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.
Sep 4, 2015, 9:24 PM EDT
Stevie Clark, a four-star recruit, played only 16 games for the Cowboys.
Sep 4, 2015, 8:19 PM EDT
Moustapha Diagne decided he would attend junior college back in August.
Sep 4, 2015, 6:39 PM EDT
Seventh Woods removed one more team from consideration.
Sep 4, 2015, 5:19 PM EDT
Rico Gathers averaged a double-double last season.
Sep 4, 2015, 4:03 PM EDT
Washington sat out all of last season due to a lingering foot injury.
Sep 4, 2015, 3:21 PM EDT
Mike Krzyzewski will be taking a national title team to the Oval Office for the fifth time in his career.
Sep 4, 2015, 2:13 PM EDT
It was reported in late July that Felton was listening to other schools.
Sep 4, 2015, 12:39 PM EDT
Devin Davis has since enrolled at Odessa JC in Texas.
Sep 4, 2015, 9:40 AM EDT
Greenwood is the second former college basketball player to sign with an AFL franchise in the last week.
Sep 3, 2015, 9:05 PM EDT
The Bulldogs are guaranteed games against five NCAA tournament teams and could play more based upon what happens in the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Sep 3, 2015, 7:56 PM EDT
Virginia is trying to figure out the academic situation of Mamadi Diakite, who might enroll in 2015.
Sep 3, 2015, 6:51 PM EDT
This comes less than a month after AD Norwood Teague stepped down for his own alleged sexual misconduct.
Sep 3, 2015, 5:22 PM EDT
Joe Struggs, who didn’t enroll until last month, has been dealing with issues with both of his shins.
Sep 3, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT
This year’s Terrapins will look to match what Dixon, Steve Blake and company accomplished just over 13 years ago.
Sep 3, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Jalen Johnson is one of the best in-game dunkers in the Class of 2016.
Sep 3, 2015, 1:20 PM EDT
The Atlantic 10 released its full conference schedule. The league has 33 games on NBCSN this season.
Sep 3, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
Michigan State saw the newly-renovated practice facility when they arrived back from a trip to Italy.
Sep 3, 2015, 9:15 AM EDT
Josh Jackson won back-to-back MVP awards at the Under Armour Elite 24.
Sep 2, 2015, 10:05 PM EDT
With two seniors in their current front court, adding a big man helps North Carolina moving forward.
Sep 2, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT
Mullin threw out the first pitch at a Yankees game back in late-May.
- Jalen Rose planning a book about the Fab Five 2
- Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan makes another statement wavering on potential retirement 0
- Cody Zeller, Indiana president speak out against recent athlete legal issues 0
- Five-star 2016 combo guard cuts list to four 0
- Xavier, Mount St. Joseph to launch the ‘Lauren Hill Tip-Off Classic’ 1
- Tai Wynyard: ‘I will be coming to UK in December’ 0
- Tom Izzo, 30 second shot clocks, and why zone presses will be more popular this year 1
- Jalen Rose planning a book about the Fab Five (2)
- ACC releases its full conference schedule (2)
- Throwback Thursday: Juan Dixon and company win Maryland’s lone national title (2)
- Former Oklahoma State guard suing university, head coach Travis Ford (2)
- Colorado State finds difficulty scheduling good non-conference games (1)