Wilbekin, Hill, Walker back for Kansas

Billy Donovan will go into Tuesday night’s game with 13th-ranked Kansas (6-2) with eight scholarship players and two walk-ons, the deepest bench he’s had all season. It’s not the bench Donovan envisioned when the season began for the 19th-ranked Florida Gators (6-2), but having Scottie Wilbekin, Kasey Hill and DeVon Walker available certainly gives him more options.

When Florida lost on a buzzer beater on the road last week at Connecticut, Donovan played with an eight-man roster that shrunk by one when Wilbekin sprained his ankle late in the game. With Wilbekin, Hill and Harris back, Donovan will have more options than he’s had all season.

Wilbekin went out with an ankle sprain with 3:01 remaining against UConn but he won’t have to miss a full game. Hill has been MIA since suffering a high ankle sprain early in the second half against Southern University three weeks ago, and Walker is back at full strength after a mid-foot sprain against Jacksonville University two weeks ago.

Although Wilbekin’s injury looked severe when he went he came down on Shabazz Napier’s foot at UConn, Wilbekin was moving around without any problems the next day.

“He probably could have practiced the next day but the trainer wanted to give him two days,” Donovan said Monday afternoon when he met the media at the basketball complex. “Very limited swelling, very limited soreness … not a problem.”

In three games since missing the first five regular season games while serving out a suspension, Wilbekin is averaging 11.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game. He scored 15 against UConn and has hit 4-8 from the three-point line.

Hill, who was Florida’s only true point guard in the first four games of the season, was averaging 10.3 points and 4.3 assists per game prior to his injury. He has been doing individual work for the past 7-10 days and got back into practicing with the team Saturday. Sunday’s practice was his most extended since the injury but even then it wasn’t a full session.

“He didn’t go through the whole practice yesterday,” Donovan said. “He took about half the reps. He was in and out. He didn’t do any physical contact. He didn’t do any physical contact Saturday. He did go through a lot of the non-contact stuff with us. I would say over the last week or 10 days he’s been doing individual workouts – shooting, running, treadmill, that kind of stuff – but this is the first time he’s gotten back.”

While he declared Hill available to play against Kansas, Donovan wasn’t certain how much time the talented freshman will spend on the floor.

“What his role would be in tomorrow’s game would be too hard to say but right now I would say right now that he would be available to be put into the game,” Donovan said. “Unlike when Scottie was out for six games, I kind of said going into the Jacksonville game that there were no limitations on his playing time. There are really no limitations on Kasey’s playing time from the doctors in terms of he can only play 10-12-15 minutes. But because he’s been out and been out of practice so long – it’s been nearly about three weeks right now – I just don’t know what I’m going to get from him. We’ll give him an opportunity. He’ll have another day of practice under his belt. Hopefully he will get back to feeling more comfortable. He feels pretty good right now and as long as that continues we’ll use him as we need him.”

Walker had scored double figures in back-to-back games (Southern and Middle Tennessee) when he hurt his foot seven minutes into the Jacksonville game. He played the point in Hill’s absence the second half of the Southern game and started at the point and gave the Gators 32 minutes against Middle Tennessee when he scored 10 points to go with one rebound, one assist and one steal. In that game, the 6-6 sophomore from Winter Haven also went 2-4 from the three-point line, his best game of the season.


Although several sources told Gator Country that 6-10 South Carolina transfer Damontre Harris and Donovan have parted ways, Donovan would only say that he and Harris not only haven’t met in the past two weeks but have not spoken about his status.

Damontre and I haven’t met in two weeks,” Donovan said. “Obviously he’s off the team as it related to practicing and participating in games and those kind of things but Damontre and I have not met. I saw Damontre on Thanksgiving.”

Donovan said that nothing has changed for Harris as far as getting off suspension and getting back in the good graces of the coaching staff and team.

Nothing has changed in terms of what he needs to do,” Donovan said. “Right now his main focus is continuing to finish up school. These guys are basically getting started with final exams and those kind of things. That’s where he’s at. But he and I have not spoken.”


Although freshman sensation Andrew Wiggins (6-8, 200) gets so much attention, Donovan pointed out that Kansas has a big, physical team that has plenty of depth. The Jayhawks go 6-9, 6-8, 6-8, 6-5 and 5-11 in their starting lineup and they bring plenty of size off the bench starting with 7-0 freshman Joel Embiid, who was a teammate of Hill and Michael Frazier at Montverde Academy two years ago before finishing his senior year in high school at The Rock School in Gainesville.

Obviously they start Tarik Black (6-9, 260); we recruited him here,” Donovan said. He started off at Memphis, big, strong physical body. Perry Ellis (6-8, 225) is a very, very strong frontcourt player, 6-8, very, very skilled, athletic. They come off the bench with Joel Embiid, who’s 7-feet and very, very, very gifted and a very high-level talented player offensively.  (Jamari) Traylor, another player. They have the ability to go small; they play (Andrew) Wiggins (6-8, 200) some at the power forward spot, they’ve moved him around to some different positions. The two spots Wiggins hasn’t played has been point or center, but he’s been in at two, three, four. But yes, they’re strong, physical, athletic. They’ve got depth, they’re quick and they’ve got scoring.”

GAME NOTES: Florida takes a 20-game home court winning streak into the game. The school record is 24 … Florida is the only major conference team that has played two ranked teams on the road this season … Kansas assistant Norm Roberts was on Donovan’s staff at Florida in 2011-12 … Florida has on 21 straight non-conference games at the O-Dome … Michael Frazier is hitting 52.9% of his three-pointers to lead the SEC … Casey Prather leads the Gators in scoring at 19.1 per game, while Frazier averages 13.5 … Dorian Finney-Smith is Florida’s leading rebounder at 8.2 per game … Prather is only the third Gator (Nick Calathes and Teddy Dupay are the others) to score 27 or more points three times in a season in the Donovan era at Florida.


KANSAS (6-2): Tarik Black (6-9, 260, SR); Perry Ellis (6-8, 225, SO); Frank Mason (5-11, 185, FR); Wayne Selden (6-5, 230, FR); Andrew Wiggins (6-8, 200, FR)

FLORIDA (6-2): Will Yeguete (6-8, 230, SR); Casey Prather (6-6, 214, SR); Patric Young (6-9, 240, SR); Scottie Wilbekin (6-2, 176, SR); Micahel Frazier (6-4, 199, SO)

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.