KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Necessity likely means opportunity tonight for Braxton Ogbueze.
With the Florida roster hit with injuries, Ogbueze (pronounced "oh-BOY-z"), the seldom-seen Florida freshman guard is expected to get minutes when the eighth-ranked Gators (22-4, 12-2) face the streaking Tennessee Volunteers (16-10, 8-6) the likes of which he’s not experienced at the collegiate level.
“You’ve got to stay focused, that’s the main thing, and do the job you need to do to help the team,” Ogbueze said following Tuesday afternoon’s shoot-around at Thompson-Boling Arena. “We’re a collective unit, so we have to stick together and remain connected in a hostile environment like this.”
The Gators have lost eight of the last 10 times they’ve come here, including five of six. This time, UF will be without forward Will Yeguete (knee) and guard Michael Frazier II (concussion), meaning Coach Billy Donovan -- who has had his normal rotation of eight players for only 10 games this season -- has no choice but to turn to a bench and a small group of freshman backups who’ve played very little this season.
“You can’t go to Knoxville with six guys,” Donovan said.
Look for forward DeVon Walker and Ogbueze to be the guys entrusted to help absorb some of the minutes normally afforded Frazier, who was injured Saturday in a win against Arkansas.
Ogbueze averaged nearly 22 points and shot 54 percent from 3-point range as a senior last year at Charlotte (N.C.) United Faith Christian Academy, garnering honors as a top-100 prospect. He was considered the best player in UF’s 2012 signing class, but thus far has played just 89 minutes in 18 games and averaged less than a point.
But where some in his situation may be frustrated, Ogbueze has a different perspective.
“You know, I look at it in a positive way -- I’ve gotten way better this year,” he said. “From a playing standpoint, I may not have gotten to be out there very much, but I’ve improved with practice. To me, that’s success. As long as I’ve made strides in my game, that means something. That’s why I came here.”
He also came to UF to play. And it's because he's gotten better than his first big chance could come tonight.