FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT THE FOUR SENIORS
All good things must come to an end and so ends the Florida basketball careers of Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete. They leave without that national championship they vowed to win when they started Summer B together back in the summer of 2010, but they leave as the most productive senior class in school history with the enviable record of 120 wins, three SEC championships, one SEC Tournament championship, three Elite Eights, one NCAA regional championship and one Final Four to their credit. And, they will all walk across the O-Dome stage to pick up their University of Florida diplomas and that speaks volumes.
During a Sunday spent reflecting about these kids I kept thinking about a couple of things Patric Young said recently when speaking on behalf of all four seniors and their other Florida teammates – chasing greatness and wanting to be remembered. To Patric, I would say you didn’t chase greatness, you achieved greatness by your relentless pursuit of being the best you could every single day and your willingness to leave everything you had on the floor every single game. Greatness, I believe, is a state of mind more than anything else and by their commitment to excellence they became the embodiment of everything that we hold great.
As far as wanting to be remembered, a national championship would have been a nice memory to go along with all the others, but these seniors will always be remembered for their contributions, their effort, their commitment and their willingness to do whatever it took to make both themselves and their teammates better. Whether they won the national championship or not, they had already carved a spot in hearts of every Gator fan that no other team can ever have.
A national championship wouldn’t have made my top memory of these four kids. It would have been top two or three, but not the absolute top memory. My top memory of these four has to do with the way all four of them overcame adversity more than once in their Florida careers.
Patric Young had to learn to deal with the unrealistic expectations of fans expecting him to be the next Dwight Howard and figure out that because teammates looked up to him that the example he set in both practice and in games was the one that they would take to heart. I think back to that game in Knoxville when he sprinted to the corner, dived past two Tennessee players to catch the ball before it went out of bounds and then rolled to his back so he could pass the ball and save a possession late in the game. That’s what you call setting an example. When I think of that play, I think that kid developed the heart of a lion in his time at the University of Florida.
Scottie Wilbekin had to learn how to be a man. He was only a month past his 17th birthday when he elected to forego his senior year at The Rock School to become a Gator. He knew when he signed that he was Florida’s eighth choice in the pursuit of a point guard and he got the chance to sign early only because seven other kids said no. That’s how badly he wanted to be a Gator. When he screwed up so badly last spring that Billy Donovan shoved signed transfer papers in front of him, he elected to stay and follow a path so straight and so narrow to get back on the team that 99 out of 100 kids would have said, “No way, this isn’t worth it.” He was willing to accept the public humiliation of a suspension to start the year and having to move back home with his parents. That’s how badly he wanted to be a Gator and he showed how much it meant to him during a spectacular senior season in which he was the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, MVP of both the SEC and South Region NCAA tournaments, and made most of the All-America teams.
Casey Prather heard all the folks saying he didn’t belong during an unproductive freshman year and most of his sophomore year. He was a turnover machine. A lost ball in the tall grass. A tweener – not tall enough to be a big and not a good enough ball handler or with a good enough jump shot to be a guard. Nobody knew he could play until he scored 14 points against Virginia in the NCAA Tournament that year and the only reason he was playing is because someone else got hurt. He spent his junior year recovering from one injury after another. It wasn’t until he was a senior that he really got to play and he led the team in scoring, made first team All-SEC and made an All-America team. So much for not being good enough or didn’t belong.
Will Yeguete missed the NCAA tournament his sophomore year because of a broken foot and missed it again his junior year because of knee surgery. He had microfracture surgery on his knee last summer and came back to play his senior year and contribute. To put that in perspective Greg Oden, who was thought to be the prospect of a lifetime, had microfracture surgery and has never been even a shell of what he once was. The game when Yeguete broke his foot his sophomore year, he waited for Billy Donovan to finish the post-game press conference then begged Donovan to let him play through it rather than go through the surgery. When he tore his knee as a junior, he elected to have a less invasive surgery after the injury with the hope that he could be available to help the team if and when it got to the Final Four. Had the Gators gotten past Michigan, Yeguete swears he would have been ready to contribute. He had the more serious surgery in the summer. I think Will Yeguete and I think toughness and determination and not wanting to let down his teammates.
A national championship would have been a crowning achievement for Patric, Scottie, Casey and Will but it isn’t necessary. All four of these kids, in their own way and collectively, found greatness at the University of Florida.
They will most certainly be remembered.
Perhaps I should put the curse on Kentucky at this moment. After all, I predicted Florida to beat UConn and Wisconsin to beat Kentucky in the NCAA semifinals. I believe Kentucky will overwhelm UConn with its size and strength on the inside and its length on the perimeter as the final act of defiance before the mass exodus of freshmen along with sophomores Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress. I believe Kentucky will win the game. Now the Wildcats are cursed so don’t be shocked if UConn springs the upset of upsets.
MUSIC FOR TODAY
One of the best blues albums to come out in years was “Revelator” by the Tesechi Trucks Band that won the Grammy Award for Best Blues Album in 2011. My favorite cut on the album is “Midnight in Harlem” followed closely by “Bound for Glory” which is today’s music. There is a terrific trumpet solo midway through followed by one of the best guitar solos you’re going to hear by Derek Trucks, and, of course, the great vocals of Susan Tedeschi. “Bound for Glory” is today’s song because that’s the story of Florida’s four seniors. They all started their careers on the bench and in their senior seasons they achieved true greatness.