Florida ranks second in the Southeastern Conference and 61st nationally in rebounding, pulling down 4.3 rebounds per game.
With starting sophomore center Patric Young, the Gators’ leading rebounder, hobbled by an ankle injury that kept him out of the starting lineup Saturday against South Carolina, that rank could soon be in jeopardy.
Coach Billy Donovan isn’t even sure what’s wrong with Young, but the center is expected to get X-rays or an MRI this week.
“I really don’t know, this is something that’s been nagging him for a couple weeks now,” Donovan said. “I don’t want to say that it’s gotten progressively worse because that’s not necessarily true. But I just think in practice, he’s been laboring.”
Donovan’s decision not to start Young on Saturday wasn’t made until the last minute, when it was clear the sophomore was limited in what he could do.
Young scored just four points and pulled down three boards after a couple early fouls kept him out of the game. He finished playing just 13 minutes, and his presence on the boards was missed as the Gamecocks outrebounded the Gators 30-25.
“There were some things we were doing in Columbia on Saturday in getting prepared during our shootaround and he wasn’t moving like he needed to move,” Donovan said. “He never really got into the flow of the game in Columbia because he picked up two fouls when he did get in there and he probably only played three minutes in the first half.”
While the injury to Young is a huge concern for Florida with the Gators about to hit the heart of the SEC schedule, Donovan isn’t overly concerned.
For one, Florida has off all week before hosting LSU at home. Young could conceivably rest until the Gators go on the road to Ole Miss on Jan. 26, without Florida risking a whole lot. LSU is 11-6 overall and 1-2 in league play, and Florida can conceivably win at home without Young.
“I don’t think that it’s anything severe or significant or anything that cannot be cleared up,” Donovan said. “I think that our medical people here are probably going to go to the next step and maybe X-raying him, MRI, something along those lines more for precautionary (reasons). Apparently where he’s sore, it’s not over any bone issue, it’s over more soft tissue and I think there’s a feeling that it’s some kind of ankle tendonitis.”
In any case, Donovan certainly won’t push the big man to return in a hurry. He has been limiting him in practice to things he can do comfortably so as not to aggravate the injury.
The Florida coach expects to know more about the injury today or Wednesday, but his biggest concern right now isn’t Young’s ankle but his conditioning level.
“He adds a different element to our team just because of his size, his strength, his athleticism, the way he can rebound,” Donovan said. “I think the biggest thing that he brings to the table for us is he’s got a really, really good motor and he plays hard.”
Because Young is such an active player, the inability to practice at full-go has made it difficult for him to maintain his normal intensity level in games over the past few weeks. After dominating the glass through the month of December, Young’s productivity has declined a bit following the Christmas break.
“I also think what happens sometimes with frontcourt guys, especially someone as big and strong as he is, my concern right now is his conditioning, of him maintaining a high level of conditioning,” Donovan said. “I don’t think the last couple weeks he’s been able to practice with the intensity that he’s needed to. I think I’ve seen this before with frontcourt guys, really the first thing that starts to go is their conditioning.
“We’ve got to make sure in terms of helping him keep a high level of conditioning, but it’s hard. When you’ve got a foot injury like that it’s hard to condition, so that’s more my concern right now is him conditioning-wise, how much he’s lost over the last few weeks.”
Young is a huge part of the Gators’ lineup, and Donovan and the Florida faithful will be waiting with bated breath on the results of his tests.
The Gators can’t afford to be without one of their most productive players for an extended period of time if they hope to defend their league title, so Young’s rapid recovery will be vital going forward.