Skip to content

Casey Prather’s star turn a boon for Florida

Dec 17, 2013, 11:57 PM EST

source:

AP photo

NEW YORK — Billy Donovan said that this season, for his Gators, has been exhausting.

Between the injuries and the suspensions and the academic issues, the status of Florida’s roster has been a bigger story to date than their performance against teams like Wisconsin or UConn or Kansas.

“I almost keep looking around to see who is going to be walking through the door that I don’t know about,” the Florida head coach quipped after his No. 15 Gators held off No. 16 Memphis 77-75 in the nightcap of the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. “It’s been a real drain on our team emotionally.”

I can imagine. Scottie Wilbekin was suspended for five games, leaving Florida with a freshman, Kasey Hill, starting at the point. Hill sprained his ankle before Wilbekin returned, and when Wilbekin finally did make it back to the court, he sprained his ankle in a game at UConn that Hill was unable to suit up. Michael Frazier had mono. Dorian Finney-Smith was hurt. Eli Carter is redshirting. Chris Walker is just now getting back to practice, something that may never happen with Damontre Harris.

Did I miss anything? Probably.

The irony of it all? All of those off-the-floor issues and all of that time in the training room may have actually been the best thing that could have happened to the Gators this season. You see, while Donovan was busy trying to figure out who will run the point or what his front court rotation will look like or how the heck he is going to be able to scrimmage 5-on-5 in practice, senior Casey Prather has quietly turned into one of the nation’s best scorers.

“I am just trying to do what needs to be done for the team,” said Prather, a former top 50 recruit that’s humble enough to perfect every press conference cliché you can think of.

Prather entered the season having spent the past three seasons filling a role for the Gators (8-2). He was a defensive stopper. He was a finisher in transition. He was glue-guy, a blue-collar scrapper that picked up more floor-burns than he did buckets. As a junior, he averaged career-highs of 6.2 points and 17.1 minutes. He was an afterthought. In previews of Florida’s team, he was the guy that was mentioned in passing at the end, with a note about how he’ll add to Florida’s versatility and depth.

No one saw him becoming a leading candidate for SEC Player of the Year as we head towards the holidays.

Entering Tuesday night, Prather was averaging 18.2 points, 6.1 boards and 2.3 assists while shooting 61.3% from the floor and getting to the charity stripe 7.6 times per game. Against Memphis, Prather finished with 22 points and four boards, hitting 8-of-13 from the floor and 6-of-6 from the charity stripe. He scored the last eight points for the Gators, twice having plays run for him in the half court while knocking down four straight free throws in the final 80 seconds.

Again, no one saw this coming.

And I’m not sure it actually would have happened had the Gators been at full strength entering the season. Florida had a void to begin the year, and Prather simply stepped up and played his part. “I took it upon myself to be a leader,” he said, “to hold myself accountable for my mistakes and for my actions that helps us win.” The missing players “freed him up to evolve into this position,” Donovan said.

The difference in Prather isn’t that he has become a totally different player this season. He didn’t magically transform into Paul George during the offseason. He isn’t the second-coming of Kobe Bryant. No NBA scouts are going to be confusing Prather with Andrew Wiggins or Marcus Smart. It’s actually quite the opposite. Prather has learned to trust his ability, to embrace his strengths and take advantage of what he does best.

“Sometimes guys, when they get in there and want to have an opportunity to play at the next level and they’re 6-foot-5 or 6-foot-6, people say, ‘he’s got to shoot the ball better,'” Donovan said. “When he was a freshman and sophomore, he was so consumed with his jumpshot. That’s all he wanted to do. It was probably seven or eight things he did better than shoot the basketball. He’s not a high-volume three-point shooter. He slashes to the basket. He offensive rebounds. He gets on the break. He can go off the dribble. He can play off the bounce. He’s playing to his strengths instead of trying to prove he can overcome his weaknesses.”

“It’s the first time I feel like he’s playing with a clear head and a clear mind. ‘Ok, here’s who I am as a player. Here’s how I can take advantage of it.'”

According to Synergy, Prather had taken just seven jump shots on the season entering Tuesday night, with the rest of his field goals either coming at the rim, on post-ups, runners or in transition. I’d call that playing to his strengths.

And it came at a time where the Gators needed him the most.

Prather didn’t remake himself in the offseason. He simply took advantage of an opportunity, and Florida is currently reaping the benefits.

Because with Prather playing this way, the Gators are a legitimate title contender.

Latest Posts
  1. Butler leaves the the Bahamas with two key wins

    Nov 28, 2014, 4:54 PM EST

    AP AP

    Butler, picked seventh in the Big East, left the Battle 4 Atlantis with a pair of important victories.

  2. No. 11 Kansas still working to establish offensive chemistry

    Nov 28, 2014, 2:55 PM EST

    Perry Ellis, Josh Richardson Perry Ellis, Josh Richardson

    Kansas scored 82 points in their win over Tennessee but they also committed 16 turnovers as they continue to figure each other out offensively.

  3. Florida State will be without two key guards Friday night

    Nov 28, 2014, 1:07 PM EST

    Aaron Thomas Aaron Thomas

    Aaron Thomas and Devon Bookert both suffered injuries last weekend that have kept them sidelined.

  4. Right wrist injury to sideline Maryland senior wing four weeks

    Nov 28, 2014, 11:25 AM EST

    Dez Wells, Hugo Naurais Dez Wells, Hugo Naurais

    Dez Wells made just five of his 20 field goal attempts against Iowa State. This injury may be the reason why.

  5. Friday’s Pregame Shootaround: Oklahoma, No. 2 Wisconsin meet for Battle 4 Atlantis title

    Nov 28, 2014, 10:24 AM EST

    Buddy Hield, Zeek Woodley AP

    Providence better focus on Yale and not get caught looking forward to their game at No. 1 Kentucky on Sunday.

  6. Late Night Snacks: No. 2 Wisconsin remains undefeated, No. 5 North Carolina bounces back

    Nov 28, 2014, 2:01 AM EST

    Jabril Trawick, Duje Dukan Jabril Trawick, Duje Dukan

    North Carolina did a better job on the boards while also forcing 23 turnovers in their win over UCLA.

  7. Penn State unveils new uniforms for next two games

    Nov 27, 2014, 9:53 PM EST

    Patrick Chambers AP

    Penn State will return to the school’s original colors- black and pink- for their next two games.

  8. Bronson Koenig, Duje Dukan step forward in No. 2 Wisconsin’s win over Georgetown

    Nov 27, 2014, 6:08 PM EST

    Duje Dukan AP

    Koenig and Dukan combined to score 18 points in the second half for the second-ranked Badgers.

  9. Richmond loses reserve guard to left foot injury

    Nov 27, 2014, 5:24 PM EST

    Chris Mooney Chris Mooney

    Khwan Fore’s averaging 7.5 minutes per game in two appearances this season.

  10. Report: Gonzaga’s Josh Perkins broke his jaw

    Nov 27, 2014, 12:56 PM EST

    St Joseph's v Gonzaga St Joseph's v Gonzaga

    Perkins was kicked in the face by a Georgia player.

  11. Pregame Shootaround: Enjoy your Turkey Day!

    Nov 27, 2014, 11:19 AM EST

    Frank Kaminsky (AP Photo) Frank Kaminsky (AP Photo)

    It’s not just football that’s on today.

  12. St. John’s seniors say they ‘grew up’ against Minnesota, but have they?

    Nov 27, 2014, 3:14 AM EST

    D'Angelo Harrison (AP Photo) D'Angelo Harrison (AP Photo)

    A lot is riding on this season for St. John’s. Can they consistently be the ‘grown up’ team they claimed to be on Wednesday night?

  13. Late Night Snacks: Two ranked teams fall at the Battle 4 Atlantis

    Nov 27, 2014, 3:07 AM EST

    Kelan Martin, Marcus Paige AP

    Two Big East teams made statements in the Bahamas, and No. 3 Arizona won the Maui Invitational.

  14. The little things made a big difference in No. 3 Arizona’s win over No. 15 San Diego State

    Nov 27, 2014, 2:07 AM EST

    Sean Miller Sean Miller

    Arizona scored 22 points off of 14 San Diego State turnovers, and that along with good foul shooting proved to be the difference.

  15. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera’s shot propels Georgetown past No. 18 Florida

    Nov 27, 2014, 12:56 AM EST

    D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera

    Georgetown committed 19 turnovers, but they shot 49 percent from the field and earned another quality win for the Big East.

  16. Rick Pitino gets his 700th career victory, but his team remains cold from three

    Nov 26, 2014, 10:22 PM EST

    Rick Pitino Rick Pitino

    Through five games Louisville is shooting 24-for-105 from three. They’ll need to shoot better than that when Ohio State visits next Tuesday.

  17. #POSTERIZED: St. John’s forward Sir’Dominic Pointer finishes with authority (VIDEO)

    Nov 26, 2014, 9:11 PM EST

    Sir'Dominic Pointer, Tony Chennault Sir'Dominic Pointer, Tony Chennault

    Sir’Dominic Pointer picked off Minnesota center Elliot Eliason’s outlet pass and made the big man pay for his mistake.

  18. Binghamton’s leading returning scorer, rebounder takes indefinite leave of absence

    Nov 26, 2014, 8:05 PM EST

    Tommy Dempsey Tommy Dempsey

    Justin Reed was one of America East’s best guards in each of his first two seasons, but that hasn’t been the case in 2014-15.