When the Florida football team experienced a rash of injuries early in the season, coach Will Muschamp revealed a team mantra — “man down, man up.”
It was a cute slogan at the time, signaling the team’s ability to step in when various players succumbed to injury or otherwise. Eventually, as most fads do, the term began to become overused — applied whenever injury struck the gridiron Gators and eventually jumping to other Florida sports as well.
Selfishly, I am thankful the phrase has been made scarce in regards to the Florida basketball team, a group who has experienced as many injury woes as any Florida team in recent memory.
The Gators have enjoyed, by Billy Donovan’s estimate, three games this season when there was a full complement of healthy players.
Whether through injury (Erik Murphy, Casey Prather, Will Yeguete, Mike Rosario and now Michael Frazier II), or bad decision-making (Scottie Wilbekin), it’s tough to recall a full calendar week when Donovan could look at his bench, point at a player, and insert him in the game.
“Certainly, Frazier is going to come back at some point. So is Will Yeguete,” Donovan said. “No one knows exactly when that is yet. I think there will be a point that we’ll be able to get our team fully back and we’ll have a full complement of players. When that will be, I’m not really sure.”
The last time the Gators started a game with every eligible player on the roster available was Feb. 5 at Arkansas. The last time the Gators actually finished a game with everyone in intact was three days prior against Ole Miss.
With 20 days ticked off the calendar since Florida has had all hands on deck, it’d be understandable for Billy Donovan to be annoyed. However, the coach has offered up his own phrase in recent weeks, using different variations of “playing the hand they are dealt” in describing his team’s attitude.
The Gators will be dealt a young hand on Tuesday, as Florida will trot out as many as three freshman on the floor in Knoxville, Tenn. They’ll do so when the game actually matters. Playing when there are still butts in the seats will probably be a bit of an eye opener for Dillon Graham, DeVon Walker and Braxton Ogbueze (better learn his name now).
Clinging onto a two game lead in the SEC, playing a crew of baby faced newbies may frighten some fans. It may frighten Donovan as well, but if the Gators’ coach has any reservations at playing an uncertain hand, he’s displaying a heck of a poker face.
“They’ve gotten better. They’ve improved,” Donovan said on Monday. “The thing I’ve been most impressed with in our young guys is just their attitude every day. It can be a long year, especially when you’re not getting a chance to play a lot and not in rotations; to keep that enthusiasm and that excitement and try to get better. Those guys have done that.
“The uncertainty and the unknown is these guys have not really been in situations in the heart and heat of the game to see how they will respond. They’re going to get kind of thrust into that tomorrow in Knoxville.”
The injuries Florida has sustained this season have been borderline, if not downright freaky. Not freaky in the scary sense — although the way Frazier laid still on the court was a bit unsettling on Saturday. No, the Gators’ injuries have been freaky in a weird sense.
“It’s been kind of some strange stuff that has happened,” Donovan said. “Michael Frazier is making a hustle play and he got hurt. You know, anytime you step across the lines and play, you’re in a position that something could potentially happen to you. We’ve just gotten obviously this year a large rash of them.
“Now thank God, it’s been a blessing that it hasn’t been situations where guy’s seasons are over and they can’t come back. It’s been these things that have happened that have kept guys out for a few games here or there or guys who have had to play through certain situations.”
With the frequency which these injuries have occurred, Florida is certainly used to being short-handed in games both big and small.
Naturally the Gators miss their injured teammates. But if forward Casey Prather is to be believed, even after reshuffling, Florida feels it still has a winning hand.
“It’s hard,” Prather said. “We definitely miss those guys, we definitely needed those guys to step up and help us out, but I feel like we have good freshmen that’s ready to come in, contribute and win a game.”