Losing all five starters from the 2007 championship team put Florida in a major rebuilding mode the past two seasons. Donovan will try to get the 2009-10 Gators back into the NCAAs, and is on the road this month trying to find the next Joakim Noah or Al Horford. He spoke with Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy about where Florida is headed:
Q: What has it been like for you this offseason, having missed the NCAA Tournament two years in a row, after winning it two years in a row?
A: In 2000, we lost Donnell Harvey and Mike Miller. But we had Udonis Haslem, Justin Hamilton, Teddy Dupay—we had enough pieces to overcome it. The biggest challenge is that after 2007, we were totally starting over. And I knew that. It was going to be a complete overhaul.
Q: You made good progress in your second season with this group, and now Nick Calathes has left for the pros. Can you stay on track?
A: I really felt like it was going to take a few years for us to get back. In both the last two years, we were probably just on the outside looking in. I was really pleased and proud in a lot of ways because when I first came to Florida—I know what it was like to go through two losing seasons.
It's been an unbelievable lesson for everyone involved: How fragile it all is. Two years ago, we win back-to-back national championships, and the past two years we were in the NIT. It's all fragile. It's humbling. It helps you grow and get better. For our guys coming in thinking, "I'm at Florida, we're going to play for national championships." They're starting to say, "You know what? We've all got to get a lot better."
Q: What does bringing in McDonald's All-American guard Kenny Boynton do for your team?
A: We needed to get much more athletic, more explosive, and I think he's an explosive scorer. The thing I worry about with Kenny is: Nick leaves, Marreese Speights leaves the year before, two NITs—so this guy's the savior. I don't want him to feel that way.
He's got to come in and be himself. He wants to be a good player. He wants to work. He wants to win. But I also don't want him to think the weight of the world is on his shoulders.
Q: Your nonconference schedules the past few years were not among the highest-rated. They weren't highly rated when you were great, either, but having missed the NCAAs, do you have to tweak that?
A: Yeah, I think so. You always want to schedule to your team.
What I didn't want to do last year with a young team was overwhelm them with the schedule. Going into this year, we've upgraded.
In our league, there's been a knee-jerk reaction because if Mississippi State hadn't made a run in the SEC tournament we'd have only had two teams in the NCAAs and, "Oh, my gosh!"
But since I've been in the league we've been a conference that's had five or six teams every single year. You schedule nonconference games, you've got to win some or your RPI is not going to be where you want it to be.
Q: Who are you playing?
A: We're playing Michigan State, we're playing Syracuse, we're playing UMass, we're playing on the road at Jacksonville. We're playing Florida State. We're playing Richmond at a neutral site. I would think RPI-wise, most of the teams we're playing will be all inside the top 100.
Q: With John Calipari taking over Kentucky, has that had an impact on you and on the league?
A: I don't know. … Kentucky's a great program and always is going to be a great program. I don't think it has anything to do with Cal at all. It has to do with Kentucky basketball. I think Cal had a great situation at Memphis, but it was the lure of Kentucky that drew him there.
Kentucky is a very prestigious place. I think Cal will do a great job. He's a great fit for the job. But it's still Kentucky at the end of the day. Since I've been in the league, they've always been good.
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