Friday November 16, 2012Humbled, contrite Wilbekin thankful to be back with Gators
Updated: 10:17pm, November 16
Updated: 10:17pm, November 16
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Scottie Wilbekin watched the NBC talking heads last Friday lay out the pre-game storylines as the Florida Gators were set to face Georgetown on the USS Bataan in the much-anticipate Navy/Marines Corps classic outside Jacksonville.
Ninety miles from his teammates, Wilbekin sat in his dormitory room as the announcing crew broke down how Wilbekin’s suspension for violating team rules would impact the game.
“Just hearing the word ‘suspended’ and my name, that’s when it all really sunk in,” Wilbekin said. “It was like the whole world knew ... and it really, really hurt.”
Being away from the Gators for a week hurt even more and gave Wilbekin plenty of time to reflect on his decision-making.
That's why the junior point guard from Gainesville was so happy to be back with his team Friday after meeting with Coach Billy Donovan early in the morning and having his three-game ban officially lifted.
“I’m sorry for what I did to my family, my teammates and my church family over at the Rock School for putting them through a situation and embarrassing them like this,” a contrite Wilbekin told GatorZone.com after the team's workout Friday night. “I’m a product of them, so it hurt that I would put them through all that and let so many people I care about down.”
Wilbekin returned to the team with a clean slate, but minus the starting position won in the preseason. He’ll play Sunday when No. 10 UF (2-0) faces Middle Tennessee State (2-0) in Tampa.
“I don’t believe in having a doghouse,” Donovan said.
The Florida coach does believe in teaching moments and Wilbekin, who was forbidden from participating in team activities, obviously learned a powerful lesson in watching the Gators play so well and win so convincingly (by 39 against Alabama State and 18 versus Wisconsin) without him.
“It just proves that we have a lot of great players, and that no one player is bigger than the team,” said Wilbekin, who averaged 2.5 points per game as a 16-minute reserve the last two seasons. “At the end of the day, it’s not about one person. It’s about the team.”
Those are the kinds of words his coach expected to hear from one of the most respected players in the UF locker room.
“Right now, he wants to do nothing more than try to create chemistry for our team,” Donovan said. “I don’t see him coming in with an attitude like, ‘I deserve more minutes. I deserve to start.’ He has to earn that.”
Wilbekin took his first steps toward that goal during practice with the unanimous backing of his teammates, including senior guard Kenny Boynton, who filled in at point guard after moving from his accustomed shooting guard spot.
“With Scottie back, we can go back to looking more like the team we came into the season with,” Boynton said.
That means Wilbekin sliding back into his point spot and matching up defensively with the opponent’s best guard.
Just not right away.
Like Donovan said, he has to earn it.
“That’s fair, definitely fair,” Wilbekin said. “I’m back at square one and looking forward to going out and working my way back into my spot on this team and proving my worth to my teammates.”
He was pumped up for practice, that’s for sure. Played like it, too.
And he should be twice as pumped come Sunday.
“Now, I can’t wait for that first game,” Wilbekin said. "Can't wait."