The issue of how college coaches treat players in practice came to light last spring in the wake of the Mike Rice player abuse scandal at Rutgers.
Florida’s connection to that scandal is guard Eli Carter, who transferred to UF shortly after Rutgers fired Rice as coach. Video showed Rice shoving players and throwing basketballs at them during closed portions of practices.
Carter refused to elaborate on the issues he faced at Rutgers during UF’s media days last week.
“I never really asked Eli about him being involved,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “I didn’t think it was my place to do that. I think he looked at it as a difficult situation that was unfortunate that he appreciated his time and just tried to move forward and look forward to his future.
“I know Mike a little bit. We played up there (Florida lost at Rutgers 85-83 in double-overtime in 2011). It’s sad because I think just certainly players having to go through all that stuff and the program and everybody … it was one of those things that just wasn’t necessary and I think that’s the one thing you look at there. What was shown on those tapes, you know, was that over three or four years, was that an everyday thing that happened, regardless it was wrong all the way around. And, I think that obviously Rutgers has paid a huge price and so has Mike and so has his players. And that’s the unfortunate part of what happened and what took place there. Certainly, what the kids maybe had to endure, I don’t know if it was all of them or some of them, it was just unfortunate.”
Carter wound up at Florida based on his close relationship with Florida assistant Rashon Burno.
“When this whole thing happened with the transfer and they were in flux with the coach at that time, Eli kind of opened it up that he was going to transfer and he was going to make a change,” Donovan said. “And the thing I admire the most is he had only positive things to say at Rutgers and he only had positive things to say about Coach Rice. And I really admired him for that. I think he and Coach Rice had a very, very special relationship because I think when Mike was at Robert Morris, that was one of the first coaches that recruited Eli and I think Eli had really, really good feelings about him.”
In his own coaching, Donovan said he’s aware there’s a fine line between coaching a player hard and going too far.
“I really try to never, ever make something very, very personal,” Donovan said. “I really believe every kid playing college basketball, or any sport for that matter, wants to do well, wants to perform, wants to get the opportunity to play, wants to do well. But there are human nature things that come into play, such as, I’m a little bit sore today, I’m a little bit tired today, and I think as a coach you have to try to motivate, you have to try to get those guys to push through it.”
Donovan said he tries to show players through film the difference between them practicing with intensity and not giving peak effort.
“I’m intense in practice,” Donovan said. “I think I’m into it, I’m passionate. I try to coach those guys. I try to have a good relationship with those guys. But I think like anything else, you are in a relationship with a team, if they genuinely feel like you genuinely care about them. I think they are more open to being pushed and challenged to work harder and to grow and to get better.
“And I think all of us, as people as players as athletes, when you are trying to grow and trying to improve and trying to get better, you are going to be uncomfortable trying to get better. It’s not an easy process to get better, But I think as a coach what you want to be able to do is facilitate a level of confidence of growth and excitement and energy and enthusiasm where guys are eager to practice, eager to get better and want to get better and if they don’t perform well they at least have some self-accountability and reflectiveness to say, you know what I didn’t do as well as I could today, I need to get better, I need to do a better job.”