Notebook: Injuries impacting defense in practice

Florida forward Damontre Harris is dealing with a hamstring injury.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, October 15, 2013 at 5:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 15, 2013 at 5:46 p.m.

Through four days of practice, Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan has noticed a disturbing trend.

“We don't have all of our pieces there, but we are drastically worse defensively than we were a year ago,” Donovan said. “I thought defensively last year, it was one the better defensive teams I've been around since being here at Florida. Just us keeping defensive field goal percentage and some of those kind of things, where our numbers are at, in relationship to where they were last year is way, way off right now.”

Last season, Florida ranked third in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 54.4 points per game. It was the best scoring defense for the Gators since the 1948-49 season.

It will be tough for Florida to repeat those lofty standards, especially considering NCAA rules changes this season designed to increase scoring. Another issue that has hurt Florida's defense this week — practice depth. Junior center Damontre Harris sat out Monday's practice with a hamstring injury, while guard Michael Frazier II is having blood work done after missing practices with a virus.

Following his media session Tuesday, Donovan half-joked if any reporters wanted to suit up for practice. With Will Yeguete (knee surgery) and Eli Carter (broken leg) still out, Florida is down to seven scholarship players and two walk-ons in practice.

Even the walk-ons are ailing. Donovan said his son, Billy, is playing through a torn labrum in his shoulder. The younger Donovan suffered the injury in August and has opted to play with a brace on his shoulder rather than undergo surgery.

“There's been little rest, there has not been a lot of depth,” Donovan said. “The kids have worked hard. I think we're trying to make the best of limited numbers in the time that we have to try to get better.”

Senior forward Casey Prather refused to use fatigue as an excuse for the defensive letdowns in practice.

“We just have to stay in the moment, focus on each possession,” Prather said. “It's about being in right spots. I just think sometimes we move a little too fast for ourselves right now. We just have to slow down and let the game happen.”

Donovan said at times freshman point guard Kasey Hill has had some defensive breakdowns.

“It's not necessarily all his fault, he's just had four college practices learning an entirely new system so it's going to take him a little bit of time,” Donovan said. “But some of those older guys, I just wish they were a little bit further along.”

Carter, Yeguete update

Donovan didn't offer a specific timetable for the return of Yeguete and Carter. But Donovan sounded optimistic Yeguete could be back in practice for a limited basis before UF's exhibition game Nov. 1 against Florida Southern.

“Will is further along right now,” Donovan said. “We're hopeful maybe in a couple of weeks we can get him back in practice on a limited basis. Eli is doing some stuff, non-contact, anything that we're doing without contact he's tried to participate, but he's still up in the air of where he's at and how long it's going to take him to come back.”

Finney-Smith just 'OK'

Donovan has been pleased with the attitude and work ethic of sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith in practice. But performance-wise, Donovan is looking for a little more from the Virginia Tech transfer.

“I think he needs to play with a much better motor,” Donovan said. “He's been up and down. He needs to impact practice a lot more with his motor.”

Prather has gone head-to-head with Finney-Smith through UF's first four practices.

“Offensively, his length and his height, that makes him a big matchup problem,” Prather said.

Cat in the Hat

Prather is interning as a teacher's assistant this fall at Littlewood Elementary School in Gainesville.

“I had to read Dr. Seuss the other day,” Prather said.

What book did Prather read to elementary school students?

“The Cat in the Hat,” Prather responded.

Asked if Prather could see teaching in his future, the 6-foot-6 swingman answered: “Maybe more of a mentor. I like just being involved with children. I think it's very impactful.”

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