Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – On the afternoon the UF men’s basketball team held its annual Media Day last month, point guard Scottie Wilbekin paused and thought for a moment about the best advice he had received entering his freshman season.
The youngest student-athlete on UF’s campus at 17 years, 7 months old, Wilbekin referred to something his father told him.
“He just told me when I got here that you are going to go through some ups and downs,’’ Wilbekin said. “He told me to get back on the court and work. That’s the only way you are going to get better.
Two games into his college career, Wilbekin knows exactly what his father was talking about.
In Florida’s 93-75 loss to fourth-ranked Ohio State on Tuesday at the O’Connell Center, a lot of eyes focused on the two freshman point guards coming off the bench: Wilbekin and Ohio State’s Aaron Craft. Wilbekin played just 12 minutes, recording two assists. Meanwhile, Craft helped the Buckeyes navigate the Gators’ press with ease in his 29 minutes, scoring seven points and dishing out five assists.
Wilbekin didn’t play badly; it’s just that he didn’t stand out like in his Florida debut in the season opener against UNC-Wilmington when he contributed five assists, four steals and three points in 17 minutes. For the ninth-ranked Gators to fulfill expectations this season, Wilbekin will likely play a large role spelling point guard Erving Walker and shooting guard Kenny Boynton.
Walker and Boynton averaged 33 minutes per game a year ago, showing signs of fatigue late in games.
While it’s early in Wilbekin’s career, Florida coach Billy Donovan is impressed by the way he has handled the transition from high school to college at such a young age. A Gainesville resident, Wilbekin played prep basketball at The Rock School, where he graduated a year early to enroll at UF.
“He’s really a disciplined kid, and when I say ‘disciplined,’ he really does the right things at the right time,’’ Donovan said. “When you talk about the discipline part of doing your job and doing the things you need to do, that’s what has really enabled him to come in and play.’’
Wilbekin’s next shot at improvement comes tonight when the Gators (1-1) host North Carolina A&T from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The Aggies (1-2) and Gators have one thing in common – both have already lost to Ohio State. North Carolina A&T opened the season Friday with a 102-61 loss to the Buckeyes.
After Tuesday’s loss to the Buckeyes, Donovan stressed the importance of taking better care of the basketball. The Gators committed 18 turnovers, including seven by Walker.
That could result in more playing time for Wilbekin as he continues to carve out his niche in the backcourt. A 6-foot-2, 175-pound combo guard, Wilbekin is averaging a team-high 3.5 assists per game. He was also a prominent 3-point shooter in high school, although that’s part of his game that we haven’t seen early in the season.
Wilbekin is focused on doing what he needs to make a significant contribution in his first season.
“When I’m on the court, I’ll do whatever Coach wants me to do,’’ he said. “I’m still learning. It’s definitely a step up from high school. You just have to adapt and get used to it.’’
Wilbekin has quickly gained respect from his teammates. After missing the majority of UF’s two exhibition games because of a strained neck, he returned to become the first freshman since Corey Brewer in 2004 to record four steals in his college debut.
“I like Scottie's game,’’ Boynton said heading into the Ohio State game. “The first game he showed everyone that he could come in and play a defensive role with intensity. I think Scottie has an offensive game that hasn't been brought out yet, but as the year goes on, he's just going to get better and better.’’
Donovan agrees. But he knows that like Wilbekin’s father told his son, the roller-coaster ride is just starting.
“His game will get better,’’ Donovan said. “As a coach, you always enjoy playing guys [that] you kind of know what you’re getting. He's a good defender and he's a tough kid and he's a physical kid and he's got good speed. He's going to really, really help.’’
TIP-OFF: 7 p.m., O’Connell Center
TV: Sun Sports (South Florida); FOX Sports Florida (North/Central Florida); DirecTV Ch. 656 / DISH Ch. 449
RADIO: Gator Radio Network
NOTES: Senior forward Alex Tyus is listed as doubtful for tonight’s game due to a mild concussion suffered in Tuesday’s loss to Ohio State … Florida is 21-0 all-time and 19-0 under Donovan against MEAC teams … First meeting between the schools … Florida outrebounded Ohio State 28-20 on Tuesday; North Carolina A&T was outrebounded by Buckeyes 60-22 in their loss on Friday.