Championship Final Pregame Notes &
Championship Final Pregame Notes & Quotes:
Florida vs. Ohio StateApril 1, 2007
THE MODERATOR: We're joined now by Florida. Questions, please.
Q. Coach, people look at that first game and see a big second-half run when Oden is on the bench. Last night Ohio State played 17 minutes against a bigger team and outscore them 24-18 while he sits for 17 minutes. What is the right analysis of that?
COACH DONOVAN: The right analysis is they're a terrific basketball team. Good teams have a lot of different parts to rely on. They can come into the game with front-court people around Oden who do a terrific job. Othello is a very, very good player. Terwilliger is a very, very good player. They have the ability with Ivan Harris to go small. They can really change the complexion of their team based on their substitution.
I think it's a great tribute of how good Ohio State is that a guy like Oden, who is a terrific player, gets a couple early fouls and has to sit the entire half and they still go into the locker room leading and win the basketball game. Because I think everybody would agree Georgetown's front court with Hibbert and Green, Summers, is as good as anybody in the country.
The fact that these other guys maybe don't get the attention that Greg Oden gets I think is pretty -- says a lot about how good their front court is and how good their team is.
Q. Al, can you take us back to December 23rd, motivation that you had coming into that game when I guess there was real uncertainty whether you'd be able to play, how effective you would be. How much are you looking forward to seeing Oden when you're both a lot healthier?
AL HORFORD: Yeah, we're very excited about the opportunity to play Ohio State on Monday. We're a lot different. We played about three, four months ago. We're not really looking at that game. We're focusing more on tomorrow.
And, like you said, yeah, we're both healthy. I don't know, it will probably -- we'll be able to play a little more.
Q. It's not uncommon for someone potential first-rounder to say, I'll stick around. You have three potential first-rounders do that last year. When will the game see something like that again?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, I don't know. I think every decision is based on a young man and his family and how they feel. I'm not sitting there saying that to leave early is a bad thing or it's the wrong thing or it's the right thing. It's really a situation where what's in your heart.
I hope that these guys can be a great source of strength, role model, someone to reflect back on with a young player that maybe has that type of decision to make. The thing that I appreciate and respect more than anything else is there was not outside influences persuading and pushing them for the wrong reasons.
The reasons they chose were basically one reason only: happiness and their joy of playing with one another. To me that's the encouraging part. I think if it was for them, if they weren't having fun, they didn't enjoy being in Florida, didn't enjoy being teammates, maybe that would have made the decision for them a little bit easier.
But I think it's a great testament to them and their families that they chose what was best for them. They chose happiness first. Hopefully they're better players, they're better people, and they're more prepared for the next step in their life, whenever that time is, because of what they've had to go through the last several years at Florida.
Q. You mentioned administrative support in terms of the athletic director helping Florida get where it is. Can you give me an example? Maybe the ice machine breaks before practice, fixed by the end of practice that makes athletes want to come there because you have good stuff?
COACH DONOVAN: Is he putting you up to all these questions because he seems to get a lot of publicity (smiling)?
He's a great guy. I think the way the athletic department is broken down, you know, an example of what I would be talking about support-wise would be phone calls. I remember my first couple years these guys were probably in elementary school, trying to build something. It was really hard. We had two straight losing seasons. Losing's never fun.
You know those successories, little motivational thing, inspiration, drive, all those things. We had a couple tough losses in a row one of my first two years. There were like six or eight framed things of successories in my office just as support.
I think more the personal support is more important to me than necessarily the financial support. I think he's got a good understanding, our administration does, of what is out there and what needs to be done.
But a lot of times it comes down to the relationship that you have and you share because you're really making this journey all the way through together as one. It's the University of Florida. It's everybody. It's our players, it's our coaches, it's our administration, it's our presidents. Everybody is kind of going through this the same way.
Everybody has to be on the same page working toward the same thing. I don't know how an athletic department or program can be successful when you have people at odds and have different views of how to be successful. I think that's probably been the greatest thing for me is that we're on the same page in trying to move Florida in the right direction.
Q. Could each of the players pick what you think is the best college basketball team of all time and maybe why. Coach Donovan, same question.
COREY BREWER: That's a tough question, man. Got to think about it. When did Kentucky win the championship?
COACH DONOVAN: '96.
COREY BREWER: The '96 Kentucky team when they won the championship. My guy Ron Mercer from Tennessee.
TAUREAN GREEN: That is a tough question. I'm going to have to go with, I don't know what year it was, but Vince Carter, Antwan Jameson, all of them played at North Carolina. I don't know what year it was.
AL HORFORD: I don't know, I'm going to have to go with the '98 Wildcats with Antoine Walker, that whole crew.
LEE HUMPHREY: I'll go with whichever UCLA team won the 88 games in a row. I don't know. That's a lot of games to win. That's why I'm going with them (laughter).
JOAKIM NOAH: Well, I lived in France for a long time, so I don't really know too much about like the history and stuff.
But when I came to Florida, I used to love watching that 2000 team, when they beat Duke and UNC. I love going back and watching those games because I feel like we play for those guys, like the Major Parkers, Udonis Haslens, even Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson. I feel like those guys are with us. Even though they're not here with us like every day, I feel like we play for those guys, too. I love watching those guys play.
COACH DONOVAN: These guys are obviously too young to remember back with UCLA, even Bird, Magic. I think teams that stand out in my mind would be some of those UNLV teams with Larry Johnson and those guys. Certainly the Kentucky team in '96, how dominant they were. There's been a lot of great teams that have played and won.
Q. Thad was up here talking about basketball never being bigger than football at Ohio State. How do you feel about your sport in the hierarchy at Florida?
COREY BREWER: I think we're fine with it. We like where we at. We get a lot of support from the fans. It's a lot of fun playing basketball at the University of Florida. We don't mind.
TAUREAN GREEN: We get support from the football team. It's not a battle of who gets more of the publicity. We both support each other. We just want to see each other do well.
Q. Dallas told us a story about what you told him before the football team left for Phoenix. Have you heard from him this week? Have you heard from anybody on that team?
JOAKIM NOAH: Yeah, a lot of guys, they write texts and call, leave messages. I mean, I feel like that's cool. I feel like Earl Everett was there to support, Joe Cohen, Tony Joiner, all these guys are just like brothers to us.
We came in together. It's just great to see all the support they give us, and we do the same back for them.
Q. Did he say the same things to you that you said to him?
JOAKIM NOAH: I don't remember what I said.
Q. The ring.
JOAKIM NOAH: Of course, we the Gators, we got to come back with the ring.
Q. What is it that you remember about playing Greg Oden and what makes him hard to defend?
AL HORFORD: He's seven feet tall, very athletic. It's rare to see a guy his size move so well like he does. I was really impressed with this play the first time we played.
JOAKIM NOAH: I remember him blocking my shot and smacking me right in the face right after it. It didn't feel too good.
No, but he's definitely a great player and he's dealt with so much this season, so many expectations. From what I heard, he's a really humble, humble guy. He's a great basketball player.
We're really looking forward to playing against a great team because it's not all about just Greg Oden. We know that this team has a lot of other components.
Q. On Friday a lot of you talked about the motivation you had for this year, that everybody hates you, they don't want you to win it again, every team is coming after you, the fans are harassing you. Did you as players develop that and nurture that on your own this season? Coach Donovan, did maybe you establish it as a theme or did you encourage it as the season went along?
COACH DONOVAN: No. Probably the biggest thing for our basketball team was getting back to why we rejoined together as a team, and it was to have fun and enjoyment out of playing the game and being part of a special team that has great chemistry.
I think the thing that's been different for these guys than it was last year is there was no attention last year, and this year to a certain level I think our team has been under a microscope. So whatever word Joe or these guys choose to use, there is a level of doubt and opinion by everybody. Everybody's entitled to that.
At the same point, we can't lose focus on why we're playing the game. They've done a terrific job of just staying in the present moment and going through this season. I've said before, a lot of times people want to take you into the past or they want to put you too far in the future.
You don't get a chance to enjoy where you're at right now. I think these guys have enjoyed where they're at and they've also had to handle a lot of different things that weren't there a year ago.
LEE HUMPHREY: I don't think we've dwelt on that this year. I think our main focus is just to get better each day. We've done a good job so far this year of going out, trying to improve, trying to become the best thing we can become.
Q. Now that you've had a chance to study Ohio State more recently than when you played them back in December, what is different about Oden now than what you saw in December?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, I don't personally think December has anything to do with April right now. That game was played. It was played in our home court. They're totally different. We're totally different. I don't think you can sit there and make any comparisons from that game with our team. Certainly for Greg Oden, he was not healthy. He maybe had four, five, six games under his belt. Guy was still shooting free throws left-handed.
To me, I don't know what we get out of the game. I think we as coaches will watch it from a scheme preparation, but for our players this is a totally new team and a new challenge that we have tomorrow night. That's really all it boils down to. I know a lot of people want to talk about December, but December's over with. It's all about right now.
Q. Can you talk about what Chris has been able to do? Billy, you've been able to go to the three bigs package, but what Chris has been able to do in this NCAA tournament. He's 19-21 right now shooting.
COACH DONOVAN: He's part of a very, very humble group. I say that, when you've got two players like Joe and Al that have had great years, have gotten a lot of publicity and exposure, you're a senior, sometimes you got to put the team first. That's the thing I've always respected about Chris, is he's always played to his role of how he can help our team best.
I think that second half against UCLA last night when Al was in foul trouble, it was great to see Chris step up and help our team as he did. I told somebody this, and it's really true, I've never had a situation here at Florida coaching these guys or even Chris Richard where they say, You know, coach, I need more shots. Coach, I need more touches. Coach, I need more minutes. It's always been about our team.
There's been I think a great trust level between myself and our guys about what we need to do together to be the best we can become.
Chris Richard being a senior and a good player may warrant more minutes. A guy like Corey Brewer may warrant more shots. A guy like Taurean Green may warrant more shots. They somehow understand the concept of less for myself is more for our team. Chris has really been able to gather that concept and help our front court and give us great depth.
AL HORFORD: Yeah, I just feel like Chris is a very unselfish player. He just wants to do whatever is best for the team, like coach said. He's been able all year long to come off the bench and just give us a lot of energy. He really makes sure that his presence is felt on the court when he plays.
JOAKIM NOAH: I feel like Chris, he sacrificed a lot for the benefit of this team and he's a great guy to have not just on the court but off the court as well. He's real funny. He's a clown.
I mean, I love having him on my team on and off the court. But he's definitely been a beast out there.
Q. You obviously have done a great job of staying focused or you wouldn't be here. Now you stand on the brink of history. What would it mean to you to be the first team to repeat since '91/'92?
JOAKIM NOAH: I feel like that's a question that we should talk about like after the game if things go our way. I feel like right now we realize that it's not about history, it's not about all that. We have to take care. We have to do what we do, and that's just play basketball for 40 minutes and focus on the task at hand, and then hopefully we're back here and we can talk about that.
But I feel like right now it's just about Ohio State because we know we're playing against a great team.
LEE HUMPHREY: Yeah, I would say the same thing. Right now our main focus should be on Ohio State. We're going to have to prepare a lot today, go over a lot of scouting reports and really get our minds right for tomorrow's game so we can go in and give our best effort. If it happens, I mean, that would be great, but our main attention right now is on Ohio State. We just want to take the win.
TAUREAN GREEN: Can't worry about what is going to happen in the future. All you can worry about is Monday night, who we're playing, which is Ohio State. We have to do a good job preparing for them.
COACH DONOVAN: Yeah, you know, it's all about the process. It's all about a competitive game for 40 minutes, like every game this year. Like I said a little bit earlier, people want to fast forward into the ending result. The ending result is not there. It's more for us right now the process of how we have to play and what we've got to do for 40 minutes, then going out there and trying to execute that to the best of our ability.
Q. The athletic department, of course how great Jeremy is.
COACH DONOVAN: This guy's getting around, isn't he (smiling)?
Q. What were the benefits when you were building your program of having a good football program there?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, it's everything at Florida that's good. Certainly the football program is terrific. As I said earlier, I think where there's problems on campuses with coaches is when all the focus is totally just at one sport and you can't and do not have a balance in what you need. I really felt like from day one, since I've been there, and I know in talking to other coaches on campus, they feel the same way.
The commitment that there is to having the best athletics program in the country, not just football, basketball, baseball, but also the women's side, volleyball, swimming, tennis. It's really when you're at Florida the whole university, the whole entire athletic department.
I'm sure Jeremy and the administration have a great feel for what the women's soccer program needs. I have no idea. But I do know what we need in basketball to be successful. I think that's where the relationship has been good. We can talk about things together, moving in the right direction.
But it's not all about one sport or the other. There's no question I think in today's day and age with college football, not just at Florida, but across the country, it's a huge revenue sport where you're talking about seating 95, 100,000 people with the BCS and everything else.
Financially what a football program can do to any athletic program is providing revenue to provide opportunity for a lot of other sports. Hopefully we can do the same thing on our end in basketball, is provide opportunities for other programs.
Q. Can you remember the first time after you won last season that you were asked, Can you repeat? How many times do you think you've been asked that since then, including this one?
COREY BREWER: I wish I had a nickel for every time everybody asked me that. I'd have a lot of money.
I'm just saying, we've been asked that question a lot. But, like coach said, we really can't think about repeating. It's a whole different season. We won the national championship last year. Nobody can come take the trophy away from us. We're just trying to win another one. Starts Monday night.
AL HORFORD: 86, 344 (smiling).
Q. The chemistry that these guys have, has that perhaps changed the way you go about recruiting because you have five guys that do have such unbelievable chemistry? And, guys, when did you kind of notice that maybe you had something special going together?
COACH DONOVAN: You always try to bring in good people. I think when you bring in good people, there's a little bit more of a focus on unselfishness, being part of a team.
But I think a lot of times, you know, if I was to look at these guys in recruiting individually, they were all great kids but they all have their own personalities. They're all totally different as people.
I could sit there, recruiting a guy like Joe, say, there is no way that he and Al Horford are getting along. You know what I mean? Just their personalities, being in a room together.
But for whatever reason, it's all meshed and gelled. I think the reason it's all meshed and gelled is because of what's most important for them. The most important thing for them is competing, being part of a team, and they enjoy winning.
So, therefore, you have guys from a lot of different backgrounds and lifestyles, a lot of different interests. But the common interest they all share, in my opinion, is they all love the game, and they all love the fact of what they're all about. They're all about the same things, but they're all different.
I'm sure Lee probably hasn't gone to bed without milk and cookies since he's gotten here. Al is his own person, quiet in a lot of ways. Taurean has his own personality. So does Joe and Corey. They all have different personalities, but they all have a great level of unselfishness. I think they always put others before themselves.
I think the thing that what's created the bond, in my opinion, is their commitment and their unselfishness towards each other.
Q. If you can take yourself and your team out of this question. As a coach, how difficult is it to see a team have a chance even to win a second consecutive national championship?
COACH DONOVAN: That's really part of the human element things I've talked about. I've always talked to our guys about getting better. A lot of times we can get so focused on the end result that you don't enjoy the process that comes with it.
People want to talk about repeating, defending, down the road, down the road. It's not hard. I look at, from my viewpoint, I'm the luckiest guy in the world because I've had a chance to coach this team the last two years, probably longer than any other coach in the country has had an opportunity to coach their team.
We got a chance to play in the last game last year. Then we had a chance to take a trip to Canada and start practice in August. I've had a chance to coach them all this year till the last game of the year again.
It's not hard. If anything, it's been really, really enjoying and it's been fulfilling. When you're in a competitive state like we are every single game, there's always both sides of it. There's winning and there's losing.
So I don't look at it that way as much as I look at it it's the process we've got to go through. You know what, we have control over the process. We have control with our focus. We have control of our unselfishness. We have control of how we play.
But there's other things, the results sometimes we don't have control over. Most of the time we don't have control over it.
Q. A little more than an hour ago, Ron Lewis was up there and described you guys as a good team. A follow-up question was asked, described Ohio State as great, and referred to you again with the word "good." How do you feel about that assessment?
JOAKIM NOAH: Oh my God! He said that?
JOAKIM NOAH: No! What a bad person (smiling).
THE MODERATOR: Anything else (smiling)?
JOAKIM NOAH: I don't even know what else to say. I really don't know.
COREY BREWER: At least he said we were good. He could have said we were bad (smiling). Next question, please.
Q. Looking at the present, not one game in advance, you're here. You have a chance to defend your championship. What does it mean to have this opportunity to possibly make history, but to be here right now?
JOAKIM NOAH: I mean, we're really happy. We're really happy and excited to be in this situation. But, I mean, we're not satisfied until we get that good thing at the end. Because if you don't get that good thing at the end, I mean, it's still going to hurt really bad in that locker room.
I've had a chance to talk to people who were in that locker room when they lost in that championship game on that 2000 Gator team. It hurts. There were people crying. I think the coach of UCLA was talking about that yesterday. I saw it on TV. There is only one team in the Final Four that's going -- that's ultimately going to be happy, and that's the team that wins the championship.
AL HORFORD: I feel like we're not defending anything. Like coach has been saying all year, it's a new season. Coming to this final game, we just got to focus on the process and living in the moment and, you know, it will take care of itself.
Q. I know basketball and football in most situations are totally disconnected. Can you speak to what a magical time on your campus these last 12 months have been based on what you have accomplished and what the football program has accomplished? It's not only uncommon, it's practically unheard of.
COACH DONOVAN: Well, it's been great for the student body and for the alumni and the fans and our administration in both sports.
But I think a lot of times, because football and basketball on college campuses get so much attention, you know, you look at a couple years ago, our baseball team played for a national championship. I think you look at what our tennis teams have one, what Mary Wise, our volleyball coach has done.
Sometimes those accomplishments because they're not so much in the public eye as basketball and football, they don't get the attention.
For me, it's been a great time for all of our fans, but also because of all the other sports on our campus as well.
Q. Ohio State obviously has talked about how different NCAA games are being officiated, what they were used to in the conference season. From your perspective, any kind of difference in how your games are being called now as to how they were in February?
COACH DONOVAN: I think there's always going to be a difference. Because I think what happens when you get in your conference play, you're dealing with league officials. Then there's an advancement. I don't know how it all works with the officials in the NCAA tournament. If you have an official from the PAC-10 or you have an official from the Big East, you have an official from the Mountain West, always going to be a little bit different.
I think as long as there's a level of consistency, I always feel like it's the players' job and our job as coaches to adjust to the consistency level or how it's being called.
It's hard to sit there and say it's all going to come under one umbrella, everyone is the same across the board. I don't think that's necessarily the case. Really for probably November, December, January, February and March, probably four and a half months, we're all used to seeing the same people over and over. You're all dealing with different things inside your conference and your league.
I think we as players and coaches have to adjust with how it's being officiated, whether it's different or not different.
AL HORFORD: Yeah, I mean, you just have to just deal with that. The officials are doing the best they can do. You just got to go out there and play and just take care of business.
THE MODERATOR: We'll let the student-athletes go to the breakout rooms. We'll continue with questions if Coach Donovan.
Q. When you see Lee make those open threes when UCLA doubled the post, like he did last year, has that almost become an automatic reaction on the big men now? As soon as it comes, they start looking for Lee, he's at a certain spot?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, we've always just tried to take what the defense gives us. UCLA did a great job of eliminating our post from really getting a lot of catch-and-score opportunities with their back to the basket.
Just through some movement and through different plays we run, we can put all those guys, Taurean, Lee, Corey, in different spots on the floor. That just happened to be a situation last night where, you know, he was opposite Al Horford.
I think a lot of times people don't maybe give our bigs enough credit for the ability to get the ball out of that. When you have a guy like Mata, Luc Richard, Aboya, who are big, strong, physical, aggressive, coming at your low-post player like that, there's a level of poise you have to have to get the ball out and into the right spot.
A few times in the first half we turned it over. UCLA did a terrific job. But as the game wore on, we started to get a little bit more comfortable and Al made some very good decisions when the ball was in his hands.
We've just tried to play the game of what's available. What do we got to do? I think to be a balanced team scoring-wise, if somebody takes something away, which UCLA took our low-post scoring away, threat back to the basket, there's got to be other things open and we've got to basically get the best high-percentage shot we can.
Q. Since you're playing against him, it might be difficult to look at it this way. As a coach, as a former guard, what are some of the things you admire about the way Mike Conley plays the game?
COACH DONOVAN: He's very, very good. He's a great pick-and-roll player. He's a guy that has a terrific understanding of how to make everybody else around him better. And he knows everybody else's strengths and weaknesses as a player. So he gets guys the ball where they can be effective.
As a freshman, coming in and playing that point guard spot, it's probably one of the most difficult positions to play. As our players said, they've got a lot of different pieces to their puzzle. I think a lot of times, you know, there's a lot of attention on their freshmen, and they're terrific and they're great. But you also got to look at their upperclassmen and their leadership and their qualities.
Going back to Conley, maybe Butler's helped him a little bit being a point guard that's a back-court player that's helped him being a senior. But for him to come into that position as a freshman and to perform as he has the entire year has really been remarkable. He's as good as any point guard we'll face all year long.
Q. So many people trying to read the tea leaves about your future. Should anything be made of you changing, saying, I had a great relationship with Jeremy to I have one last night?
COACH DONOVAN: No, it shouldn't. No, I haven't -- no, no (laughter).
I apologize if I used "had." That was not my intent. Have!
Q. The last couple weeks you and the players have talked about how unusual the year has been because of the distractions, attention, et cetera. When during the year did all that baggage become most burdensome? Was there ever a danger the whole season was going to unravel under its weight?
COACH DONOVAN: As competitive as our guys are as players, they've been as competitive in trying to handle what comes with what happened last year. They've been very competitive trying to figure out all this stuff. How do I keep my focus? What's really important? What is the truth?
I'm a big believer sometimes if you hear something enough over and over and over, it sometimes can become truth to you. So when the season started, when these guys are being told before we started practice in August how great they are, how great they are, how great they are, our ball on top of that mountain last year in all reality rolled back down to the bottom.
But they were not treated like it rolled back down to the bottom. It was treated like that ball was still on top of the mountain, and our guys needed to understand the reality and truth is we're starting this season off like anybody else: at the bottom and we got to try to work our way up.
With all that came with it, there was definitely an adjustment period. There was a learning period. They had never experienced that before. I really believe when you go through life and you get a chance to handle different situations, you become more equipped to be able to handle that.
There was never the type of attention on our basketball team or them as individuals as there was to start this season. I don't know how you prepare for that other than you talk about it, you explain what's getting ready to come their way, you try to educate them and you try to help them as best as you can to explain where their focus needs to be.
I don't know if there was any point in time in the season I said, Wow, these guys are losing it. We're not handling this.
No, but there was definitely a time where a guy like Joakim Noah was confused, didn't understand, was trying to figure out all that came with this, as they all were. But I'm just so happy and impressed with the way they've handled this season and the way they've gotten to this point. You know, they really have done a remarkable job - not on the court playing but as people and kids - handling what they've had to handle.
Q. Could you talk about some of the folks you've had come in and talk to your guys about the whole process this year, how important the mental part of what you all have done is as opposed to the physical part?
COACH DONOVAN: The mental is every bit as important in my opinion and maybe not more important. I'm with these guys all the time. I've got a relationship with all of them that I can be very truthful and I can be very direct at them.
When you have the opportunity to get some different people to come in and speak to your team, I always think it's great. I had Urban Meyer come in and speak to our team. Belichick has been in to speak to our team. Tony LaRussa has been in to speak to our team. Jerry West, Dr. Harry Edwards from California spoke to all our athletes, gave him an opportunity to come over and talk to our team.
I think a lot of times you get a different perspective. When people have been through it, my thing is what the truth and the reality is of what they're having to face. I'm just very appreciative those people will take the time and think as much about our program and kids that they would come in there and do that.
Q. You've always been a very ambitious recruiter who recruited nationally. Do you remember when you first heard of Oden and Conley? Did you have any traction at all trying to recruit them?
COACH DONOVAN: I saw both those guys at a very, very young age. I think everybody knew just because he was a center and he had so much size, everybody thought Oden, sophomore year, this guy is going to be incredible. Conley as a point guard, being a little bit smaller, you're growing and developing. Definitely by his sophomore, junior year, you knew he was very, very special and a good player.
Being right there in Indiana there was so much attention on those guys. That was really right around the time when they were putting in the age limit rule, there was a lot of talk of what was going to happen. You didn't know.
The thing that impressed me with Greg and even Mike, and I don't know them so well, but last year I had a chance to spend some time with Greg. Just him as a kid, the way he's handled all this so well, that's been the most impressive thing to me. There's probably an example of a young man that has had this type of attention on him since he's been at a young age that probably a lot of this doesn't faze him any more because he's been through it so much.
But I always admired and respected them as players. I can never say the University of Florida was really actively involved or on their list. Not by my choice (smiling).
Q. A team that you beat by 26 points in the first game, as much as you can talk about it, what were you able to exploit? From the tape that you've been able to watch since last night, where do you think they've made the most improvement since they played you the first time?
COACH DONOVAN: I really don't know if we were able to exploit anything. There is a home-court advantage that every place has. I said last night, they were young during that time of year, in my opinion. They're not young any more. They have a lot of experiences under their belt. They've been through a lot. They've got the game experience.
We had no experience last year when it comes to NCAA tournament deep runs, Final Fours. These kids had no experience in that. So the experience factor at this point I don't think makes a whole lot of a difference. But what you do need is you need game-playing experience over an extended period of time, which is what they have.
So they're totally different. We're totally different. It was before Christmas. It was a non-conference game. We'll look at it as coaches, but we're not taking too much from that game at all personally.
Q. Being in consecutive championship games, the Final Four, it's being observed more and more that you have your program on the verge of being compared with and, in fact, equal to North Carolina, Duke, all of those great programs. How close do you think Florida basketball is to that level?
COACH DONOVAN: Oh, I don't think we're there at that point. Those programs had been doing it for 50, 75 years, 30 years. We've had a run year that's been really, really good. I've said this before. I don't know if I buy into that the past equals your future, both good and bad. Because we had a run there where we got knocked out early in some tournaments. Then all of a sudden you have these couple years.
A lot of it is out of your control as a coach. You try to go out, work as hard as you can, try to make the best decisions you can on the recruiting. You try to do the best job you can do in the coaching and developing and making them better. You try to do the best job you can making the team. Sometimes it works out really, really well. Sometimes it struggles and maybe it doesn't work out as well.
But I think because we've had two years where we've gotten to this point in the season, there's no solution, there's no correct way. You can look at a lot of teams that have gotten to this point and then have gone through some lean years. When I say lean years, I'm not talking about losing seasons, but they haven't gotten back to that level on a regular basis. It's so hard to get here.
Every year is different. Every recruiting class is different. I think if you, and we as coaches, knew what the formula was. Like we all know what we need to have to be successful, and we know what we want, but we can't see it. We guess at it a lot of times. We make as best educated guesses as we possibly can on the formula to try to be successful.
I've often said this. The ingredients to winning are the same as they were a hundred years ago as they are today. Nothing as changed. But, you know, for whatever reason, whether it's talent level, it's coaching, whatever it may be, there's going to be ups and downs. There's nobody that just stays at the top all the way through and never have that dip and that up and down. That's going to happen. I think that's part of building a program, is having that.
Q. Jeremy mentioned a few minutes ago this is a swan song. After tomorrow night this team is going to break up in maybe more ways than what we know. Have you thought this is the final couple of days with this group, losing one starter, likely more? Has that hit you at any point during this process?
COACH DONOVAN: No. And I don't think it's probably even hit me that our team's in the Final Four and playing for the national championship. You get so entrenched into the next game, into preparation, into practice, into what you have to do, watching tape, talking to those guys, making sure they're in the right frame of mind, where you want them to be, what they need to be focused on. You get caught up so much in that. I don't know if this time of year there really is a lot of time to reflect back on a lot.
It's hard for me to even believe that a year has gone by. In a lot of ways, it's been incredibly long and in a lot of ways it's been incredibly quick.
I don't know if there's a lot of time in reflecting as much as there is a lot of time put into preparation.
Q. When you think about back to the route that took you into coaching, did you think that it would take root that this career would be for you what it has obviously become? To that end, what do you think it is about yourself that has through the years helped you establish the connection with the players that clearly? They seem to feel with you that you have the right message at the right time for them.
COACH DONOVAN: Repeat it one more time so I can answer it correctly. I'm sorry.
Q. The first half is what you think about the route you took into coaching. Did you think you'd be as good as it as you are?
COACH DONOVAN: I had no idea. I really look back because I think a lot of times you got to, as a coach, really go back to why you got into coaching. I love the game. I've worked at the game as a player endless hours. But you love playing.
Then getting a chance to do something for a little bit of time, you realize, I realized, that wasn't necessarily for me. But it's not like I sat there when I made a decision to go into coaching, to sit there and say, Wow, I'm going to be in Final Fours, we're going to be --
I had no idea. I really got into it because I felt like I love the game. I learned so much from the game because I had to work so hard. And I felt like I could really offer a lot to a young kid and helping them get better at the game.
Love the competition. Love the camaraderie. Love being around the guys. I love tape. There was all those things I loved. It wasn't necessarily a lot about the winning and the losing. A lot of it was much, much more about the love for the game.
I think a lot of times you get to this point, you've been in coaching for a long time, you really have to reflect back and look at, Why am I coaching and what is my main purpose for coaching and what's the reason to coach?
Q. What types of things did you do to take the pressure off this team and to make it fun? I read at Auburn you had a thing like, We're here to break up the party, that type of thing. What things did you do to lighten it up a little bit?
COACH DONOVAN: I think the biggest thing is just the reality of it because these guys are being spoken to a lot about the next step, coming back, why they do it. I think a lot of times you get taken back and forth from the past to the future with what they have to deal with.
I'm very, very truthful and direct with them in how what I perceive is the reality of the situation is. You know, I said this before, when there's a horse race going on, there's a 2-1, 6-1, 10-1 on all the odds, when those horses are coming around the stretch, coming for home, do you think those horses have any idea who 6-1, 2-1, 10-1 is?
The same thing in basketball. When the ball gets thrown up in the air tomorrow night, do you think anybody cares at that time that Florida last year won a national championship or we played Ohio State on December 23rd? It's a totally new separate entity. That's the thing that's great about competition, is that whenever you're competing, that event at that time, that's all it holds is that moment in time.
There's not something that in the past you -- you can learn from your past, but it's its own separate game and needs to be played separately for what it is. I think that was my main message to our guys. Every game is its own separate game. Doesn't make a difference what you did three weeks ago, ten years ago, five weeks.
Lee Humphrey doesn't make a difference if you missed 10 threes in a row. What about the next one? Doesn't make a difference if you made 10 in a row, it's about the next one.
Getting them to understand the reality of where we are today and what is going on right now at this moment in time I think is the most important thing. To take full advantage of where you're at.
Q. Could you address bringing in Harry Edwards and Belichick and Tony LaRussa, how you go about doing that?
COACH DONOVAN: A lot of it was just picking up the phone and calling them. One of my best friends, best man at my wedding, works for Jostens ring company. He happened to call me, this is probably about three or four years ago.
He said to me, Hey, I'm getting ready to go in to meet with Bill Belichick and the Patriots about trying to do a Super Bowl ring for them. I thought, Boy, I'd love to be able to sit down and spend some time with him. I said, Do you want me to ask him? I said, Yeah, that would be great.
Bill Belichick was kind enough to give my buddy his number. Called him up on the phone before the July recruiting period started. I flew in there, had dinner with him and met him for like three or four hours. David Eckstein, who was a baseball player at Florida, played for the Cardinals, had made some comments about how much he enjoyed playing for Tony LaRussa.
Our trainer now, used to be the baseball trainer, I said, I'd love to speak to him. Gave me his number. We talked about a lot of different things on the phone. He was kind enough to come in.
I think a guy like Coach Pitino being available, being able to walk across the street and talk to an Urban Meyer. I enjoy doing that. That, to me -- that part of it is really fun for me.
Jerry West was down in Orlando watching his team play in an exhibition game. We were having a clinic come on. One of my assistants, Larry Shyatt, worked with Larry Collison who works with Jerry West, just asked if Orlando would drive over and say something to our team, speak at our clinic. He was kind enough to do that.
The thing that was amazing in all this stuff was how much all of them loved talking about the game and teams and all those things with other people.
Harry Edwards was really more our school athletic department brought him to speak to all our athletes. I thought he was terrific. Listen, would you come over and speak to our team? He was kind enough to do it. There's been a lot of people that have given time to myself and our team, which I'm very thankful for.
Q. Looking at Corey Brewer defensively, he has the length that would appear not only to bother a shooter, but the foot speed maybe once in a while to defend the one. Can he defend the one, the two and three? How do you when you're making defensive assignments decide how you're going to deploy Brewer?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, he's very versatile, can do a lot of different things defensively. He can guard three different positions. There's been times we've put him on point guards. He guarded Tre Kelly, who is first team all league from South Carolina. He's guarded some bigger people, some power forwards that maybe teams have gone with a small lineup.
He's very, very versatile. A lot of times in our defense, what we're trying to do defensively, we do get switched up on a lot of different people. Sometimes our perimeter has a guard, different perimeter guys, our big guys have to sometimes guard perimeter guys.
I think in today's game there's so many different actions and different things that you have to guard against, sometimes you have to switch and do different things defensively.
One of the added bonuses or pluses for our teams is that our guys are pretty good with preparation, scouting report, how they go into understanding that when we watch a team play, we're watching somebody. It's not, Okay, that's your guy. We try to get our whole team to watch all their personnel because at any time, whether it's a missed shot, coming out of pressure, whether it's having to rotate, any one of your five guys can be on anybody because I think that's the best way to try to take away open shots. You have to be able to rotate and people have to understand who they're guarding.
Q. This year Kevin Durant has been a unanimous Player of the Year. Oden made first team All-American. Brandon Wright is third team All-American. They could very easily be one, two, three if they decide to come out in the draft. What was your view of the rule when it was first determined what it was going to be? In retrospect, how do you think it's helped or hurt college basketball?
COACH DONOVAN: I don't like the rule personally. I think these kids should have an opportunity to make their own decision. A lot of it sometimes makes it look like it's good just to put them in college for a year, then they can go. I think these kids should have the opportunity to make those decisions.
It makes it a lot more difficult in recruiting when you have someone like that because you know where the guy potentially could be drafted, but there's a date, April 30th. You don't have a time to recruit. A lot of times in recruiting someone will say, I'm not going to go there. You have that guy there. Yeah, but he's going to go pro. He hasn't announced he's going to go pro. If he doesn't go pro, I'm going to be sitting there, I'm never going to get in the game.
I've always been a big believer that the guys that want to go should be able to go. It certainly makes it for me, in my opinion, a lot easier recruiting and evaluating players. Again, I don't know if Greg or any of those guys, maybe he would have chosen college with the opportunity to leave out of high school. I don't know.
But I'm sure every year there would be a handful of kids that if they felt like they could make that next step, they would. I just feel like they should have that choice. They shouldn't be forced, in my opinion, to have to do this. I think it would make it a lot easier for us as coaches, too.
Q. How difficult was it to wrest Al out of Michigan? What do you think are the key factors in getting him to come to Gainesville? How do you describe his growth from the player you saw back then?
COACH DONOVAN: He really made and has made some unbelievable strides since his freshman year. I remember his freshman year, I didn't know if the guy could help us at all. But as practice started to go on, I realized how intelligent he was, how focused, serious he was. He was very committed to trying to get better and improve.
I think one of the things that helped us in recruiting Al was the fact that he did have still a lot of family in Dominican Republic. Wasn't far from Florida. I think the warm weather played a role in the decision. He and I developed a good bond and relationship during the process.
I think at one time he was thinking about going to Michigan, then changed his mind. Probably maybe having some of that warmer climate, being from the Dominican, certainly opened up an opportunity and an avenue for us to recruit him.
Q. Concentrating on the task at hand, focusing so much on the present, are you able to appreciate the type of team you have, whether it might not happen again in a coaching lifetime? A couple years ago you were getting knocked out of the tournament early. Now you're back-to-back perhaps. What does that make you think when you hear coaches referred to as geniuses or things like that?
COACH DONOVAN: Yeah, one is I do appreciate those guys. I think that's the one thing I can tell you. When our guys are warming up every day, we usually stretch out and warm up for about 15 minutes. Our strength coach and our trainer take them through a routine to get them loose for practice. That's probably a time I reflect that I look at how fortunate I am to coach guys with this type of mentality, unselfishness, chemistry. Just the fact they totally, totally, totally team.
Every once in a while everybody gets going a little sideways and you have to bring them back. For the most part they're great kids.
I think in the NCAA tournament, there's a lot made of what goes on here. I just think any time you're in a one-game event anything can happen. I look at so many great coaches that you're preparing against, you're watching, you're watching tape and film of their team that never get a chance to get to a Final Four, who are Hall of Fame coaches.
I don't know if one game every single year should identify you and/or label you as being good or great or mediocre, whatever label you want to put on them, because I think -- I don't think it's fair. I don't think it's reality. I think I said this last year. If you wrote 200 articles in one year and every one of them was great, but the one at the end of the year was a bad one, but that's the only one you're being evaluated on. I think it's the same thing.
There's so many good teams. On any given night anything can happen. You try to get your team as prepared as they best can, as you best can.
But I look at my situation. This is the fifth time in my life in the last 20 years I've had a chance to get to this point as a player, assistant, head coach. I can't sit here and say that the other teams I've been a part of that haven't gotten to this point are anything lesser of teams or people than the teams that have gotten there.
So, yeah, I'm very appreciative. I think Al Horford said it best when we moved on after beating Oregon. There was a level of appreciation being at this point. Because, you're right, you don't know if you get back to this point again. There is always uncertainty. Anything can happen in this tournament. That's what makes it so interesting and that's what makes it so great, is there is that level of uncertainty every single time you play.
Q. How have you grown or changed from the coach that brought Florida to the Final Four in 2000? Are you a different guy in any way now?
COACH DONOVAN: I hope so. I hope I'm better than I was then. I hope I'm better today than I was last year. I think that's the big key for me. I tell our guys this all the time.
Saw a great thing on Tiger Woods on 60 Minutes. It talked about that he had reconstructed his golf swing twice. He is the greatest golfer in the world, reconstructing his swing because he wants to get better.
I think the minute you stop trying to strive to get better and improve in whatever you're doing it's time to move on and do something else. So I think hopefully I'm a better coach, a better person, have a better understanding through the experience I had through the last 11 years. I hope I'm better. I try to get better in everything that I'm doing.
But I think that's what to me makes people truly reach their potential, when you see a guy like Tiger Woods. Believe me, I'm not comparing myself or my team to Tiger Woods at all. I'm saying, here is a guy that is the best maybe athlete in the world, certainly will go down as the greatest golfer of all time, and you see his focus about competing and wanting to get better and willing to take steps back to take himself to another level. He's trying to get to another level.
I think I'm always just trying to improve and get better every step along the way.
Q. What kind of edge does it give you having some juniors who have been here before, go against some freshmen? Is it fair to say you might have a similar advantage as a Duke over Michigan in '92?
COACH DONOVAN: I wouldn't say there is any advantage because last year we didn't have any experience. Everybody talked about UCLA and their tradition, how many Final Fours and national championships. This year's experience is totally different than last year's experience.
To me there is no advantage. I think the biggest thing is, you know, there would maybe be an advantage if for some reason Ohio State was playing somebody that didn't play the entire year and had to play 35 minutes in the game.
Maybe that experience of not really being in games. These guys have played so many games. I don't think there's any advantage. This is its own separate game with its own identity in itself. And because we played in this game last year I don't believe gives us any advantage. It's a new event, it's a new day, it's a new game.
Q. For those of us who follow this tournament it's de'ja vu. 10 years ago today we had a coach who is the defending national championship on the verge of repeating who was trying to put out the distractions of rumored interests from outside sources. That coach is Rick Pitino, who lost the last night. You and Pitino are very close. He's the last coach sitting in your shoes. Have you talked about this process and what this weekend and today and tomorrow means?
COACH DONOVAN: I've talked to Coach Pitino. As a matter of fact, I visited with him today on the phone a little bit. He called to congratulate me. Enjoy it, make sure your guys are rested and ready to go, play to the best of their ability.
Yeah, I mean, I've talked to him. I think the biggest thing for us in all this is I probably have the best pulse of anybody on our team, and the team has the best pulse on themselves because we've been through it for so long.
At this point with such little time to turn around and prepare, you try to go out there and make sure you're as well-prepared as you possibly can to handle the process for 40 minutes, and then ultimately things will be talked about after the game. I mean, that's ultimately what's going to happen.
To me it's just about the 40 minutes and not about what's going to be talked about after, win or lose.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach Donovan. Good luck.
COACH DONOVAN: Thank you.
OHIO STATE QUOTES
THE MODERATOR: We'll be joined by Coach Matta shortly. We'll take questions for the student-athletes.
Q. Greg, obviously you have two big guys to go against. Can you talk about the dimension Chris Richard adds?
GREG ODEN: I mean, he's another big body that can come in and he can post up, get a lot of offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds. He's another presence in there that you have to worry about.
Q. Greg, can you relate to us, do you see any kind of difference in the way games are officiated in the tournament versus during a regular season and why that might be?
GREG ODEN: I have no idea why they officiated it harder. It just seems to me that they call more ticky-tack fouls than they did in the regular season, especially in the Big-10 season.
Q. Can you talk about the difference between this team now and the one that went to Gainesville back in December, how much more confident and mature this team is?
MIKE CONLEY, JR.: Well, we've grown as a team since then. There's a lot of things we weren't doing very well at that time. Our defense wasn't where it's at right now.
I think we've gotten a lot better and a lot confident (sic). I think we'll be a lot better off in this game.
GREG ODEN: Same thing that Mike said. I think we all have a lot of confidence and we're playing better as a team.
Q. Could you tell me what was the best college basketball team you remember watching growing up?
JAMAR BUTLER: Best college basketball team? I'd have to say the Duke team, I think was the '91/'92 team they had when they won back-to-back championships.
MIKE CONLEY, JR.: The Arkansas Razorbacks '94/'95 team.
IVAN HARRIS: Same one Jamar said, the Duke team (laughter).
RON LEWIS: Duke '91/'92 (laughter).
GREG ODEN: I like Michigan State when they had Mateen Cleaves.
Q. The overwhelming sentiment is despite the fact you are the No. 1 ranked team in the country, Florida is going to win this game. Does it tick you off?
JAMAR BUTLER: Not at all. They are the defending national champions. They're here for a reason: They're playing great basketball. I know they're a great basketball team.
MIKE CONLEY, JR.: You know, that's how it's been throughout the tournament. We haven't been picked to win a lot of games. That's just more motivation for us.
We don't really try to let it get to us. At the same time it does motivate us.
IVAN HARRIS: Yeah, just motivation, something for us to look forward to. They're an excellent team. We've always been picked down in the tournament. We just going to step up and play our game.
RON LEWIS: They're a good team. You know, people pick them to win the game. People thought we was going to lose last night's game, but we came out on top.
It's nothing new to us. All we're going to do is keep playing the same way we've been playing.
Q. The night of the football game between Florida and Ohio State, I believe y'all were on the road at Wisconsin. Did the team watch the game? Do any of you have any particular memories from it?
RON LEWIS: Yeah, we watched the game. We were disappointed, but we were with them all the way.
But we just tried to go out and play the Wisconsin game how we normally would any other game. But I don't think it affects us right now.
IVAN HARRIS: Yeah, you know, they came out pretty strong. They had a couple touchdowns and stuff like that.
But, you know, Ohio State's an excellent team. We just gonna go out and play our game, you know, and hope for the best.
Q. Mike, I saw you guys, particularly the Penn State games, right after that. You weren't playing nearly as well as you are now. Maybe that was because you were playing a different quality of competition or the dog days of the season. Do you think your team has perceptively come together since then, or was it the middle of a long season, a lull? Are you playing different basketball?
MIKE CONLEY, JR.: Definitely. We're a lot different team than we were against Penn State. Those weren't our best games. Since the tournament started a lot of the players have stepped up, came together and played as a team.
Ron stepped up tremendously throughout the whole tournament. Jamar, Ivan, all the guys have done a great job.
We're just trying to keep it going and hope for the best this next game.
Q. Could you talk about your career in the context of where the program was when you came in coming off a losing season, where you are now, for the seniors?
IVAN HARRIS: This is my fourth year. As a freshman, I've been through the ups and downs at Ohio State. In this program -- this program we built ourself to the system. We just got excellent players this year. We're trying to win a title.
RON LEWIS: I didn't really -- I didn't play my first year here. I wasn't a part of that group, but I was still on the team. It was still a down year. We knew the next year that we didn't want that to happen. We tried our best to develop a team, develop a group that would stay together. That's what we've been doing since he's been here.
Q. Greg, what is the biggest difference in your game right now compared to the December game against Florida? I don't know if it's just a matter of health or comfort because you'd only been playing just a few games at that point.
GREG ODEN: Just being more in shape, being able to feel comfortable with my teammates 'cause back then I was just getting involved with the offense and my teammates getting used to me being out there on the floor.
Now we've been out there for a while, I feel more comfortable with them. I'm just in better basketball shape.
Q. Are you glad you had this game against Florida in December? Does that make you more understanding of what they're about? Does that prepare you better at least?
GREG ODEN: Yeah, being able to play against a team more than once, that's going to help you out a lot because you get to see firsthand what they do and what their strengths and weaknesses are.
MIKE CONLEY, JR.: Yeah, definitely. You know, having the opportunity to play them at their house is exactly what we wanted. We didn't want the outcome to be like that, but it definitely was a learning experience. It's definitely going to help us out for this next game.
COACH MATTA: I think that game taught us a lot about who we were. We were not a very good basketball team on December 23rd, and quite honestly Florida had a lot to do with that.
We've tried to draw from that experience. I think obviously, as I told the team, you go to the Wisconsin game, the last game we lost, we were down 16 in that game and came back. Jamar had a great shot to tie the game.
So I think it taught us a lot about our strengths and a lot about our weaknesses and gave us a point of reference to what we needed to work on to get better as a team.
Q. With all the tangled history of Florida and Ohio State, how much does that add to this game?
COACH MATTA: For us, we knew we were going to play a great opponent to get to this point. With the relevance from the football, honestly means nothing, has no bearing whatsoever on this game.
I think Florida obviously is playing great basketball. They've earned the right to be in this position, and so have we. And tomorrow night, you know, we have to come out and play a great game.
I love the fact -- I think it says a lot about both institutions that they can be in this situation. So I think from that standpoint it's a tremendous opportunity.
MIKE CONLEY, JR.: The football game really doesn't have much to play in our game. They're both great colleges, Florida and Ohio State. They obviously have great football and basketball teams. It's kind of weird they meet up in the championship games.