Florida basketball’s version of the prodigal son is back. Billy Donovan announced Sunday afternoon that Scottie Wilbekin’s suspension has been lifted and the senior point guard from Gainesville will be available to play for the Gators (4-1) Monday night when they travel to Jacksonville to face the Jacksonville University Dolphins (2-3) at the Veterans Memorial Arena (7 p.m., Fox Sports Florida).
Wilbekin was suspended indefinitely last spring for an undisclosed violation of team rules. It was the second suspension of his career as he missed the first three games last year. This suspension was for six games (one exhibition, first five regular season games). Donovan gave Wilbekin a laundry list of things he had to do to rejoin the team and to his credit, Wilbekin did everything that was asked of him to earn his way back onto the team.
“He’s playing,” Donovan said. “He’s going to play tomorrow. I didn’t want to say anything after the game against Middle (Tennessee) because he still had things he needed to complete. He’s done everything. I’m really proud of him.”
Getting Wilbekin back gives Donovan a pure point guard, something he didn’t have against Middle Tennessee. With Kasey Hill injured (high ankle sprain) and out indefinitely, having Wilbekin is a necessity as Florida’s pre-SEC schedule toughens considerably in the next three weeks. Following the JU game, the Gators will play Florida State next Friday, at UConn (December 2), Kansas (December 10) and Memphis (December 17 in New York).
Donovan praised Wilbekin for not only doing what he needs to do to get back on the team but making great strides as far as maturing as a man.
I think that he obviously made some poor choices last year,” Donovan said. You would hope that situation would have been kind of an eye-opener for him, with his level of accountability and responsibility to himself and to his team. For whatever reason that experience – those first three games last year – did not register with him at all, at the level I wanted it to. And I think with the situation we put him in in the spring, as it related to him having to work his way back on the team, not doing anything in Summer B or Summer A with our team, going through the conditioning in the month of August and September away from our team, slowly getting him back.
The biggest thing I’ve noticed is a total change in his attitude, his behavior. Scottie was never ever a bad kid. It was of kind of like a warrior mentality, like, ‘I’ll take anything on. I can deal with it.’ And I think he’s gotten a lot more humble. I think he has a much, much better understanding of how his actions and things that he does impact not only himself, but other people. I really have seen a great growth in him.”
WILBEKIN WAS GIVEN THE OPTION TO TRANSFER
Donovan actually gave Wilbekin a chance to transfer after he was suspended last spring. When Wilbekin elected to stay, Donovan mapped out a path to return that wasn’t easy, but one that made it abundantly clear that things had to change.
In the spring when we sat down and met, I gave him the opportunity to transfer,” Donovan said. “I told him, ‘Look, you don’t have to deal with any of this stuff. You can just sit there and say, I’m gonna make a change and go somewhere else and I’ll support you’ – I had no problem with that – ‘but here’s what it is; here’s what you have to do. You’re not going to be part of our team in any of the summer sessions. We’ll see what you do up to that point and time. When we start preseason conditioning we’ll let you know where you’re at.
Once preseason conditioning started, he didn’t do any conditioning. We worked him out with individual instruction. He had weightlifting, but it was away from our team. As we moved toward the end of September, beginning of October, we injecting him into conditioning and weight-lifting, and then really the first time he was back with our team on the court was when we started practice the first day. So there were some I laid out for him, not necessarily in September and October, but in the spring and summer he had to follow through. And he’s done that.”
Since being allowed to return to practice, Donovan has seen a Scottie Wilbekin that he’s never seen before. There is increased attention to responsibility and leading the team. It’s more about the team, less about Scottie.
There was a part of Scottie where even in games and practice, when things weren’t going well for Scottie or his team, he could kind of disconnect from the team and try to take it all on himself and make things happen while losing sight of how to utilize other people,” Donovan said. “I think he’s really done a very good job of having an awareness not only of his own game but of what’s going on with other guys. Is he frustrated? Is he down? Is he losing confidence? He’s done a better job of going out there and leading in those areas where maybe a year ago he wasn’t very good about that.”
Patric Young, who was part of the recruiting class of 2010 recruiting class along with Wilbekin, believes the time away from the team has made Wilbekin hungry and ready to prove himself.
He’s just very excited and very hungry as far as coming out here and proving that he’s fully invested and committed to this team,” Young said. “I’m really excited because teams are going to be dealing with a different animal when they have to go up against this guy.”
Michael Frazier said that Wilbekin sets a defensive tone for the entire team. Wilbekin was first team All-Defense in the SEC last year and was generally considered one of the better on the ball defenders in the country.
In my opinion, if he’s not the best he’s one of the best defenders in the country when you talk about guarding the ball and guarding from the guard position,” Frazier said. “He’s one of the best. Just defensively he’s a leader for our team and he’s a defensive anchor along with Pat.”
HARRIS STILL SUSPENDED
South Carolina transfer Damontre Harris remains suspended from the team and while still on scholarship, hasn’t done what he needs to do to return to the team.
He’s still off the team right now,” Donovan said. “In a lot of ways it breaks my heart. He has not practiced with the team since Nov. 1; he has not been around since November 1; he has not at all taken care of his responsibilities. He has not done what’s been asked of him at all. So I really have no timetable. I’m not eliminating him or taking his scholarship away from him right now but he has got to make a commitment of what he wants to do as it relates to our team and right now things that he has been asked to do he has not done.”
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
JACKSONVILLE (2-3): Javon Dawson (6-6, 260, SR); J.R. Holder (6-7, 180, FR); R.J. Slawson (6-9, 220, GR); Vince Martin (6-2, 200, GR); Jarvis Haywood (6-4, 185, SO)
FLORIDA (4-1): Will Yeguete (6-8, 230, SR); Casey Prather (6-6, 212, SR); Patric Young (6-9, 240, SR); Michael Frazier (6-4, 199, SO); DeVon Walker (6-6, 195, SO)