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Friday January 13, 2012Gators Can Use Wilbekin's Blue Collar Mentality and "Instant Defense" as they Travel to South Carolina

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The sequence played out minus many oohs and ahhs from the packed house at the O’Connell Center last month. But upon further review, Billy Donovan made sure his team knew exactly what happened and who made it happen. To the untrained basketball eye, the play was a missed shot by Florida State and a rebound by Florida. No big deal, right? 


Go to the tape. 


FSU was working its halfcourt offense, running guys off a series of screens. UF forward Erik Murphy got picked and teammate Bradley Beal tried to switch off his man and challenge the shot. That left Seminoles’ 6-foot-11, 240-pound center Bernard James, who screened Murphy, free to pivot and crash the offensive glass. 


In the corner, though, Gators guard Scottie Wilbekin saw the play developing. The 6-2 Wilbekin left his man once the shot went up, beat James to a spot in the paint, boxed out the big man and allowed UF forward Will Yeguete to clear the rebound.


That was it. One simple play. 


One winning play in what turned out to be a key victory.


In follow-up film sessions, Donovan replayed it over and over. 


“There are things that go on inside the game that no one is going to pick up on or see in a box score, but that I really appreciate,” Donovan said. “Sometimes you have to talk about the guy who brings his lunch pail and shovel to work every day, but maybe never gets credit for building the highway.”


Wilbekin is that blue-collar guy. 


The sophomore backup from Gainesville may not get the headlines or highlights like Kenny Boynton, Patric Young or Bradley Beal, but he is a valued member of the Florida basketball team who has managed to carve out a role for himself -- especially on defense -- that no one inside the program takes for granted. 


“It has been something of an adjustment because you come from high school where you’re used to being on the floor all the time and scoring,” Wilbekin said. “But I’m on a team now, I have my role and understand my role. It’s no different than the other guys. They have their roles, too. Mine is to come in the game and provide energy on defense and make good decisions with the ball. So I embrace that role.” 


That sort of team-first attitude will serve the 19th-ranked Gators (13-4, 1-1) well as they head deeper into Southeastern Conference play, starting with a visit Saturday night to South Carolina (8-8, 0-2) and Colonial Life Arena, where UF seeks its first road win in five tries this season. 


Through 17 games, Florida has been at its best when sharing the ball among its wealth of scorers on offense and playing disciplined defense, neither of which they did very well in last weekend’s 67-56 upset loss at Tennessee. 


If each Gator would welcome Wilbekin’s way of thinking, this team can be special. Donovan, though, knows that’s not an easy concept to grasp. 


Even for Wilbekin. 


“Growing up, you’re in the backyard by yourself, let’s face it, you’re not doing defensive slides -- you’re shooting the basketball,” Donovan said. “It takes a special person to really understand the value and the meaning of having a role and asking yourself, when you’re one of five guys on the court, ‘How can I best impact the game?’ The answer isn’t always going to be shooting the basketball.”


Wilbekin was raised the son of a coach. Svend Wilbekin groomed his oldest boy well in his years growing up in Gainesville. He recalls Scottie, even at 5 or 6, trying to give the ball to teammates who hadn’t scored and watching that unselfishness carrying forth as he grew into an area prep star. 


Scottie Wilbekin was a standout guard for his dad at The Rock School, mere miles from the UF campus. His father, who doubled as a pastor there, delighted in the success the Gators enjoyed during their back-to-back national championship runs -- not just for the trophies -- because of how they won and how they spoke of their success. 


“The quotes you’d read from Billy in the paper about that team and sharing the ball, they were like a dream for every high school coach who preaches to his players about accepting their roles and sharing the ball,” Svend Wilbekin said. “I must have read three or four quotes from them when my team was playing, and we really had balanced scoring. So that just reinforced Scottie’s mindset that a balance is going to create more opportunities for success for everybody, as opposed to a team dominated by one or two players.”


Wilbekin, who averaged 19 points per game as an Class 1A all-state selection, graduated from high school a year early to sign with Florida. He made an instant impact as a freshman last season, averaging 2.4 points, 1.5 rebounds and often drawing the toughest defensive assignments. 


“We opened the (SEC) season at Tennessee and he was guarding Scotty Hopson [who was third in SEC in scoring last year and departed a year early]. We went to Kentucky and he got Brandon Knight [a lottery pick by Detroit in NBA draft last June]. None of that phased him,” said Darren Hertz, UF assistant to the head coach. “Scottie is just a really, really tough kid and a phenomenal defender. He’s our junkyard dog.” 


That mentality (and the will to guard that comes with it) has intensified this season. You’ve heard of instant offense off the bench? Wilbekin provides instant defense, plus a steady hand, solid playmaking and that valuable high basketball IQ when relieving senior Erving Walker at the point.


“I’ve focused more on it. Focused more on being more disruptive on defense, creating turnovers and stuff like that,” Wilbekin said. “But I’ve also tried to work on my general overall understanding of the game. That’s what Coach D wants.” 


Earlier this season, Coach D had a chat with Wilbekin after a lopsided and somewhat loose win against Mississippi Valley State. In that game, Wilbekin seemed to get a little caught up in all the shooting going on around him and decided to do some firing away of his own. He finished 2-for-8 from the floor and did not look like himself. 


To the tape Donovan went. 


The next opponent was FSU and Wilbekin had 19 of his finest minutes of the season, finishing 2-for-2 from the floor (including a 3-pointer), grabbed three rebounds, had a steal and forced a couple more turnovers during a ferocious, pressing second-half run that broke the game open. 


“I loved it,” Wilbekin said. “When we’re pressing like that and running around like crazy and the crowd is cheering, I don’t think I can ever get tired.” 


That’s the Scottie Wilbekin the Gators want to see (and need) every time out. 


“If you can understand that your time will come and the team will get better and together everyone will enjoy great success, it’s more rewarding,” Svend Wilbekin said. “That’s what we’ve always talked about. That’s what I’ve told him as a father, that’s what I’ve told him as a coach.”


As a son and a player, Scottie has listened. 


“It’s been an adjustment from the kind of player I was in high school, but I love playing defense so much that it makes it easier,” Wilbekin said. “But more than anything else, I love winning.” 




No. 19 Florida at South Carolina   

Tip-off: 7 p.m. (Colonial Life Arena, Columbia, S.C.) 

Records: Florida 13-4, 1-1; South Carolina 8-8, 0-2   

TV: CSS (w/Matt Stewart and Nate Ross) * note- will be on Ch. 199 in Gainesville/Ocala for Cox Digital subscribers

Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Mark Wise) -- Click here for affiliates) / Sirius 220/XM 199

Game notes: Florida notes; South Carolina notes

Need to know: The Gators and Gamecocks meet for the 63rd time in the series dating to 1926. The two teams played 16 times before South Carolina joined the Southeastern Conference in 1992. ... UF is 21-11 vs. USC under Coach Billy Donovan, with eight wins in the last 11 meetings, including a victory in the 2006 SEC Tournament title game, but also including a loss at Gainesville that marked UF's lone SEC home defeat last season. ... The Gators are coming off a 70-48 defeat of Georgia that evened their league record at 1-1 after opening the season with a 67-56 loss at Tennessee last Saturday in arguably their poorest performance of the season... The Gamecocks, who lost earlier in the season to Elon but also beat Clemson, started their SEC season with losses at No. 2 Kentucky and home against a very good Vanderbilt team. ... All five UF starters average in double-figures, led by the backcourt trio of junior G Kenny Boynton (18.9 ppg), freshman G Bradley Beal (14.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and senior PG Erving Walker (13.1 ppg, 4.9 apg). ... The Gators lead the SEC in scoring at 82.8 points per game and 3-point field-goal percentage at 40.6, while the Gamecocks are last in the league in field-goal defense (43.9 percent) and 3-point defense (39.5 percent). ... USC doesn’t score a lot of points (63.9 per game), but it spaces the floor and is a disciplined rebounding team relative to boxing out on the glass (31.4 rebounds per game allowed leads the SEC). ... 6-6 senior F Malik Cook (12.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg) tops South Carolina’s stats, but the Gamecocks’ difference-maker is sophomore PG Bruce Ellington, the duel football-basketball standout who joined the hoops squad in December. Ellington (12.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.3 apg), who scored 20 on 8-for-12 shooting against Vandy, will make his season’s starting debut against the Gators. 



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