GAINESVILLE -- Late last week, No. 15 Florida topped Middle Tennessee State by double-digits without a point guard, but coach Billy Donovan’s offensive gamble lasted just a single contest.
Florida -- shorthanded with just seven available scholarship players -- will receive a much-needed boost Monday against Jacksonville (7 p.m.) as point guard Scottie Wilbekin returns to action following a six-game suspension.
“He’s done everything. I’m really proud of him,” Donovan said. “As I have mentioned before, he has really stayed on course since last spring.”
UF's senior point guard, a preseason all-conference pick and one of the top defensive guards in the country, was suspended indefinitely June 10 after violating team rules for the second time in eight months. Donovan actually gave Wilbekin the option to transfer, but the senior chose to earn (and fight) his way back onto the team.
“He’s grown up in a lot of ways. I think that he obviously made some poor choices last year. You would hope that situation would have been kind of an eye-opener for him, with his level of accountability and responsibility to himself and to his team,” Donovan explained. “For whatever reason, that experience, those first three games last year, did not register with him at all, at the level I wanted it to. And I think with the situation we put him in the spring, as it related to him having to work his way back on the team, not doing anything in Summer B or Summer A with our team, going through the conditioning in the month of August and September away from our team, slowly getting him back. The biggest thing I’ve noticed is a total change in his attitude, his behavior. Scottie was never ever a bad kid. It was of kind of like a warrior mentality, like, ‘I’ll take anything on. I can deal with it.’ And I think he’s gotten a lot more humble. I think he has a much, much better understanding of how his actions and things that he does impact not only himself, but other people. I really have seen a great growth in him.”
Wilbekin, who averaged 9.1 ppg. and 5.1 apg. in 29 starts last season, returns at an important time for Florida. Freshman point guard Kasey Hill sustained a high-ankle sprain in last Monday’s win over Southern, forcing Donovan to juggle as many as four guys at the position during Thursday’s 20-point win over MTSU.
Hill remains in a boot except during rehab activities and is expected to miss around a month with the injury.
Following Monday’s road tilt with JU (2-3), Florida (4-1) faces a brutal schedule over the next three weeks: home vs. FSU, at No. 13 Connecticut, home vs. No. 2 Kansas and vs. No. 21 Memphis in Madison Square Garden.
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