One word summarizes the start of Florida’s 2013-14 season: uncertainty.
Billy Donovan, who is entering his 18th season as Florida’s coach, reaffirmed Wednesday during the team’s annual media day that senior forward Will Yeguete (knee) and Rutgers transfer guard Eli Carter (leg) would not be cleared to play for the Gators’ first practice on Friday. Both players are questionable for Florida’s season-opener against North Florida on Nov. 8.
With five-star forward Chris Walker still not enrolled at UF, and Scottie Wilbekin set to miss an unknown number of games due to a suspension to begin the year, Florida heads into the season with question marks scattered throughout its roster.
“Those two guys (Yeguete and Carter), I don’t know when they’ll be back,” Donovan said.
“We’ll try to prepare like those guys are not going to be there ready to play. Hopefully, there will be a time when they can get themselves ready. They’ll have to do a lot of things in terms of maintaining and conditioning and picking up on what’s going on.
“I have less of a worry about Will because this is obviously his senior year. He has an understanding, but for Eli, who is trying to pick up a new system and a new style of play, everything is going to be different. When you can’t go through things on a daily basis, that’s always challenging.”
Yeguete underwent arthroscopic debridement on his right knee May 22 to remove loose cartilage. Carter suffered his injury during Rutgers’ game against DePaul on Feb. 16 and underwent surgery 12 days later.
”I don’t have a timetable,” Carter said. “I’m getting better every day, every week.”
Walker is in the process of completing online courses so he can be academically eligible to play for the Gators. If the Bonifay native enrolls for the 2014 spring semester, the earliest he could return would be mid-December.
“He’s working really, really hard. I’m optimistic that he’ll be back here,” Donovan said.
“That’s the challenge, is him trying to play catch-up for what he will have missed. We’ll have to see how much or how well he can pick it up. That’s the unknown for me.”
Despite facing a suspension to begin 2013-14, Wilbekin will rejoin the team in practice on Friday.
He practiced at UF’s basketball facility for a portion of the offseason separate from the team.
“He’s been very humble, just trying to get back with the team, get back with the players,” forward Casey Prather said.
“You could just tell a major difference in his attitude, his work ethic and everything like that.”
During Friday’s practice, the Gators will have available four mainstays — center Patric Young, shooting guard Michael Frazier II, Prather and Wilbekin — from last year’s rotation that reached the Elite Eight.
Five-star point guard Kasey Hill will partake in his first practice as a Gator on Friday, while transfers Dorian Finney-Smith (Virginia Tech) and Damontre Harris (South Carolina) will practice for the first time as active members on the roster.
Sophomores DeVon Walker, Dillon Graham, junior walk-on Jacob Kurtz and the younger Billy Donovan will also be available.
The elder Donovan hopes he can make the best of who he has available going forward.
“My challenge, as a coach, based on your personnel, is to evolve,” Donovan said. “We’re going to have some things philosophically that we’re always going to believe and that we’re always going to do, but I feel like my responsibility on the offensive end of the floor is to put these guys in situations to take advantage of the skillset that they have.”
Follow Landon Watnick on Twitter @LandonWatnick.