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Thursday October 31, 2013The Show Must Go On: Gators Enter Season Significantly Undermanned

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- At one point during a practice last week, another Florida Gator trudged off the floor in pain and off went the trainer to see what was up this time.

Which player, you ask?

Pick one. You might be right.

“All we need is five,” UF coach Billy Donovan said. “We’ll find five to run out there.”

Starting Friday night.

When the 10th-ranked Gators preview their squad in a 7 p.m. exhibition game against Division II Florida Southern at the O’Connell Center, the unveiling will amount to just that -- a preview and not much more. With three players suspended from the squad, another injured and one bedridden with mononucleosis, UF be working with a roster of just nine players, two of whom are walk-ons.

Donovan announced Thursday that two of his transfers, sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith (by way of Virginia Tech) and junior center/forward Damontre Harris (from South Carolina), were suspended indefinitely for violating team rules. Those two, both of whom figure prominently in the 2013-14 plans, will join senior guard Scottie Wilbekin, suspended in June but reinstated for practice, on the Don’t-Bother-Coming list.

And all three, Donovan confirmed, will miss regular season games. How many has not been determined. 

“We’ll make a decision,” Donovan said. “There are some things that they need to do. Hopefully, they’ll do [them] and we’ll see how that translates going forward.”

Meanwhile, sophomore shooting guard Michael Frazier, a starter, has mono and is likely to miss some regular season games, also. Both senior forward Will Yeguete, who underwent offseason knee surgery, and junior guard El Carter, who broke his leg at Rutgers last February, are nowhere close to functioning at 100 percent. Both, though, are expected to play against the Moccasins. Whether Yeguete feels he can go will be his call, Donovan said. If not, that will take the Gators to six players.

Patric Young and forward Casey Prather, two seniors and veterans will be joined in the starting lineup by untested sophomore guard DeVon Walker and freshman point guard Kasey Hill. Walk-ons Jacob Kurtz and Billy Donovan, the son of the head coach, definitely will play. In fact, Kurtz will start at the small forward spot.

If these lineup maladies were occurring across campus, the phrase, “Man down, man up,” would be flying all over the place.

“It happens,” Walker said. “But it’s not going to hold us back from trying to win games. And it’s not going to last the whole season.”

It will, however, impede how Donovan can assess the progress of a team. It has to. The Gators have to replace three starters from a squad that went 29-8, won the Southeastern Conference regular-season championship and advanced to the Elite Eight. At the very worst, the lack of bodies will delay evaluating that process

But it also will give players like Walker and Hill a gob of minutes and a lot responsibility to get acclimated to what are expected to be some key roles as reserves down the line.

“Regardless of what happens [Friday] night, or when we open up next week [Nov. 8 at home against North Florida], the season is still coming,” Donovan said. “We’re behind on some things as a team.”

Like defense. Like ball movement. Like a lot of things that are worked on in normal practices with a normal rotation of bodies. Very little about the UF preseason has 

Yet, when the Associated Press debuted its Top 25 preseason poll earlier in the day, there the Gators were checking it at No. 10.

Donovan could only scoff. Probably after he laughed.

“I would say we're not even remotely close to being the 10 in the country right now,” he stated with very little degree of uncertainty.

But he’ll have five guys out there.


GATORS HOOP SCOOP
No. 8 Florida vs Florida Southern (exhibition game)

When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Where: O’Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla.
Records: N/A
TV: GatorVision (live streaming) on GatorZone.com
Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Jeff Cardozo and Mark Wise) -- Click here for affiliates) / Sirius 134/XM 199

THE TIP-OFF

History: The Gators (sort of) tip-off the season with their annual exhibition game. For what it’s worth, UF is 36-2-1 in exhibitions under Coach Billy Donovan, with the last loss coming in 2001 against the EA Sports All-Stars, a team that included former UF standout guard Kenyon Weaks. The Moccasins, out of Lakeland, Fla., have been one of the top Division II programs in the nation for decades, playing out of the Sunshine State Conference alongside the likes of Eckerd, Rollins, Tampa and Saint Leo. Last season, FSC went 27-6 and advanced to the D-II Elite Eight, where it lost to Western Washington. The Mocs would like nothing better than to roll into the O’Dome and knock off their state’s preeminent program; even a UF team ravaged by injuries and suspensions; even in a game that doesn’t count.    

Pre-game storyline: Six scholarship players will dress out for the Gators, who are dealing with a mix of suspensions, injuries and illnesses. If nothing else, Donovan and his staff will get to see how a few inexperienced players -- especially McDonald’s All-America point guard Kasey Hill -- perform when the lights come on.

The players: Only one starter from last year’s team will be in that role against the Mocs. Patric Young, the 6-9 senior center, who averaged 10.1 points and 6.3 rebounds, projects as one the top defensive post players in the nation. Senior guard/forward Casey Prather (6.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg) has been one of the best, most consistent practice performers in the preseason.  With senior guard Scottie Wilbekin sidelined, much will be asked of Hill, including lots of minutes. Baptism by fire can sometimes be a very good thing (and sometimes not).

Prather Key numbers:

* 50.5 - Percentage of scoring the Gators must replace after losing guards Mike Rosario (12.5 points per game) and Kenny Boynton (12 ppg), plus sharp-shooting forward Erik Murphy (12.2 ppg).

* 398 - Number of combined games the UF senior class of Young, Prather (pictured right), Wilbekin and Will Yeguete have combined to play in their careers.

* 14.3 - Points per game Eli Carter averaged at Rutgers for two years before transferring to UF in June. Carter has been slow to recover from a broken leg that ended his sophomore season in the Big East, but he has made some nice strides the last couple weeks. His shot, though, is not quite there yet. His feel is.

* 2 - Walk-ons who will play. A lot. Junior Jake “The Snake” Kurtz will go from late-game crowd please to starting small forward, while junior Billy Donovan (and, no, he is not Billy Jr.), a transfer from Division III Catholic University, will see time in the backcourt.

* 18.2 - Percentage G/F DeVon Walker shot from the floor last season. Walker vastly improved his stroke during the offseason months and will get a start at the shooting guard position.

Watch for it: Even with reduced numbers, Donovan will want the Gators to push the ball up the floor. That means Hill, the 6-1, 181-pound flash who helped guide Montverde (Fla.) Academy to a mythical prep national title last season, will get a chance to show his end-to-end speed in transition. Don’t blink.

 

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