The Florida Gators enter the 2013-2014 season with plenty of SWAG. It’s not bravado, although there is certainly some of that too. Rather, it is an acronym the players came up with. SWAG stands for “Strengthened When Adversity Grows,” and Florida head coach Billy Donovan is just fine with the motto.
“Those guys came up with it themselves,” Donovan told Breitbart Sports. “It’s what they wanted to do. One of the things I’ve always believed as a coach is you’ve gotta be able to handle adversity together, so they kind of came up with this thing.”
Sure, if this team plans to have a successful year it will require more than catchy slogans, but Donovan contends there’s something to be said for unity.
“I think our guys have great relationships; they get along, but there’s a different bond and a different connectedness that they’re talking about to continually be a team that’s an elite team, and I think that’s what they’ve tried to work on,” he said.
Florida is part of a Southeastern Conference that has gone through some changes.
“I think the most interesting thing to me was when I first got into the league, one of the things that happened with the NCAA Tournament was everybody kind of scheduled — and I don’t wanna say soft — but everyone kind of scheduled in a way that your team could play through mistakes and be in a position to win,” Donovan said. “Then you realize that your team was going to be evaluated by what it did in the league, and once you get into the league, it used to be — and I think at any power conference not just the SEC — if you had a .500 or above record, that was an automatic guarantee to the NCAA Tournament.
“That automatically happened, and I think times have really changed where there is much, much more of a focus on what’s going on in the non-conference. When you talk about getting back to that point, people evaluate leagues by what you do in the non-conference schedule. I think that will be important for our league — how we do as a group outside of our conference games.”
Regardless of how the SEC is perceived, the Gators will be relying heavily on a much slimmer Patric Young. While his frame is smaller, his overall approach to basketball has expanded.
“Patric’s grown,” Donovan said. “I thought last year he got too big and too strong. I think he’s a better player when he’s down — he’s probably dropped 10 pounds. I think he’s moving better, he’s got better flexibility and he doesn’t look as tight and rigid as maybe he did a year ago,” he said. “I think being a senior and going through the experiences he’s gone through, he’s really improved, so he’s done a good job here up to this point and time.”
One thing’s for the sure, the talented Gators will have a savvy head coach guiding them, a man who has had a remarkable career already. Donovan brought Gainesville two national titles with the Joakim Noah-led Gators, and he’s continued to compile the wins. In fact, Donovan enters his 18th season at Florida, as the all-time leader in NCAA Tournament victories in SEC history. When the Gators chomped Florida Gulf Coast in the Sweet Sixteen last season, Donovan moved past Kentucky legend Adolph Rupp with tourney win number 31. The accomplishment was unbeknownst to the gritty Florida leader.
“If I did that, I wasn’t even aware of that,” Donovan said. “It must mean that Kentucky must have been in a different league or the NCAA Tournament wasn’t around when he was coaching because he certainly won a lot of games, but I feel very fortunate that I could be at one place for as long as I have. It’s certainly humbling anytime your name gets mentioned with Adolph Rupp — just being at Kentucky for five years like I was and understanding what he did for that program was really remarkable.”
Now, Donovan continues his truly remarkable run at Florida with a team ranked in the top ten once again. Fresh off three straight Elite Eight appearances, the goals are once again high, but that’s not to say anything will be easy.
Freshman guard Kasey Hill will be thrown into the fire and have to learn on the job. There are other question marks.
Senior guard Scottie Wilbekin is suspended indefinitely, Michael Frazier II is battling mononucleosis, Will Yeguete is coming off of knee surgery, and Eli Carter is recovering from a leg fracture.
Young will be joined on the Gators frontline by Damontre Harris, who transferred from South Carolina, and Dorian Finney-Smith who came over from Virginia Tech.
The question is how well can Donovan mold this group with a young point guard as his floor general. If the past is any indication, Donovan gives you as good of a chance as anyone. Plus, he may have a wild card in his pocket down the road.
Chris Walker, a McDonald’s All-American, failed to enroll in August. So instead of hitting the court right away, he’s hitting the books trying to qualify academically for the spring semester. There is a possibility the 6-10 big man will suit up for Donovan this season.
The adversity has already started. Will the Gators have enough SWAG to overcome it and shine in the SEC and get through a rough non-conference schedule? Time will tell, but it’s hard to bet against Billy Donovan. He just keeps on winning.