GAINESVILLE - Kenny Kadji can't get Billy Donovan out of his head.
Florida's freshman center constantly hears his coach's voice. It's almost as if he recorded the talk the two had before Florida's third game of the season, and it's playing on a continuous loop.
You're being too tentative. You're not aggressive. I'm going to push you until you are. I told you that when I recruited you. You're a vital part of this team, and we need you and trust you.
"Before games. Before practice. When I get out of practice. Every day," Kadji said. "Even before I go to sleep, it's just in my head. I just think about it."
By now Donovan's words have become reassuring, and because of them the 6-foot-10, 245-pound Kadji has grown more comfortable on the court. That has shown up in his play in the past two games - 21 points, 12 rebounds, two assists, three blocks - but now Donovan has some words that might end up replacing the ones already in Kadji's head.
You don't have things figured out. Your last game means nothing.
"Maybe more so than any player I've ever coached, he needs to get a whole lot better handling success," Donovan said. "Early in the year when anything went well for him, whether it be a day of practice or a game, you can rest assured that the next day coming back was going to be a loss of focus, a loss of intensity, a loss of work ethic in a lot of respects. His biggest challenge is being able to handle a level of success and contribution to our team."
Donovan gave Kadji a pep talk before the Gators' home game against Southern Utah on Nov. 20, and Kadji responded with his best basketball to date in the Gators' 64-50 victory: eight points on 4-of-7 shooting, two rebounds and one block in 16 minutes.
He had eight points and five rebounds in UF's next five games.
Then he scored 28 points and grabbed 20 rebounds against Florida Gulf Coast, Central Florida and Georgia Southern.
That up-and-down pattern continued, and now Kadji is on an upswing. He had 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting and eight rebounds in UF's victory over Auburn last Wednesday and 10 points on 3-of-5 shooting and four rebounds in the Gators' victory over Arkansas last Saturday. The Razorbacks were one of the league's best rebounding teams (plus-7.3 per game), but Kadji helped the Gators outrebound Arkansas by six.
Donovan isn't sure if Kadji will respond with several more good games or if he'll hit another low spot. He does know, however, that another reason those low spots occur is that Kadji - like UF's other freshmen - has very little tolerance for fatigue.
"They're strong, physical kids. They will bang. They put their body in plays, but they have no threshold for fatigue, and Kadji has got to get a lot better with his threshold for fatigue," Donovan said. "When they get the least bit tired, you've got to get them out because everything could break down. They don't rotate. They don't get to the right spot. They don't show on a pick and roll. They don't show on a screen. They don't screen on offense.
"There's a level of uncomfortableness that comes with that. Some players see it, and they fight through it and overcome it, and other guys, they never quite get over the hump. I think Kenny's trying to. I think he knows it's there. I think he's really trying to address it."
Kadji, who is from Cameroon but played high school basketball at IMG Academy in Bradenton, has added that to the words already in his head.
"I try to do what he [Donovan] says every day at practice and even in the game," he said. "I always think about it."