Gators can't get caught looking ahead to March

Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 12:09 a.m.

Hey, it's basketball media day. There's Kenny Boynton with his jersey untucked, Kenny being Kenny. There's little Billy, now a walk-on for his dad. Mike Rosario, Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin and a lot of the guys we remember from last year plus some new faces.

So tell me, when does the NCAA Tournament start?

Yeah, that's the attitude that so many have when it comes to Gator basketball. Because we are all back there, back to that place where Billy Donovan dares not go.

We assume Florida will be playing in the tournament because they almost always do under Donovan. We want to fast forward to that first Thursday or Friday when there are games flying at you like love bugs and UF is in the middle of one of the great spectacles in sports.

That's college basketball in a football town. But Donovan knows better. This isn't his first rodeo.

“We can't even be thinking about the NCAA Tournament,” Donovan said Wednesday. “Our guys need to be careful with the mentality that we have to get over the hump and get to the Final Four.”

Because there is a process, and it's going full bore right now.

You want to enjoy March? You'd better make it happen in October.

“You have to really enjoy the process,” Donovan said.

It's not that it will be fun. Practice is rarely fun no matter what the sport. But between now and opening day, Florida's basketball team will try to establish an identity and bond older players with young ones.

Donovan thinks his team will be pretty good defensively. But as you know, you don't just show up and make that happen.

And still, we look to March.

Because we're used to it.

Oh, there were the two seasons when Donovan was trying to rebuild after the back-to-back national title teams when Florida was banished to the NIT. But three straight appearances in the Big Dance (12 of the last 14) and two straight runs to the Elite Eight have us assuming again.

We're already checking out the brackets, as if they mean anything (Joe Lunardi has produced two since last season ended). Donovan reminded us Wednesday that Florida isn't guaranteed an appearance in the tournament.

It just seems that way.

“There are rewards at the end of the year,” he said. “You don't experience them if you don't take care of things every day.”

Those rewards, he noted, will “reflect the investment you made.”

Behind closed doors, Donovan will shape his 17th Gator team. He will yell and he will scream and at some point he'll probably kick them out of the UF basketball practice facility. And then he'll unveil them and the process will continue.

And sometime after the Super Bowl, some people will start to pay attention like the season was just starting.

It's simply the nature of the sport in the South everywhere except Kentucky.

It's probably not fair that college coaches are evaluated based on what they do in the NCAA Tournament. You can win 25 games and sweep the conference tournament, but if you are one-and-done or two-and-barbecue, it's seen as an off year. This is the monster that March Madness has created.

But today March seems like a lot further away than five months for Donovan and his staff.

The process has begun. It has a long way to go. Donovan will see over the next few weeks just how mature a team with some veterans is when it comes to the process.

“It's really the same group of guys,” he said. “What kind of commitment are we willing to make?”

That is always the question that hangs over every basketball team in the fall.

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