Donovan: Gators getting back to health

OCALA – Billy Donovan put his wife on notice Wednesday night at the Ocala Tipoff Club’s annual scholarship banquet at the Hilton Hotel. Asked if he would follow the lead of his mentor, Louisville coach Rick Pitino, and get a tattoo if the Gators win the national championship this season, Donovan wouldn’t commit to a tattoo for himself but did offer up wife Christine as a prime candidate for some body art if Florida wins its third national title in the Billy Donovan era.

Last spring when Louisville was making its run toward the national championship, Pitino’s players made a bet with him: if they won the national title he would get a tattoo. The Cardinals did win the championship, beating Michigan for the third national title in school history and the second for Pitino (first was at Kentucky in 1996), and Pitino kept his word.

The Gators haven’t made a bet like that with Donovan – yet.

“Those guys make a bet with me I might have to,” Donovan quipped. “Christine tells this story … a lot of people don’t know this but when Taurean Green was a sophomore he wanted to get some earrings and he wanted to get a tattoo. Christine laughs at this story all the time. His dad told him ‘you’re not getting any earrings and you’re not getting any tattoos. You want to get earrings and you want to get tattoos, you win a national championship and you can do that.’ Well Taurean Green is tatted up right now and he’s got earrings in both ears. So you better be careful when you make comments like that. What I may say [to the team] is that when you win a national championship my wife’s going to get a tattoo.”

The Gators might very well win a national championship this year if Donovan can get all his players healthy and eligible. Injuries have decimated the Gators through the early going of practice. As late as this past Sunday the Gators had only six scholarship players available, but the sick and wounded are starting to come around so Donovan will be able to get in the kind of work needed before next Friday night’s exhibition game with Florida Southern and then the season opener with North Florida on November 8.

Saturday, the Gators will travel to Valdosta, Georgia to face Georgia Tech in a closed to the public and media scrimmage.

The lack of bodies has meant more situational and individual work for the Gators but very little in the way of full court, five-on-five scrimmaging.

“As much as we would like to compete five-on-give, that’s been the most difficult thing for us. Most of our drill work and what we have been able to do in practice has been mostly four-on-four.”

That’s particularly a concern for freshman Kasey Hill, the only legitimate point guard the Gators will have in the first month of the season with Scottie Wilbekin suspended (but able to practice) until December.

“He’s got to be in charge of four other guys but he’s doing a good job of picking things up. One of the things why I wish we were healthier; he needs to be in more five on five situations. He needs to be in situations where he is directing people and a lot of the time he’s playing in four-man shell situations and it’s hard to do that. He really needs a lot more of that. It will be better for his growth and he hasn’t been able to do that as much as I would like.”


Will Yeguete: He’s recovering from micro-fracture surgery on his knee so the rehab continues cautiously, but he’s building stamina and showing improvement.

He is in and out the practices. There are certain things he can do and but there are other things he cannot do.

Eli Carter: Carter is recovering from a broken leg suffered last February when he was playing at Rutgers. He’s still working his way back into playing shape but in an odd way got a boost from being sick with a virus. He lost eight to ten pounds and that helped. He’s still a bit overly cautious about his leg but the feeling is that he’ll break through that psychological barrier soon and will start rounding into playing shape.

He’s working through the injury. He’s still not totally healthy but he’s moving closer each day … If we can get Eli Carter healthy, that’s a player who at Rutgers was a two-year starter. He’s not right now the player that he was but we’re hoping we can get him back healthy.”

Damontre Harris: Harris has been bothered off and on with hamstring problems but is healthy and practicing again at full speed.

He’s been out the last week with a pulled hamstring but he did come back today (Wednesday) for his first practice in a week.”

Casey Prather: Prather has had a groin injury followed up by some hamstring tenderness, but he practiced at full speed Wednesday.

Casey Prather was out two or three days with a pulled groin muscle. He was in and out today. He’s still having some problems with a hamstring.”

Michael Frazier: Frazier missed a couple of days with practice after coming down with a virus. Blood tests for mononucleosis came up negative. Frazier is back practicing at full speed.

Frazier’s been good. I think he’s going to be really interesting this year. He’s better. He’s in really good shape. His body has changed. He’s trimmed down. I also think, too, with (Mike Rosario) and (Erik) Murphy and with (Kenny) Boynton and Scottie Wilbekin, he kind of came off the bench and he wasn’t a guy that was really focused on very much. Now with those guys gone and him being the kind of shooter that he is, he’s going to receive a whole different level of attention than he got last year as a freshman.”

Dillon Graham: Graham went down with an ankle sprain a week ago. He tried to practice Wednesday but he’s still slowed by the injury. It is expected that he will be back practicing at full speed in 2-3 more days.

Dillon sprained his ankle last week when he stepped on somebody’s foot.”

Dorian Finney-Smith: Smith rolled his ankle at practice Wednesday but the injury is not thought to be serious. He is expected to practice on Thursday.

He’s another guy that got hurt today. He was running down to block a shot and he kind of twisted his ankle a little bit. He did not come back … He can put the ball on the floor and create. He opens up a totally different element … We can play him at the two or the three. We could play him at times at the small forward spot and we could play Patric Young and Damontre Harris together. ”

Billy Donovan III: Rather than go through surgery, he is playing through a rotator cuff injury but hasn’t missed any practice.

He’s done a great job with our team. He’s got the injury bug, too. He’s got a torn rotator cuff right now and he’s still playing and going through rehab. Hopefully with rehab and shoulder strengthening he will be able to stay involved in practice and continue to play.


Scottie Wilbekin: He is allowed to practice but has not completed all the requirements of his suspension from the team. Wilbekin will miss the first six games of the season (all in November) and provided that he’s done everything that Donovan has demanded, will be back on the team December 2 when the Gators face UConn on the road in Storrs.

I would like to see us be able to play Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Hill together. Both those guys are really good ball handlers. I think their ability to break things down, get in the lane and make things happen will be really good for our team. I can see those two guys playing together with a guy like Frazier alongside of them.”

Chris Walker: Walker didn’t qualify academically but has been working to complete the NCAA mandated requirements that will allow him to join the team after the semester break. Donovan’s comments seemed to indicate confidence that Walker will be able to play after December 15, when the fall semester comes to an end.

I’m hoping so starting in December. The only thing that I’ll have to do is figure how far he’s behind mentally and how quickly he can pick up and absorb what we’re doing. That’s going to be the biggest question … For him, he will not be able to get here until the middle of December. Once that’s first semester is ended there is a cutoff point after the last exam is over where he could come in. We’ll have December 15 to see where he’s really at. I worry about conditioning and I worry about him getting overwhelmed. I’ll have to put together a package for him offensively that is very simple and basic that doesn’t overwhelm him where he can take advantage of his gifts and talents that our team can really use.”

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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.