Chris Harry’s Blog Harry Fodder
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Humbled and on message.
That was the takeaway upon hearing from Florida’s players Tuesday after the Gators dominated the Southeastern Conference’s individual postseason honors much like they did the league’s regular season, as voted on by coaches.
Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin was named 2014 SEC Player of the Year, while Billy Donovan was named Coach of the Year. Senior center Patric Young was tabbed Defensive Player of the Year and reigned in his third straight Scholar Athlete of the Year award. Sophomore backup forward Dorian Finney-Smith was named Sixth Man of the Year. Wilbekin and senior forward Casey Prather made the eight-man All-SEC first team, while Young was placed on the second team.
The lone individual superlative that did not go to a Gator was SEC Freshman of the Year, which was an easy choice in Kentucky power forward and human double-double Julius Randle.
But what a haul for Florida, right?
Then again, the Gators merely became the first team in SEC history to go unbeaten in an 18-game season and are ranked No. 1 in the nation heading into the postseason, which for UF begins Friday in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament in Atlanta. Florida will be the top seed.
“It feels good,” said senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who was suspended for the season’s first five games for violating team rules before being reinstated and resuming his spot as the team’s unquestioned leader and floor general. “I definitely couldn’t have done it without my teammates, Coach D believing in me and [Athletic Director] Jeremy Foley giving me a second chance. All of my teammates had faith in me.”
Wilbekin, who averaged 12.9 points, 3.9 assists and guarded every opponents’ best perimeter player, joined Chandler Parsons as the only Gators ever named SEC Player of the Year. Parsons won it in 2011.
As for Donovan, make that three coach-of-the-year plaques in four seasons -- after getting none in his first 14 seasons, including the two NCAA championship seasons of 2006 (LSU’s John Brady) and 2007 (Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings).
Donovan joined Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp as the only coaches in SEC history to be so honored at least three times. The league first awarded its coach of the year in 1964 and Rupp won it seven times over the first nine years.
Last summer, the 6-foot-9, 250-pound Young stated that winning the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year award was one of his goals, but also to become the first league player to be basketball’s scholar athlete three straight seasons.
“I’m grated to my teammates for playing such terrible defense so I could pick up the slack,” Young joked about a squad that finished first in scoring defense (58.5 points per game) and fourth in field-goal percentage defense (.401). “It’s a reflection of our coaches, their belief in me and how I’ve been coachable and apply it on the court.”
As for meshing the athletics and academics?
“I just really strive to maximize my opportunity of being here, being the best I can be at everything I do,” Young said. “Of course, coming here, I didn’t always see it that way. That’s something I’ve grown into, matured, just trying to impact people, being a personable person, striving to be the best I can be on the court, off the court, trying to experience life because basketball is not everything.”
Finney-Smith sat out last season after transferring from Virginia Tech. While working through his red-shirt year, Finney-Smith (a.k.a. "Doe-Doe") often tried to envision where he’d best fit in for the Gators. As it turned out, his scoring (9.4 points), rebounding (6.9), passing (2.1 assists) and major minutes (25.5) in reserve were exactly what the team needed on a roster with three seniors in the frontcourt.
The hard part, he said, was getting used to cooling down after pre-game warmups and hopping into the game. Obviously, he figured some things out.
"When I came here I just wanted to do anything to help my team win,” said Finney-Smith, who along with Chris Richard (2007) are UF's lone Sixth Man honorees to date. “If that means coming off the bench with a lot of energy, hitting the open shots, rebounding hard, then that's what I've got to do.”
And what can be said about Prather?
He came into the season averaging 3.1 points for his career, only to lead the Gators in scoring (14.6 points), finish fourth in rebounding (5.2), top the SEC in field-goal percentage (.625) and give UF an athletic, off-the-bounce perimeter threat far greater than anyone expected.
“I guess it just says that I was determined to get better,” Prather said. “I’ve got great people around me.”
Decorated people, to be sure.