When he sat in Billy Donovan’s office talking about faith, family, life and oh yes, basketball, Casey Prather knew he had found the place he had been searching for. The University of Florida felt like home and Donovan had plenty to do with that overwhelming feeling of belonging that Prather felt when he was on campus for the Florida-Tennessee football weekend.
“I came for a visit but before I knew it I felt like I was home,” Prather said in a telephone interview with Gator Country Tuesday night. The 6-6, 195-pound small forward/shooting guard from Jackson, Tennessee Northside (#25 ESPNU 100). “It’s great to feel like the place you want to play college basketball is like your new home.”
Gainesville will be home for Prather, who told Gator Country that he will be joining Patric Young (6-9, 225, Jacksonville, FL Providence, #22 ESPNU 100) in the recruiting class of 2010. Prather announced his decision Tuesday, choosing the Gators over Michigan.
“When I came for a visit, I listed to everything Coach Donovan had to say,” Prather said. “We talked about everything that’s important to me. We really didn’t talk all that much about basketball. He’s easy to talk to and I really think he wants what’s best for you all the time. I decided that he’s a great coach and Florida’s the right atmosphere for me.”
Adding to the atmosphere on campus were relationships he formed with Young and Florida junior forward Chandler Parsons. “All the guys were great but Chandler Parsons and Patric Young really helped me feel at home,” Prather said.
Prather averaged 28 points and 14 rebounds per game last season for Jackson Northside. At Northside, he plays mostly inside, but when he’s playing AAU basketball with a star-studded Nashville Celtics in the spring and summer, he’s a force on the perimeter offensively but a post defender at the other end of the court.
“You see his high school stats — 28 points and 14 rebounds — and in high school ball he has to do a lot more for his team on the inside,” said Jonathan Henderson, one of Prather’s coaches for the Celtics. “In the summer, we play a four-guard lineup so he’s on the perimeter offensively but because he’s so athletic and can jump so high, he plays inside on defense. He always guards the 6-8, 6-9 guy and just kills him on the boards.
“You know he’s always playing well, but you check the stat sheet after the game and you see he had the quietest 22 points and 12 rebounds you’ve ever seen. He just gets the job done and he does it so well that you almost don’t notice him … well except when he dunks.”
When Prather dunks, it’s highlight reel material but as soon as he throws the ball down, he sprints back down court to get ready to play defense.
“You’ll see him laugh and smile and acknowledge his teammates but you’ll never see him taunt or show someone up,” Henderson said. “He’s a respectful, high character kid from a tremendous family. He plays basketball that way, too. He always respects his coaches, his teammates and even the guys he plays against. I guess you could say he’s a throwback player … one of those guys that just want to play ball and get the job done and not someone who wants to draw all the attention to himself. That’s the way I’ve always perceived him.”
Prather is a streaky shooter from beyond the arc but his mid-range jumper from 17 feet on in is consistent and deadly. When he gets the ball on the wing he has an explosive first step and the ability to handle the ball comfortably with either hand. Considered more of a slasher/scorer than a shooter, Prather says he’s always had the ability to score points.
“I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging, but I think I can score just about any time pretty much,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to score points than it is to stop somebody from scoring. [On my AAU team] I like it that they give me the best offensive player. I try to play him hard and tight and get him so he’s tired trying to score on me. That way he doesn’t want to play defense down at the other end.”
Henderson says Prather consistently earned raves on the AAU circuit back in the summer for playing tough defense. AAU basketball tends to be all about the points and the dunks, but Prather goes about things totally opposite.
He would much rather be known for playing great defense than being a great scorer.
“He takes a lot of pride in doing all the little things, especially defensively,” Henderson said. “He’s one of the few kids you’ll see in summer ball or even in high school that is always taking multiple charges. He took one to win a game for us basically. He’s got a complete game. He doesn’t want to be known as a one-trick pony that can score. Everybody can score on these AAU teams and he knows it, but not all those guys that score so much play on winning teams. The beautiful thing about Casey is that he completely understands that if you want to win games, you do the little things. You play defense. You hustle all the time and you never let up. He gets a lot of rebounds but he gets a lot of rebounds for his teammates because he tips the ball to them. Same with steals. His teammates get them because he gets so many deflections.”
Henderson said that from the time he first met Prather, he’s never been a minute of trouble. All Prather’s priorities are in the right place.
“A good way to sum him up is when you call him, there is going to be some sort of gospel song playing on his phone,” Henderson said. “During the time he’s been recruited, I can’t tell you how many coaches have commented that they’ve found a real high character kid. He’s in church with his family on Sunday. If he’s not in school or studying or practicing, he’s out doing yard work or some chores to help his parents out. If you can fill up a team with Casey Prathers you’re going to win a lot of games and do it the right way.”
Prather takes none of the credit for his ability. He gives it all to God and to his family. He says he comes from a family that takes time to pray together every day.
“You know, we pray and we believe and we know God knows best for our lives,” he said. “I know I make a lot of mistakes in life, but I know God forgives and helps me be a better person every day. They say if you’re a Christian that you can tell by the way you walk and talk. That’s what I want people to know whenever they see me.”
Asked what Gator fans can expect from him when he begins his Florida basketball career, Prather said, “Heart … I play with heart. As long as there’s a second on the clock I’ll play as hard as I can and whenever we’re practicing, I’ll try as hard as I can to listen to Coach Donovan and the coaches and develop every skill so I can help the Gators win basketball games.”