MEMPHIS, TENN. | Florida coach Billy Donovan was the son of a standout college basketball player, and UCLA’s Steve Alford was the son of a coach.
Basketball has continued with the next generation of those families. Donovan’s oldest son, Billy Jr., is a junior guard for the Gators. Alford’s two sons, redshirt sophomore guard Kory and freshman guard Bryce, play for the Bruins.
Donovan’s son, who played two seasons for Division III Catholic University in Washington, D.C., has appeared in 16 games this season and has scored four points, with four rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Alford’s youngest son, Bryce, made an impact for the Bruins and is one of the first guards off the bench. He’s appeared in all 36 games and averages 8.1 points and 2.8 assists. Alford scored 31 points during a regular-season game against Oregon and added 20 in a game against Southern California.
Kory Alford has appeared in 11 games and scored five points.
“It’s been great for me as a father,” Donovan said of having his son on the team. “When your children go off to college, there’s always that wonder of, will they ever be back? Will you see them a lot? Will we keep in touch? To find him in the locker room, on the court, part of our practice every single day ... is very, very rewarding.”
“It’s one of those special blessings,” Alford said. “You have fun with it. I think Billy will tell you what’s a lot of fun is you go to work early and you watch tape and you plan practices ... and it’s a lot of fun knowing that there’s a piece of your family that gets to enjoy that as well.”
3-0 won’t matter
Donovan and Alford have already answered the question numerous times: Will Florida’s 3-0 record against UCLA in the NCAA Tournament matter Thursday?
“We know we have a lot of challenges with Florida so everybody might as well throw in the history, too,” Alford said. “I don’t know if history’s going to play much into the game.”
“I know the jersey letters still say ‘UCLA,’ but for our team, everything’s really changed,” Donovan said. “We have a totally different team, totally different players. They have a different coach. They have different players. I’m not so sure what we would be able to take from any of those past games.”
The last time the Gators and the Bruins played was in the second round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, a 73-65 victory for UF in St. Petersburg. No UCLA players from that game are on this year’s roster, and the four Gator seniors this year were freshmen. Scottie Wilbekin and Patric Young played 16 minutes each, with Young scoring eight points of 4-of-7 shooting, with four rebounds and two blocked shots, and Wilbekin getting one assist and taking one shot.
Will Yeguete played one minute, with no stats.
Working with Walker
Donovan counseled patience with fans about freshman forward Chris Walker, who didn’t become active until mid-season because of NCAA clearinghouse issues. Walker has played in 15 games, averaging 1.8 points and 1.4 rebounds. Walker was a McDonald’s All-American, but Donovan said the college game has proven challenging for the 6-foot-10 Bonifay native.
“They get blown up, and it’s almost impossible to reach the level of expectation that people have,” Donovan said of the pressure on the top high school players. “I think people thought I was downplaying him just to take pressure off him. But I was with him for a month in practice before he played, and I knew where he was at.”
Donovan said Walker hasn’t complained about playing time and is putting the necessary work in.
“He’s been a great kid to coach,” Donovan said.
Nation’s coaches recognize Wilbekin
Wilbekin, the SEC player of the year, was named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches All-American third team. He is the first Florida player since Al Horford and Joakim Noah made the second team in 2007.
The only other SEC player to make the NABC team was Kentucky forward Julius Randle.