Billy Donovan has been to the Final Four as a player, assistant and head coach.
Florida’s sideline savant is well aware of the Texas twister awaiting his top-seeded Gators.
However, his team — winners of 30 games in a row and two victories shy from capping one of the greatest college basketball seasons ever — has no idea of the firestorm it’s about to walk into.
“It’s like the Super Bowl in a lot of ways,” Donovan said, on this weekend’s Final Four in Arlington, Texas.
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“There are a lot of different demands on your time. … This is a very, very time-consuming thing, and there’s a lot of things that I think can distract you from playing.”
Florida (36-2) and seventh-seeded Connecticut (30-8) — the last team to defeat the Gators — tip off Saturday at 6:09 p.m. at AT&T Stadium, but Donovan placed a Monday 3 p.m. deadline on all ancillary details — most notably, ticket requests — before the Gators begin actual game preparation for the Huskies.
For Florida, it’s regroup. Rejuvenate. Then retribution.
Aside from meetings, players had Sunday and Monday off to physically, mentally and emotionally recover from a taxing weekend that saw four seniors finally exorcise the demons of three consecutive Elite Eight failures.
Players, allotted six tickets each for the Final Four, were told to sort out their personal affairs and rest up. Come Tuesday, it was time to work.
“There is obviously an enormous amount of attention placed on the event, and our guys just need to understand that we’re there to play basketball,” said Donovan, who has led UF to four appearances in the Final Four since 2000.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to get an opportunity to play another 40 minutes. Sometimes with all that takes place in the Final Four, you can really, really get distracted on some of those things, so it will be very important that we keep ourselves focused mentally and emotionally, and even physically on things that we need to do to get ourselves prepared to play on Saturday.”
According to senior guard Scottie Wilbekin, the team is readily heeding Donovan’s advice — because why wouldn’t they?
“We’re going to try our best to not get distracted by all of the hoopla and the excitement of the Final Four,” said Wilbekin, the South Regional’s Most Outstanding Player.
“It’s not going to be easy, because from what I hear, there’s a lot of things that we have to do while we’re there. … I’m glad that [Donovan] has been there before so he can kind of warn us how crazy it’s gonna be, because, I mean, we’ve never been there before. We have ideas of what it might be like, but he’s been there and he knows.”
Added sophomore guard Michael Frazier II: “Coach D knows what goes into trying to win this thing. Our biggest thing as a team right now is listening to everything he has to say because he knows what’s going to happen, from the distractions all the way up until game time.”
Donovan views the Final Four as a business trip, but Florida’s coach wants his players, especially his seniors, to savor the spectacle of college basketball’s premier event — all while remembering why they’re in North Texas.
“It’s the greatest time of the year,” Donovan said.
“It’s an unbelievable weekend. It’s kind of the culmination of the college basketball season, but at the same point, we’re here to play. We’ve got to get ourselves ready to play. We’re not ready to play right now, but we don’t need to be ready to play right now.”