Florida's Billy Donovan reinstates suspended center Horford, continues fight for team culture



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GAINESVILLE, Florida — Florida coach Billy Donovan is fighting for his program's culture.

He's trying to get a team filled with transfers and youngsters to buy in, to practice and play the way he wants and to do it on a consistent basis.

It's been one of Donovan's biggest challenges in his 19 years in Gainesville. And the work in progress might not be finished anytime soon.

Donovan reinstated suspended center Jon Horford on Friday, but said the Michigan transfer won't play against Mississippi State (7-7, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) on Saturday. Donovan suspended Horford and walk-on Zach Hodskins before Wednesday's win at South Carolina for conduct detrimental to the team. He also benched starting guard Michael Frazier II.

Donovan said Hodskins remains suspended.

"It's one of those things where you're always fighting for your culture and what you believe your culture is," Donovan said. "I really believe culture wins. ... I'm not selling out for winning. I'm not doing that because, inevitably, you sell out for one win, it's going to come back and get you. You've got to sell out for your culture and what you stand for and what our program stands for.

"Our guys understand that this is what it is. There's some guys that may not want that. And that's OK, too. But I think over the years when we've had guys who have bought into the culture and what we're doing, we've been able to be pretty successful and pretty competitive."

Horford is averaging 8.3 points and 5.7 rebounds for the Gators (8-6, 1-0). He started the first 12 games of the season, but came off the bench in a loss to defending national champion Connecticut last week.

Donovan declined to reveal what he and Hodskins did to get suspended.

Regardless, it was the latest issue for Florida, which had played much of the season short-handed because of suspensions, academics, injuries and illnesses.

The result: Florida had its most losses heading into conference play since the 1974-75 season.

The Gators were ranked seventh in both polls to open the season, but have fallen well short of lofty expectations. Now, they likely need a strong showing in conference play to make the NCAA tournament. They made the Final Four in 2014 and a regional final the three years before that.

"We're not the most talented group in the world," Donovan said. "We don't have a lot of margin for error. We better be a really, really good team, we better be a connected team. And if we're not, we're just a very, very, we're a below-average team. As a coach, you try to fight for the culture that you know is going to give these guys the best opportunity to win.

"And when guys are not doing those kind of things — and the level of selfishness that I see — you have a responsibility to the team and to the group to say, 'Listen, we're going to make some changes.' The first thing I always try to do is try to sit a player down and try to talk to him and try to treat him like an adult. But after a while, when talking is done with, now you've got to start to make some decisions."

Donovan has used 10 starting lineups 14 games, and with Horford sitting out another game, he could change it up again. Frazier, coming off the bench for the first time this season, responded with 17 points against the Gamecocks. But Frazier missed practice Thursday with an upper respiratory infection.

"It's hard for me to say whether I would start him right now," Donovan said. "Michael did a good job responding, though. I was really proud of him. I was proud it looked like it he was back to himself, where he was really focused on competing and playing. I liked that. ... Sometimes when he misses shots he gets totally taken out of the game, and he has be able to stay with it and stick with it because the next one that comes he has to be in the right frame of mind to shoot it."

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