Throughout the country, dozens of college basketball programs celebrated the start of practice last Friday with Midnight Madness ceremonies.
Kentucky put forth its usual grand spectacle in front of 24,000 fans at Rupp Arena, which included an appearance from Drake. Tubby Smith fell of a motorcycle at Texas Tech. Connecticut held a mixed scrimmage with men’s and women’s players together on the same team.
At Florida, there was a quiet closed, double-session practice. The Gators haven’t done Midnight Madness since the fall of 2006, following their first of back-to-back national championships.
Coming off a Final Four season could have given Florida a reason to re-launch it, but Florida coach Billy Donovan had other thoughts.
“For us, it was the fact there was no school on our first day and we could get two quality sessions in,” Donovan said. “We wanted to maximize that day. Usually, when practices started, it’s been when the first practice is on a Saturday so you can get Midnight Madness in. But some of that stuff has gone away now. For me, I just thought it was important — as one of those teams that’s started a little later than most — to capitalize on an off day and try to get two practices in.”
Under new NCAA rules, Donovan could have started practices as early as Oct 5. But the rules call for 30 practices within 40 days before the start of the regular season, which is Nov. 14 against William & Mary. Donovan prefers to have practices more condensed before the start of the regular season.
“I’ve always liked getting into a rhythm and a flow,” Donovan said. “That’s one of the things I’ve always worried about with starting a little too early; you practice two days, take two days off, then you’re having to reteach some things.
“When you get into the regular season we’re going to have one day off a week. … I like when you start going and there’s a rhythm and a flow, and certainly we’ve got enough time. Our first game is Nov. 14. That’s a little less than a month from now. That’s plenty of time to get prepared and play
“This time of year, you want carryover, so a lot of times at practice we’re rehearsing what we did yesterday and the day before and kind of refreshing and going through it, and trying to get them to do it in the competitive 5-on-5 situations.”