Florida’s 2010 basketball recruiting class paled in comparison to the one landed by Kentucky, which included Brandon Knight, Enes Kanter, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb. Billy Donovan got Patric Young, who most experts predicted would be a one-and-done; Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario, a volume shooter who many wondered if he could tone his game down to fit Florida’s share-the-ball philosophy; Casey Prather, thought to be a ‘tweener who would need to develop a jump shot; Will Yeguete, an undersized post who was a terrific defender but with a limited offensive game; Cody Larson, a 6-9 center who was released from his Iowa LOI; and Scottie Wilbekin, considered a panic signee since the Gators were so desperate to sign a point guard. This was thought to be a functional recruiting class, but nobody predicted great things in the future.
Rosario sat a year per NCAA transfer rules, came off the bench as a junior and then led the Gators in scoring as a senior in 2012-13. Larson took a redshirt as a freshman, played sparingly off the bench as a sophomore and then decided to quit the team last year. He transferred to South Dakota State where he is averaging 13.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per game this season for the Jackrabbits, who will be playing in the Summit League Tournament Sunday.
As for Young, Prather, Yeguete and Wilbekin, they have a chance to go down as the greatest senior class in Florida history. Heading into Saturday’s game with Kentucky, they have a combined 112-29. Only the one-man senior class of Walter Hodge (117-34) has won more games but this senior class could eclipse that mark in the NCAA Tournament. They have won three Southeastern Conference championships in four years and they are the winningest team in Florida regular season history (28). They are currently on a 22-game winning streak and a 31-game winning streak at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, both records.
All four have faced some sort of adversity in their Florida careers and all four have overcome it. All four began their Florida careers on the bench and had to work their way up. Young started as a sophomore. Wilbekin started as a junior. Yeguete and Prather didn’t become full-time starters until this season. All four will graduate with a degree from the University of Florida and there is that chance they will leave with the third NCAA championship in school history.
I’ve known all four of Florida’s seniors since they were in high school. Here are some early impressions dating back to when they were recruited.
It was at the Reebok U camp in Philadelphia in the summer of 2008 that Patric Young and the Gators became joined at the hip. With Billy Donovan watching his every move, Young became a one-man dunk-a-thon. Once he got Donovan’s undivided attention, Florida State, where his sister played golf on scholarship, became a thing of the past. Young committed to Florida in November of his junior season and never once wavered. He followed up his junior season with dominating play on the Reebok circuit for the Jax Lee Bulls. Young put on another dunking show at Reebok U, but it was his performance at NBAPA Development Camp in Charlottesville, Virginia that had all the scouts thinking he would be a one-and-done in college.
Young transferred from Jacksonville Paxon to Providence School as a senior, joining Stacy Poole (Kentucky) and Will Cummings (Temple) for a team that went 31-1 to win the state championship. Young made the McDonald’s All-America team and made second team Parade All-American while averaging 13 points, 15 rebounds and five blocked shots a game.
The defining moment of his senior season came in Lakeland at the state 2A semifinals which featured a head-to-head with 7-footer Fab Melo, who was heading to Syracuse. Melo totally dominated the first 12 minutes of the game. He had 15 points and Providence was down by double digits.
Then came the dunk. Well, then came the dunk attempt.
Melo flew to the rim looking like he was going to tear the rim down but Young went up with him and stopped the dunk in midair. Melo slithered to the floor like a snake. Young picked the ball off the floor, passed to a teammate and a fast break was started. Melo scored only two more points the rest of the way. Young dominated and Providence won the state title.
“Did you see the block?” Young asked me after the game. “He wasn’t going to dunk on me. I wasn’t going to let him. That play just got me going. That was my best play of the year.” It sparked Providence to a state title.
On the AAU circuit with the Nashville Celtics, the same program that sent Corey Brewer to Florida, Prather played on the perimeter offensively and center defensively. Defensively, he was a volume shot blocker and offensively, he was one of the best open court players on the adidas AAU circuit. He rarely took a shot outside of 15 feet because he was so effective getting to the rim.
Following his 2009 summer with the Celtics, Prather had offers from more than 20 schools including Memphis, Michigan, Vanderbilt and Clemson. Memphis and Michigan were thought to be way ahead but an official visit to Florida put the Gators firmly in the mix. Until three days prior to the early November signing period, Prather was considered a Memphis lock, but word came on Monday from Brooks Hanson of Memphis Roar that the Gators were going to land him.
What sold Prather was the one-on-one time with Donovan. The day he signed with the Gators, Prather told me on the phone, “When I came for a visit I listened to everything Coach Donovan had to say. We talked about everything that’s important to me. We really didn’t talk that much about basketball. He’s easy to talk to and I really think he wants what’s best for you all the time.”
Prather went on to average 29 points and 13 rebounds a game for North Side as a senior, completing a career in which he scored more than 2,000 points and was the team MVP all four years.
Even though he helped Florida Air to a 24-1 record and a state championship in 2009, Yeguete was still pretty much an unknown until the summer of 2010 when he helped Nike Team Florida get to the final four at the Nike Peach Jam in North Augusta, SC. Although he didn’t have much in the way of offense, coaches took notice that the native of France by way of Ivory Coast was relentless on the boards and one of the few kids who actually played defense seriously.
After his junior year in high school in which he averaged 12 points and 10 rebounds, Yeguete’s best offer was Drake in the Missouri Valley Conference, but by January of his senior season he had picked up offers from Georgia Tech, Indiana, Boston College, St. John’s and Florida. Yeguete averaged 19 points and 15 rebounds as a senior.
But there were skeptics. Yeguete was thought to be too small to play the post in the SEC and he didn’t have enough of a jump shot to play the perimeter. It wasn’t until Yeguete and Patric Young had a battle for the ages in the Region 2-2A championship game, a game won by Providence, 62-59, that Young still calls “a war,” that Yeguete really changed minds that he was capable of playing the post. That game with Providence was the beginning of the friendship with Young, now Yeguete’s closest friend.
Yeguete visited Florida at least two times in February of 2010. He did an official visit to Indiana in early March then visited Georgia Tech. What Indiana and Georgia Tech didn’t know was that Florida was the place Yeguete wanted to be all along. “My dream school” is what he called Florida when he signed on April 19. “UF was my dream school. No matter what I do in life, I put my goals and dreams first.”
Wilbekin was the local kid who played for his dad at The Rock School. He was fundamentally sound and thought to be a good but not great prospect until he teamed with Yeguete, Okaro White (went to FSU) and Dennis Mavin (Florida Atlantic) to help Nike Team Florida make it all the way to the semifinals at the 2009 Nike Peach Jam in North Augusta, SC.
Following a very good junior season at The Rock (17 points, six assists), Wilbekin had drawn interest but no offers from the likes of Florida State, Nevada, Florida Atlantic and Nevada. Then came the spring season on the Nike circuit. At the Boo Williams Tournament in Hampton, VA, Wilbekin blew up. Dave Telep said he went from a mid-level to a high-level prospect that weekend when he stole some of the show from the likes of Brad Beal, Marquis Teague and Shabazz Napier while leading Nike Team Florida to a 4-1 record.
Florida, meanwhile, was striking out left and right on its search for a point guard for the recruiting class of 2010. The Gators whiffed on Brandon Knight (Kentucky), Ray McCallum (Detroit), Phil Pressey (Missouri), Lorenzo Brown (North Carolina State) and Mo Mo Jones (Arizona). The Gators were interested in Chris Denson (Auburn) but grade issues kept UF from pulling that trigger. Matt Carlino was willing to skip his senior year but he wouldn’t commit on his visit to Gainesville. So there was Wilbekin, Florida’s eighth choice. The Gators offered and Wilbekin said yes just a day before going to Houston for the Nike circuit event where in his last weekend as an AAU player, he outplayed Shannon Scott (Ohio State) and more than held his own against Michael Williams (Syracuse) and Kyle Anderson (UCLA).
Wilbekin was only 17. He was considered a two-star recruit, but Telep and others were prepared to elevate him to a four-start except that Wilbekin skipped his senior season. It’s not a move everyone should try, but for Wilbekin, it was right. He was young, but certainly mature for his age.
Just before he signed, Wilbekin told me, “It’s definitely a good situation to be in when you’re just a freshman. I’ll miss high school. Your senior year in high school is a great time, I know, but this is a great opportunity and it’s hard to pass this up. Besides, my high school is only 15 minutes away.”