UF's Wilbekin on a mission

In this file photo, UF's Scottie Wilbekin, left, drives down court through the defese of Florida Atlantic's Raymond Taylor, right, during the second half at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center on Tuesday, November 23, 2010.

The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 12:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 12:34 p.m.

Few basketball players travel abroad in their teens.

Then again, Florida rising sophomore point guard Scottie Wilbekin already has proven he's not a typical 18-year-old.

Wilbekin will get a chance to expand both his game and perspective in the next two weeks. The 6-foot-2 Gainesville native was one of 10 Division I college basketball players picked to embark on a two-week competitive tour to Macedonia and Kosovo. As well as playing games against international competition, Wilbekin also will represent Athletes In Action, a Christian mission organization that provides supplies and mentoring overseas.

"I'm looking forward to getting a chance to play," Wilbekin said. "But I don't know what to expect."

This isn't Wilbekin's first trip to a different country. Wilbekin attended mission trips to Peru and Jamaica with his father Svend, a pastor at The Rock church.

"In both places, he saw extreme poverty," Svend Wilbekin said. "I think it made him grow in appreciation for what he has. In some of those places, just having a mom and a dad is a luxury. So I think he saw that there is a desperate need that exists to reach out and help others who aren't as fortunate."

Wilbekin was just nine when he made his first mission trip to Peru, and was 15 when he traveled to Jamaica. In Peru, Wilbekin performed in an outreach concert, singing and dancing. In Jamaica, Wilbekin took a more hands-on approach, giving out school supplies and sports equipment.

"We handed out soccer balls, basketballs," Svend Wilbekin said. "Scottie played soccer with the kids in the streets all day."

The soft-spoken Wilbekin made an unexpected jump from The Rock School to Florida when he was 17. He graduated high school in three years, paving the way to accept a scholarship offer from Florida.

Wilbekin held his own despite playing his entire first college season as a 17-year-old. Wilbekin, who turned 18 on April 5, provided quality minutes as a backup to Erving Walker. In 17.1 minutes per game, Wilbekin averaged 2.4 points while finishing second on the Gators in steals (36). He also ended up with Florida's best assist-to-turnover ratio (61 to 28).

The offseason playing time should help Wilbekin compete for more minutes in a crowded UF backcourt next season. Starters Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton are returning. In addition, Florida will add talented combo guard Mike Rosario and incoming freshman shooting guard Brad Beal to the roster next season. Rosario, a transfer from Rutgers, finished ninth in the Big East in scoring (16.7 ppg) in 2009-10. Beal, a McDonald's All-American, finished his high school career as the consensus third-rated overall prospect in the Class of 2011, according to several major recruiting services.

Wilbekin will leave for Macedonia on Thursday with a squad of 10 Division I players. After arriving in Macedonia, the team will begin a five-day training camp before taking part in a round-robin tournament May 25-30. The tournament will include the under-20 Macedonia national team, under-20 Holland national team and select pro teams from Poland and Bulgaria. The trip will conclude with a game against the Kosovo national team May 31.

Other players selected for the Athletes In Action team include Baylor guard A.J. Walton, Baylor forward Cory Jefferson, Colorado forward Austin Dufault, Kansas State guard Will Spradling, Mercer guard Langston Hall, Kansas guard Jordan Juenemann, Kansas center Jeff Withey, Northwestern State center William Mosley and Indiana State forward Jake Kitchell.

The team will be coached by Baylor director of basketball operations Tim Maloney, who worked on Billy Donovan's staff at Florida from 1997-2003.

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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