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Friday, May 27, 2022

Welcome to the doghouse.

In the hopes of finally getting his message through, UF coach Billy Donovan is done playing games.

"They've got a massage therapist that makes sure they're OK after games, they've got a private plane that they take to games, the meals that they eat - all of those things, these guys came here and went right to the penthouse," Donovan said.

Donovan has decided to ditch the high life and get back to basics. Among the changes, the team has been practicing at the O'Connell Center instead of its newly renovated practice facility. The team also has been forced to get rid of its practice jerseys.

This overhaul took place after UF's 80-69 loss to Alabama, when the team failed to show up for the first half.

The punishment, or change of pace, began right away. UF practiced on Friday and during Selection Sunday.

"It's not embarrassing. It's just something we have to overcome," guard Jai Lucas said. "We don't deserve to be in the penthouse."

Lucas said Donovan has hinted about this all season. It's likely Donovan thought he was unable to get through to his players and needed to act drastically, he said.

The Gators were selected to play in this year's National Invitational Tournament but are missing the Big Dance for the first time in a decade and are unable to defend their back-to-back national titles.

The Gators represent the first team since Kansas in 1988 to miss the NCAA Tournament after winning it all.

"This is his way of getting us motivated," Lucas said. "How do you (deserve this) after winning two national titles and not even making the tournament?"

Lucas said he's enjoying the treatment and expects to return to normalcy when the team starts living up to expectations.

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"We're not like slaves or anything," Lucas said.

The fallout from the disappointing season is beginning to show. Donovan said he noticed a certain air about the young group before it ever took the court.

It appeared the group was punching its ticket a little prematurely.

"I think that probably, in some respects, the confetti is still falling down around them," Donovan said. "I would say that this group, when Oct. 15 started, would have said there is no way that we're not in the NCAA Tournament, and I just think that that's youthfulness."

The players didn't hide their disappointment. Lucas said this team can grow from the experience, but there's no question it will plague them for months to come.

"This is something that will never leave us," Lucas said. "This pain is unbearable."

Donovan spoke about his comments following UF's loss to Alabama, when in a post-game press conference he alluded to his worries about coaching this squad next season. During the conference he pointed out he wasn't sure putting a sophomore designation next to their names would make things any easier.

He said he felt misrepresented and backed up his players.

"For someone to take those words that I said and build it just around that, there were a lot of things that were missed, that were said before, that were said after," Donovan said. "When I made the comment that I am not looking forward to sophomores, it had nothing to do with coaching them. … We have great kids with good families that are trying to do the right things."

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