Luckily for Billy Donovan, the college basketball season is a marathon and not a sprint. A tumultuous offseason and injuries have kept the Gators from getting out of the blocks as smoothly as desired.
Floor leader Scottie Wilbekin and Dorian Finney-Smith each served disciplinary suspensions. Transfer big man Demontre Harris was also suspended and is not likely to return. A rash of injuries have kept several Gators, including Wilbekin and super-frosh Kasey Hill out of action. Rutgers transfer Eli Carter continues to recover from a broken leg and will redshirt.
But as the SEC play nears, the Gators are beginning to hit their stride. In key non-conference wins over Kansas and Memphis, Florida has shown what kind of team it can become down the stretch. And more help is on the way. McDonald’s All-American Chris Walker has been recently admitted and could make his debut in the next couple weeks. Walker gives the Gators’ talented frontcourt even more depth and makes their 1-3-1 zone ridiculously long.
While the Gators have been trying to put the pieces together, Casey Prather has been the glue. The senior wing has stepped up his leadership and production. A career 3.1 ppg scorer, Prather is leading the Gators at better than 18 ppg. He is also second on the team at 6.1 rpg and is making over 60% of his attempts from the field.
Prather’s play has earned Donovan’s confidence. Against Memphis in the Jimmy V Classic, with Florida holding a three-point lead with 1:30 to play, Prather was the Gators’ go-to guy. Donovan called a set to get him a high post isolation. Prather was fouled on his drive to the basket and made both free throws to put the Gators up five. He scored the final eight points for Florida, including two more free throws with 27 seconds left to hold off the Tigers and lead the Gators to a significant resume win.
As they get healthier and the roster becomes complete, expect the Gators to creep into the Top 10 and make a run at an SEC championship. No longer a role player, Casey Prather has emerged as a star that could make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament possible.
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