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Thursday January 9, 2014 Donovan, Gators reach out to Harris -- one more time

Updated: 10:40am, January 9

Damontre GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It was Christmas break and basketball operations had been shut down for a few days, but that did not stop Billy Donovan’s cell phone from blowing up with texts from a certain 6-foot-10 center. 

Please Coach give me another chance 

Damontre Harris, the South Carolina transfer dismissed from the team a week earlier, was begging for another opportunity to prove he was committed to the Gators. This after virtually going AWOL from the program for more than a month.

So Donovan weighed the circumstances, took them to his team and Monday night decided that Harris will get that one last chance to turn his story of blatant unaccountability into one of utter redemption. 

Harris has enrolled at UF for the spring semester and will resume some basketball-related activities with the Gators this week, Donovan told, adding that no promises have been made to the player regarding his future in a Florida uniform. 

“I wouldn’t even say he’s rejoining our team,” Donovan explained. “Damontre is going to be in school the second semester and at some point -- and that time is completely up to me -- he’ll have a chance to practice with our team. I do not intend to play him. In fact, his playing status at the University of Florida is still very much up in the air.” 

Tre as Gamecock And so continues the strange odyssey of Harris, who two years ago averaged 6.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.3 blocks for the Gamecocks and was named to Southeastern Conference’s All-Defensive Team. When South Carolina fired coach Darrin Horn following the 2011-12 season, Harris transferred to UF and, per NCAA guidelines, sat out the entire ’12-13 season and was eligible to play this fall.

But then he vanished, refusing to return phones calls or text messages from his coaches and teammates, yet all the while meeting his academic and study hall requirements.

Donovan announced Dec. 21 that Harris had been dismissed from the team with an unconditional release to return to his home in Fayetteville, N.C., and try to find another place to play.

Then came the texts messages, as well as contrite calls to teammates.

“The easiest thing for me to do is kick this guy to the curb. I’m not going to do that,” Donovan said. “But I’m not backing down and just putting him in a uniform, either.”

So the Gators, as a team, talked about Harris after practice Monday and agreed to let him back in; on the coach’s terms, of course.

And they are non-negotiable.

It won’t be easy. Harris will have to deal with strength and conditioning coach Preston Greene before he even sniffs the practice court. That didn’t work out well the last time when Harris left in November, only to return for a few days (and sessions with Greene), and then vanish again.

Harris was one of three players, along with senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin and sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith, who entered the regular season on Donovan’s suspended list. That meant extra work during the offseason at unforgiving hours, plus added responsibilities and some loss of privileges in order to get back in the coach’s good graces.

All three, including Harris, met Donovan’s demands in time to resume practice Oct. 11.

Then things unraveled for the kid from North Carolina.

Now everyone will try to right them. Again.


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