For center Damontre Harris, conditioning has been an uphill battle.
After missing the majority of practice during his redshirt season last year with an array of injuries, Harris, a South Carolina transfer, made it only a few days in practice before straining his hamstring.
The injury proved to be minor, as Harris returned to practice earlier last week after sitting out about a week. But coach Billy Donovan said the 6-foot-10 center has since looked “really out of shape.”
“Got a long way to go,” Donovan said. “The unfortunate part was him being plagued with his shoulder, his ankle, even the illness he had to deal with. He’s missed a lot of conditioning and a lot of practice.”
Since the beginning of the 2012-13 season, Harris has dealt with several setbacks. In October of 2012, he suffered a torn labrum that required surgery and forced him to miss about four months of action.
Also during his redshirt year, he battled a sprained ankle and strep throat. Doctors found a blood clot in his throat, which Harris said he treated with a multitude of medicines.
During his sophomore season at South Carolina in 2011-12, Harris averaged 2.3 blocks per game — tied for second most in the Southeastern Conference behind Kentucky’s Anthony Davis. Although he succeeded as a rim protector while at USC, Harris had a small role on offense as a starter, averaging 6.8 points in 25.9 minutes per game.
But when he practiced during summer workouts, Harris saw himself improve as a scorer.
“I think my offense got a lot better compared to when I was at South Carolina,” Harris said during UF’s media day.
“Just working under coach Donovan and his style, the way he kind of works you out, it’s a lot of skill work. I feel that helps me out a lot.”
Donovan said during media day that he would experiment with a lineup featuring Harris at center and Patric Young at power forward this season. But with a shorthanded roster in practice, the big men have squared off against each other on separate teams.
Young is optimistic about Harris’ future despite the redshirt junior’s conditioning struggles.
“It’s a process for him,” Young said. “He’s definitely been working hard. He’s starting to figure things out, I believe. He’s starting to realize that you need to be in practice consistently every day going at it to see results.”
Walker opts to not redshirt: Donovan mulled the possibility of redshirting DeVon Walker, who rarely saw the court for the Gators last season.
But after practice last Thursday, he pulled the sophomore forward to the side and told him the decision to redshirt was in Walker’s hands, according to the team website.
Walker needed to make the decision before Florida’s scrimmage against Georgia Tech on Saturday in Valdosta, Ga. If he were to play, a non-medical redshirt would be out of the question, per NCAA rules.
“He told me that I had a chance to play this season, and not just five minutes here or choppy minutes there,” Walker said in a release. “He told me I could actually contribute, that he believed in me, but that he’d understand whatever I wanted to do.”
After discussing the situation with his family, Walker participated Saturday.
“I have to trust what he says ... and I do,” Walker said. “If he gives me the go-ahead and says I can play and contribute, I’m going to take him at his word and just go with it.”
Follow Landon Watnick on Twitter @LandonWatnick.