Despite winning as many national championships as the football team this decade, Billy Donovan’s group has always played second fiddle in Gainesville.
The Gators men’s basketball team could make the Final Four and a story about spring football would still get more views. Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but that’s what the culture is like at UF.
Last season, Florida basketball was about as successful as Florida football. No. 3 seed UF was a little bit under the radar nationally but still earned its third straight trip to the Elite Eight, where it lost to No. 4 seed Michigan, the eventual NCAA runner-up, 79-59.
The Gators may have lost three starting seniors – Kenny Boynton, Erik Murphy and Mike Rosario – who combined for 50.5 percent of their offense last year, but Donovan’s squad deserves more attention from Florida fans this upcoming season. There are too many storylines to ignore.
Part of the reason for last year’s shortage of national attention was a lack of NBA talent. Murphy was the only Gator drafted, going in the second round to the Chicago Bulls.
But UF will have plenty of NBA prospects in 2013-14.
Patric Young, a 6-foot-9, 240-pound center, has the NBA frame to be drafted in the late first-round or early second-round in 2014, but he needs to prove his worth after an up-and-down junior season. Incoming five-star point guard Kasey Hill has the potential to be a lottery pick if he lives up to his billing.
The Gators are still awaiting the NCAA Clearinghouse’s ruling on five-star addition Chris Walker, who is dealing with academic eligibility issues. If the 6-foot-10 Walker – a lanky forward with freakish athleticism – joins the team, Florida will most certainly land in the AP Preseason Top 10.
Eligible or ineligible, Walker should be at least a top-20 pick in next year’s draft, barring a setback.
Donovan is also awaiting word on guard Eli Carter’s eligibility for the 2013-14 season. Following the mess Mike Rice left at Rutgers after verbally and physically abusing his players, Carter elected to transfer to UF in late April. He is attempting to receive a waiver from the NCAA that would allow him to play for the Gators next year.
The addition of Carter would solidify Florida’s backcourt – especially with starting point guard Scottie Wilbekin’s status in limbo.
Donovan suspended Wilbekin indefinitely on June 10 for violating team rules. Wilbekin has not rejoined the team yet; Donovan said last month that he would meet with Wilbekin once the fall semester starts and “go from there.”
If Carter and Wilbekin both do not make the rotation for the 2013-14 season, Florida could have some issues in the backcourt. Jacob Kurtz or Donovan’s son, also named Billy Donovan, could be forced into the rotation as a backup point guard.
But with or without Wilbekin, Carter or Walker, Florida will enter 2013-14 with its deepest frontcourt in years.
UF adds Virginia Tech transfer forward Dorian Finney-Smith, who sat out 2012-13 per NCAA transfer rules and was a top-35 recruit out of high school. South Carolina transfer center Damontre Harris also joins the group this year and should provide shot-blocking and depth behind Young.
Seniors Will Yeguete and Casey Prather, two of Florida’s most versatile defenders, should also see more playing time in the rotation.
According to this year’s roster, Yeguete and Young have each lost about 10 pounds since the beginning of last season. Yeguete should return to the team by training camp after undergoing arthroscopic debridement on his right knee on May 22. Young underwent surgery on April 12 to remove a bone spur from his right ankle and is “progressing fine,” according to what Donovan said in July.
Sophomore shooting guard Michael Frazier II, who had a solid summer with the USA U-19 squad at the FIBA World Championships, cannot be forgotten, either. I’m sure he learned plenty from competing against high-level talent. Maybe we’ll see more dimensions to his game this year in addition to his sharp three-point shooting.
The Gators’ non-conference schedule features some tasty treats. Florida will play Memphis in the Jimmy V Classic in Madison Square Garden on Dec. 17, but the most tantalizing matchup is Florida-Kansas on Dec. 10. I want to see how the Gators plan on guarding phenom swingman Andrew Wiggins, the world’s unanimous No. 1 pick for the 2014 NBA Draft.
I know it’s August, and football is king in this region, but please be as interested in the 2013-14 college basketball season as I am.
Contact Landon Watnick at [email protected].