GAINESVILLE -- It (briefly) snowed in Florida on Saturday.
So naturally, the Gators were white-hot inside the O'Dome on a frigid night, hitting a flurry of 3-pointers en route to a 95-63 trouncing over Auburn.
Senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith led the way with 24 points and eight rebounds, while three others scored in double figures.
Auburn’s nightmares versus Florida (13-6, 5-2 SEC) continued, losing for the 11th straight time in Gainesville.
Three takeaways from UF’s third-straight conference victory:
UF shot Auburn out the gym from the tip, jumping to a 20-5 lead behind an 18-0 run in the first five minutes of action. They led by as many as 25 in the first half, hitting 11 of their first 16 shots -- including five 3-pointers.
Finney-Smith had 10 points, four rebounds and one assist before the first media timeout.
“They were firing on all cylinders,” Tigers coach Bruce Pearl said.
Florida led 53-32 at halftime and continued its scorching shooting in the second half. The Gators hit a season-best 56.9 percent from the floor, scoring 80-plus points for the third straight game and matching a season-high with 20 assists. Florida -- normally brick-layers at the charity stripe ranking No. 346 nationally -- even hit 20 of 24 free throws.
“We just made shots,” Finney-Smith said.
“There’s some nights like this when you just can’t miss.”
With Florida (nearly) flawlessly spacing the floor and sharing the basketball, the Tigers had zero answers defensively. Zilch.
The Gators played inside-out, as UF center John Egbunu dominated the paint. The 6-foot-11, 255-pounder was a board short of recording his third double-double on the season with 12 points and nine rebounds. Egbunu consistently overwhelmed AU with his size and power, ducking in for easy dunks and short hook shots.
Even when the sophomore got into foul trouble, freshman big-man Kevarrius Hayes provided some of the best minutes of his collegiate career (six points, six rebounds).
“They got whatever they wanted inside,” Pearl said.
“Whatever they wanted.”
Meanwhile, Florida’s point guard duo -- Chris Chiozza and Kasey Hill -- gave the Tigers fits, too, combining for 28 points and 12 assists.
The Gators also frustrated Auburn’s top offensive option, holding dynamic point guard Kareem Canty (averaging 19.4 ppg) to just 12 points on 15 shots -- and zero 3-pointers for the nation’s second-best volume shooter from downtown. Canty was 0 of 6 from 3-point range, oftentimes forcing tough, deep shots due to UF’s aggressive defense.
“He is a handful to defend. He’s got an ability to be in range when he crosses half-court,” Florida coach Mike White said.
“For him not to make a three was huge for us. I thought Chris and Kasey did a terrific job on Canty.”
After a two-game homestand, Florida plays at Vanderbilt on Tuesday.
GAINESVILLE -- John Egbunu shoots a team-low 40.9 percent from the charity stripe during SEC play, but Florida’s sophomore center walked calmly to line, let out a deep breath and drilled four clutch free throws inside the final minute to help UF complete a thrilling 81-78 comeback win over Mississippi State on Monday.
“I can’t explain it,” UF coach Mike White said, shaking his head.
“It’s a unique deal. … But I’m glad he made them.”
Egbunu finished with 16 points (8 of 12 from the free throw line) and seven rebounds, helping Florida erase an 11-point deficit midway through the second-half.
Despite shooting just 55 percent from the line on the year, the center is a perfect 8 for 8 inside the final minute in UF's last two home games against LSU and MSU.
"I just stepped to the line with confidence," Egbunu said.
"We shoot a lot of pressure free throws in practice."
The Gators (12-6, 4-2 SEC) survived a see-saw finish, needing a 24-5 run to turn a double-digit deficit into an eight-point advantage before barely holding on late.
Senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith led all players with 20 points and 13 rebounds -- his fourth double-double in his last five games. UF’s freshman guard KeVaughn Allen chipped in 19 and five, while sophomore swingman Devin Robinson finished with 11 points on just six shots.
The Gators overcame 15 turnovers, poor transition defense (they were outscored 35-7 on fast break/points off turnovers) and an unusually quiet night from point guard Chris Chiozza.
They were listless early, too, trailing MSU 42-37 at halftime after Fred Thomas’ buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
Although the Bulldogs, now winless in the SEC, fought valiantly thanks to the efforts of guards I.J. Ready (20 points) and Craig Sword (17 points), the Gators -- a NCAA bubble team -- could ill-afford a home loss to a SEC bottom-feeder with the worst RPI in the conference.
GAINESVILLE -- On the heels of a demoralizing and embarrassing loss at Tennessee, Florida rebounded with a gritty win over LSU on Saturday, knocking off future No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and the Tigers 68-62 in the O’Connell Center.
Florida (10-5, 2-1 SEC) led wire-to-wire, but in a one-point game with 50 seconds remaining, Gators center John Egbunu dropped in a baby hook to seal the win. The sophomore center sandwiched the shot around four clutch free throws, too.
“That was about a 160-degree [turnaround],” UF’s first-year coach Mike White said.
“We just played really, really hard.”
Three takeaways from Saturday’s victory.
KING OF LEON
White recently inserted Justin Leon into the starting lineup and the former JUCO All-American has clearly embraced his newfound role.
The junior bested his career-high performance in the loss to Tennessee (11 points) with a 14-point, 9-rebound showing Saturday. Leon was 6 of 8 from the floor and drained a pair of three pointers -- suddenly a new wrinkle to his game. Leon, who shoots flat-footed, has connected on five treys in his last two games after making three total 3-pointers in Florida’s first dozen games.
Leon was critical in helping bottle up Simmons in the half-court, too, drawing a pair of second-half charges.
On Friday, Leon said, “It’ll be nice to know in the future like ‘I played against him when I was in college.’”
Now it’s sure to be a good memory.
Speaking of Simmons, LSU’s freshman superstar was spectacular. The 6-foot-10 point-forward poured in 28 points, 17 rebounds and four assists, recording his 12th double-double on the season. He was 14 of 16 from the charity stripe and consistently displayed his elite body control, handle and vision.
But since the rest of LSU’s team (notably Tim Quarterman and Craig Victor) didn’t bother to show up, Simmons tried -- and ultimately failed -- to win the game by himself. The freshman pressed late, turning the ball over eight times -- all in the second half.
Simmons scored LSU’s final 12 points but he also coughed up the rock twice (once on a travel) and fouled out.
EFFORT AND ENERGY
“We can control how hard we play,” White said.
They definitely did Saturday.
After a listless showing at Tennessee, Florida brought plenty of intensity against LSU.
The Gators overcame another dreadful shooting performance (3 of 17 from downtown and 13 missed free throws) thanks to terrific half-court defense and second-chance points. They forced 17 turnovers, outscoring LSU 15-5.
They talked on defense, had active hands and crashed the offensive glass.
Now we’ll see if they can replicate that energy on the road
The Gators travel to Texas A&M on Wednesday and then play at Ole Miss next weekend.
GAINESVILLE -- A 18-6 run in the second half fueled Florida to a 86-62 rout over Vermont on Wednesday afternoon in the O’Connell Center.
Four players scored in double figures, led by senior Dorian Finney-Smith’s 20 points, six rebounds and six assists -- a feat no Florida player has accomplished since Chandler Parsons in 2010.
Big-man John Egbunu had 13 points, while forward Devin Robinson, who made his first-career start of 2015, added 16 points and eight rebounds.
The Gators needed a strong second-half flurry to bury the Catamounts, as Florida struggled to create separation thanks to some ice-cold shooting in the first half (34 percent).
Here’s three quick thoughts on the win.
1. Kasey Hill was dreadful in Sunday’s loss to Purdue (1 of 8 from the field), but the junior point guard was electric Wednesday afternoon. Hill finished with 14 points -- 11 after halftime including a super-sweet behind-the-back, reverse layup. He also chipped in 4 assists, zero turnovers and a pair of steals. UF’s half-court offense has been stuck in the mud this season -- mostly due to poor guard play and iffy shooting. But the Gators' offensive got going Wednesday when Hill and Doe-Doe really attacked. They need Hill to discover some consistency because …
2. Florida’s half-court offense remains a mess. Unless Egbunu or Finney-Smith makes a play inside, the Gators can’t score with any sort of efficiency or consistency. They hit two 3s in the first half. They drilled six after halftime. Too often, UF gets boggled down in a zone, throws too many poor entry passes and can’t create off the dribble. Florida shares the ball well (13 assists), but sometimes the Gators actually play too unselfish and pass up open shots. They’re clearly uncomfortable when the pace slows, so they need to find more ways to run. Even off opponents' made baskets. They need to play fast. Fortunately, Florida’s press and half-court defense …
3. Is really good, especially against a team that hemorrhages turnovers. The Catamounts average 17 giveaways a game, and they equaled their season-average Wednesday (17). When Florida couldn’t hit shots early, Vermont stuck around, but as soon as UF upped its pressure (and offensive rebounding) the Catamounts couldn’t keep up with the Gators’ athletes. UF recorded 10 steals and out-rebounded Vermont 43-34.
GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s bats were held quiet against Virginia, but the Gators brought the thunder Tuesday night, ending Miami’s season with a bang to stave off elimination at the College World Series.
The Miami Herald’s George Richards wrote the gamer from UF’s 10-2 win in TD Ameritrade Park.
* UF smashed four dingers, including the three longest homers ever in the stadium. Peter Alonso's blast traveled 421-feet to straightaway center.
GAINESVILLE -- Damontre Harris ran out of chances.
As first reported by Jon Rothstein of CBSSports.com, Florida’s 6-foot-10 center is no longer with the team -- a permanent move following multiple disciplinary issues and second chances.
UF later confirmed Rothstein’s report, and coach Billy Donovan is likely to speak on the issue Thursday at his post-spring wrap-up press conference.
But Wednesday officially ended a rollercoaster ride for the troubled transfer from South Carolina. Harris, a member of the All-SEC Defensive team in 2011-12, never played a minute for the Gators -- this despite being eligible during Florida’s Final Four run last season.
Donovan suspended Harris indefinitely before the start of the 2013-14 season, later dismissing the big-man from the team during Christmas break. However, Harris pleaded for another chance -- a request Donovan granted.
Harris practiced with the Gators during their NCAA Tournament run, but Donovan refused to allow Harris to play citing chemistry, values and respect.
Like former embattled guard Scottie Wilbekin, Harris was given conditions follow before ever seeing the court again -- stipulations likely not completed this spring/summer.
GAINESVILLE -- No. 1 Florida is chasing perfection -- and history -- Saturday at noon against No. 25 Kentucky, but a pregame ceremony honoring its decorated senior class will serve as an appropriate appetizer on an emotionally charged afternoon.
The Gators, winners of a school-record 23 straight, will pay homage to a special (and rare) group of four seniors -- Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather, Will Yeguete and Patric Young -- who have played over 500 games together and share the discernible scars from three consecutive Elite Eight exits.
It’s a weathered, warted but invested quartet, discovering enviable (and possibly record) successes despite navigating through cobblestone-esque roads.
Each player’s story is different, and while chemistry and experience are cliché characterizations of UF’s four seniors, overcoming adversity is what seems to truly define them.
Four years ago, a hotshot prospect (Young), a kid (Wilbekin), a project (Yeguete) and a wide-eyed winger (Prather) came together. On Saturday, they stand as the greatest senior class in UF’s history.
It wasn’t always pretty, and was rarely easy, but Florida’s quartet -- forged by toughness, patience and poise -- is exactly how the whole can be better than the sum of its parts.
The seniors, none stud nor slouch, have combined for three Southeastern Conference titles, nine NCAA Tournament wins and stand just a single victory away from becoming the first team in league history to go 18-0 in conference play.
Florida’s special class is the perfect storm of madness meets good fortune. Young is a former McDonald’s All-American who gradually found consistency, but never developed fast enough to see his lottery projection fulfilled. Wilbekin is a former local high school product thrust into adulthood too soon, yet newfound maturity (via multiple suspensions) saw him transform into UF’s best and most indispensable player.
Prather is a dynamic slasher who wanted to be a prolific shooter, but wasn’t. After flirting with transferring, he decided to stay in Gainesville and blossomed into the team’s top scorer.
Finally, Yeguete is and has always been the heart and soul of the group. The glue-guy who’s body has been undone by multiple injuries, the fauxhawked forward remains a key-cog in UF’s championship run as its energy, heartbeat and intangible force.
Together, the four seniors have accomplished great things, and while they’re hardly ready to commemorate their careers, each player was able to reflect on their journey and what tomorrow’s final home game means.
Below is a compilation of quotes, including a nugget from coach Billy Donovan.
On how the group deserves to be remembered:
"I think first and foremost great kids, great people, people of substance, of character. None of them are perfect. They've all made mistakes. They've all been through their ups and downs, but I think at the heart of who they are, they're really great kids. The other think the other thing that I would say is that this institution means an enormous amount to them personally. Them putting on a Florida uniform, them playing here, has meant a lot to them and something they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. And then I think the other part of it is their teammates have been equally important to them as the institution has been. I think they're kids that worked really, really hard and tried each and every day to do the best that they can."
On how the seniors will be remembered:
“I think we all have our own personal story. I think we all went through a couple things in our four years here. Me and my injury. Casey wasn't playing a lot first few years and now he's having a great year. Pat kind of being up and down a little bit. Scottie being in trouble. I think guys are just staying in the moment, just staying with the process. We fought through a lot of adversity we had and just staying connected. That's pretty much how we'll be remembered.”
On the group’s special bond:
"We knew how close we are and how much we could accomplish as a group. We had a lot of fun here, especially with this group this year, and we're just excited for what's next and we know there's more out there for us."
On tomorrow’s atmosphere:
“Yeah, I’ve thought about it quite a bit. It definitely brings back some memories of just how long I’ve been here. But I just want to end it the right way, just playing hard and giving it my all for this last home game."
On not relishing the moment until it’s over:
“That’s how I want it to be. Obviously I want to make the most out of it, but I can’t let whatever moment it is, and the rest of the guys can’t let whatever moment it is be bigger than the big game we have to play. That’s what we’ve been trying to focus on.”
On the class’ accomplishments:
"Hopefully, the greatest thing hasn't come yet. But as of now, this class has gone through a lot, from guys thinking about transferring to staying in school, to not playing games with injuries, all those things, this team, this senior class, has persevered, stuck together and won."
On his attitude this season:
“I knew this was my last chance to do something great here. I just really wanted to give it my best shot by putting in the work during the offseason. I’ve been focused on doing whatever I can to be more connected to my teammates, being a better teammate and trying to improve myself mentally for the ups and downs that come during the season and focus in on working harder each day.”
On the quartet’s relationship:
“We’re so close. Even from the first day we met we just clicked. I don’t know what it was about it, but we clicked instantly. Since then we’ve just improved our relationship on and off the court.”
On his bond with Donovan:
“It’s grown quite a bit because he knows some of the obstacles I came through from earlier experiences in high school. He’s been a great guy and great mentor who has prepared me for the games and for the future.”
GAINESVILLE -- Chris 'Sky' Walker is finally free to soar.
No. 3 Florida's 6-foot-10 McDonald's All-American forward -- cleared Wednesday by the NCAA -- will make his collegiate debut Feb. 4 in primetime when UF hosts Missouri (9 p.m., ESPN).
“We’re glad there’s a resolution for everyone involved, especially Chris,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said in a news release.
“We appreciate everyone’s participation in this process and are ready to move forward.”
ESPN’s Jeff Goodman first reported Walker’s reinstatement, with the NCAA and university quickly confirming the sourced report.
According to a release by the NCAA, Walker received a 12-game suspension -- or 40 percent of the season -- for accepting impermissible benefits from five people, including two agents.
The report states Walker received “free cell phones and service, airfare, lodging, meals and apparel.”
Additionally, “individuals close to Walker received free airfare and lodging for nine different trips, including eight associated with Walker’s non-scholastic [AAU] basketball team competitions.”
The five-star forward is required to donate the $270 he received from agents to a charity of his choice and perform 80 hours of community service.
“I appreciate all the support from UF, Coach Donovan and my teammates,” Walker said in a statement. “I’m looking forward to helping the team any way I can.”
He later tweeted...
The report states Walker was declared ineligible by the NCAA [at an unspecified date] and then Florida filed for Walker’s reinstatement Jan. 21. The two parties “worked to finalize the facts” until Wednesday’s decision.
“The NCAA membership has expressed continued concern about how third-party influence, improper agent involvement and the role of non-scholastic basketball impact student-athletes and prospects,” Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs, said in the statement.
“Out of concern for student-athletes’ wellbeing, our members have created rules that limit the involvement of these individuals. The 12 games Mr. Walker was required to sit out reflect the significance of these violations.”
Walker, a freak finisher and shot-blocker as prep prospect, didn’t enroll at Florida until Dec. 14 after failing to qualify academically last summer. The Bonifay native, who led Holmes County to the 1A state finals, spent the fall getting his academics in order, eventually completing the necessary requirements to enroll for the spring semester.
Florida confirms Goodman's report, saying Walker has been cleared and will debut against Mizzou.
In a statement, coach Billy Donovan said, "We're glad there's a resolution for everyone involved, especially Chris. We appreciate everyone's participation in this process and are ready to move forward."
Walker, a five-star forward expected to bolster UF's frontcourt, added, "I appreciate all the support from UF, coach Donovan and my teammates. I'm looking forward to helping the team any way I can."
Meanwhile, the NCAA released a report on Walker's reinstatement, explaining the 12-game suspension.
According to the NCAA, Walker accepted $270 in benefits and is required to donate the same amount to a charity of his choice.
Walker must also serve 80 hours of community service for "the remaining benefits received."
More to come...
GAINESVILLE -- From the best source to date...
If true, the long nightmare for the 2013 McDonald's All-American would be over.
According to Goodman, Walker will be (officially) eligible to play on Tuesday (Feb. 4) when No. 3 Florida hosts Missouri in a nationally televised showcase (9 p.m., ESPN).
The university has yet to confirm Goodman's report or issue any sort of statement.
GAINESVILLE -- Billy Donovan is done taking questions concerning Chris Walker's eligibly.
Florida's 6-foot-10 freshman forward, who enrolled at the school on Dec. 14 but has yet to play for the No. 6 Gators, remains in limbo awaiting a decision by the NCAA.
On Monday, a report by an Orlando TV station stated that Walker -- a five-star prospect from Holmes County High and 2013 McDonald's All-American -- would be cleared for Saturday's home game against Tennessee. However, the university immediately denied the report, as did the NCAA (per The Gainesville Sun).
Tuesday, Donovan, clearly frustrated by the NCAA's foot-dragging and the relentless questions regarding the subject, addressed Walker's issue for the final time, saying, "As it relates to Chris, just listen to us and our school. I’m not going to address it anymore. Certainly we’re hopeful he gets back soon, but there’s been no indication that there’s any truth to that at all."
Donovan continued to refute the report, adding, "Whenever [Chris] gets cleared -- and certainly we all hope it’s soon, believe me -- I’m not going to throw a guy in a game and have him pop up and you guys not be aware of it. The minute he gets eligible, cleared and he’s able to play, I’ll let you know. Anything else that’s out there about that is not true.”
According to various reports, Walker allegedly received improper benefits from former AAU coach Matt Ramker, but Donovan wouldn't address any specific issue delaying Walker's clearance.
"I don’t know all the details because it doesn’t involve our institution. I’m just focusing on our team, the guys that are here right now and letting our administration handle it," Donovan said. "I have not been privy to any conversations between the NCAA, our school, Chris or any of those other things. The only thing I’ve been trying to do with Chris is each and every day trying to help him get better as a player, provide the resources he needs academically, try to work with him on the court to get better.
"In terms of all the details and hangs up, I don’t know all those details because when there’s something going on like this, there’s ethical conduct forms that are signed. That stuff has to be kept confidential, be kept between Chris and the NCAA, kept between our administration and the NCAA. I’m not involved in any of those conversations. I trust our administration and what they’re doing. Hopefully it will be resolved in a timely fashion."
GAINESVILLE -- After weeks of innuendo, Damontre Harris was officially dismissed from the Florida basketball team Saturday morning.
The 6-foot-10, 228-pound South Carolina transfer never played a game in a Gators uniform.
Harris, who sat out the 2012-13 season after leaving Columbia, was suspended indefinitely for an undisclosed violation of team rules at the start of the 2013-14 campaign.
Coach Billy Donovan publicly expressed his disappointment in the troubled center for weeks and just five days ago acknowledged Harris was unlikely to ever play at Florida.
On Saturday morning, Harris’ fate was officially sealed.
“He was never disrespectful as far as his attitude,” Donovan said in a statement. “He was a nice kid and never blamed anybody for what was happening. We tried to help him off the court and help him with some of the challenges he was dealing with, but there was never this reciprocation of wanting to be helped, or wanting to do the things necessary.”
Harris, who was expected to be a rotational frontcourt piece this year, was injured (hamstring) at the start of training camp and his role with the team quickly unraveled. Already suspended in the preseason, the center stopped showing up to the practice facility for treatment and rehab. Last month, Donovan announced Harris never practiced with the team since the season started.
“I think he realizes that a big opportunity for him is now gone,” Donovan told the school website Saturday. “The thing I tried to get across to him, if he has any aspirations of playing professional basketball there is not one team in this country or overseas that is going to tolerate this type of behavior, and I’d be doing him a disservice if I didn’t hold him accountable for these things.”
Harris, who did complete the fall semester in good academic standing, is permitted to transfer to any school without restrictions.
No. 16 Florida (8-2) faces Fresno State (6-5) today at 4:30 p.m. (Sun Network) in Sunrise at the Orange Bowl Classic.
GAINESVILLE -- Alex Murphy wants to continue the family tradition.
After his older brother, Erik, developed into an All-SEC power forward with the Gators, Murphy, a 6-foot-9, 230-pound combo-forward, decided to transfer to Florida following two-plus seasons at Duke.
***** UPDATE *****
Florida officially confirmed Murphy's transfer late Thursday afternoon.
"We're excited about having Alex join our team," coach Billy Donovan said. "We obviously know his family well and look forward to having Alex here."
The redshirt sophomore will enroll at UF in January and become eligible to play next December baring a hardship wavier.
“At the end of the day, it was just my comfort level with the program and coaches,” Murphy told The Gainesville Sun. “It was a gut feeling. It was where I wanted to be.”
Murphy chose UF over Rhode Island, Providence and Northeastern.
He announced his decision on Twitter.
Erik, a rookie on the Chicago Bulls who starred on UF's three straight Elite Eight teams, tweeted out his support too.
Murphy was a highly rated recruit in the 2011 Class (four-star, No. 45 overall), but the stretch-four struggled to break into coach Mike Krzyzewski’s rotation. While Murphy must earn his stripes at UF, the forward could play a key role in Florida’s frontcourt next season. The Gators graduate three seniors -- Patric Young, Will Yeguete, Casey Prather -- while South Carolina transfer Damontre Harris is unlikely to ever suit up at UF and freshman Chris Walker and sophomore Dorian-Finney Smith could leave early for the NBA.
GAINESVILLE -- Five-star freshman Chris Walker -- a 6-foot-10 athletic power forward -- is expected to boost No. 16 Florida with his shotblocking, rim-rattling and rebounding skills, but coach Billy Donovan immediately tempered all expectations for the McDonald’s All-American on Monday.
“He is going to find out just how far behind he really is,” Donovan said. “I think there is obviously a lot of attention with him coming into school, but I think the one thing that people have got to realize is the fact that he is going to come in here and totally change our team, that is the furthest thing from the truth. He's got such a long way to go and it's not his fault.”
Walker, who missed the fall semester, joined the Gators on Saturday after compelling the necessary requirements to gain academic eligibility, but the freshman forward has only practiced with the team as he awaits the final decision by the NCAA Clearinghouse.
Walker will not play -- or even travel -- when UF takes on No. 15 Memphis at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night (9 p.m., ESPN) in New York City.
Donovan said Walker’s final eligibility is “totally out of our hands,” placing no timetable on when he anticipates Walker seeing the floor.
“It's just going to be a process for him and I just hope he doesn't get frustrated,” Donovan explained. “I hope people realize he's not going to be the savior and all of a sudden like he doesn't just change our team. I'm just happy to have a body, happy that he's able to participate. I'm happy for him more than anything else.''
Donovan has publicly expressed his frustrations with former South Carolina transfer Damontre Harris, who remains suspended indefinitely due to undisclosed violations.
On Monday, Florida’s coach took his disappointment in the 6-foot-11, 228-pound center a step further.
Harris is unlikely to ever play for the Gators.
“Nothing changed at all,” Donovan said.
“He has shown no signs of wanting to do the things necessary to come back. I really don’t know what his plans would be or where he’ll go, but right now I don’t ever anticipate him playing here at Florida.”
Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin was named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Week after tallying a career-high 18 points along with six assists and four steals in UF’s 67-61 win over Kansas.
VIDEO: Senior forward Will Yeguete talks NYC, Walker, the Tigers and more.
GAINESVILLE -- McDonald's All-American forward Chris Walker was officially admitted to the University of Florida and is eligible to practice immediately, the school announced Saturday.
With UF's fall semester over, the five-star forward from Bonifay -- who did not qualify academically for the fall -- completed the necessary course work and entry requirements to enroll for the spring semester.
(Courtesy @GatorZoneChris | Billy Donovan, left; Chris Walker, middle; Matt McCall, right)
Walker, a 6-foot-10, 220-pound explosive athlete, immediately boosts No. 19 Florida's already long and aggressive front line.
Due to an undisclosed NCAA issue, the freshman is not yet eligible to compete for the Gators and has been ruled out against No. 16 Memphis on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden (Jimmy V Classic, 9 p.m., ESPN).
GAINESVILLE -- For the first time all season, Billy Donovan's team will have both its headliner point guards available for the same game.
Scottie Wilbekin (ankle sprain) and Kasey Hill (high ankle sprain) will play in No. 19 Florida's marquee matchup with No. 13 Kansas on Tuesday night (7 p.m., ESPN), Donovan announced Monday.
Wilbekin -- hurt late in UF's heartbreaking loss at Connecticut (Dec. 2) -- was originally diagnosed with a high ankle sprain, but team trainers later reclassified the senior's injury and ruled Wilbekin "probable" over the weekend for UF's top-25 showdown.
Hill, sidelined since Nov. 18, practiced full-contact Sunday for the first time since sustaining his injury against Southern University. Donovan acknowledged the staff doesn't quite "know what we're going to get from him," but did say Hill will at least "get an opportunity."
McDonald's All-American forward Chris Walker has completed the necessary coursework and could be admitted to the university sometime this week, Donovan said.
The freshman, ineligible for the fall semester, is waiting for the green light from both UF's admissions department and the NCAA Clearinghouse.
Donovan said the situation is "out of our hands," but that Walker " has done everything he needs to do."
The earliest the 6-foot-10, 225-pound forward can practice with the team is Saturday -- the day after final exams end for the fall semester. But Donovan immediately ruled Walker out for Florida's next game -- a New York City showdown with Memphis on Dec. 17 (Madison Square Garden, Jimmy V Classic).
THIS & THAT
Sophomore swingman DeVon Walker (foot sprain) is healthy and expected to play normal minutes Tuesday. … Redshirt junior guard Eli Carter (broken leg) will officially redshirt, Donovan confirmed. Carter, who averaged just 7.6 minutes in seven games this season, will apply for a medical redshirt due to his slow-healing broken leg suffered last February as a member of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. … Donovan denied a report suspended center Damontre Harris, a transfer from South Carolina, has been dismissed from Florida.
GAINESVILLE -- And you thought Florida’s football team was
Coach Billy Donovan’s No. 10 men’s basketball team will
kickoff preseason play Friday night (Florida Southern, 7 p.m.) with just six
available scholarship players following two more suspensions and multiple
On Thursday, Donovan announced sophomore forward Dorian
Finney-Smith and junior center Damontre Harris -- two transfers expected to
play key roles this season -- are suspended indefinitely (games only) for an undisclosed
violation of team rules. The two transfers join senior point guard Scottie
Wilbekin on the bench -- suspended indefinitely since June 10 -- and will miss
at least Florida’s first two games -- counting tomorrow’s exhibition opener.
Donovan remained vague at the exact length of the suspensions,
saying, “We’ll make a decision. There’s some things they need to do as well.
Hopefully, they will do it, and we’ll see how that translates going forward.”
The Gators will also be without sophomore guard Michael
Frazier II, who was diagnosed with mononucleosis Tuesday and is sidelined
“He’s out, and we really don’t know when he’d be back,”
Donovan said. “I think his illness will probably go into some regular-season
Senior forward Will Yeguete is also unlikely to play
against Florida Southern, as he continues to recover from offseason knee
surgery. Yeguete has practiced this preseason, but not everyday.
“Earlier in this week, he was probably in the mindset
that he wasn’t ready to play,” Donovan said. “It’s going to be on his
terms. I’m not forcing him or telling him he can’t. We’re going to go into this
situation where he’s going to have to evaluate where he’s at. He practiced
pretty well on Tuesday. Yesterday he was out the whole entire day. … He’s back
in today. I’m going to talk to him before and see where he’s at mentally.”
Meanwhile, Rutgers transfer guard Eli Carter (fibula) will
play some Friday, but Donovan said the junior is hardly 100 percent and still
runs with a noticeable limp.
Overall, the Gators are a depleted bunch facing a brutal
non-conference schedule, including traveling to Madison to play Wisconsin in
the second game of the season (Nov. 12).
“The only constants have been Kasey Hill, DeVon Walker,
Casey Prather, Patric Young, those four guys have been the only four constants.
I would say from that point everybody has missed at least a minimum of three or
four days of practice,” Donovan said. “It is what it is. … But the thing about
it is our team needs to keep moving forward because regardless of what happens
tomorrow night or when we open up next week the season is still coming.”
Florida hosts North Florida on Nov. 8 to kickoff its 2013-14
Yesterday, I wrote a pair of season-previews for Florida’s
men and women’s basketball teams.
Florida starts the year at No. 10 in the preseason Associated Press men’s college
basketball poll -- released Thursday -- and Donovan thought his team’s ranking
was a joke. “I would say we’re not
even remotely close to being 10 in the country right now,” Donovan said,
laughing. The Gators are ranked No. 8 in the preseason USA Today poll. … Five-star forward Devin Robinson (Christchurch
High, Va.) -- the nation’s No. 20 ranked prospect in the 2014 class according to Rivals.com -- verbally
committed to the Gators on Wednesday afternoon. … Donovan was unsure of his
starting lineup against the Mocs, but it’s likely to include a walk-on (forward
Jacob Kurtz) and a shooting guard (DeVon Walker) destined for a redshirt season
just 10 days ago.
VIDEO: WALKER TALKS IMPORTANT CONVO
WITH DONOVAN & OFFSEAON GROWTH
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
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
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
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.
Rutgers transfer guard Eli Carter officially received a waiver from the NCAA to play immediately at Florida.
"We are happy to have Eli available to play this season," head coach Billy Donovan said in a school release.
Last season, Carter -- a 6-foot-3 junior -- averaged 14.9 points as a sophomore for the Scarlet Knights before gruesomely suffering a season-ending injury (a fractured fibula) against DePaul in mid-February.
Carter transferred to UF this offseason following the ugly scandal involving former Rutgers head coach Mike Rice.
In 2011 as a freshman, Carter actually torched UF for 31 points in a double-overtime upset victory for Rutgers.
Although the junior guard is technically eligible to play this season, that doesn't mean he will.
Carter's health is still a major unknown, as he has still not been medically cleared by Florida's doctors.
The athletic freshman remains optimistic he will complete his academic requirements for spring eligibility.
"It's a minor setback, and everyday I'm working hard to get to Florida," Walker told ESPN. "Now I understand how serious high school is and that you can't take the work lightly. I didn't do as well and work as hard as I should have early in high school."
Walker was the nation's No. 6 player in the Class of 2013, according to Rivals.com
Florida men's basketball associate head coach Larry Shyatt watched prospect Brandon Knight win a state title.
LAKELAND -- In our ongoing effort to provide a wide variety of news on the Gators, the editorial board of Gator Clause, Inc. took a road trip to Lakeland on Friday for the FHSAA Class 3A boys' basketball state championship game. The reason behind the trip to The Lakeland Center? Fort Lauderdale Pine Crest hoops star Brandon Knight, of course.
[PICTURED, Brandon Knight (left) didn't break a sweat on Friday.]