Last week, the Florida Gators women’s basketball team trekked to Camp Blanding — an Army base in Starke, Florida.
There, the players were subjected to the wrath of a drill sergeant.
Organized by UF assistant coach Bill Ferrara and a partnership with the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, Florida held a joint-practice session with the United States Marine Corps.
It featured military-style physical training and problem-solving challenges, trials that head coach Amanda Butler believes has helped the team.
“The leadership-reaction course really revealed to them, I think, some strengths in some people that maybe they hadn’t seen,” she said, “and then it also exposed some weaknesses.”
The team uses the lessons they learned at Camp Blanding during practice.
Butler’s players haven't shied away from the physical aspect of the game, both against themselves and physically stronger competition. Butler said the team has placed an emphasis on taking charges, which, if executed properly, can force the opposing team into a turnover.
“We really value charges ” she said.
“It’s not glamorous and flashy. It’s really a blue-collar type of a thing where you know you’re sacrificing.
“To see that as often as we do in practice against men … I think it really kinda shows you, reveals a little bit of the spirit of this team, that they’re willing to do kinda whatever it takes for one another.”
That willingness is on display at any given practice.
Players regularly hustle across the court to help a teammate back to her feet. Other displays of support — high-fives, chest bumps — are encouraged during Florida's preseason practices as well.
“We track how many ‘touches’ we have in practice every day,” Butler said.
“And I think from our seats — from the coaches’ seats — when those things happen, it just makes us feel really good about what’s going on in practice.”
It indicates that all is going according to plan — that the coaching staff’s unconventional techniques are producing the edge from the players that they’ve been looking for.
And with their season opener drawing nearer, the Gators are looking to pinpoint their strengths and build on them.
“Offensive learning, defensive growth and those sort of things take time, but that positive energy … we’re seeing those on so much of a consistent basis," Butler said.
"... Putting in extra time and extra work outside of the court is gonna help build our culture and build us as a cohesive unit in unique ways.”
UF coach Amanda Butler claps during Florida's 53-45 win against LSU on Jan. 17, 2016, in the O'Connell Center.