GAINESVILLE -- The Florida basketball team opens practice Friday, but one of the SEC’s premier programs will kickoff the 2013-14 season with a plethora of unknowns.
Billy Donovan’s bunch must replace its top three scorers – Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario, Eric Murphy -- and the Gators will kickoff camp shorthanded.
Starting senior forward Will Yeguete (offseason knee surgery) and junior guard Eli Carter (fractured fibula) won’t practice while continuing to battle significant injuries lingering from last season.
“I don’t know when they’ll be back. All I know is Friday they will not be available,” Donovan said.
“Right now you have to go with the guys that are there and in practice right away. Those are the guys you have to rely on and get them ready.”
Yeguete, who underwent knee surgery late last May, is confident he will be ready to play in the opener Nov. 8 against North Florida.
However, Carter -- the Rutgers transfer who broke his leg in a game against DePaul last February -- had no timetable on a possible return.
“The only expectation I have right now is to play [sometime this season,]” Carter said.
In mid-September, the NCAA declared Carter eligible to play immediately for Florida after leaving the Scarlet Knights at the end of the 2012-13 season following the scandal involving former Rutgers coach Mike Rice.
“I feel bad for Carter,” Donovan said. “Any time you transfer in and you start your career at a different school on an injured note and not really able to go out there and prove yourself and play every day, I think that’s been difficult.”
Meanwhile, senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin was reinstated to practice with the team, but remains suspended to start the regular season.
On June 10, Wilbekin was banned from all team activities after violating undisclosed team rules.
“I am really, really proud of him and what he has done and the way he has handled and conducted himself. From the spring all the way until now, it has been a long, long road for him being disconnected from our team, not working out with our team and not really being around our team and slowly trying to work his way back,” Donovan said.
“He has done everything that I could ask of him as a player in terms of taking responsibility and growing. He still has some things in front of him before he is fully back on our team, but we will give him the opportunity to practice.”
Wilbekin was not available for comment at Florida’s Media Day, but multiple teammates voiced their support for the senior, with sophomore guard Michael Frazier saying he’s excited to see Wilbekin back on the court.
During the summer, rumors also swirled that Dorian Finney-Smith, Damontre Harris and Casey Prather would be suspended to start the season, but Donovan addressed the alleged report, saying, “Everybody but Will Yeguete and Eli Carter is ready to practice going forward and on our team.”
(Donovan's opening statement at UF Media Day)
Five-star forward and McDonald’s All-American Chris Walker continues to work to qualify academically for the spring semester.
The freshman signee from Holmes County High failed to enroll in August, but Donovan is confident the 6-foot-10, 225-pound athletic big-man will wear a Gators uniform at some point this season.
“He’s working really, really hard. I’m optimistic that he’ll be back here,” Donovan said.
Florida’s coach said Walker’s recruitment and the ensuing limbo reminded him of the Kwame Brown situation in 2001. After committing to UF, Brown never enrolled at Florida and was the No. 1 overall pick by the Washington Wizards in the NBA Draft.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton