Donovan keeps adding pieces of the puzzle

One by one, Billy Donovan is getting the pieces to his basketball puzzle together. Saturday, Virginia Tech transfer Dorian Finney-Smith saw his first action as a Gator after serving a three-game suspension (exhibition game and first two regular season games), contributing 17 points and nine rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench. With versatility that allows him to play all five positions at either end of the floor, Finney-Smith certainly gives Donovan options that he didn’t have in the first two games but the options will expand further when Scottie Wilbekin and Damontre Harris complete their suspensions and McDonald’s All-American Chris Walker gets NCAA clearance to enroll in school at the end of the fall semester.

Donovan hasn’t publicly stated when either Wilbekin or Harris will complete their suspensions, but it seems likely that Wilbekin will be available either November 25 for Jacksonville University of November 29 for Florida State. The situation for Harris isn’t nearly as clear. He’s not practicing with the team currently, but Donovan hasn’t closed the door on the 6-10 South Carolina transfer. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect the big man back at some point in December although that decision will be between Donovan and Harris.

These disciplinary actions have slowed the development for the Gators (2-1) who face Southern University (1-3) Monday at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center (7 p.m., Sun Sports), but Donovan has a reason and purpose each time he has to punish a player for whatever the reason. Finney-Smith, Wilbekin and Harris were all suspended for off the court violations.

As far as Donovan is concerned, his job isn’t just coaching basketball, it’s coaching life.

There are certain things in life that you’re going to have to do when you have a job,” Donovan said. “There is a responsibility. There is an accountability and I think that sometimes as a coach when you don’t hold guys accountable that you know that if they did them later in life they would come back and bite them they would get fired, lose a job and lose an opportunity. That becomes a learned behavior where they live their life with no accountability. Eventually that’s going to catch up to you.

I just think that I’m not going to take these guys and just use them to win games. I hope that sometime whenever their time was done here they would say their time at Florida was challenging; it was difficult but it prepared me for the real world.”

As for Walker, he has completed all his academic work, which has been submitted to the NCAA Clearinghouse. He is expected to get his clearance notification prior to December 1.

When the Gators are at full strength, Donovan will potentially have the kind of depth and length to be the best full court pressing team he’s had since 2000 with the added caveat of a shot blocker playing the safety.

Against UALR, Donovan’s press lineup was Kasey Hill (6-1), DeVon Walker (6-6), Casey Prather (6-6), Jacob Kurtz (6-6) and Finney-Smith. Donovan had Hill or Walker on the ball with Kurtz playing the safety with Finney-Smith and Prather attacking the receiver of the first pass.

When Donovan gets Wilbekin, Harris and Chris Walker in the fold, the best press lineup will probably have Hill, Prather and Finney-Smith on the floor with Wilbekin and Harris as the safety.

CARTER’S STATUS IS UP IN THE AIR: When he’s 100%, Rutgers transfer Eli Carter can be a difference-maker for the Gators. He averaged 14.9 points per game last season for Rutgers before breaking his leg in February. The bones are healed now, but Carter has lost strength in his foot and leg, which has curtailed his recovery. He only played six first half minutes in the win over Arkansas Little-Rock. Clearly he isn’t able to go for extended minutes, therefore decisions will have to be made about the remainder of the season.

The decisions are (1) continue to work through the strength issues and perhaps be a contributor in the SEC portion of the schedule or (2) take a medical redshirt and have two years of eligibility remaining.

I’ve talked to Eli about that and it will ultimately be his decision what he wants to do but I think he understands the position I’m in because I’m leaving him option to play or not play,” Donovan said. “He’s not 100% sure. I think if his foot stays like it is right now for the rest of the year or until he has to make a decision, my opinion would be that I guess he would opt to redshirt. He wants to try but right now it’s not where it needs to be. The injury is fully recovered but he’s not fully recovered strength-wise.”

GRAHAM HEALTH ISSUES: Sophomore guard Dillon Graham didn’t dress out against Arkansas-Little Rock and is unlikely to dress tonight against Southern. Graham missed practice with a high ankle sprain back in October but now has issues with bone spurs in his hips. The decision has been made to shut him down for at least a couple of games and determine what will be the best medical options.

What we found it through some X-rays that he has some bone spurs in both hips that have become very painful for him. Right now what the trainer wants to do is shut him down a little bit and try to let it calm down. There are probably some decisions he can make in terms of what he wants to do. There are some anti-inflammatory injections he can take and then you rest for 48 hours. Because the pain is becoming so significant for him – not so much playing; I think once he got loose playing was okay – but at nighttime sleeping and not being able to sleep on his side, being stiff and having a hard time walking. It was a trainer’s decision to kind of shut him down and see if a couple days off wouldn’t help him and serve him well.”

PREGAME NOTES: Casey Prather has scored 67 points in three games, which is more than he scored his freshman (38) or sophomore (57) seasons … Patric Young needs 102 points to join Florida’s 1,000-point club … With 417 wins at Florida, Donovan is now the third winningest coach in SEC history behind Adolph Rupp (898) and Dale Brown (448). Donovan has an SEC-record 15 straight 20-win seasons … Southern made the NCAA Tournament as a #16 seed, losing to #1 seed Gonzaga, 64-58 … This will be the second time the Gators have faced Southern. The first time was in 2006, a game the Gators won, 83-27. 


SOUTHERN (1-3): Calvin Godfrey (6-9, 210, JR); Frank Snow (6-10, 230, JR); Christopher Hyder (5-11, 170, SO); Cameron Monroe (6-2, 200, JR); Malcolm Miller (6-6, 200, SR)

FLORIDA (2-1): Will Yeguete (6-8, 230, SR); Casey Prather (6-6, 212, SR); Patric Young (6-9, 240, SR); Kasey Hill (6-1, 181, FR); DeVon Walker (6-6, 195, 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.