Yeguete making case for SEC sixth man award


Florida coach Billy Donovan said junior forward Will Yeguete "brings incredible value to our team."

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, January 25, 2013 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 8:27 p.m.

Over holiday break, Florida junior forward Will Yeguete had a face-to-face meeting with head coach Billy Donovan.

Facts

Saturday's game

Who: No. 8 Florida (15-2, 5-0 SEC) at Mississippi State (7-10, 2-3)
When: 8 p.m.
Gainesville-area TV: ESPN2
Gainesville-area radio: 103.7 FM, AM-850
Where: Humphrey Coliseum, Starkville, Miss.

Donovan was upset with Yeguete's energy level in a two-point, three-turnover performance Dec. 22 against Kansas State. The normally active Yeguete had no blocked shots, no steals and just two rebounds in 14 minutes off the bench.

“He told me I wasn't the same,” Yeguete said. “I had to go back to the way I was and not worry about anything else.”

The meeting worked. The 6-foot-7 Yeguete is making an early case for Southeastern Conference sixth man of the year. After a 13-point, seven-rebound effort off the bench against Missouri, Yeguete followed up with an equally impressive performance off the bench vs. Georgia.

With starters Patric Young and Erik Murphy in foul trouble during the first half, Yeguete provided an instant boost. His first two steals led directly to four points during an 8-0 run that cut Georgia's lead to 11-10.

Still playing through knee tendinitis, Yeguete finished the Georgia game with seven points, 11 rebounds and four steals in 23 minutes.

“He's a guy that does, as I mentioned, a lot of things that don't show up in a stat sheet,” Donovan said. “Defensively, loose balls, rotations, in front of our press. We can switch (defensively) with him on guards. He can guard a lot of different positions. So he really brings, I think, incredible value to our team.”

When Young picked up a foul just 57 seconds into the game, Yeguete was brought in off the bench just two seconds later, at the 19:01 mark of the first half.

“We've just got to be ready from the get-go because you never know when coach is going to call on you,” Yeguete said. “He did call on me early yesterday, and I just had to be able to step up.”

Yeguete said his knee is improving, but he's still not 100 percent. He's wearing a full-length sock over the right knee up to his thigh. A bandage is underneath the sock.

“It's tough because I don't feel like I'm 100 percent,” Yeguete said. “I can't jump and I'm not as flexible as I want to be. I've just got to be at my best whenever I step on the court.”

Said Donovan: “I'm sure in some way his knee probably slowed him a little bit. But I think now he's at least doing the things at an intensity level and an effort level that at least I'm accustomed to seeing.”

During the offseason, Yeguete gained close to 20 pounds of muscle working with UF strength coach Preston Greene. The added bulk has allowed the now 240-pound Yeguete to box out more effectively and guard bigger players in the post. In 23.5 minutes per game, Yeguete ranks 12th in the SEC in rebounding at 6.6 rebounds per game.

“I've been able to move well,” Yeguete said. “ I'm not as fast as I used to be, but I think it's helped me a lot, and Preston did a really good job in the offseason.”

While Yeguete has always been a fan favorite due to the effort he shows on the court, his mohawk hairstyle also is gaining a cult following. Florida is planning a “mohawk night” for UF's next home game Jan. 30 against South Carolina. The first 1,000 students who enter the game will receive a free orange-and-blue mohawk wig courtesy of UF's marketing department.

“I have to go to the barber shop in a couple of days just to fix it,” Yeguete said. “I think it's getting pretty high. People are telling me it's pretty high, but I don't see it because I see it every day I guess.”

Prather progressing

Donovan said that Florida junior Casey Prather's rehab is going well from his high ankle sprain. But he pretty much ruled out that the 6-foot-6 junior forward will return in time for UF's next home game Jan. 30 against South Carolina.

Prather suffered the injury late in the first half of UF's 74-52 win over LSU on Jan. 12.

“He's still had some discomfort when he's trying to run,” Donovan said. “We'll probably re-evaluate him after this weekend. My feeling is, it would not be to the end of next week. That would probably be the point we would expect him back.”

Donovan said that he and UF basketball trainer Dave “Duke” Werner are taking a cautious approach to the injury based on previous experiences with high ankle sprains with former UF players Al Horford and Matt Walsh.

“We don't feel it's a severe high ankle sprain, but it's enough where if he comes back too early or too soon, this is something that's going to linger,” Donovan said. “And I think with this injury, we don't want that to happen.”

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