m not happy, I guarantee you that,” he said. “We’re going to have to make some adjustments, but fortunately, we’re early in the season.”

Florida’s hitters were behind the count on LSU starter Kelsee Selman virtually the entire game. Unproductive at-bats, though, pretty much were the theme of the weekend against the high-powered Tigers. With the exception of Taylore Fuller (three homers Saturday; nine of her team's 12 RBI in the series) and Kelsey Stewart (6-for-11), the Gators really struggled to mount offense. Their 3-4 hitters, Haeger and Bailey Castro, combined to go 2-for-17; he bottom third of the order went 1-for-22.

And then there was Bell, the LSU shortstop and Tampa product who came into the series hitting .513 -- and raised her average by 32 points. She was 10-for-14 against the Gators, with eight RBI, including the big blast in Sunday’s game.

Yeah, LSU is a good team, all right. A really good team. One Florida figures to see down the line again when the stakes are much, much higher.

If Walton's track record is any indication, when the time comes to see the Tigers again, the Gators will be much, much better because of the events of this weekend.

“We didn’t play very well, didn’t pitch very well, didn’t hit very well, but I’m not going to say it’s alarming. What are we now, 28-2?” said Walton, correctly calling the team’s record. “If we had won 3-2 today, I wouldn’t have been satisfied. We'll go back and look at some things, like personnel, and see what we have to do better.”

Thursday March 12, 2015 Walton can't wait to see just how good his Gators are

Updated: 11:24pm, March 12

Tim fist-bump GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No doubt, there are historic records out there that track such things, but for argument’s sake let’s ponder the odds of two college softball teams facing off nearly a month into their respected seasons and both undefeated.

“Has to be unheard of,” Florida coach Tim Walton said.

No. 1-ranked and defending national champion UF (27-0) welcomes No. 3 and unbeaten LSU (25-0) in a three-game weekend series at Pressly Stadium.

For the Gators, Friday's 6 p.m. opener will mark their first home appearance since Feb. 25, after the club went a perfect 10-for-10 during a 9-day road swing through California. Along the way, UF beat No. 2 Oregon (twice), No. 3 Michigan (for a second time in a month) and run-ruled No. 13 Arizona.

Heading into the Southeastern Conference season, Florida has outscored opponents 212-28, is hitting .323 as a team (compared to .158 for opponents) and has three pitchers with a combined ERA of 0.76.

Yeah, the Gators are really good. They know it, too.

So how does Walton keep them grounded?

“I ask them what their goals are,” he said. “Do you want to be the best team the first half of the season or the best team at the end? We’re a good team, but we’re not the best team at the end right now.”

Like they were last year.

If the Gators need additional grounding, a glance at the LSU stat sheet may help. The Tigers have put up some pretty gaudy numbers themselves, with three wins over ranked foes -- two against No. 20 Notre Dame and a 4-3 defeat of Arizona -- and can stack their stats up against UF’s, for sure. LSU has a 199-28 margin in runs, hits .375 as a team (.185 for opponents), and will trot out four pitchers with an aggregate ERA of 0.86.

“It’s a good way for us to start the SEC off and see where we are,” Walton said. “Let’s measure up and see what we have to improve on and get better on, whether that’s offensively, defensively or pitching.”

And what if some flaws rear themselves? What if the Gators actually, you know, lose a game?

How will they react?

“I don’t think it’s about how they’ll react. It’s how I react,” Walton said. “I’m the one who makes the practice plan. I’m the one who makes them comfortable or uncomfortable. I have players I love to death and I love coaching them because they go as hard as they can without worrying about the outcome.”

Should make for an interesting weekend.

Thursday March 12, 2015 Jeremy Foley, Billy Donovan on new SEC comish Greg Sankey

Updated: 7:11pm, March 12

Greg Sankey NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Southeastern Conference rolled out some news on the second day of its basketball tournament with the announcement that Greg Sankey had been tabbed to replace Mike Slive as the league's next commissioner. For the last 12 years, Sankey (pictured right) served as Slive's right hand man as SEC executive associate commissioner.

Said Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley: "Greg is the perfect person to lead the SEC into the next chapter of its storied history. Like Commissioner Slive, he is a consensus builder who understands the big picture and understands the complex issues facing collegiate athletics today. He is well respected and has the ability to connect with his peer groups, coaches, administrators and student athletes."

After the Gators defeated Alabama 69-61 in second-round tournament action, Coach Billy Donovan was asked to weigh in on the hire.

"I love Greg. I think it's a great hire," Donovan said. "I think he's really smart. I think he's bright. I think he gets the big picture. He's been involved in a lot of different committees. I think he's got a really, really good pulse on the NCAA. I think he's got a really good pulse on where college athletics is moving. Just in my interaction with Greg, I couldn't be any happier for our league because I really believe they hired a great guy."

Thursday March 5, 2015 SEC Tournament scenarios for Gators

Updated: 9:40am, March 8

Billy GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- With Saturday's showdown at No. 1 and unbeaten Kentucky looming, Florida fans have been asking where Coach Billy Donovan and his Gators will stand after the game relative to their seeding in the Southeastern Conference Tournament at Nashville next week.

We're here to help.

If the Gators, currently 8-9 in league play and assured of playing in Thursday's quarterfinals, were to upset the mighty Wildcats at Rupp Arena, the No. 7 seed in the tournament would be theirs.

Arkansas, according to the league office, was locked into the No. 2 seed even before it won Thursday night at South Carolina, so we can lay out the eight scenarios that would impact where Florida -- vying with Vanderbilt (also 8-9 in SEC play), along with Alabama and Tennessee (both 7-10) for that No. 7 seed -- falls in the event of a loss Saturday.

In the other Saturday games that impact the Gators:

* Vanderbilt (18-12) plays host to Ole Miss (20-10, 11-6)

* Alabama (17-13) is at Texas A&M (20-9, 11-6)

* Tennessee (15-14) is home against South Carolina (14-14, 5-11)

Note: For those wondering, the No. 8 and No. 9 positions will fall opposite of top-seeded Kentucky in the tournament bracket. So, yes, it matters.

Here are the scenarios, all of them factoring in head-to-head tiebreakers, combination tiebreakers or a match of results against the teams at the top of the standings.

If Vanderbilt wins, Alabama wins, Tennessee wins ...
7. Vanderbilt
8. Florida
9. Alabama
10. Tennessee
 
If Vanderbilt wins, Alabama wins, Tennessee loses ...
7. Vanderbilt
8. Florida
9. Alabama
10. Tennessee
 
If Vanderbilt wins, Alabama loses, Tennessee wins ...
7. Vanderbilt
8. Florida
9. Tennessee
10. Alabama
 
If Vanderbilt loses, Alabama wins, Tennessee wins ...
7. Florida
8. Vanderbilt
9. Alabama
10. Tennessee
 
If Vanderbilt wins, Alabama loses, Tennessee loses ...
7. Vanderbilt
8. Florida
9. Alabama
10. Tennessee
 
If Vanderbilt loses, Alabama loses, Tennessee wins ...
7. Florida
8. Vanderbilt
9. Tennessee
10. Alabama
 
If Vanderbilt loses, Alabama wins, Tennessee loses ...
7. Vanderbilt
8. Florida
9. Alabama
10. Tennessee
 
If Vanderbilt loses, Alabama loses, Tennessee loses ...
7. Florida
8. Vanderbilt
9. Alabama
10. Tennessee
 

Tuesday March 3, 2015 Jon Horford on opting out of UF Senior Night

Updated: 12:01pm, March 5

Horford dunking

Jon Horford dunks in Florida's victory over Tennessee at the O'Connell Center. (Photo: Tim Casey)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Jake Kurtz and Lexx Edwards are the two players who will be honored on Tuesday’s “Senior Night” pre-game ceremony as Florida hosts Texas A&M in the home finale at the O'Connell Center.

But they’re not the only seniors on this 2014-15 UF team.

Center Jon Horford, who graduated from Michigan last year and transferred to Florida under the NCAA's instant-eligibility guidelines, declined to take part in the proceedings. In talking about the decision, Horford cited a simple reason.

“I just don’t like stuff like that,” he said. “When I was at Michigan, I told them if I would have come back I wouldn’t have done it there, either. I’m just not comfortable with stuff like that.”

His night, his call.

The 6-foot-10, 245-pound Horford has started all but three of the 27 games he’s played in for the Gators, averaging 6.4 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. Some of Horford’s best minutes of his brief UF career have come the last three games, when he’s upped his averages to 8.6 points and 7.0 rebounds, while playing some very solid defense in the post. The Gators will need that Tuesday against an Aggies bunch that is very physical down low.

The Gators will need that Tuesday against an Aggies bunch that is very physical down low.

Coach Billy Donovan praised Horford’s commitment to preparation.

“I’m happy he’s had an opportunity to play and feel like he’s gotten better and  improved. There was a lot for him to learn in terms of going from one system to another,” Donovan said. “I always admired his work ethic. He’s a guy that eats right every single meal. He’s going to get his rest. He’s going to go to bed early. He’s going to take care of himself. He’s going to be the first guy to show up every day. He’s going to be the last guy to leave. He’s going to put time, energy and effort in there. He’s got a phenomenal work ethic, as good as any work ethic I’ve ever been around.”

Though Horford was late to the party with this team, transferring in for Summer-B session last June, he put in the time and effort to try and become a good teammate and elder leader.

And he’ll be there to give a hand to Kurtz and Edwards, a pair of walk-ons, as they are saluted by the home crowd.

“I hope they are celebrated and that people appreciate everything they’ve given to the program,” Horford said. “It’s easy to overlook players sometimes who don’t have all the accolades, but to have good teams you need to have good scout teams and good walk-on players.”

Sunday March 1, 2015 Looking Back: Billy Donovan's milestone timeline

Updated: 9:34am, March 2

Billy D is hired GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- His first basketball victory came nearly 21 years ago in his head-coaching debut at Marshall. Billy Donovan's 500th came Saturday night with a 66-49 defeat of Tennessee before an adoring crowd at the O'Connell Center.

I wasn’t at that first one back in Huntington, W.Va., more than two decades ago, but I was in the old Gator Room the day Jeremy Foley introduced Donovan, then 29 and with just two Southern Conference seasons under his belt, as the University of Florida’s next coach. And eight months later I had a front-row seat for his first game -- and win -- on the Gators’ sidelines.

Here’s my story -- plucked from the Internet -- from that 80-63 defeat of Central Florida on Nov. 22, 1996. Below that snapshots of Donovan wins 100, 200, 300, 400 and 500.



UCF Turns Over Opener To Florida
The Gators Pressured The Knights Into Giving Up The Ball 37 Times And Cruised To An 80-63 Victory.

November 23, 1996

By Chris Harry
of The Orlando Sentinel Staff

GAINESVILLE — It rained turnovers at the O'Connell Center on Friday night, and the University of Central Florida Golden Knights were drenched in the storm.

The Florida Gators ushered in the frenetic Billy Donovan era by forcing a school-record 37 turnovers in waxing the mistake-prone Knights, 80-63, in front of an O-Dome season-opening crowd of 7,549.

Senior guard Greg Williams scored 20 points, freshman swingman Kenyan Weaks pitched in 18 and senior walk-on forward Joel Reinhart, from Cocoa Beach, nearly tripled his career-point total with 14.

Donovan made good in his debut on his promise to implement the same aggressive, full-court system that he learned as an assistant under Kentucky coach Rick Pitino. When the final horn sounded, UF had set a school record with 24 steals, including six each from Reinhart and sophomore forward Greg Stolt.

''I thought our press was the big factor in the game,'' said Donovan, whose team won despite 20 turnovers and 40 percent shooting. ''That was encouraging and positive.''

Added Williams: ''Speaking from the times we've played against Kentucky, you can get nervous (playing the press).

This year, I guess some teams are going to have to worry about us a little bit.''

The Gators (1-0) trailed, 15-13, four minutes into the game, when a post-up move by UF center Damen Maddox tied the score and tipped off an 8-minute, 24-2 scoring spree that blew open the game.

The Knights (0-1) had no answers for Florida’s full-court pressure or the shooting eye of Weaks, who poured in 15 points during the run and helped the Gators open a 37-17 cushion.

''Their system goes on good runs,'' said Knights coach Kirk Speraw, a former Gators assistant. ''When attacking them, you try not to make those runs happen.''

Couldn't do it.

''We'd prepared for their press all week. We just didn't get after it like they did,'' said senior guard Harry Kennedy, who led UCF with 20 points and hit 4 of 8 shots from 3-point range. ''But I'm proud that we didn't give up in the first half. We fought back.''

The Knights whittled the margin to 13 by halftime, and with a 10-3 run midway through the second half, cut the lead to eight, 60-52, and had the ball. However, a traveling call on freshman Cory Perry led to a 3-pointer by Williams, and it wasn't long before UF by 8 became UF by 15.

All told, four Gators finished in double figures, including Reinhart's 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting, 6 rebounds, 6 steals and 2 assists.

 

And now, here's a timeline (with game details) of Billy D's milestone other victories:


Billy D at Marshall The 1st
March 26, 1994
Huntington, W.Va.
Marshall 112, Bluefield College 67

At 28, Donovan was youngest Division I head coach in the country and his first game came against a Division III school 160 to the southeast of Huntington -- and about the same distance relative to talent. The debut of “Billyball” wowed the Henderson Center home crowd by throttling the outmanned Rams for 61 first-half points. “There’s a tendency when you get a lead like that for the second half to be showtime -- just making spectacular plays,” Donovan said that night. “But I thought, for the most part, we played unselfishly, made the extra pass and executed.” The Thundering Herd got 29 points from Doug Schieppe, who hit seven 3-pointers, and 21 points from Shawn Moore. The Herd attempted 33 shots from 3-point range, forced 36 turnovers and tallied 20 steals.  


Mike Miller The 100th
Feb. 2, 2000
Columbia, S.C.
Florida 86, South Carolina 82

Sixteen months earlier, Gamecocks coach Eddie Fogler publicly questioned Donovan’s recruiting tactics (and ethics) at SEC Media Days in Birmingham. The fallout was a firestorm of back-and-forth between the two schools, with Foley and Donovan on the defensive, and the league reprimanding both sides. Fogler’s insinuations turned out to be just that and Donovan exacted revenge the best way possible by pummeling the Gamecocks on the court. Win No. 100 was UF’s third straight over South Carolina and came courtesy of 22 points from guard Kenyan Weaks and 20 points from guard Teddy Dupay, the two of whom combined to bang nine of 14 shots from long distance. All five of Dupay’s 3-pointers gave UF leads after the Gators had fallen behind, not that Dupay knew. “I almost never look at the score during a game,” he said. Mike Miller (right) had nine points, eight rebounds and six assists. “The one thing you can say about Teddy and Kenyan and most shooters is, you make one or two early, you kind of get your rhythm going,” Donovan said. “Very rarely do you see people go from start to finish with that type of range.”



The 200th
Feb. 25, 2004
Gainesville, Fla.
Florida 69, South Carolina 58

Roberson Down by three inside of four minutes to go, the Gators (20-10, 9-7) scored the game’s final 14 points to run away from the Gamecocks and remain in contention for an NCAA Tournament berth and give Donovan his second three-digit milestone. More than 2 1/2 months after being ranked No. 1 in the nation -- and a week after forward Christian Drejer quit the team in midseason to sign a pro contract in Spain -- Florida was fighting for its postseason life and just trying to get to 10 wins in SEC play late in the season. "We've all got to participate in our own survival a little bit," Donovan said. "You've got to go grab the rope when you're out of the boat. That's not to say we're back in the boat yet." As was often the case during that the three-year run from 2003-05, the trio of guard Anthony Roberson (right), forward Matt Walsh and center David Lee did the heavy lifting. Roberson had 24 points and seven assists, Walsh 15 points and five rebounds, Lee 12 points and five rebounds.


SpeightsThe 300th
Nov. 17, 2007
Gainesville, Fla.
Florida 88, Rutgers 63

Four games into defending those back-to-back national championships with virtually an entirely different cast, the Gators got double-doubles from forwards Marreese Speights (left) and Dan Werner to help Donovan become “Mr. 300” and win a 23rd straight home game. Speights had 18 points and 12 rebounds, while Werner was good for 10 and 10. All five UF starters finished in double figures, with point guard Jai Lucas carding 15 points to go with five assists as the Gators improved to 4-0. "I feel very fortunate and blessed to be here at Florida, and still be able to be here," Donovan said. "When you look at those things, it's not really me and really I mean that. It doesn't happen without the University of Florida, without the administration and certainly without the players who played here. I really was fortunate to coach some really great kids."


The 400th
Nov. 28, 2011
Orlando
Florida 96, Stetson 70

Stetson Donovan surged past Kansas coach Bill Self to become the youngest active coach to hit 400 wins, accomplishing the feat at 46 years. Self hit the mark two years earlier at the age of 48. “It’s hard to believe,” Donovan said. “It’s certainly a reflection that time is moving on.” Freshman guard Bradley Beal had the second double-double of his career, scoring 22 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, blocking three shots and dishing three assists in a neutral-site game at Amway Center. Guard Erving Walker threw in 21 points and forward Will Yeguete (right) had his first career double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds plus four steals. First-year Stetson coach Casey Alexander may have had the best line of the night. “Coming from a guy who’s won three, well, 400 seems as far away as you can get,” he said. “But he should be congratulated for his longevity, the way he’s done it and having these kinds of teams year after year after year.”  



The 500th
Feb. 28, 2015
Gainesville, Fla.
Florida 66, Tennessee 49

Rowdies Donovan, at 49, became the second-youngest coach -- behind only Bob Knight (48) -- in Division I history to reach the 500-victory milestone. At the end of what is looming as the program's first losing season in 17 years, the Gators put together their best wire-to-wire effort, in shooting nearly 70 percent in the first half, including 7-for-11 from 3-point range, to open an 18-point lead. Junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith returned from a three-game suspension for violation of team rules to score 20 points and grab 10 rebounds. As the game ended, the Rowdy Reptile section of the O'Dome serenaded their future Hall-of-Fame coach with chants of "BIL-LY D! BIL-LY D! BIL-LY D!" Afterward, Donovan was both appreciative and humbled. "You're only as good as the people around," he said. "I've been blessed." 

Doe shooting GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith has been reinstated to the Florida basketball team after serving a three-game suspension for violating team rules.

Finney-Smith, the team’s second-leading scorer and top rebounder, will be on the floor Saturday when the Gators (13-15, 6-9) take on Tennessee (14-13, 6-9) at the O’Connell Center, as Coach Billy Donovan goes for his 500th career victory.

“He’s taken care of all his responsibilities and everything we’ve asked him to do,” Donovan said. “I still feel like he needs to understand that when it comes to some of the choices he’s made there are other people affected by it. From my perspective, he’s got to earn back some trust from our team and show a higher level of commitment, especially being an older guy.”

The suspension for Finney-Smith, who's averaging 12.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, was the second of his career -- he sat out the first two regular-season games of the 2013-14 season, also -- and this time the Gators lost two of three games without him. The team also was minus leading scorer and top 3-point shooter Michael Frazier II, and UF’s offensive struggles reflected as much.

Florida shot just 35.9 percent from the floor, 25.7 from the 3-point line and averaged just 55 points in the absence of their two best players.

Finney-Smith’s return should help those numbers some.

“I apologize to my family, my coaches, my teammates and the university,” Finney-Smith said. “I made a mistake and I will learn from it. Hopefully, I can move on.”

Bruce Hornsby GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Florida Gators have lost five of their last six games, are a game under .500 overall and down two games in Southeastern Conference play, and over the weekend lost a second game to LSU in the same season for the first time since Shaquille O’Neal roamed the paint back in 1991. 

So instead of investing a big chunk of notebook lead into the difficult state of the UF basketball program, how ‘bout a Billy Donovan item that has little to do with basketball but is interesting nonetheless?

If you watched Saturday’s 70-63 loss at Baton Rouge then you saw Tigers guard Keith Hornsby score 12 points. When LSU came to Gainesville last month, you may recall Hornsby hit a trio of 3-pointers on his way to 15 points in a 78-61 route.

And you may also know by now that Hornsby is the son of Bruce Hornsby (above), the Grammy Award-winning keyboardist whose multi-platinum song “The Way It Is” was one of the biggest hits of the 1980s, and who during the 1990s had stints playing keys for the The Grateful Dead.

Well, Hornsby (both the father and son) hail from Williamsburg, Va. Keith actually played on the same AAU team as UF forward Dorian Finney-Smith. In scouting and recruiting Finney-Smith, Donovan saw the young Hornsby play and knew he went to UNC-Ashville before transferring to LSU this season.

He also knew, of course, of Hornsby’s father and always appreciated how the old man stayed in the background.

“It was his son’s time. He just wanted to be a dad,” Donovan explained Sunday. “I admired someone as famous as him doing that.”

After young Hornsby lit up the Gators last month, Donovan put a call into his good friend, Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, who starred at the University of Virginia and had ties to the area known as Hampton Road. Donovan wanted Bruce Hornsby’s number. Carlisle had it.

Billy D placed the call.

“I just told him I thought his kid was playing well and that I really admired the kind of dad he was trying to be,” Donovan said. “We were talking basketball, but then he mentioned how he’d heard I was a fan of The Grateful Dead.”

Then things really got interesting.

Turns out the remaining members of The Dead (plus a few fill-ins) are playing three shows at Soldier Field in Chicago on July 3-5 to commemorate the band's 50th anniversary. Hornsby will be on keyboards for those shows.

He invited Donovan to be on stage.

Up there with Bill Walton, no doubt.

Unfortunately, Donovan’s 2015 summer was already booked solid with his commitment to USA Basketball. His U19 National Team will be in Greece for FIBA World Championships, schedule for June 27-July 5 in Crete, elimination and a nice private jet notwithstanding.

Bummer.

Bruce Hornsby presents The Grateful Dead at the group's induction into the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Game in 1994.

 

 

MORE GRATEFUL DEAD

Grateful Dead Not only did Donovan thoroughly enjoy talking about his love for The Grateful Dead, but he liked telling the story of the first and only time he saw them perform live.

The year was 1989 and he was still kicking around in pro basketball. After a season with the Rapid City Thrillers of the International Basketball Association, Donovan got a call from his friend, Carlisle, with whom he’d shared a seat at the end of the New York Knicks' bench during the 1987-88 season.

Carlisle had previously played for the Boston Celtics alongside Walton. The Dead were performing at Madison Garden that night and Walton had worked his connections to get Carlisle to the show.

So Donovan, along with a friend, took a train from Washington, D.C. -- he was living there in advance of training camp with the Bullets -- and met Carlisle at the world’s most famous arena.

WALTON “How good are the tickets?” Donovan asked.

“We don’t have tickets,” Carlisle said.

Instead, Carlisle explained, they were instructed to go to the loading dock, knock on one of the Garden’s back doors and -- get this -- ask for “Ramrod.”

So knock, they did. When a rough-looking roadie answered, Carlisle said, “We’re looking for Ramrod.” The guy obliged with a scream.

Hey Ramrod!

Soon, a bandana-wearing Dead Head showed up.

“Hey guys!” Ramrod said. “Walton has you all set up.”

Seats on the stage awaited.

Ramrod, clearly, a good guy to know.


FORMER GATOR UPDATE  

Cody Not a game (or rarely a day) goes by without someone tweeting at me how much the miss Patric, Scottie, Casey and Will. Understandable. The appreciation for what that quartet of seniors achieved last season will only grow with time.

But some may not know -- or recall -- that there was a fifth member of that incomparable freshman class that showed up on campus in 2010.

Cody Larson, by way of Sioux City, S.D., toyed on the Florida bench for a couple years then transferred ti South Dakota State after his 2012 redshirt freshman season. Two years later, the 6-foot-9, 235-pound Larson is averaging 13.9 points and 7.3 rebounds for the Jackrabbits, who have won 17 straight and stand at 20-8 and in first place in the Summit Conference with an 11-3 record.

On Saturday, Larson scored 15 points and grabbed six rebounds after being honored on Senior Night for his final home game.

He missed a helluva senior run last year, but he’s done just fine; and may very well finish his career in the NCAA Tournament. Congrats!



CHARTING THE GATORS -- FASTEST TO 500 IN COLLEGE BASKETBALL HISTORY
Heading into Tuesday night's game at Missouri, Donovan sits on career win No. 499. If the Gators can defeat the Tigers, the UF icon will be the second-youngest coach in college basketball history to hit 500 Division I victories, behind only Bobby Knight. Check out where Billy D, with 35 wins at Marshall (1994-96) and 464 at Florida (1996-present), stacks up against the best of the best.


Young BD Coach                                        500th                Age
Bob Knight                                 1989                 48 (and 81 days)  
Billy Donovan                           2015                 49 (and ??? days)
Bill Self                                       2013                 50 (and 60 days)  
Mike Krzyzewski                        1998                 51 (and 15 days)
Dean Smith                                1983                 52 (and 278 days)
Jim Boeheim                              1997                 53 (and 57 days)
John Calipari                              2012                 53 (and 339 days)
Adolph Rupp                              1954                 53 (and 112 days)
Rick Pitino                                  2007                 54 (and 91 days)
Roy Williams                              2005                 55 (and 129 days)
John Wooden                            1969                  59 (and 61 days)




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FREE THROWS

Frazier is still not close to being cleared for practice. He's not even cleared to run on the court, in fact. The team is bracking for the possibility he may not return this season. ... Junior guard Eli Carter is three points shy of 1,000 for his college career. He came to UF by way of Rutgers, where he scored 799 in two seasons. ... The Gators, as of Monday, still checked in at No. 71 in RPI, thanks mostly to a strength-of-schedule that checks in as sixth-hardest in the nation. They still have games to play against No. 37 (Texas A&M) and No. 1 (Kentucky). ... Meanwhile, UF remains the nation's "unluckiest" team, according to those KenPom.com metrics, but the Gators' rating of minus-.152 is just two-hundredths of a point behind UNC-Greensboro (minus-.150).

Friday February 20, 2015 Charting the Gators - A look at UF home winning streaks

Updated: 1:34pm, February 20

Linder Stadium


CHARTING THE GATORS -- ACES ON THE HOME COURT

Roland Coach Roland Thornqvist and his UF women’s tennis team will put its run of 136 consecutive home match victories at Linder Stadium to the test this weekend, with visits from No. 15 Duke on Friday, then No. 10 Stanford on Sunday. It’s the second-longest such active streak among NCAA Division I programs -- in all sports, mind you -- behind the remarkable 200-match run by men’s tennis team at Ohio State. It’s also, not surprising, the longest in time (more than 11 years) of any Gators sport. How much longer than the others, you might ask? That's what we're here for.

Below are longest home streaks, by sports, of all Florida programs that such a record would be applicable.


PROGRAM                              HOME STREAK                     WHEN TO WHEN
Baseball                                          24 games                         April 24, 2010 to March 8, 2011
Basketball (women)                      21 games                          March 14, 1997 to Dec. 21, 1998
Basketball (men)                           33 games                          Nov. 11, 2012 to Nov. 17, 2014
Football                                          30 games                          Oct. 29, 1994 to Sept. 18, 1999
Gymnastics                                    39 meets                           Jan. 11, 1980 to Feb. 7, 1986
Lacrosse                                        28 games                          March 7, 2012 to May 17, 2014
Soccer                                           17 games                           Oct. 31, 1998 to Oct. 31, 1999
Softball                                           44 games                          April 27, 2007 to May 17, 2008
Swimming (men)                          20 duel meets                   Jan. 7, 2011 to present
Swimming (women)                     23 duel meets                   Jan. 20, 2006 to Nov. 8, 2008
Tennis (men)                                 44 matches                        Feb. 18, 1967 to May 17, 1969
Tennis (women)                           136 matches                      Jan. 27, 2005 to present     
Volleyball                                       58 matches                       Oct. 14, 1990 to Sept. 4, 1994    



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