Uncertainty surrounds talented Gators
Published: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 8:21 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 8:21 p.m.
Coming off three straight Elite Eight seasons, Florida envisioned starting October with a roster talented and deep enough to make another March run.
That could still materialize. But Florida starts practice Friday a team with moving parts that will shuttle in and out during the course of the season.
Starting power forward Will Yeguete (knee surgery) and Rutgers transfer guard Eli Carter (broken leg) won't start practice with the rest of the Gators on Friday due to injuries. Incoming McDonald's All-American freshman power forward Chris Walker isn't enrolled at UF yet due to academic issues. And senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin was just reinstated to practice with the team and will face a suspension to start the 2013-14 season.
“Right now, you have to go with the guys that are there and in practice right away,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “Those are the guys you have to rely on and get them ready.”
Yeguete, who underwent surgery to repair cartilage in his right knee last May, said he expects to be ready by the time Florida starts its season Nov. 8 against North Florida. Carter, who suffered a season-ending broken right leg last February in a game against DePaul, is more uncertain.
“Right now, there is no timetable,” Carter said.
Said Donovan: “They'll have to do a lot of things in terms of maintaining and conditioning and picking up on what's going on. I have less of a worry about Will because this is obviously his senior year. He has an understanding, but for Eli who is trying to pick up a new system and a new style of play, everything is going to be different. When you can't go through things on a daily basis, that's always challenging.”
Florida returns two starters — Wilbekin and senior center Patric Young — from a team that went 29-8 and won the Southeastern Conference regular-season title last season. The Gators lost their three top scorers — forward Erik Murphy, guard Kenny Boynton and guard Mike Rosario. The trio accounted for more than 50 percent of UF's scoring last season.
Donovan said he doesn't expect the Gators to shoot the ball as well this season, but said he thinks sophomore guard Michael Frazier II (46.8 percent from 3-point range last season) is capable of stepping into an increased role to make outside shots. But the Gators could be more physical. With Yeguete still recovering, Donovan didn't rule out using Young and 6-foot-10 South Carolina transfer center Damontre Harris together in a jumbo frontcourt lineup. Dorian Finney-Smith, a transfer from Virginia Tech, is a solid, 6-foot-8 frontcourt player capable of playing both the power forward and small forward spots. Casey Prather, a 6-foot-6 senior forward, also brings depth and experience up front.
“It's not about looking for one guy,” Donovan said. “We have to be a team that's balanced. We have to be an unselfish team, an extra-pass team, we have to be really great at moving and passing the basketball. I do think — and really believe — that we have to be a team that has five or six guys in double-digit scoring.”
Incoming freshman and McDonald's All-American point guard Kasey Hill will need to make an immediate impact at point guard until Wilbekin's status is resolved. But the Gators are hopeful that their second prized McDonald's All-American from the 2013 class — Walker — will complete his coursework and enroll at UF by December.
“He's got some work to do, but I'm optimistic he'll be here to help us,” Donovan said.
If Walker enrolls, it will add even more depth and talent to the frontcourt. The 6-foot-10 Bonifay Holmes County standout wouldn't be eligible until UF's game against Memphis at the Jimmy V Classic in New York City on Dec. 17.
“The challenge (getting into rotation) is him trying to play catch up for what he will have missed,” Donovan said. “We'll have to see how much or how well he can pick it up. That's the unknown for me. You have a guy that could potentially be here in December. If he is here, what kind of condition is he in? How quickly can he absorb what's going on? Do you cut down what you're doing if you have to just to be on floor playing just to make it a little bit more simple for him — we'll probably have to do that with him being a freshman. If that opportunity presents itself for us, we'll figure out a way to try to utilize him as best we can.”
For now, though, Florida starts practice without three key parts. Young said he thinks the Gators are capable of getting over the Elite Eight hump because he feels like this season's team is more connected both on and off the court. Frazier said he felt like the Gators built some continuity during September workouts. Whether that carries over when the season starts in November remains to be seen.
“It's very critical, but I think we've done a good job up to this point jelling as a group both on and off the court,” Frazier said. “I feel like by the time the season comes around, we'll be really good in that aspect.”
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