O'Dome says goodbye to special group

Florida seniors Will Yeguete, Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin and Patric Young will be honored as the No. 1 Gators face No. 25 Kentucky at the O’Connell Center on Saturday at noon.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer/FILE
Published: Friday, March 7, 2014 at 6:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 7, 2014 at 6:54 p.m.

Senior Day will be more like Senior Morning today when the Four Grinders are honored before the noon game against Kentucky. The roars will be loud and passionate more because of what they've already accomplished than because of what could be on the horizon.

Patric Young, Will Yeguete, Scottie Wilbekin and Casey Prather have known the bench during their careers at Florida. Maybe that's what makes them so loveable for the Gator Nation — the work that they had to put in to get to this point.

This wasn't a Fab Four recruiting class coming out of high school. Young was considered a top-five center prospect and Prather was ranked 15th among small forwards by Rivals.com. Wilbekin was under the radar because he skipped his senior year at The Rock in Gainesville, and Yeguete was considered a project.

But here they are with a chance to make history.

Today they will be honored for first helping Florida basketball become relevant again and now elite.

And they form what is probably the most popular senior class to go through Senior Day.

It's partly because of their work ethic and partly because of their personalities. It's mainly because of this season.

On the surface, it would be easy to point to today's game against Kentucky as one example of how to do things the right way and one example of how to do it the wrong way. Florida has four senior starters who have been slow-roasted into a No. 1 ranking. Kentucky has its usual collection of microwavable freshmen.

But it's not like this has always been the case for Billy Donovan.

From the recruiting classes of 2001-to-2006, Florida had only five fourth-year seniors honored on Senior Day out of 22 players signed to play for the Gators. The Oh-Fours never had that moment because they all left after their junior seasons with a pocketful of rings.

But in the next four years, things changed. Of the 18 players Donovan recruited in the classes from 2007-2010, nine have stuck around to become seniors and that doesn't include transfers such as Vernon Macklin and Mike Rosario. And it includes this special class of four, which was ranked as the ninth best recruiting class by ESPN in 2010.

“Did I change in recruiting? Not necessarily,” Donovan said Friday. “Sometimes it just works out. This is something you see more at a mid-major level school. It's very unique.

“It's changed in a lot of ways. This team is maybe what you would see 15-20 years ago with guys like Patrick Ewing staying all four years.”

Donovan is the first to point out that having four seniors is not only a luxury but some good fortune. Yeguete's future was in doubt this summer after major knee surgery. Wilbekin had his suspension to deal with. Young was expected to turn pro after his sophomore year and certainly before he became a senior.

“And you take a guy like Casey Prather,” Donovan said. “It's not going well for him his freshman year. The other guys are getting minutes, and he's the lone guy who isn't. A lot of guys would be, 'I'm outta here. I'm gonna run.'

“But he didn't. You just never know what you're getting. There's no science to it. If we all knew, we'd never make recruiting mistakes. It's not like the ones who left were bad guys or anything. It just wasn't a good fit.”

Somehow, these men from different backgrounds and with different skill levels have meshed and persevered.

You want to know how rare this is? Check out next year's Senior Day. The only player who could be honored is transfer Damontre Harris, who has never played a second in a Gator uniform.

“This is pretty rare, especially nowadays,” Wilbekin said. “It's just kind of how it happened for us. I'm thankful for it.”

Today, Gator fans get to show how thankful they are for it. We always talk about legacies in sports, often before careers are completed.

These seniors can only add to theirs.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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