Published November 01, 2013
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Between injuries, illnesses and suspensions, Florida coach Billy Donovan doesn't know what to make of his team right now.
Well, he does have one thought.
"We're not even remotely close to being No. 10 in the country," Donovan said.
The ranked Gators already are dealing with adversity — and they're still more than four months away from March Madness. The program that has come up short in a regional final each of the last three years could have nearly as many scholarship players sidelined as suited up when the season opens next Friday against North Florida.
"When you looked on paper at the guys that were supposed to be on our team, we looked like a very optimistic, promising team," Donovan said. "Right now, we're not a very good team. ... We're not the same team. If everybody looked it at on paper before the season started, each guy is healthy, each guy is here, what our team would look like. Our team is not that team on paper."
Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin and big men Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris are suspended indefinitely for violating team rules, and guard Michael Frazier II won't play while he recovers from mononucleosis. Throw in highly touted recruit Chris Walker, who is still trying to get his test scores up so he can enroll in January, and the Gators will be down an entire, five-man rotation.
Making Donovan's team even thinner, forward Will Yeguete (knee surgery) and guard Eli Carter (broken leg) are still recovering from injuries and will play limited minutes early on.
"It's part of the game," sophomore guard DeVon Walker said. "Unfortunately it did happen, but it's not going to hold us back from trying to win games. It's not going to last the whole season."
Aside from depth issues, here are five things to know about Florida heading into the season:
EARLY SLATE: The Gators play at 20th-ranked Wisconsin on Nov. 12 and have games against No. 18 UConn (Dec. 2), fifth-ranked Kansas (Dec. 10) and No. 13 Memphis (Dec. 17) next month. "We need to have a little bit more urgency than we have right now," Donovan said. "We've had some really good practices. But there's too much inconsistency. Part of that is hard for me to really put my finger on just because we've had so many players coming in and out of practice. That's probably had some kind of factor on it. But right now, for me, we're not as consistent as we need to be."
FAB FROSH: Without Wilbekin, freshman Kasey Hill will open the season as the team's starting point guard. Hill, a 6-foot-1 McDonald's All-American from Eustis, has the potential to become Florida's best point guard since Nick Calathes (2007-09). The Gators have sorely missed a take-charge floor leader in the closing minutes of tight games, especially in the NCAA tournament. "His skill on the floor will only get better through experiences," Donovan said.
SENIOR CLASS: Florida has one of its largest — and most experienced — senior classes in Donovan's 18 seasons. Center Patric Young, versatile forward Casey Prather, Yeguete and Wilbekin have played a combined 398 games. And they could be the key to Florida advancing to a fourth consecutive regional final. The Gators want Young to play with energy and passion. They need Yeguete and Prather to stay healthy. And they're relying on Wilbekin, who also was suspended to start last season, to stay out of trouble.
TRANSFER HELP: Florida has three transfers who could play prominent roles. Finney-Smith, a 6-foot-8 sophomore from Portsmouth, Va., averaged 6.3 points and 7.0 rebounds at Virginia Tech in 2011-12. Harris, a 6-10 junior from Fayetteville, N.C., averaged 5.3 points and 4.6 rebounds in two seasons at South Carolina. Both sat out last year under NCAA transfer rules. Carter, a 6-foot-2 shooting guard, left Rutgers after the school fired embattled coach Mike Rice and was granted a waiver to play immediately. He averaged 14.9 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists last season as a sophomore.
CLOSING TIME: Despite all of Florida's early season turmoil, the season likely will be decided in March. The Gators failed to close out leads in regional finals in 2011 (Butler) and 2012 (Louisville), and were dominated by Michigan seven months ago in the South Region championship game. Those losses surely provide motivation for Donovan's squad.