On Thursday, for the first time in exactly 138 days, the Florida basketball team held a practice with its full complement of players.
When the Gators take the floor against Alabama at noon on Saturday, every eligible Florida player can be called upon to play if needed.
“All those guys are cleared to play,” Billy Donovan said on Thursday. “Doctors have cleared everybody. Physician and trainer looked at Casey after the Tennessee game. There was not a concussion.
“Frazier is cleared to go back to physical contact and activity … Yeguete is cleared to play.”
Yeguete’s return appeared to be the biggest news of the day for Gators fans. Florida has struggled to pull down rebounds in his absence. While the Gators still flashed their signature defensive intensity as Yeguete watched from the bench, Florida’s ability to lockdown opponents has taken a small dip since the Mohawk-sporting forward has been out.
“It wasn’t easy watching them play and not being able to be out there,” Yeguete said.
While the news concerning Yeguete is a boost to the team, Donovan expressed a different feeling altogether … concern.
“He hasn’t done anything as it relates to practice and contact,” Donovan said. “Today will be the first day he actually gets into some contact, gets into playing … right now my expectation on him going into this game is not very high just because I haven’t seen him play. Now obviously he’s got two days to practice, but I would be hard pressed to believe that he’s going to be the same player he was before he went down with his injury and it will probably take him some time to get back.
“I know people look at the fact that he’s back and he’s cleared to play — I’ve got a totally different perspective of it personally, myself … Obviously I hope that he can get back to the form he was in, but I think sometimes when you get your expectations way up on something like that … your putting the kid in a bad situation
“If our team is now ‘all these guys are cleared to play, we’re right back to where we started with a healthy roster,’ I think that’s a mistake.
Yeguete said any expectations of him being able to play “30 minutes” upon his return are unrealistic, and he, along with Donovan, expressed that he will be limited in practice as he tries to work his way into shape.
While Donovan seemed to be concerned with his team’s mentality as the Gators get player back, forward Erik Murphy may have quelled his coach’s fears when asked how he felt about having Yeguete, Frazier and the briefly hurt Prather back in the fold.
“It’s great to have those guys back … but it doesn’t give us any reason to expect anything out of them right away,” Murphy said.
Walker Brings it Home to Holmes County
It’s likely that few people had the type of day Florida-signee Chris Walker had on Wednesday. The 6-foot 9 forward played in his final high school game Wednesday night, guiding his team to the FHSAA 1A state championship.
In his last appearance for the Blue Devils, Walker scored 30 points, while grabbing 15 rebounds and blocking seven shots.
“Yeah I didn’t get a chance to go yesterday, Matt McCall went, I was really happy for him and their team,” Donovan said. “Sounds like he played great; and probably for a small area like Holmes County, I’m sure it was a big deal for them winning a state championship so I was happy for those guys.”
Still the Teacher
With the Gators’ loss to Tennessee on Tuesday, the SEC race became significantly tighter as Florida’s conference lead over Alabama dropped to only one game.
Donovan said the Crimson tide “guard very well” and was very complimentary of the team headed by former Florida assistant Anthony Grant.
Donovan’s coaching tree has begun to grow quite a bit over the recent years, but his 10-2 record against his former assistants suggests that Donovan still has a leg up on his former protégés.
Although Grant has had success at Alabama, one task he is yet to complete is beating his former school.
Grant is 0-4 against the Gators since he took over in Tuscaloosa. Although there’s plenty on the line this weekend in the O’Connell Center, the Gators have reason to be confident heading into the game: Donovan has never lost to Alabama in the O-Dome.