Gator assistants building chemistry on job


Former Arkansas head basketball coach and new UF assistant coach John Pelphrey talks with the media on May, 10 2011 in Gainesville, Fla.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, July 28, 2011 at 12:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 28, 2011 at 12:04 a.m.

LAKE BUENA VISTA — The past three months for Florida's three new men's basketball assistants have included long road trips and late nights in the office.

“We've done a lot of things with our families,” Florida assistant coach Norm Roberts said. “We've all gotten to know each other in that way, and then being on the road together, talking constantly about recruiting and those things.

“So I think it's going to be a lot of fun.”

Roberts and Florida assistants Matt McCall and John Pelphrey were all at the Disney Sports Complex on Tuesday. Together, the three evaluated players from the Class of 2012 and beyond at the AAU boys national basketball championships.

The final days of the July evaluation period have been a time to further enhance the chemistry of the new staff.

“I feel very fortunate to be part of that staff,” Pelphrey said. “Those guys are tremendous, both Matt and Norm. I just want to play my role to make us be the best we can be and help Billy be the best he can be.”

It was an unprecedented experience when Florida coach Billy Donovan lost all three of his assistants following an Elite Eight season. But Donovan quickly regrouped, landing two former head coaches and a younger assistant with Gator ties.

McCall, a former FAU assistant, was a Florida student manager before beginning his coaching career as a UF graduate assistant.

“It's been terrific,” McCall said. “Two guys (Roberts and Pelphrey) that are hard not to get along with. Just great people, and terrific coaches too.”

Roberts was known as a strong recruiter when he was a head coach at St. John's, while Pelphrey landed a top-10 national recruiting class at Arkansas shortly before getting fired. Pelphrey, a UF assistant from 1996-2002, has a strong familiarity with players that fit Donovan's system.

But recruiting also is about building relationships. Prospects and travel-league coaches have had to become accustomed to the new faces wearing Gator attire. A few prominent 2012 recruits interviewed Tuesday said that they needed to “get used” to UF's new coaching staff.

“The previous staff did a great job,” McCall said. “They laid a good foundation. But obviously we're starting over, developing all of these new relationships with these kids. They knew (Richard) Pitino, they knew (Larry) Shyatt, they knew Rob Lanier, they don't really know us. So trying to come in and develop relationships with the kids and the people around the kids, it's challenging.”

Roberts said re-establishing those ties will build over time.

“The kids that we've gotten involved with have gotten a good feel for who we are,” Roberts said. “And it will only get better as the recruiting process goes on. Right now, we're evaluating and all those things are great. But it's getting a kid on campus, getting his parents on campus and really sitting down face-to-face talking about the program, and when you see that young man in the future, I think that's when you can really build a good relationship.”

Of course, UF's new assistants can sell recruits on the stability and success at the top. In 15 seasons at Florida, Donovan has led the Gators to three Final Fours and two national titles.

“Coach Donovan recruits like an assistant coach,” McCall said. “He's constantly on the phone, so having him as your head coach makes it a lot easier.”

Roberts and Pelphrey both have their families now settled in Gainesville. McCall was recently engaged and his fiancee moved to Gainesville this month.

“She's lived in New York, Hawaii and we met in Boca Raton,” McCall said. “So Gainesville is a bit of a culture shock. But she's getting used to it.”

McCall has found another advantage in his new job as a Florida assistant. His calls are returned a lot quicker.

“When I was at FAU, they (coaches and recruits) didn't always pick up the phone,” McCall said. “It's been great. It's been exciting to pick up the phone and say Matt McCall, University of Florida. It's a dream come true. Just got to make sure that we keep chasing these guys this summer, get a couple of them and get ready for fall workouts in September.”

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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