GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It’s sounding less and less likely that Damontre Harris ever will suit up for the Florida Gators.
“I have not spoken to Damontre,” UF coach Billy Donovan said Wednesday when asked about the status of the suspended center/forward who transferred last year from South Carolina. “I know he’s going to class and those kinds of things.”
Asked if Harris was still in Gainesville, Donovan gave this cryptic response.
“From what I gather.”
From what everyone gathered from this conversation, the 6-foot-10, 230-pound Harris is not only worlds away from taking the court for the Gators, but on the verge of looking for this third basketball program in three years -- if he wants to play the game at all.
Sightings of Harris are like Bigfoot these days. Some players and coaches have not seen or spoken to him in days. Donovan says Harris oftentimes doesn’t even return his text messages.
“He has a lot of work to do inside of his team; a lot of work,” Donovan said. “I think our guys like Damontre and want to help Damontre, but they’d also like to see Damontre help Damontre. That is what’s so difficult as a coach. When you have all the resources here at Florida to really help someone in every possible area -- on the court, off the court, academically, weight room, film -- and you’re not taking advantage of it, at some point he’s the one responsible."
What’s frustrating for the people in the program is that two other players, senior guard Scottie Wilbekin and sophomore transfer Dorian Finney-Smith, also started the season on the suspended list. Both paid their dues, served their time and are back in good standing and playing for the team.
And the road Harris had to take to come back, by the way, in no way resembled Wilbekin’s.
“That’s kind of some stuff that’s in the team,” Wilbekin said Wednesday, two days after playing his first game of the season after completing a challenging six-month to-do list laid out by his coach after a second suspended in seven months. “I don’t really want to talk about that.”
Donovan had no problem talking about it.
UF, the coach said, has a bevy of resources to help student-athletes, from the Office of Student Life, to the support staff, to various facets of counseling.
All have been made available to Harris, yet the last few weeks the coaching staff has gone days without hearing from him (much less seeing him).
Two weeks ago, Harris was on track to making his way back to the team; attending twice-day conditioning sessions with the strength staff and individual skills sessions with coaches. They were encouraged. At South Carolina, he averaged 6.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and finished second in the league with 2.3 blocked shots per game. Harris was a terrific defensive player who figured to provided instant impact and depth to a deep Gators front court.
Then he stopped coming.
“At a certain point, he's got to want to say, ‘This is what I want and this is what I'm prepared to do.’ He has not done that. He has said, ‘This is what I'd like. I want to play on the team.’ Well, this is what you have to do,” Donovan explained. “What he wants and what he has to do are not matching up. I'm now at a crossroads in the dilemma. Does he want to play? There’s going to be some things he’s going to have to go through to get back on our team. He’s not going to just come in here and say, 'I want back on the team.' Great, come on down to practice, we’ll throw you on and give you a uniform. He has got a lot of work to do.”
For Harris, each day that passes is a day wasted.
And another step further away from this team.