Experienced Gators like chances against UK
Published: Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 4:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 4:59 p.m.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Florida has been in this position before. Several times.
Despite returning seven scholarship players from a team that won the Southeastern Conference regular-season title, the Gators were picked to finish second behind Kentucky in the league's annual preseason media poll.
Kentucky and Florida have split the last four league regular-season conference titles. This year projects to be another interesting race between the two conference superpowers. Florida features a senior-laden squad with potential depth and experience, while Kentucky has been bolstered by the addition of six McDonald's All-American freshmen.
“I hope they think that they can just walk on the court and beat everybody,” Florida senior center Patric Young said Thursday at SEC media days. “I hope that's what they think. As soon as they step on the court and play a real top team, they are going to see that it's not just a walk in the park. One-and-done is not for everybody.”
Young said he respects the history and tradition at Kentucky, as well as UK coach John Calipari's recruiting ability. But that doesn't mean the 6-foot-9 center, who has slimmed down to 242 pounds, is ready to hand the league crown back over to Big Blue Nation.
“Some of the things that we've accomplished get overshadowed because of Coach Calipari and the things he's able to do recruiting-wise,” Young said. “In the end it's all about what happens between the lines. That's all I'm concerned about.
“We just gotta go out, we don't have to go out there and prove to anybody. We just have to be the better team. Be a team that gets better every single day, keeps working together, keeps staying together and the end results will take care of themselves.”
Young said the Gators have adopted the theme “SWAG” to enter the 2013-14 season. It stands for “Strengthen When Adversity Grows.” It's a fitting motto, considering Florida went 0-6 in games decided by six points or less last season. Young said at times the Gators weren't connected enough or focused enough to fight through some difficult stretches.
Adversity has already hit the Gators early this season. Shooting guard Michael Frazier II (viral infection), transfer guard Eli Carter (broken leg) and power forward Will Yeguete (power forward) missed practices earlier this week. But Florida received some good news on Thursday when it was announced on its school website that Frazier tested negative for mononucleosis and Yeguete and Carter were cleared for limited contact in practice.
McDonald’s All-American forward Chris Walker is not enrolled at UF for academic reasons and transfer center Damontre Harris remains out of practice with a hamstring injury.
Point guard Scottie Wilbekin is back practicing with the team, but will be suspended to start the season for an undisclosed number of games due to a violation of team rules.
“We have a lot of unknowns,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “We have some pieces, but right now with our injuries, and not a full complement of players, as the season starts how all this stuff jells and meshes is going to be very interesting to our team.”
The Gators are down to just seven scholarship players in practice, as many McDonald's All-Americans as Kentucky currently has on its roster. As a result, the Wildcats were ranked No. 1 in USA Today's annual preseason coaches poll. Florida was ranked eighth.
“Most of our practices have been four-on-four,” Donovan said. “I think it's been very challenging for those guys, physically, without any subs. But like I tell everybody, time keeps moving, every day that goes by we're going to be closer and closer to playing games. Regardless if we've got seven guys or five guys or six or 11, we can't call up and say, 'Well, listen, we don't have our full team today, and can we reschedule the game?' So we've got to practice and maximize whatever it is we have right now.”
Florida could have as many as four McDonald's All-Americans on its roster if Chris Walker enrolls in December. Incoming freshman point guard Kasey Hill, sophomore Virginia Tech transfer forward Dorian Finney-Smith and Young also were McDonald's All-Americans.
But Donovan is still concerned about different players stepping into new roles. Health is another big issue.
“If we had a healthy Eli Carter, if we ended up with Will Yeguete healthy, and Frazier and Damontre Harris and Scottie Wilbekin and (Chris) Walker is here and we are starting on Oct. 11 with that group full healthy, then we have a chance to be really, really good,” Donovan said. “But our team doesn't look that way right now.”