UF hoops confident, lack bravado

UF men's basketball coach Billy Donovan addresses members of the media gathered in the University Women's Club for the team's media day on Tuesday.

JARRETT BAKER/Special to The Sun
Published: Wednesday, October 11, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 11, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
It was a statement that caught Florida junior forward Joakim Noah by surprise.
In truth, it offended him a little bit. When a Nike representative came to town to discuss NCAA Tournament basketball uniforms for different schools, Noah was quick to challenge him. "Why are you talking about this?" he asked. "We haven't even made the NCAA Tournament yet."
To its legion of fans, Florida making the NCAA Tournament this upcoming season is a foregone conclusion. The reigning national champions return all five of their starters and seven players overall from a team that finished 33-6.
Anything less than a Final Four, to some, would be disappointing.
In college basketball circles, many feel this is the best chance for a team to repeat as champions since Duke did it in 1992, because its entire core and head coach is back for another run.
Yet Noah's query goes a long way for what Florida coach Billy Donovan is trying to preach to his team and himself - stay humble at all costs.
"With the expectations to start the year, there's always a level of drama," Donovan said during Tuesday's annual media day. "I think when you buy into that drama, you get caught looking too far down the road."
Donovan pointed to perceptions at this time a year ago, when Florida was picked as low at 75th nationally. Some wondered if Florida could continue its streak of seven straight NCAA Tournament appearances.
"The pendulum has swung on our team," Donovan said. "A year ago today I was asked how I feel about being ranked 75th in the country.
"It's all drama to me. Right now, this is all drama. All of this. It's over-hype, it's over-drama. I understand we've got to get it out there and we've got to talk about it, but my whole focus is to become a better team, on the offensive end of the floor, on the defensive end of the floor."
That process will begin in earnest Friday, when Florida holds practice before Midnight Madness festivities at the O'Connell Center. Already, Florida has received a jump on other teams, with 10 official practices before its Labor Day weekend exhibition tour in Canada.
Complacency, players insist, won't be a factor. Although the Florida national championship ring graces this year's media guide cover, many players say they don't wear them around campus. Donovan said he hasn't worn his yet, even on recruiting visits.
"If anybody starts getting complacent, I'm sure coach will be all over them, making sure that doesn't happen," Florida junior forward Al Horford said.
Expectations will be high. Many preseason magazines rank Florida among the top three in the country. Some have Florida behind North Carolina, which may serve as some added motivation heading into the season.
"A lot of people are still underestimating us," senior forward Chris Richard said. "I'm kind of baffled that a lot of people say we're No. 2. A lot of people say we're No. 3 and we have the same exact team from last year and we won the whole thing.
"But I mean as long as we don't get up in all the rankings and the he says, she says stuff, I think we'll be all right. They'll just talk, and we'll just come out and play and keep proving everybody wrong, keep doing everything we've been doing so far."
Florida should get a chance to show whether it will remain near the nation's elite early this season. The non-conference schedule includes games against projected preseason top-10 teams Kansas (Las Vegas Invitational, Nov. 25) and Ohio State (O'Connell Center, Dec. 23).
"Every time we showed up to play we won, every time we didn't, we didn't win," Richard said. "So I think if we show up and play like we know we can play and do the right things we know we're supposed to be, we'll be OK."
Contact Kevin Brockway at 374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com.

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