Florida basketball head coach Todd Golden addressed the sports media on Thursday to answer questions ahead of the matchup with the Florida State Seminoles on Friday night inside the O’Connell Center.
Golden’s gang is coming off a strong showing against the Florida A&M Rattlers — a much-needed bounce-back from a tough loss to the Virginia Cavaliers last Friday. Nonetheless, the Orange and Blue are 2-1 early on with the lone loss coming against a current top-25 team, so there is plenty of basketball waiting to be played.
Take a look below at the questions and answers from Golden’s press conference leading into the big Gators sports weekend.
How’s Riley Kugel doing?
Good, good. Obviously got poked in the eye. I think it took him out of his rhythm a little bit. Wasn’t pleased with the way he handled the last couple minutes of the game. But we addressed it yesterday. I thought he did a great job taking responsibility and I think he’ll be ready to go tomorrow night.
On the NCAA changes to block-charge calls, you've addressed it?
We talk about it a lot. That was a point of emphasis that we really got from officials early on. I think it’s something that needed to done, in terms of getting a little more distinction and a little more clarity on how they were going to officiate.
I think it’s good for the game. Those are tricky plays. They’re bang, bang. Really hard to get them right and puts players in a tough spot and they’re flying in there and guys are sliding under them trying to take a charge.
You’re not always getting positive things that come out of that. And the scoring is up this year about four points per possession. I think it’s been a good adjustment for the game of college basketball.
Does the decrease in block/charge calls lead to an increased pace of play?
Yeah, it cleans up a lot of things. Again, those block-charge calls are bang-bang plays. I think it puts the refs in tough spots and makes them make tough calls that are really hard to get. When you eliminate that it allows the players to dictate the results more. Obviously, that’s the goal of the game.
How encouraging has the positive rebounding margin been?
Very. It’s been a strong suit for our team so far. As we’ve talked about a lot, we knew we needed to address it after last year. Our guys have done a really good job. Against Virginia, we had a lot of areas we could have been better and cleaned up.
But to go against a team like that on the boards and beat them by 17. It’s like, “Alright we have some good things here.” We’ve been consistent that way, willing to battle on the boards. We’ll have to do it again tomorrow night.
That’s going to be a big part of this game. But steps in the right direction.
On the size FSU has
They’re bigger. They’re unique. They’re definitely long, athletic and they’re much better this year than last year. They’re playing really well in their first two games.
This challenge provides a lot of different things. They’re difficult to play against in the halfcourt because of their length and they do a good job of covering up each other.
Offensively, they’re doing a good job pushing pace and tempo so far this year. So it’s going to be a good challenge for us.
Does this FSU team look more like a Leonard Hamilton team?
A lot of the same pieces as last year, but they’re a lot more connected. They’re playing a lot more synergistic. I feel like they play off each other. They’re playing a lot of guys; they played 11 in their first two games.
So they’ve been fresh and they’ve been able to kind of run away from teams in the first two games. I’m excited for this game. It should be a really good one.
Not playing small by design, want to see what you have there?
It’s something that we have in our back pocket. But again there are no solutions, only trade-offs. So when you do something like that, you have to make sure you’re scoring the ball really, really well if your rebounding is going to go away a little bit or maybe you feel like defensively you might take a step back.
The reality is our frontcourt depth is the strength of our team. I don’t want to take away from that or try to get cute and do some things that might make us a tiny bit better offensively when we’re losing a little bit of toughness and grit around the rim.
It’s something we have. If we think we need to go with it, we can. I don’t know how aggressive we’ll be to play that way.
Alex Condon playing the 6th man role?
He’s done a really nice job in our two home games, he did not play very well against Virginia but I think that’s more what happens with some freshmen than anything else.
And he’s a guy that’s exceeded our expectations in terms of being ready, and in terms of being able to help, and he’ll continue to play a lot in terms, him and Tommy can, either of those guys can be off the bench first depending on what we need.
And we’ll probably bring Zyon off tomorrow night, keep our starting lineup consistent, but Zyon’s going to play a lot of minutes tomorrow night, so, excited to get him back in the rotation as well.
How much did the practice setup in preseason help the freshmen handle the fatigue and improve their conditioning?
Yeah, I think it helped to be able to get this group together earlier, for sure, and the reality is in our front court there’s some really good competition every day in practice with Tyrese, Micah, Alex and Tommy.
They’re going at each other pretty physically, so when you get into games I feel like they’re ready to compete against these really good teams. And definitely the depth, I keep going back to that we’re able to keep these guys fresher.
Colin was playing 36 minutes a game last year, and could barely get up and down the court sometimes. These guys, if they can’t get up the court, they’re coming out of the game, so, I just think they’re better prepared to be successful, for sure.
Is there a little pep in Zyon’s step with his return?
Yeah, all of our steps.
He’s a guy that a lot of people may or may not have known about coming from the West Coast, but when you get a fifth-year guy who averaged 18.4 last year, won a lot of games, played for one of my best friends out there in California, a guy that runs a similar program to what we do, there’s a lot of advantages to being able to get him back in the rotation.
It’s the way to think about it — he’s not replacing anybody, he’s just going to come in and make everybody’s job and lives a little easier. He’s going to be really comfortable in these environments. This was a guy that was really borderline going to go play pro or not, and decided to come back and play college, and whenever you get to add a guy like that, it’s going to be really beneficial, and I think he’s going to raise the level of our team, for sure.
What did his buzzer beater vs. Miami say about Zyon?
He’s kind of been a very good late-clock guy his whole career. Going back to his Riverside days, he had like three or four buzzer-beaters to win games. More than anything he’s just not scared of the moment.
I think that’s really important — he’s comfortable, he’s confident, and again, we talked about it after the game, him coming into the fold just adds another layer, another element to our team.
(He) provides another threat that opponents have to be thinking about, and so it can be his night tomorrow or he can make it easier for Riley, Walt, Will, other guys on the perimeter or inside, but just another threat out there, for sure.
Will what you do look different with Zyon in there?
He’s a little more of a natural point guard I’d say than Walt. Now Walt’s an incredible threat back there with the ball because he’s really aggressive, obviously can score really well, he can make some really aggressive passes, but Zyon’s played at the position for four or five years.
Really good on-ball defender, and a guy that doesn’t get too high or doesn’t get too low. I think he’ll do a really good job keeping our team, you know, on an even and level playing field when things can get high or low, which I think is really important.”
Does Pullin's return allow Walter Clayton to play his natural position?
I think Walt can play the position as well, but it’s easier to play the game when you have really good guys next to you, right, and so I think he just makes everybody’s life a little easier.
On the challenge of facing Darin Green Jr. at FSU
I feel like we’ve got a really good prep for him playing McNeely last week against Virginia, another guy that you give him any space he can make you pay, and Green is that guy.
He’s shooting the ball really well, he’s a threat really from 26 feet in, and somebody you’ve got to be mindful of. I thought Will did a really good job last year covering him, and he’ll have that task to start the game tomorrow night, but he’s a guy you just have to be mentally focused every time down the floor or else he’s gonna hurt you.
So we’re mindful of that, we respect his ability to shoot the ball, and we’re going to do what we can to make sure he can’t get shots off.
Just another game or a little heightened importance given it's FSU?
This is only my second year, we’re 1-0 so far (between the two schools), but it’s definitely a very important game. It’s an in-state rival and Coach Ham has done an awesome job there for a long, long time and they’ve won a lot of games.
(They) have been really successful and their program is used to winning so for us to be able to get them last year and now we welcome them here.
I think it’s going to be a statement game for us, especially getting our whole team back for the first time all year to be able to put our best foot forward that way. It might take us a little bit to get comfortable but you know I think our program and our team are really excited about this game.
Would you prefer to have this game in conjunction with football game?
Honestly, I don’t really care, I just don’t care. I mean I guess it would be cool but for me, I care a lot about football and I want them to be successful but you know I’m more worried about us and making sure that we are taking care of our own business.
So we’ll hopefully do everything we can to get this win tomorrow night and then enjoy watching football at Missouri on Saturday.
How much have you enjoyed Kelly Rae Finley's recent recruiting success, what she’s building?
It’s awesome. I don’t follow their recruiting very closely but I’m a huge fan of Kelly and she’s welcomed myself, my wife and her family with open arms since I got here.
I want her to be incredibly successful and I would assume these young ladies that she’s bringing in will help her do that. Obviously, good bloodlines for this last one (Shaq’s daughter).
Shaq was an amazing player, I see her daughter is pretty dang good also, but she works hard at it and I think she has a great staff, they are really nice people. They work really hard and diligently at their craft so I’m not surprised they are having the recruiting success that they are.
Looking forward to having Shaquille O'Neal in the building?
Yeah, I love Shaq, I’m a big Shaq fan.
Have you ever met him?
I have as a matter of fact.
Crazy story, but when I was a junior in high school, in the state championship game I hit kind of a wild shot where I shot it over the backboard and I thought I was going to get a foul call but didn’t — still made it and won like the Nestle’s Crunch shot of the year competition, so I got to fly out to LA to meet Shaq.
I’ll pull this up for you guys really quick — met him when I was a senior… yeah it was from this shot it was like 2002, back in the day, headband and everything but it’s been a while. I don’t think he would remember me but I would remember him.