Saying goodbye to the Florida Gators basketball seniors

A crowd of 10,978 said one final goodbye to four seniors on Wednesday night as the Florida Gators got a 78-65 win over Arkansas. Unlike many senior nights, Florida’s was not one of sadness, but instead was one of gratitude and respect.

The Gators recognized Schuyler Rimmer, Canyon Barry, Justin Leon and Kasey Hill, in that order, giving each player a chance to give a personal goodbye to the crowd with his family by his side.

Following the pre-game ceremony, starters for each team were announced, and for the first time all season, all four Florida seniors were on the court together to start the game. There was nothing more fitting than each of them scoring within the first four minutes of their final game in the O’Dome.

Holding onto a substantial lead in the final minute of the game, Mike White was in a position to allow his seniors one more moment to take the court together at a timeout. The four players walked over to the student section and took in the well-deserved applause on their home-court for the very last time.

“It was an order,” White said. “That was just an opportunity for those guys. You know how it is, Kasey’s at the line. In a perfect world, you’re up enough where, first of all, all four of them are in the game and then you can sub each one of them out at one time. He was at the line. I was hoping he made his second one. If he did, I told them that I wanted a timeout. I realized there were two on the court and two on the bench, so I just grabbed the two on the bench and they were like, ‘What do you want us to do? What are you saying, coach?’ I said, ‘Just go over there, take a curtain call. These guys are proud of you. Thank them’.”

Following the game, White was emotional, talking about all four seniors and the impact they have made on the program. While Hill was the only senior who played at Florida all four years, each senior made a significant impact in their time with the Gators.

The last two years since White took over have been about rebuilding what was once a prominent winning tradition. Now, Florida is finally headed back in the right direction, with players who play for each other and a team that will have a chance to compete in the NCAA Tournament, something that has become a distant memory in recent years. Much of the newfound culture is due to the seniors stepping up into leadership roles this season.

“It’s probably this team’s biggest strength is that we can utilize our depth and you can hold guys accountable because of the culture that these guys have been a big part of creating, and the selflessness that they play with,” White said. “These four guys exemplify a lot of things.”

White went on to describe each senior with one simple word.

For Rimmer, the word was attitude. Rimmer transferred from Stanford to walk-on at Florida as a sophomore. He was cleared to play in the 2015-16 season and has since taken on the same role in the last two seasons for the Gators.

He has added depth to Florida’s frontcourt, behind John Egbunu and Kevarrius Hayes. He has 48 career rebounds and 62 career points for the Gators, averaging 6.2 minutes per game. Now, Rimmer is tasked with taking on a much bigger role to finish his final season, with Egbunu out. While he has not contributed in games as much as the other seniors, he has provided some much-needed depth and has worked hard for the playing time he gets.

“He was pulling DNP’s in the middle of the season and he’s getting extra workouts at the end of the practices just to make sure he stays in game shape if he gets an opportunity,” White said on Rimmer. “He has an incredible attitude.

White used the word sacrifice to describe Barry, a graduate transfer guard from College of Charleston. While Barry spent the shortest time of all in a Florida uniform, he has made one of the greatest contributions of any player this season.

“He’s exemplified sacrifice,” White said about Barry. “He’s been the perfect example. He’s the poster child. He’s gonna be the sixth man of the year in the league. If not, I would throw a fit. I mean, the guy’s been incredible. He’s a starter who’s coming off the bench, and you don’t hear a peep from him. He wants to win and could’ve chosen some other schools where maybe coach promises him he’s gonna start or maybe he plays 38 minutes a game and gets 25 a game, but he decided to become part of something special. He’s as unselfish as it gets.”

Barry was Florida’s most valuable player time and time again throughout the season. He led Florida in scoring nine different times, including an appropriate team-high 14 points on a senior night. His best offensive game came at Auburn, as he put up a season-high 30 points, nearly reaching his career-high of 31 at College of Charleston.

While he comes off the bench, he has played starter minutes all season for the Gators. Barry averages 12.4 points per game and has 359 points this season, only behind KeVaughn Allen in both of those categories. He leads Florida at 89.2 percent (99-for-111) from the free-throw line. He set the school record with 42 consecutive made free-throws previously this season. His beautiful underhand free throws might just be the one thing people will miss watching the most.

Along with his outstanding athletic abilities, Barry is an excellent student, holding a 4.0 GPA while working towards a master’s degree in nuclear engineering. He was recently named the Division I men’s basketball CoSIDA Academic All-America® of the Year, which is the highest academic honor in the sport. It is his third selection for the accolade. Barry has been the perfect example of a student-athlete.

Barry reflected on his time in the O’Dome after the Arkansas game. “I think it was great,” he said. “Obviously, it was a fun atmosphere to play in. I feel like I kind of just got here and the O’Dome wasn’t done for half the year, so I feel like I didn’t really get to experience the full thing, but these past, however many games we played in the O’Dome, were always great. The atmosphere was great. Really excited that we could send the seniors out with a win.”

The word toughness was used to describe Leon, and that is the word White uses nearly every time Leon’s name comes up. He was White’s first true commitment at Florida, transferring in from Shawnee Community College, and since then, he has worked hard to become a starter in his senior season.

“This is my 17th year coaching, and he’s the hardest-playing player I’ve ever coached. Hands down,” White said, praising Leon. “Justin, it’s another level because of its 365 days a year. It’s shoot around, it’s practice, it’s pickup, it’s games. He’s not the most talented guy in our league. In my opinion, he plays as hard as anyone in our league. I love him. I love coaching him, and I’ve compared Kevarrius [Hayes] to him, as well. But Justin has been as much a part of our culture change as any of these other guys, despite not averaging this or being SEC this or that. He hasn’t got a bunch of accolades, and he doesn’t care. He came here to help recreate the culture here. It’s sad not being able to coach him four years or more, as well. It will be sad to see him go because he’s been awesome.”

The lefty forward started part-time in his first season at Florida, with 11 starts. He became a full-time starter as a senior, starting in all 30 games so far for the Gators. He is averaging 7.2 points and 3.7 rebounds per game and is tied with Barry for second on the team with 40 three-pointers this season.

While Leon is somewhat unorthodox in his shooting, he seems to have a knack for coming in with a three or a jumper in clutch times for the Gators. He scored a career-high 19 points against Tennessee earlier in the season.

White saved Hill for last, giving him the word perseverance. Hill has had an up and down career at Florida, as the only player remaining from the 2013-14 Final Four team. He came in as such a coveted player, a five-star, McDonald’s All-American out of high school, and did not always perform like the player he was expected to be. Now, as a senior, Hill is playing the best basketball of his career and showing more of what was expected from him from the beginning.

“Kasey, you’re under the microscope as a high, high-level guy and you’re the point guard for the University of Florida,” White said. “Probably, again, not to the extent of being the quarterback at Florida, but you’re Kasey Hill at Florida and people pay attention to everything you do and say… It hasn’t always been easy for Kasey. He’s shown a lot of toughness in that regard, as well, mental toughness. He’s shown a lot of maturity and growth. Again, we could beat up the word perseverance to death. I know there have been times when it’s been really hard on him and whether he admitted it or not, and I only say that I only open up with that, to show you how far that he’s come. Our fan base, I thought, was great to our seniors tonight, the Rowdies and the rest of our fans, and the ovation that Kasey got, I thought that was pretty special.”

In his four years at Florida, Hill has played in 131 games and started 87 times. He has averaged 7.8 points and 3.9 assists per game. As a senior, he is averaging 9.6 points and 4.8 assists. His most notable game this season came as he tied his career-high to lead Florida with 21 points in an 88-66 win over Kentucky. He dished a career-high 12 assists at Auburn.

Hill is now chasing records, as he sits at second all-time for Florida in assists, with 512, and sixth in steals, with 174. Hill became the 10th player in Florida history to reach 500 career assists and is now chasing Erving Walker’s record of 574. It will be difficult, but not impossible, a task for Hill.

Hill has 1,026 career points, as the 52nd member of the 1,000-point club for the Gators.

Hill kept his usual demeanor, showing little emotion following his final home game. It was business as usual for him, as he was focused on winning the game with his teammates, which was the biggest thing he took away from the night.

“That we won,” he said of what he would most remember from senior night. “That we left out with a win and I did it with my teammates that I could say are my brothers for the rest of my life.”

Hill and the rest of the seniors still have an opportunity to play up to eight more games if Florida finishes the season out strong, with a possible three SEC Tournament games and five games to get to the NCAA final.

So while their time playing in Gainesville is done, it is not the time for them to hang their Florida uniforms up just yet. There is still unfinished business to take care of.