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Thursday November 22, 2012Prather's Return Gives Gators More Options

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Casey Prather was grumpy after Wednesday’s practice, his first since being cleared two days earlier after being sidelined for two weeks with a second concussion of the young basketball season.

Florida coach Billy Donovan had intended to scrimmage, but the Gators didn’t get around to it. “It’s been too long,” Prather said. “I’ve been sitting too much, just watching and just been able to do individual stuff. It’s not the same. I need to get out there and play some.”

Right about then, assistant coach John Pelphrey called Prather back on the court, along with UF’s four freshmen, transfer Dorian Finney-Smith and a couple managers for some games of 3-on-3, first halfcourt then fullcourt.

The game was about to start when a trainer entered the gym and tossed Prather a piece of Everlast protective boxing headgear.

Purely precautionary.

“Casey, can you see with thing on?” Gators coach Billy Donovan asked.

Prather shook his head.

He didn’t care, but rather was just happy to be out there slashing, posting, jumping and being the freakazoid athlete everyone has known him to be since arriving two years ago from Jackson, Tenn.

The 6-foot-7 forward will make his season debut Friday afternoon when the seventh-ranked Gators (4-0) play UCF (3-1) at the O’Connell Center.

“I’m pretty anxious to get out there for a game,” Prather said.

Donovan and his staff are equally anxious to see their squad at full strength for the first time this season. UF got junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin back from three-game suspension earlier this week and does expects senior guard Kenny Boynton to be on the floor despite a sprained ankle suffered Tuesday night in a win over Savannah State.

Prather gives Florida more options on both ends, especially in the wide-open court.

“He brings something different than any player on our team because of his athleticism,” assistant coach Matt McCall said.

Prather averaged just two points and 1.8 rebounds in 28 games last season as he struggled most of the season with confidence, which manifested itself with turnovers (21, compared to eight assists, in less than 10 minutes per game).

When forward Will Yeguete went down with a season-ending broken foot on Feb. 21, Prather had to play -- and had to play much better than he had all season.

“We needed him to be that hybrid 3-man,” McCall said.

It took some time, but maybe, just maybe, it was Prather’s “ESPN Top 10” highlight slam on Kentucky’s 6-10 forward Kyle Wiltjer in the Southeastern Conference Tournament that set a bell off in Prather’s head.

The next game was a first-round NCAA Tournament date against Virginia. Prather played the finest game of his career, scoring 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting to go with four rebounds in a blowout win.

In the Sweet 16 game against Marquette, Prather had a sicko alley-oop slam on a halfcourt lob pass from Boynton.

The kid can run and jump with anybody in college basketball, so now it’s a matter of making a consistent impact in the ares where the Gators feel he’s most valuable. rebounding, posting around the basket, in transition and when UF is pressing.

Makes you wonder which Prather will show up against the Knights. And beyond.

“Hopefully, the one against Virginia,” he said with a smile. “I’m going to be aggressive, play my game and whatever happens happens.”

The rest of the Gators will second that.“I think he’ll be OK conditioning-wise, but I worry about the rust of not playing, his timing and just knowing what we’re doing,” Donovan said. “The biggest thing he needs now are some practices, some games and some minutes under his belt.”

The minutes start against the Knights. Now, if Prather can just stay out of harm’s way.

After he suffered a concussion in an Oct. 27 scrimmage against Rollins, he wasn’t cleared to return to practice for nine days. His first day back, an inadvertent forearm from teammate Patric Young delivered the second concussion.

Yet Prather can’t wait for a return contact, even though he’s had plenty -- none of it good -- in his brief court time this season.

“That’s true, but that’s also part of basketball,” he said. “And I’m just really anxious to get back out there again.”

GATORS GAMEBOX

No. 7 Florida vs. UCF

Tip-off: Friday, 4 p.m. (O’Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla.)

Records: Florida 4-0; UCF 3-1

TV: Sun Sports (w/Larry Vettel and Mark Wise)

Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Steve Woodard) -- Click here for affiliates) / Sirius 134/XM 199

Game notes: Florida notes; UCF notes

Need to know: The Gators look to go 5-0 for the first time since the 2009-10 season by defeating the cross-state foe Knights, who defeated Florida for the only time in 10 meetings when the two last played -- a 57-54 victory for UCF at Orlando’s Amway Arena on Dec. 1, 2010. ... UF is coming off a 58-40 win Tuesday against Savannah State, a team the Knights defeated 53-50 two days earlier. UF and UCF, in fact, have two other common opponents at this early stage of the season. The Gators defeated Alabama State 84-35 to the Knights’ 85-56 victory margin. UCF lost to Middle Tennessee State 75-61 at home last Friday, while UF beat MTSU 66-45 on Sunday. ... The Gators are led by senior G Kenny Boynton (14.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg), who suffered a left ankle sprain Tuesday, missed practice Wednesday, but is expected to be in the starting lineup against the Knights. He’s joined in the backcourt by senior Mike Rosario (12.8 ppg, 3 apg), who is playing his most consistent basketball since arriving at UF as a transfer from Rutgers. Junior C Patric Young is coming off the sixth double-double of his career after scoring 13 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking a career-high six shots against Savannah State. ... Florida is allowing just 30.8 percent from the floor, 25.9 from the 3-point line and only 44 points per game. ... The Knights are coached by Donnie Jones, who was UF coach Billy Donovan’s assistant for 11 seasons (1997-07) before taking the job at his alma mater of Marshall for three years, then jumping to UCF in 2010. ... The game will mark the 12th time Donovan has faced one of his former assistants. He is 9-2 in the previous 11, going 4-0 vs. Anthony Grant (Alabama), 5-1 vs. John Pelphrey (formerly at South Alabama and Arkansas) and 0-1 vs Jones. ... Jones is 42-23 in two seasons with the Knights, with back-to-back 20-win seasons, but the program was placed on NCAA probation last summer for rules violations and banned from postseason play for 2013. ...  UCF is led by 6-9, 235-pound senior F Keith Clanton (17 ppg, 11.8 rpg) and junior G Isaiah Sykes (17.5 ppg, 5 apg), with the Knights shooting 48.7 percent as a team from the floor.

 

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