Dooley: Gators know what to do


Published: Thursday, February 16, 2017 at 11:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 16, 2017 at 11:46 p.m.

Wednesday was supposed to be an off day for Florida’s 15th-ranked basketball team.

Instead, it was an awful day.

UF coach Mike White called a team meeting where the bad news was delivered that John Egbunu will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL.

“They were crushed,” White said. “John wasn’t the only one crying. His teammates were crying as well.”

The sobering news was a tough blow for a team on a roll with seven straight wins and a share of the SEC lead. How these Gators deal with it will determine their postseason.

On Thursday, they were still battling the post-injury depression. White said the Gators had one of their worst practices of the season.

“This group is close-knit,” he said. “They feel really bad for John. It showed in the way we practiced.”

While a lot of players on this team have been through a lot of adversity during their UF careers, about the worst thing that had happened to them this season before Egbunu’s injury was a home loss to Vanderbilt.

They responded with the current winning streak.

But this is a different animal.

This is a teammate going down just when things were really going well.

Statistically, Florida is only going to have to replace a little less than eight points and a little more than six rebounds a game.

But we all know it’s much more than that.

“Yeah, definitely,” White said. “John has become a much better ball screen defender. He’s as vocal as any defender that we’ve had. He’s been an anchor for our defense when he’s in the game.

“We’ll miss that communication level. Obviously, he’s a shot blocker and he’s altered a bunch of shots. He’s been our best presence when we’ve played against a guy with a lot of girth.”

But what are you going to do? You can’t magically heal a torn ACL. You can’t trade for another big man. You have to suck it up and have other players step up as the Gators enter their final five-game stretch of the regular season.

You need Kevarrius Hayes to stay out of foul trouble. You need forwards to rebound like centers. You need to play defense like your hair is on fire.

Mostly, as cruel as this sounds, you have to get over it.

We understand the tears. They need to be wiped away.

“We’ve got to move on,” White said. “There’s going to be a game Saturday and nobody is going to feel sorry for us. Mississippi State certainly isn’t. We’ve got to get ready to go again.

“Kevarrius has gotta be really sound for us. He’s gotta be really vocal for us. Schuyler Rimmer can’t make mistakes. He’s gotta be dependable. Gorjok Gak (sprained foot) needs to get healthy. Keith Stone needs to get healthy.”

Since returning to the team after missing two games with a viral infection, Stone hasn’t made a shot and he’s still not 100 percent.

“He’s got a balance issue right now,” White said. “He had a shot in practice (Thursday) that he passed up. He has no confidence right now I guess because of the balance issue.

“Up front we’re decimated right now. But it’s part of basketball. It’s part of life. You just gotta make do. We’re not going to make excuses. We’ve gotta find a way.”

This team has found a way all season whether it was its extended early-season road trip or a defense that went walkabout in Auburn.

It has put together a thick resume. But how it plays from now until the madness will have a lot to do with where it plays and where it is seeded.

After all of this hard work, it would be a shame to give the committee a reason to bump the Gators down a few seed lines because it doesn’t seem like the same team without Big John in the middle.

There’s only one way to prevent that from happening.

You know what that is.

So do they.

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

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