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Senior forward Casey Prather is averaging 19.2 points a game through six games.

Thursday November 28, 2013Prather's New-Found Awareness (and Same Ol' Athleticism) Will Match Up Well vs. Florida State

Senior forward Casey Prather is averaging 19.2 points a game through six games.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer senior writers Scott Carter and Chris Harry discuss Friday's matchup.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The blueprint for Florida State’s basketball team under Leonard Hamilton has been a consistent one.

Pick any of the Seminoles’ 12 teams since Hamilton arrived, including the one coming to the O’Connell Center Friday night. This squad, like the ones before it, will be large and long -- six FSU players go at least 6-foot-9, with three 7 feet or taller -- and very athletic; quite capable of causing foes fits should the Seminoles find their rhythm and groove.

“They’re playing very good basketball,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said.

Just ask VCU.

The Rams were unbeaten and ranked 10th in the country when they came up against the Seminoles in the Puerto Rican Tip-Off a week ago. FSU scored 48 in the first half, led by as many as 30 in the second and destroyed the Rams 85-67. The Seminoles won going away despite committing 25 turnovers. That’s because their defense held the Rams to 29-percent shooting from the floor and just 21 from the 3-point line.

“We don't ever go into a game trying to set a tempo,” Hamilton said afterward. “We just try to be who we are and take what the defense gives us.”

The 15th-ranked Gators (5-1) have a pretty good idea who the Seminoles (5-1) are and will go in with a full appreciation of the ranginess and athleticism FSU will roll onto the court.

Not that UF won’t be able to match it.

Florida, in fact, may have the best athlete on the floor Friday in senior forward Casey Prather, who happens to be playing the best basketball of his career.

Frankly, there's no comparison.

Prather, the 6-foot-6, 212-pounder from Jackson, Tenn., came into the season with 181 points in his three previous seasons and 90 games combined. Through six games this seaosn, Prather has 115 points and leads the team at 19.2 points per game on 64.6-percent shooting from the floor.

“He’s figured out what his strengths are and is using them all to his advantage,” teammate and senior classmate Will Yeguete said. “He’s fully vested in what he’s doing and what we’re doing. You can see it.”

More than anything, Prather has found that “self-awareness” that Donovan often talks about. It’s knowing who are as a player, but more importantly knowing who you’re not. That’s why Prather has taken just two 3-point shot this season (he’s not a very good long-range shooter) and instead is using his supreme athleticism to put the ball on the floor (he's pretty good with the handle), attack the basket (with an element of confidence that was missing in seasons past), and sky over defenders (which he always could do).

“I’ve eliminated some things in my mind, things that may have held me down before,” Prather said. “I’m not worried about the future, not worried about the past. I’m staying in the moment because that’s what helps us. That’s what we need.”

In February of 2012, the Gators went to Alabama short-handed due to injuries. Heading into that game, Donovan flat-out told Prather, then a sophomore, the Gators needed him to contribute that night.

Donovan yanked him off the floor after just three dazed and confused minutes.

Prather played nearly two years thinking too much and placing far too much pressure on himself. It wasn't until the postseason of his sophomore (and after a memorable, posterizing dunk in the face of Kentucky 6-10 forward Kyle Wiltjer during the Southeastern Conference Tournament) that Prather emerged from his shell. The very next game, he broke out for a career-high 14 points in a first-round NCAA Tournament win over Virginia when he went 6-for-7 from the floor. 

Last season, as a junior, he would have made a greater impact had it not been for two concussions in the preseason and an ankle injury early in the SEC season. Prather, though, bounced back later in the year to finish with career-best averages of 6.2 points and 3.7 rebounds.

But few would have seen these early season numbers coming.

When Prather scored 27 points in Monday night’s win at Jacksonville (making 10 of his 11 shots and getting to the free-throw line nine times), he became just the third player in Donovan's 18 seasons at Florida -- joining Teddy Dupay and Nick Calathes -- to score at least 27 points three times during their career. 

Prather did in a six-game stretch to usher in his final year.

“I want to be aggressive. I want to defend and rebound, push the ball fast to the goal ... and just kind of play all over the place,” Prather said. “I know now what I can bring to this team and I’m trying to do it the best I can and do it with a clear mind.”

So far, he's thinking crystal clear.

No. 15 Florida vs Florida State 

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: O’Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla.
Records: Florida 5-1; Florida State 5-1
TV: ESPN2 (w/Mike Crispino and Len Elmore)
Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Mark Wise) -- Click here for affiliates) / Sirius 108/XM 200
Game notes: Florida notes; Florida State notes


History: Florida and Florida State meet for 65th time, with the Gators leading the all-time series 42-22, including an 11-6 mark under Coach Billy Donovan. UF has won four straight, including last year’s 72-47 wipeout in Tallahassee when Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario each scored 14 points and UF’s defense did not allow FSU to crack the 20-point barrier until 12:34 remained in the game.

Pre-game storyline: Rumor has it there’s a football game between these same two school’s the next day.

The players: Scottie Wilbekin, the senior point guard suspended for the first five games of the regular season, was reinstated last week and debuted in Monday night’s 86-60 win at Jacksonville by scoring 12 points, grabbing five rebounds and ringing up seven assists in 34 minutes. The Gators looked more cohesive and assure of themselves with their leader on the ball, but the Seminoles provide a bigger, longer and more athletic challenge. ... Senior C Patric Young (10.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg) had a rought statistical start to the season, but slowly has raised his numbers while playing the same sensational, fundamentally sound and highly communicative defense the Gators need in the halfcourt. ... Sophomore SG Michael Frazier II (14.0 ppg) is hitting 52.3 percent from inside the 3-point line and 51.5 percent from beyond it.

The opponent: FSU fell just three spots shy of punching into the Associated Press Top 25 after a terrific showing in the Puerto Rican Tip-Off last week, a tournament where the Seminoles blasted VCU, then ranked 10th in the nation, by 18 and lost the next day to reigning NCAA runner-up Michigan by two in overtime. ... The Seminoles are led by the backcourt of Ian Miller (15.5 ppg) and Devon Bookert (13 ppg, 47.7 percent from 3-pt range), but also get a big boost from 6-7, 216-point G Montay Brandon (11.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg) off the bench. ... F Okaro White (14.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and F Robert Gilchrist (7.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg) fit the FSU mold of big, rangy and athletic frontcourt players. ... The Seminoles are averaging 81.2 points per game -- nearly 9 more than UF -- and as a team are shooting 50.7 from the floor, which ranks 32nd in the nation. .. FSU’s 9.7 steals per game (a product of that length and athleticism) ranks 27th in the country.

Key numbers:

* 1.000 - Winning percentage of last year’s UF senior class in four games against FSU. The current four-man class of Young, Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete is seeking to become the second straight Florida senior class to go perfect in four tries against the Seminoles.

* 8.3 - Rebounds per game for UF sophomore Dorian Finney-Smith. Since his reinstatement from a two-game suspension to start the season, “Doe-Doe” leads the team on the glass.

* 11.8 - Average assists per game for Gators through first five games.

* 19 - Assists in Monday’s win over Jacksonville, the first game with Wilbekin back manning the point.

* 59.3 - Points per game allowed by UF’s defense through six games. That ranks 18th in the nation.

Watch for it: Should be a tremendous environment for basketball. While FSU prefers its home games in the series fall deeper into December -- and thus separated from the football game -- Donovan embraces the idea of being the first half of a rivalry double-header on football eve.


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