Dec 17, 2013, 11:57 PM EDT
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.
Aug 31, 2014, 11:43 PM EDT
The second team All-MAC selection scored eight points in Senegal’s win over Puerto Rico.
Aug 31, 2014, 10:25 PM EDT
Bruce Weber now has three verbal commitments in the Class of 2015.
Aug 31, 2014, 9:05 PM EDT
5-foot-11 point guard Glynn Watson becomes Nebraska’s second 2015 commitment.
Aug 31, 2014, 8:02 PM EDT
Slender forward Brandon Ingram is one of the best perimeter prospects in the Class of 2015.
Aug 31, 2014, 6:20 PM EDT
Tennessee is on the board in 2015 due to the addition of a versatile 6-foot-5 forward.
Aug 31, 2014, 5:23 PM EDT
Roy Williams challenged his players in the Bahamas, and the accepted it on Saturday afternoon.
Aug 31, 2014, 3:39 PM EDT
Malik Newman is the No. 3 overall recruit, according to Rivals.
Aug 31, 2014, 1:35 PM EDT
The Robinson brothers are the first two commits in Quinnipiac’s Class of 2015.
Aug 31, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
The Cougars have been without a head coach since Aug. 5.
Aug 31, 2014, 10:17 AM EDT
Bruce Pearl has landed five commitments in 10 days.
Aug 31, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
More dunks from one of the best all-star games of the summer.
Aug 30, 2014, 11:20 PM EDT
Connor McCaffery was expected to play for his father, and he announced the intention to do so Saturday.
Aug 30, 2014, 9:57 PM EDT
The Floridian averaged 26 points per game as a high school junior.
Aug 30, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Yanick Moreira missed time last season due to injury, so this month could prove incredibly valuable for both he and the SMU program he’ll rejoin.
Aug 30, 2014, 6:43 PM EDT
Providence is looking to reach consecutive NCAA tournaments for the first time since the 1989 and 1990 seasons.
Aug 30, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
Franklin Edmond averaged 18.0 points and 6.2 rebounds per game as a freshman.
Aug 30, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
After a big recruiting week for Auburn, two players from the current roster are leaving the program.
Aug 30, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Cincinnati has some tough opponents in the non-conference portion of the 2014-15 schedule.
Aug 30, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Utah State returns a veteran locker-room presence.
Aug 30, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT
Providence added another piece for the 2014-15 season late this week.
- North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham comments on Rashad McCants situation 1
- College Basketball Talk’s Recruiting Roundup 0
- Former Michigan center discusses hasty departure for the NBA (VIDEO) 0
- Five-star 2015 center trims list to five 1
- College of Charleston coaching search takes another turn 0
- Rivals releases new rankings for the Class of 2015 0
- Will Bill Self and Kansas play small-ball this season? 2
- DePaul’s Purnell loses fifth recruit that signed letter of intent (3)
- Former Ole Miss star Marshall Henderson getting pro tryout in Italy (2)
- Will Bill Self and Kansas play small-ball this season? (2)
- Report: Ex-Spartan forward headed to Ohio (1)
- Blue Ribbon releases their Preseason First Team All-Americans (1)