Filling In The Blanks On Lewis Preston

I know what you're thinking. Two basketball posts in a row? Isn't there any football news to talk about? It's June. I'm taking what I can get. Work with me here.

Like I said on Saturday, the hiring of Lewis Preston to join Ed DeChellis' coaching staff didn't make much sense to me. I can see why Ed would jump at the chance to bring him on board, but it didn't make sense to me why a successful young coach by all appearances would make a sideways move from a national basketball powerhouse like Florida to join a traditionally losing program like Penn State. Something just isn't adding up here.

It would be easy to draw the conclusion that Preston was unceremoniously dismissed from the Florida program. The fact that Billy Donovan needed just one day to find a replacement  further fuels the speculation. And it's no secret that Donovan was not happy with his team last year.

"It's in front of our guys, what it takes to win," Donovan said. "For whatever reason, I haven't brought it out in them. They're not committed to it. But I'm not necessarily really that excited about these guys being sophomores, to be honest. I don't think people change a whole lot, and I don't think you've seen the basketball team change at all this year. So it's hard for me to get overly thrilled or excited."

 

If you can't tell, Donovan doesn't really like his team. For as much as he tried this season, Donovan could never convince his players to play defense as passionately and hard as they play offense. During the regular season, the Gators ranked 10th in the SEC in field-goal percentage defense, ninth in 3-point percentage defense, 11th in blocked shots and dead last in steals.

  

The Crimson Tide, who lost 11 of their 16 SEC games during the regular season, made 13 of their first 17 shots. In a span of barely two minutes midway through the first half, Alabama forward Alonzo Gee scored on a pair of alley-oop dunks to make the score 38-14.

  

"I think we have some talent issues on the defensive end of the floor, foot-speed-wise, that sometimes is not all their fault," Donovan said. "But I think we have a commitment issue, too, which bothers me as a coach because I just got done coaching a group the last two years that was so committed. And to be with this group, I don't think just because they're going to be another year older that all of a sudden, everything gets resolved. I don't see that."

Is Donovan making Preston out to be the scapegoat in all of this? It would appear so if you ask Florida insiders. The link goes to a premium article so I can't quote it, but in a nutshell it mentions that Preston was never Donovan's first choice to join his coaching staff and from day one there was conflict between the two men. The article suggests that Preston is a "players coach" incapable of dropping the hammer and inflicting discipline when needed. Something that doesn't sit well with Donovan as his comments above suggest.

But when there is a scandal within 1000 miles of the Lasch Building you can bet David Jones is on the case. Credit Jones for tracking down Billy Donovan and getting his take on Lewis Preston.

"He's a high-class, high-integrity guy," Donovan said Saturday by cell phone from the Philadelphia airport, where he happened to be making a connection to an event in Richmond. "He's as hard a worker as anybody I've been around. I think a lot of that comes from his military background at VMI and his upbringing.

"You don't always have to recruit the most talented guys. Our national championship teams are evidence of that. Joakim Noah and Al Horford were seen as project big men. Taurean Green was thought of as someone maybe not good enough to play at Florida.

"The real trick for Lewis will be uncovering some of these kids, evaluating and projecting them, guys who can form a team that can take Penn State to a different level. I think he's going to be able to uncover guys just from his work ethic."

Well, he didn't throw him under the bus so that's good, but I find the "real trick" comment interesting. Donovan goes out of his way to mention Preston's fabulous work ethic, but then he kind of ends on a jab. Is the "real trick" comment meant to suggest Preston lacks an eye for talent? Preston joined Florida just prior to them winning their second national championship. The seniors on that squad were already well established by then. The freshman that Donovan spoke so poorly of above were recruited and brought into the program during Preston's time there.

So let's say for a moment that Preston was run out of Florida. It doesn't change the fact that he is an outstanding hire for Penn State. He had an extremely productive career as a big man at VMI. We desperately need big men on our team. And now we have a member on our staff that can walk into a kid's school or living room and flash that national championship ring. He can look a kid in the eye and tell him he knows what it takes to get one of them. Maybe you need more than that at Florida, but at Penn State that will go a long way. And even if he isn't the best at developing NBA talent ask yourself this: How many players have we sent to the NBA in the past decade? He can't be any worse.

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