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Monday April 8, 2013 Young's return gives Gators HUGE frontcourt options

Updated: 11:07am, April 9

Pat vs FGCUGAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The only surprise about Patric Young’s decision to return to the University of Florida for his senior year would be if anyone was surprised.

Young, UF’s junior center, is the two-time Southeastern Conference Scholar Athlete of the Year and a loyal teammate and friend who adores Will Yeguete, Scottie Wilbekin and Casey Prather, all of whom arrived on campus together and have lived together since the fall of 2010.

Now, they’ll go out together in 2014.

A few weeks back, the day the league announced its postseason accolades, I asked Young about cramming a college career’s worth of memories and trophies into his first three seasons. He was proud, rightfully so, but not necessarily satisfied.

“I would like to think I can still improve as a person and player,” Young said. “I have goals.”

He smiled.

“Like being the three-time SEC scholar athlete. Or All-Conference. Maybe even SEC defensive player of the year.”

Lofty goals, all of them, and the only thing we know right now is that Young will be back in a Gators uniform to try and reach them.

In the big Gators picture, what does the return of the 6-foot-9, 260-pound pivot man mean? Well, the answer is easy: Florida will have the deepest and most experienced frontcourt in the SEC. Maybe in the country.

Think about that a second.

For the last two seasons, the Gators have started (maybe) 6-3 Bradley Beal and (no chance) 6-3 Mike Rosario at what normally would be the small forward position. Not only that, but in each season UF lost its top backup forward, defensive specialist and rebounder Will Yeguete, for significant time due to injuries, thus further depleting the Gators’ size up front.

Now, fast forward to the fall, keeping in mind that no one knows right now who’s going to start. For the time being, who cares? Instead, just consider the possibilites.

Let’s start with Young, who needs 122 points to become the 50th player in school history to score 1,000 points and is on pace to finish his career as one the 10 best rebounders in school history. Donovan’s pleads for Young to play with passion and energy on a more consistent basis are well documented. So are UF’s results when he does. Assuming these past three years and 111 games have sunk in, there will be no secret as to Donovan’s expectations for Young as a senior.

But he won’t be banging around down there alone.

It’s possible the Gators could pair Young with 6-11 Damontre Harris, the transfer from South Carolina, where he was a first-team All-SEC Defensive Team selection and second in the league in blocked shots last season behind only Kentucky’s Anthony Davis. How’s that for length at the “4” and “5” spots (either can play both).

Now, throw 6-8 Dorian (“Doe-Doe”) Finney-Smith, a real face-the-basket forward, at the “3” spot. Finney-Smith, who some in the program feel may have been in the best player on the practice court this season, transferred from Virginia Tech, where he averaged six points and seven rebounds a game as a freshman. He’s a high-flying finisher and improving shooter, who can get his own shot, too. So at 6-11, 6-9 and 6-8 up front, the Gators are potentially mashing teams inside.

There's more.

Namely, the 6-7 Yeguete and 6-6 dunk-crazy Prather off the bench. Maybe one of them starts. Maybe both at times, given the opponent. Bottom line: either is capable of guarding at least three positions, not to mention what they do in the press (wait ‘till you see Doe-Doe do that, too).

Oh, and we're not Done-Done, yet.

Welcome 6-10 incoming freshman Chris Walker, out of Bonifay (Fla.) Holmes County, who just won the slam-dunk contest at the McDonald’s All-America Game festivities last week. Another long and leaping guy to roll in and mix it up down low.

Lots of potential combinations. Lots of different looks. Lots of options.

Now, take your pick in the backcourt, with Wilbekin and sharp-shooting Michael Frazier back, plus freshman point guard Kasey Hill, an electrifying, pass-first McDonald’s All-American who Saturday led his team, Montverde (Fla.) Academy, to the high school national championship.

That's a nine-deep squad (nice press potential) and without taking into account what the Gators could get from returning freshmen Braxton Ogbueze, DeVon Walker nor Dillon Graham, assuming they use the offseason to build on their rookie season improvement to provide competition and depth down the road.

Clearly, next year’s Gators will have a much different look to them relative to the last two teams. After Frazier and Wilbekin, for example, there will be questions about how well the '13-14 squad shoots from the 3-point line.

But with Young back, they’ll have plenty of live, long and athletic bodies to chase missed shots.

Not a bad place to start.

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