Academics don't stop during March Madness
Published: Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 3:24 p.m.
ARLINGTON, Texas — Florida had beaten Minnesota and advanced to the Sweet 16, but there was no time to celebrate for Gator guard Scottie Wilbekin.
Who: No. 3 seed Florida Gators (28-7) vs. No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (26-10)
When: 10:07 p.m.
Where: Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Gainesville-area TV: TBS
Gainesville-area radio: 103.7 FM
He had to take a test.
It was an online sociology course, and Wilbekin, caught up in another deep run by the Gators in March, had put it off.
“One of my interns told me that he hadn't taken it yet,” said Tom Williams, Florida's academic adviser for basketball. “He waited until the last minute, but he had enough time to do it. He did fine.”
Williams was in Austin for the first two games the Gators played but returned to Gainesville after the Minnesota game. He was on the UF charter plane that took administrative staff, the pep band, cheerleaders, Dazzlers, support staff and family members of the coaching staff home.
The team took a bus to Dallas where the Gators checked into their digs for the rest of the regional, a downtown Marriott in Dallas.
Today at 11 a.m., the same group of about 115 people that returned to Gainesville will fly to Dallas. The NCAA pays the expenses for 75 people at the site of the regionals which is pretty much the group that bussed to Dallas, while Florida foots the bill for the the remaining attendees. UF receives an allotment of 500 tickets for the game or games.
“It's not like a bowl trip,” said Mike Hill, Florida's associate athletic director for internal affairs. “We don't bring a lot of external Gators.”
But they're bringing Williams, who spent this week meeting with professors back on the Gainesville campus.
“It made sense to come back,” Williams said. “It's good to meet with the professors face-to-face and let them know what is going on.”
What is going on is that Florida's basketball players are still students and have obligations to fulfill. Williams will meet with them individually when he arrives today to make sure they're doing the necessary school work.
During his time back in Gainesville, he sent emails to players and to assistant coaches to remind them of the work that needs to be done.
“The great thing is we have a coaching staff that really responds,” he said. “In this day and age, everything is one email away. They pretty much know what they have to do. I'm not chasing after kids.
“If they need tutorial help, like if they have an aggressive math course or an aggressive science course, that can hurt a little right now.
“But the academic community at the University of Florida has been receptive. The next part of it is that when they get back, they're going to have to do a lot of hustling.”
This is nothing new to the older players on the team. Last year when Florida won two games in Omaha, the team flew directly to Phoenix for the next round of games.
But for Florida's four freshmen, being on the road for so long is a new experience.
“It can be overwhelming for freshmen,” Williams said. “It can swallow you up. I'm constantly emailing them and reminding them. But we have four really good kids.”
The Gator team used the Dallas Mavericks' facility for lifting weights and is practicing at Southern Methodist University. The players will practice there again this morning, then have an open practice at Cowboys Stadium, about 30 minutes from the team hotel.
Williams will meet with players today after their media obligations at the stadium.
“But I'll leave them alone on Friday,” he said. “That's gameday.”
It's basketball, meetings, meals and, of course, school for the team as it tries to make another deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
“It's not a situation where these guys don't do anything academically,” said Florida coach Billy Donovan.
Donovan said it would have been too difficult to fly home, then turn around less than 48 hours later and fly back to Texas.
“I think it's really good,” he said. “I've always felt like, when you're in a city like this, you have to rely on each other. It's not like they have a lot of friends around.
“The bond gets stronger and stronger on the road like this. I think these things are always good for a basketball team. I'm fortunate as a coach that the guys like being around each other.”