Coach Donovan Gives High Praise to Martin and Vols

Mark AlewineContributor IOctober 28, 2012

PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 22:  Head coach Billy Donovan of the Florida Gators reacts while taking on the Marquette Golden Eagles during the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball West Regional Semifinal game at US Airways Center on March 22, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

“They’re the best team right now in my opinion.”

This strong statement came from Florida coach Billy Donovan at SEC Media Day, and he was talking about Tennessee.

Donovan has likely devoted an exorbitant amount of time to studying the Vols after Cuonzo Martin and Co. swept the Gators in the surprise of the year in the SEC, as well as working with sophomore forward Jarnell Stokes over the summer while coaching the FIBA U-18 team. But Donovan’s comments embody the dramatic change in culture that Martin was able to instill after just one season.

Donovan continued, “The only reason they didn’t go to the NCAA tournament (last year) was the coaching change and early adjustments - they lost some games that they probably shouldn’t have lost early in the year - but they were playing really, really good basketball late.” (Brendan Quinn,

Compared to this time a year ago, Martin’s Media Day experience could not have been more different. Rather than defending himself and his credibility as a major college coach, Martin fielded questions like a coach who belongs. He made bold statements like, “We’re fighting for championships,” accepting his new position as conference favorites.

Martin will have a chance to test his highly praised team early with a possible showdown in the Puerto Rico Tip-off against NC State, ranked sixth in both preseason polls. The Vols’ grinding non-conference schedule continues with consecutive road games at Georgetown and Virginia, followed by home showdowns with Wichita State, Xavier, and Memphis.