Donovan ‘starting over’ with revamped staff

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GAINESVILLE, FLA. (AP) - Florida coach Billy Donovan is treating his revamped staff like an overhauled roster. He’s trying to build bonds, develop chemistry and create teamwork.

If it works, the Gators could stay atop the Southeastern Conference and make another deep run in the NCAA tournament next season.

“When you have three people leave at one time, you’re really starting over,” Donovan said Tuesday as he introduced his new, yet somewhat familiar, staff.

Donovan lost associate head coach Larry Shyatt to Wyoming in March, then had Richard Pitino leave to become associate coach under his father, Rick, at Louisville and had Rob Lanier take a similar position at Texas.

Donovan filled the spots with close friend and former Arkansas coach John Pelphrey, respected colleague and former St. John’s coach Norm Roberts, and former Florida assistant Matt McCall.

“I’ve had different coaches leave throughout the course of my time here at Florida, but when you have three people leave on one staff at one time, that’s certainly unique and very, very different,” Donovan said.

There certainly have been challenges, starting with Pelphrey and Roberts still having their families living out of state. And with the summer recruiting season about two months away, there has been little time for the new staff to get acquainted with recruits, their families, high school staffs and those all-important AAU coaches.

“It’s no different than a team,” Donovan said. “You try to create a level of chemistry inside your staff. When John was here and (Alabama coach) Anthony (Grant) was here and (Central Florida coach) Donnie Jones was here, it was not by mistake that we had really, really good teams. Our staff reflected what a team was all about.”

Donovan said he expects similar results with Pelphrey, Roberts and McCall.

“As a coaching staff you’re always looking to make your players better, but a lot of times inside your staff, you can display a lot of chemistry and teamwork,” Donovan said. “That’s what we’ve talked about a lot.”

Pelphrey, who served six years (1996-2002) as an assistant under Donovan, is returning to Florida after spending the past nine seasons at South Alabama (2002-07) and Arkansas (2007-11). He was fired last month after posting a 69-59 record with the Razorbacks.

Pelphrey said he has a lot more knowledge now than he did when he left Gainesville in 2002.

“I have a different understanding,” he said. “I see things completely different than I did the first time around, not that the way that I saw it the first time around was wrong because there was a level of success. But as you get older you gain experiences and have a chance to be exposed to the good and to the bad. Those are valuable things. Those are weapons in your arsenal.”

Roberts, a 1987 graduate of Queens College in New York City, spent six seasons at St. John’s before he was fired in 2010. He was 81-101 and never made the NCAA tournament. He spent last season working as a television commentator for the Big East Network.

Roberts also served as an assistant under Kansas coach Bill Self at four different schools. He was associate head coach at Kansas (2003-04) and an assistant at Illinois (2000-03), Tulsa (1997-2000) and Oral Roberts (1995-97).

Like Pelphrey, he believes his head-coaching experience will serve Florida well.

“Coming as head coaches, you understand the urgency, you understand the importance, you understand the little things and how important those things are,” Roberts said. “The same things coach Donovan’s going to be preaching to us we’ve already preached to our assistants.”

McCall originally joined Donovan’s staff as a student manager in 2001. He became head manager the following year and later accepted a position as Florida’s director of basketball operations, which he held for two seasons (2006-08). He spent the last three as an assistant at Florida Atlantic.

Now, McCall, Pelphrey, Roberts and Donovan are trying to fit together _ and fast.

“We all just want to play our role to be the best we can be, and here, you know if you’re the best you can be, then you can win it all,” Pelphrey said.

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