There he sat day after day.
Just a regular student who so badly wanted to be close to the University of Florida basketball program, that he sat atop the upper level of the Gators’ practice facility for every daily drill.
He didn’t bother anybody. Just quietly returned to his place atop the facility with each passing day taking it all in. After a while, he got involved in an official capacity, taking on the role of student manager, helping with any daily mundane tasks that often go unnoticed by members of the team.
And then finally, one day, Jacob Kurtz got his chance.
“[Kurtz] asked about trying to go down there and play — we were a little short handed, and we threw this guy in there and we said ‘geez he’s not too bad,’” said Florida coach Billy Donovan after his team’s 77-44 victory over Georgia.
Fast forward one or two years — Donovan, citing “old age” says he’s unsure — and Kurtz could be found on the O’Connell Center floor hitting the first three-pointer of his Gators’ career.
It wasn’t the first game action of Kurtz’s career, but the sophomore from Oviedo brought the house down with his five-point performance in Florida’s blowout victory on Wednesday.
“It was a lot of fun being out there,” Kurtz said as a large grin broke out on his face.
Kurtz’s exciting run was just one example of Florida’s energy-fueled performance on Wednesday, as the Gators fed off the excitement of the largest student crowd in seven years.
3200 students packed the bleachers on Wednesday for the Gators’ SEC-opener, and the Gators were able to take control long before Kurtz took the floor.
“I thought Casey [Prather] starting because of [Erik] Murphy and [Will] Yeguete being banged up, really started the game, gave us a great boost on both ends of the floor — offensively and defensively,” Donovan said.
Prather scored the Gators’ first six points on Wednesday, igniting the crowd with his superb play early on. He would go on to finish the game with 10 points and seven rebounds in his first start of the season, and according to Donovan, Prather’s outburst has been brewing for a while.
“He’s played well,” Donovan said of Prather. “He’s given us a different dimension and a different kind of guy because when playing the power forward spot, he’s an undersized forward but he’s quick, he’s athletic, he grabbed some incredible rebounds today in traffic, he scored our first six points … I thought it’s been two games now where he’s kind of gotten back to maybe where he was at the end of last year.”
Prather said after the game that he found out he would get the start on Tuesday night. Naturally, he was excited to get things started in the fashion that he did:
“It was just a good feeling because the crowd was into it and then I saw my teammates jumping around, it was just a great energy for our team,” Prather said.
Although Florida was efficient on offense, it was their defense which really stood out on the night, as the Gators held an opponent under 50 points for the seventh time this season.
“That’s one thing we try to stress as a ball team is our defense because we know that we can be a very, very good defensive team,” said guard Mike Rosario who led the Gators with 19 points. “Right now, we’re playing for something so now it means a lot to us, especially holding teams to under 50. We’re just trying to keep that same intensity on that end because it creates offense for our team.
If there is one player who has really come along for the Gators this season, it’s Rosario.
Rosario has had an up and down career in the orange and blue, but the redshirt senior has managed to string together some impressive performances as of late, which has certainly caught the eye of his head coach.
“I’ve been on him really, really hard,” Donovan said. “I think when you look at him, he goes 1-for-9 against Kansas State, he takes completely bizarre shots and makes bizarre plays. He then comes back these last two games and he really has made some incredible plays.
“When our team averages a lot of assists, it’s primarily because of him because he’s got unbelievable vision. He’s one of the better guards I’ve ever coached in terms of passing the ball and make plays.”
For now, the Gators will get ready for a tough LSU squad which is coming off of a loss in their own conference opener against Auburn. Donovan said that there is a concern with injuries, and travel and getting in efficient practices, but the coach said that both he and his team will have to fight through the natural adversity a season presents in order to improve.
“I am a little concerned [with injuries],” Donovan said. “We gotta try to get healthy, but we also gotta try to get better.”