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Florida coach Billy Donovan will direct his team against fifth-seeded Butler (29-6) in the Midwest Regionals in St. Louis on Friday. The top-seeded Gators (31-5) have won 14 straight postseason games.
AP Photo by Alex Brandon
Florida coach Billy Donovan will direct his team against fifth-seeded Butler (29-6) in the Midwest Regionals in St. Louis on Friday. The top-seeded Gators (31-5) have won 14 straight postseason games.

Keeping Gators hungry
Donovan wants team
to 'live in the moment'

By Mark Long
Associated Press Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — He's been "Officer Bill," a history professor, a tour guide, a father figure and even a friend.

He's been way more than just a coach.

Billy Donovan has been a master motivator for top-seeded Florida, inspiring players with championship rings, famous dads and NBA futures to play hard, stay focused, follow his "live in the moment" catch-phase and possibly become the first team in 15 years to successfully defend its title.

He's kept the Gators hungry and humble while dealing with off-the-chart expectations, outside influences and the constant pressure of trying to make history.

"Sometimes when you hear the word motivation, people think it's a rah-rah speech every day," Donovan said.

"I think there's different ways to motivate people and to inspire people. I would say that I spend every single day trying to do that."

Florida (31-5), which plays fifth-seeded Butler (29-6) on Friday in the Midwest Regional in St. Louis, has won 14 consecutive postseason games and cut down five sets of nets in the past 11 months.

Aside from having five talented, unselfish and experienced starters, a big key has been Donovan's motivational tactics.

He's invited big-name sports celebrities to speak to the Gators — a list that includes NBA legend Jerry West, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.

He's shown clips from movies and sporting events in hopes of providing inspiration. He's told stories about all-time greats like Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Pete Sampras and Tiger Woods.

He even brought in renowned sociology professor Harry Edwards, widely considered the leading expert on issues of race and sports.

"(Edwards) talked about pushing the ball back up the hill," forward Corey Brewer said. "You can't push it up the same way, and you've all got to go up together. It's time to get together and go back up the hill."

Belichick might have made the biggest impression.

He first spoke to the Gators after last year's Southeastern Conference tournament, telling them that if they "play to that level in the NCAA tournament, we're going to go home," forward Joakim Noah said.

"(He said) you have to elevate your game, elevate your team play, elevate your sacrifice," Noah continued. "Even though we won a championship and everybody was congratulating us, he was keeping it real with us. For somebody who's not part of the team to speak that real with us, I just think that's cool."

Belichick made an encore appearance two weeks ago after Florida won a third consecutive conference tournament. This time, he provided a video lesson.

"He showed us a horse race from 1973," Noah said. "This horse, at the beginning of the race, it's all close. Toward the end of the race, he wins by like a quarter of a mile. It was just like an unbelievable race, and (Belichick) was just saying, 'Never looking back.' And that's our motto — just never looking back, just looking forward and being the best that you can be."

The horse was Secretariat, a name Noah struggled to recall.

None of the players expect to forget Donovan's most surprising approach this season.

He showed up in the locker room wearing a police officer's uniform minutes before a January game at Auburn.

Regardless, the message was clear: Donovan wanted the Gators to be like police breaking up a party. The team responded with 91-66 victory.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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