Will Yeguete wasn't quite sure why Billy Donovan wanted him to pick a bag up off the locker room floor and put it in his locker, but when your coach is 272 games over .500 in his 18 years at Florida, you do what he says. It was early last week and a game against Auburn was on deck.
Florida's jovial senior forward played along, reaching to pick up the assumedly light bag with one hand. One problem: it was loaded with weights.
"You thought it was going to be easy, but it wasn't," Yeguete remembers Donovan quipping. "He used that as an example that the Auburn game wasn't going to be easy just because we beat them (in January) and because of their record (12-11 at the time)."
An ongoing school record 19-game winning streak has forced Donovan to unload his motivational tactics in order to keep his team from letting the big picture impact the regularly scheduled tasks at hand.
Monday, Florida (25-2, 14-0 Southeastern Conference) got another piece of news that will add to the somewhat newfound national stir surrounding it. The Gators are the No. 1 team in the nation, ranked atop both the AP Poll and the Coaches' Poll. Tuesday night at 7, Florida will play at Vanderbilt in its first regular season game as a No. 1 team since Feb. 21, 2007. A win will clinch at least a share of the regular season SEC title.
"Any time that that happens, it's an honor," Donovan said. "I'm not dismissing that. I'm not dismissing the polls."
"For our guys, that means nothing. In reality, in terms of us preparing, us getting ready to play and us doing what we need to do in playing against Vanderbilt. … A lot of times when you get that ranking, it has nothing to do with what you do. It has to do with what other people do. When you start to be affected by what happens to other people, you get focused on the wrong things and your focus gets a lot broader."
Vanderbilt's Memorial Gym was ironically the resting place of Florida's last stint as a regular season No. 1. The Gators lost 83-70 to the unranked Commodores Feb. 17, 2007, to end an 18-game winning streak.
Florida has spent 10 regular season weeks ranked No. 1 in its history. Eight of those weeks were during the 2006-2007 national championship season. The other two came late in the 2002-2003 season and early in the 2003-2004 season. Florida lost in the second and first rounds, respectively, of the NCAA Tournament in those two seasons. During the 2005-2006 national championship season, Florida was never ranked better than No. 2 and entered the postseason ranked No. 11.
The Gators are 15-5 when ranked No. 1. Twice they have lost their first game after receiving the ranking.
Donovan has discussed repeatedly how he has matured as a coach from someone who was primarily result-based to a veteran who understands that what is important is how your team is playing when things matter and the process required to develop and improve until ultimate success is accomplished.
"We've been given a number and that's about the extent of it," Donovan said of the current ranking. "Our goal is to play as well as we can. Let's say we do get a No. 1 seed and we were No. 1 and we were playing awful. I would give all that up to have our team be playing great and ranked No. 15 in the country and a five seed."
His players are echoing that message. Said sophomore guard Michael Frazier II: "We just want to be the No. 1 team in the country at the end of the season, so right now it's all good, but we have to continue to get better and fall in love with the process."
-- INJURY UPDATE --
Freshman point guard Kasey Hill (strained groin) remains doubtful for Tuesday's game, though Donovan said an official decision will not be made until Tuesday. If Hill is unavailable, it will be his third consecutive game as a spectator.
"It certainly has impacted the amount of minutes that Scottie has played, he's had some fouls in both the Mississippi game and in the Auburn game," Donovan said. "I would like for our team for Kasey to get healthy. I think that helps us. We can play two point guard together, we can play very fast. There's a lot of different things we can do with those two guys out there."
Donovan said Casey Prather, who has been dealing with an ankle injury is now also battling tendinitis in his knees. Prather did not practice Sunday and was questionable for practice Monday.