Will Muschamp isn’t the only coach on the Florida campus dealing with shrinking numbers. While Muschamp is trying to adjust to losing a fourth starter on the offensive side of the ball this week as the Gators prepare for a roadie to Missouri, over at the basketball complex Tuesday Billy Donovan was trying to figure out how he could maximize practice with only seven available scholarship players.
Already down two – Will Yeguete (recovering from knee surgery) and Eli Carter (still rehabbing a broken leg) – Donovan went into Tuesday’s practice minus Damontre Harris (hamstring) and Michael Frazier (virus). Additionally, walk-on Billy Donovan III, is playing with a torn labrum.
Although he can’t run a full scrimmage, Donovan is making the best of the situation and trying to make progress as the Gators prep for a November 8 season-opener with North Florida.
“Basically with Eli and Will being out, we’re basically down to seven guys so there has been little rest,” Donovan said Tuesday afternoon before the Gators took the practice court. “There hasn’t been a lot of depth. They have worked hard. I think we are trying to make the best of the limited numbers in the time we have to try to get better.”
Harris is day-to-day while bloodwork was done on Frazier to determine the nature of the virus. Billy Donovan III has elected to play through pain rather than undergo surgery that would wipe out this season.
Yeguete is further along in his rehab than Carter but there is no timetable when either will be at full speed and able to contribute.
“We’re hopeful that maybe in a couple of weeks we can get him [Yeguete] back into practice on a limited basis,” Donovan said. “Eli is doing some stuff non-contact. Anything that we’re doing with non-contact he’s tried to participate in but he’s still up in the air where he’s at and how much longer it’s going to take him to get back.
While injuries and sickness might hold some players back, it offers an opportunity for some of the younger players to step up their game and prove themselves. DeVon Walker and Dillon Graham, who played limited minutes last year as freshmen, are getting opportunities to play extended minutes in practice.
“I do think we need DeVon Walker to take another step,” Donovan said. “We need Dillon Graham to take another step.”
With senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin out for the month of November as he works his way back from suspension to full status on the team, freshman Kasey Hill is the only point guard available. The former McDonald’s All-American doesn’t lack for quickness or ability but he’s playing the single most difficult position for a first-year player.
Hill has to learn an entire new offensive system that’s as complicated as any in college basketball plus pick up the defense. With all that’s being thrown his way and limited rest since he’s the only point guard, Donovan says Hill is handling everything fairly well.
“There are some things that he does break down where it’s not necessarily all his fault,” Donovan said. “He’s had just four college practices and he’s learning an entirely new system so it’s going to take him a little bit of time.”
STEPS BACK DEFENSIVELY
The Gators were the best defensive team in the Southeastern Conference and one of the best in the entire country last year, but so far Donovan isn’t seeing a team capable of defending at that level. Part of the reason could be the fact that he hasn’t been able to play with a full complement of players.
“If there was one disappointing factor [the first few days of practice] and it’s hard for me to say just because we don’t have all of our pieces there but we are drastically worse defensively than we were a year ago,” Donovan said. “I thought defensively last year it was one of the best defensive teams that I’ve been around since I’ve been here at Florida.”
That should improve with a healthy Harris, who finished second to Anthony Davis in blocked shots and made All-SEC defense two years ago, and Yeguete, Florida’s most consistent front court defender and capable also of defending the wings. When Chris Walker becomes eligible in December, the Gators will have a second shot blocker and that should dramatically improve the defensive effort.
NEEDING MORE FROM DORIAN FINNEY-SMITH
Much is expected from Virginia Tech transfer Dorian Finney-Smith, a 6-8, 214-pound third year sophomore who has the capability of playing and defending all five positions on the floor. Finney-Smith has left Donovan wanting and needing more through the first few days of practice.
It’s not from a lack of effort on the part of Finney-Smith.
“He’s practiced fine,” Donovan said. “I have no problem with his attitude and his work ethic. He just needs to be performing better.”
What Finney-Smith brings to the table for the Gators is a guy who is as comfortable playing one of the post positions as he is on the perimeter. Until Wilbekin gets back, Finney-Smith even figures to be in the rotation at the point.
Donovan appreciates Finney-Smith’s versatility, but he wants to see more energy, knowing that a high-energy player with that kind of skill can have an even deeper impact on the team.
“I think with him he’s a multi-faceted guy who can do a lot of different things and I don’t necessarily mean from a scoring standpoint,” Donovan said. “I mean more from he can impact the game with his rebounding. He can impact the game with his passing, putting it on the floor but I think he needs to play with a much better motor. He’s been up and down [so far in practice] but he needs to impact practice a lot more with his motor.
“Doe-Doe has an offensive game. He shoots it pretty decent. He can put it on the floor. He can post up and do some different things but his motor has to get much better than it is now.”