Posting the last of my interviews from the Jimmy V event this week. First, a note on Sam Cassell Jr., the point guard UConn is targeting. He has indicated it’s down to UConn and Louisville, but the process is going to take a bit longer. UConn will have a coach in Tallahassee this weekend to watch Cassell play in a JuCo jamboree there, continuing the effort.
NEW YORK – The time has come for Florida and UConn to face off on the basketball court. UConn’s new conference affiliation prompted them to look for stronger non-conference opponents and Gators coach Billy Donovan is always looking for marquee matchups.
I caught up Donovan in New York at the Jimmy V event, and he talked about scheduling the Huskies – at Gampel Pavilion on Dec. 2, a great fit for both teams,
“Nowadays, a lot of college basketball has moved to a lot of neutral site games, a lot of exempt tournaments,” Donovan said,. “One of the things I’ve always tried to do here, especially the last four or five years – ‘How do we bring really good quality opponents to our home court?’ What teams would be willing to do that?
“What Kevin [Ollie is] doing there right now, what Jim [Calhoun] has built there over the years, UConn is one of those programs that’s a national program. Although we’re starting the series on the road at UConn, it gets us prepared for our conference schedule and, [in 2014-15] it gives our fans a chance to see one of the better programs in the country.
“So we’ve done it with Wisconsin, we’ve done it with Maryland, we’ve done it with Louisville, we did it with Arizona last year. We’re just trying to identify programs and teams that really make sense for us, where, one, it’s going to make our team better, it’s going to prepare our team and also it’s great for our fans.”
Florida has Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, et al, in the SEC. The Gators are playing another an AAC opponent, Memphis, in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden. The Gators, who have won two NCAA championships under Donovan, need no intro on the national stage. A stacked non-conference schedule helps them stay there.
“For us, we play at UConn,” Donovan said, “we play Memphis here in New York, we play Florida State at home, we play Kansas at home, we’re traveling to Wisconsin, we play Fresno State. Our non conference schedule is really, really challenging. In doing that, you find out more about your team going into your conference schedule and, no question, coming to Storrs, Conn., to play a game is going to prepare us for any game that we’ll face in our league.”
UConn has put this game, which figures to be one of the best on its entire schedule, in Gampel Pavilion, not the XL Center. So the Gators will face the loudest, most hostile atmosphere UConn can offer, which is fine with Donovan.
“We’re going to do a home and home,” he said, :”and when you do a home-and-home, the home team decides where they want to play. You wouldn’t want a situation where Kevin would say, ‘We’re going to play in the Hartford [XL Center], but when we come down to Gainesville, we want to play in Jacksonville.’ As long as it’s a true home game, I’m fine with that.”
Florida and UConn have played once before – Florida beating the Huskies, 69-60, in overtime in the 1994 NCAA Tournament, the East Regional semis. You may remember Donyell Marshall missing a couple of free throws, and a lot of shots of Lon Kruger’s young son on the telecast that night. … Hard to believe that was 20 years ago.