Donovan wants Gators to be wary of FGCU point guard
Published: Friday, March 29, 2013 at 10:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 10:35 p.m.
ARLINGTON, Texas — When Florida coach Billy Donovan watches free-wheeling Florida Gulf Coast point guard Brett Comer on film, it brings to mind a floor general from the not-too-distant past.
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
“We had a player several years ago at Florida named Nick Calathes, who had great vision as well,” Donovan said. “And there's just a special ability and talent that (Comer) has in doing that.”
Sentiment won't be on Florida's side when the third-seeded Gators face 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast in tonight's Sweet 16 matchup at Cowboys Stadium. But for Florida, the game within the game will be keeping Comer in check. A 6-foot-3 guard who teamed with Austin Rivers at Winter Park, Comer is the engine to FGCU's high-octane offense. He ranks 16th nationally in assists at 6.6 per game on a team that scores 72.9 points per game.
Calathes, who holds the UF record for assists in a season with 231 (2008-09), left following his sophomore season to pursue a basketball career overseas in Greece and is now playing in Russia. Comer (8.1 ppg) isn't the same scorer as Calathes, but is as proficient a passer.
Florida junior center Patric Young said it will be important to keep Comer out of the paint, where he often finds teammates Chase Fieler, Eddie Murray and Eric McKnight for alley-oop dunks.
“He's the one that's the best at making those plays happen,” Young said. “So we need to contain him and keep him out of the paint. It limits his ability to find those guys.”
That job will fall to Florida junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who has taken on his share of tough defensive assignments this season. Wilbekin held Missouri's Phil Pressey, a point guard who Donovan also compared to Comer, to an assist-to-turnover ratio of 16 to 15 in two meetings.
“He's a great passer, great vision,” Wilbekin said of Comer. “His teammates do a great job of moving without the ball so he can find them in areas to score.
“I've got to try to keep him out of the lane because that's where he can make most of his plays for lob dunks or kick-out 3(-pointers).”
Florida's familiarity with Comer dates back to the point guard's early high school years. Comer and Rivers attended Florida's summer team camps with Winter Park High. Donovan was so enamored with Rivers that he offered him a scholarship following his freshman year of high school. Rivers committed to UF, but eventually changed his mind and went to Duke, where he spent just one season before declaring for the NBA Draft. Rivers was taken in the first round (10th overall) and is now playing with the New Orleans Hornets.
But Donovan said Comer stood out as well.
“He was always a very good passer,” Donovan said. “And their team was terrific. … For us, with Austin at the time being committed, with Brad Beal right around the corner and Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton, our backcourt, we had a lot of depth there. Our focus (in recruiting) was our frontcourt.”
Comer said he didn't feel slighted by being overlooked by the Gators.
“It was a great atmosphere,” Comer said. “They have great facilities. Billy Donovan is a great guy. He was always around, recruiting Austin Rivers. I met him. I know Dillon Graham, who plays for them. We played on the same team for the super showcase in Orlando.”
Then a graduate assistant at Florida, current Florida assistant Matt McCall recognized Comer's potential. As an assistant at Florida Atlantic, McCall recruited Comer and signed him to a scholarship. But after a change of heart, Comer was allowed out of his letter of intent and wound up at Florida Gulf Coast University.
At FGCU, Comer has been given the freedom to pilot his team in transition under second-year coach Andy Enfield.
“He just has a gift of seeing the play develop,” Enfield said. “And he makes the pass as the plays develop or even before the plays develop.”
Enfield said Comer has played more under control this season.
“Last year he led the nation in turnovers or close to it,” Enfield said. “He led our league in assists or turnovers. This year, his assist-to-turnover ratio is much better.
“He's become a leader. He's more mature. And he's averaged 12 assists in two NCAA Tournament games, in two games. It's impressive. He is as crucial to our success or potential success against Florida with all those good guards.”
Behind a cast of off-Broadway players, Florida Gulf Coast has become the first 15th seed in NCAA Tournament history to reach the Sweet 16. But Florida players and coaches did not sound as if they were underestimating the Eagles on Thursday. Florida is concerned about Florida Gulf Coast's ability to create points off turnovers in transition. The Eagles average nine steals per game.
“It's going to be really important that we take care of the ball,” Young said. “They do a really good job getting steals, and converting them into points. Live ball turnovers, they just go on the break, so they're really good at getting those points.”
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Kenny Boynton 6-2 Sr. 12.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg
G Mike Rosario 6-3 Sr. 12.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg
G Scottie Wilbekin 6-2 Jr. 9.2 ppg, 5.0 apg
F Erik Murphy 6-10 Sr. 12.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg
C Patric Young 6-9 Jr. 10.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg
FLORIDA GULF COAST PROBABLE STARTERS
G Sherwood Brown 6-4 Sr. 15.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg
G Brett Comer 6-3 So. 8.1 ppg, 6.6 apg
G Bernard Thompson 6-3 So. 14.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg
F Chase Fieler 6-8 Jr. 12.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg
C Eric McKnight 6-9 So. 6.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg
Notes: Florida is playing in the Sweet 16 for the ninth time in school history and seventh time under Billy Donovan. Donovan is 30-10 (.750) in NCAA Tournament games and 5-1 in Sweet 16 games. … The Gators rank first in the SEC and second in the nation in scoring defense, holding opponents to 53.8 points per game. The Gators have held 13 opponents under 50 points and 24 opponents under 60 points. Florida is 24-0 when it holds opponents under 60 points and 4-7 when teams score 60 or more. … Florida senior forward Erik Murphy is averaging 16.5 ppg through UF's first two NCAA Tournament games. … Florida senior Kenny Boynton is at 2,013 points, 67 points shy of Ronnie Williams' school record (2,090 points) … Florida Gulf Coast University advanced to the Sweet 16 following an 81-71 win over San Diego State. … In two NCAA Tournament games, the Eagles are averaging 79.5 ppg while shooting 50 percent from the floor (54 of 108). … If there's a glaring weakness for FGCU, it's turnovers. The Eagles average 14.6 turnovers per game, but also force 15.8 turnovers per game. … FGCU's assist-to-turnover ratio is 1-1, while Florida's is 1.3-1.