GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Four months ago, Florida was in Hawaii, awash in sun, sand, expectations and ego.
The experience was, as coach Billy Donovan tells it, completely out of control.
Donovan had to suspend a starter, bench two of his top players and move his forward to point guard to finally reclaim the focus of this talented young group.
That turned out to be one of the key points in Florida's season-long climb out of that vast world of potential-filled teams and into the elite group known as the Final Four.
"There was so much hype and so much publicity," after last season's trip to the final 16, Donovan said. "Their egos were blown out of control. I knew that, as a coach, it was going to be critical that I handle distractions, attitudes and guys' inflated opinions about themselves very early in the year."
So, against Purdue in the second game of the Maui Classic, guards Teddy Dupay and Brett Nelson got sent to the bench early in the second half and forward Mike Miller took over the point. The Gators lost 79-68, and after the game, Brent Wright was suspended for two games for "bad attitude."
"When we were in Hawaii," Dupay said, "that obviously wasn't one of our better days."
Indeed, the best was yet to come.
On Sunday, Nelson was voted to the East Regional all-tournament team following Florida's 77-65 victory over Oklahoma State, after he helped the young, talented team with only two upperclassmen officially come of age.
Over the last 10 games, Nelson, a freshman from West Virginia, has started living up to some of those Jerry West comparisons that pundits showered on him in high school.
In that span, he has a 2-to-1 assists-to-turnovers ratio and has more rebounds (21) than turnovers (17).
Donovan said Nelson improved as the year went on because he "basically just submitted himself and said, `doing what I'm doing right now is not working."'
"I think most kids who are told they're Jerry West think the coaches are messed up," Donovan said. "It's like, `I'm not messed up, you're messed up.' But Brett's humility allowed us to coach him to be where he is today."
The same could be said of Dupay, a sophomore who committed to Florida in his sophomore year of high school, hoping to be part of the turnaround Donovan had been promising.
Moving back and forth from point to shooting guard, Dupay has become Florida's premier outside shooting threat. He has made 62 of 151 shots from 3-point range for a slightly better percentage from there (.411) than he has overall (.410).
Dupay averages 9 points and Nelson 7.9 and truly, if there are any egos on this team, it has nothing to do with the stat sheet. Donovan plays 10 players and none averages more than 14.3 points. That's Miller, who was voted the East's most valuable player.
That balance was once viewed as Florida's lack of a go-to guy.
Now, it's more commonly seen as the reason the Gators are able to keep coming in waves, outlasting the Dukes and Illinois of the world with a full-court press and quick tempo that no tournament team has found the answer for yet.
To make it work, the Gators had to listen -- not to those who thought they were great at the beginning of the season, but to the coaches who tried to teach them all year long.
Those were the lessons of Maui, lessons that will bear fruit this weekend in Indianapolis.
"Early in the year, we had some difficulty handling success," Donovan said. "But since then, we've kept things in perspective. Through the course of the year, playing the teams we've had to play, our team has learned to remain very humble."