Many teams would crack if they had to face more than a month of a season without a full complement of players due to injuries, suspensions, the subsequent AWOL of a 6-10 center such as Damontre Harris and the academic issues that kept a McDonald’s All-American like Chris Walker from enrolling until after the first semester. Despite those obstacles, the 16th-ranked Florida Gators go into tonight’s Jimmy V Classic at New York’s Madison Square Garden with a 7-2 record where they will take on the 15th-ranked Memphis Tigers (9 p.m., ESPN).
Although the Gators have yet to play a single game with a full bench, their only two losses were by a combined seven points on the road against 4th-ranked Wisconsin and 10th-ranked UConn.
So how does a team missing so many moving parts hold together? Head coach Billy Donovan says the glue for these Gators is senior leadership.
“I think we have older guys that have been through it that understand what we’re looking to do in that situation,” Donovan said.
For that experience, look no farther than the flying Frenchman, Will Yeguete. One of three seniors on Florida’s team, Yeguete is third on the team in total defensive rebounds with 32 and third in rebounds per game with 4.9 in this, his final season a Gator. The versatile, tenacious defender brings length at 6-8 and the experience of going to three straight elite eights in his college career.
Like any old man however, he has his physical maladies. A broken foot in his sophomore season sidelined him nine games and last season he also missed time with arthroscopic knee surgery. This past summer he had microfracture surgeon on his right knee along with having dead and damaged tissue removed. His time under the knife has lead him to take many precautionary measures to stay healthy including icing his knees up to three times a day.
“I really try to calm my body down, do a lot of extra stuff before and after practice and treat myself,” Yeguete said Monday before the Gators departed Gainesville for New York.
He says he’s “good” physically and through practice and time in the weight room he expects his vertical leap to continue to improve.
“Yeah, I’ve been working on that (vertical leap), spending time in the weight room as well as practicing and I’m feeling comfortable,” Yeguete said
As Florida turns its attention to Memphis, the Gators will find a team that primarily plays three guards, giving the Gators a length advantage in specific sets. With Yeguete on the floor against Memphis’ projected starters, the senior will have a height advantage of at least five inches on three players.
“They have a really good front court,” Yeguete said. “They’re really fast and a really good team. They have a really good backcourt too, so I think we’re going to have to really, really focus on guarding them and make sure they don’t get any easy fastbreak points.”
For Yeguete and the rest of the Gators the key against Memphis will be finding cohesion and finishing games strong, especially if it’s a close contest.
“In the game against Kansas for example in the second half we didn’t do a good enough job staying together and really let them come back into the game,” Yeguete said. “We really worked on it, having the whole week to prepare for the game, helped us watch a lot of film, really work on ourselves and finish up these games down the stretch.”
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
MEMPHIS (7-1): Shaq Goodwin (6-9, 242, SO); Austin Nichols (6-8, 212, FR); Joe Jackson (6-1, 174, SR); Chris Crawford (6-4, 222, SR); Geron Johnson (6-3, 203, SR)
FLORIDA (7-2): Will Yeguete (6-8, 230, SR); Casey Prather (6-6, 214, SR); Patric Young (6-9, 240, SR); Scottie Wilbekin (6-2, 176, SR); Micahel Frazier (6-4, 199, SO)