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 22, 2014, 9:00 PM EDT
Purdue is offering to sell old game films using a company that hopes to do the same with over 600 colleges.
Sep 22, 2014, 7:47 PM EDT
Florida State added a big man in 2015 to go along with its three talented perimeter threats.
Sep 22, 2014, 6:45 PM EDT
The Wolfpack have some new threads for the upcoming season.
Sep 22, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT
Creighton picked up a point guard in the 2015 class on Monday.
CBT’s Recruiting Roundup: Nebraska invades Chicago, Wake Forest lands big recruit, Wisconsin gets another system fit
Sep 22, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
News and notes from around the world of college basketball recruiting.
Sep 22, 2014, 3:54 PM EDT
The image places alongside a column on the recent USA Basketball debate caused an uproar in the Bluegrass State.
Sep 22, 2014, 3:44 PM EDT
Kevin Stallings’ young team will play away from Nashville three times before the start of SEC play, with two of those games being played on a neutral court.
Sep 22, 2014, 2:20 PM EDT
The St. Anthony product is a valuable recruit for each of the remaining schools, as they all have the eventual loss of current seniors to account for.
Sep 22, 2014, 12:39 PM EDT
Having landed commitments from three forwards, the Flyers added a piece for their backcourt on Monday.
Sep 22, 2014, 11:58 AM EDT
The Simeon HS forward officially visited Nebraska this weekend, and both of his parents attended the school as well.
Sep 22, 2014, 10:26 AM EDT
Fans have three different designs from which to choose, with the winning option scheduled to be revealed next Monday.
Sep 21, 2014, 11:15 PM EDT
The Tigers, who won 25 games last season, landed their first commitment in the Class of 2015 Sunday night.
Sep 21, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT
With both Pierria Henry and Terrence Williams being seniors, Charlotte needed to add a perimeter player in 2015.
Sep 21, 2014, 9:21 PM EDT
URI head coach Dan Hurley landed his second 2015 commitment Sunday evening.
Sep 21, 2014, 8:25 PM EDT
Danny Manning finally has his first 2015 commitment and the player’s a very important one with regard to the future of the program.
Sep 21, 2014, 7:13 PM EDT
The Vikings have added some depth to their front court for the 2015-16 season.
Sep 21, 2014, 5:14 PM EDT
The Shockers won’t lack for capable leaders this season, and their newcomers have followed the lead of those veterans in the weight room.
Sep 21, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT
A good read on Colorado State’s new senior transfer, Antwan Scott, overcoming family obstacles while still succeeding on the court.
Sep 21, 2014, 2:40 PM EDT
Washington State picked up a commitment from a 2015 forward on Sunday.
Sep 21, 2014, 12:50 PM EDT
A former UC Irvine forward could make his NFL debut on Sunday with the Arizona Cardinals.
- Florida State gets commitment from 7-foot-4 2015 center 0
- CBT’s Recruiting Roundup: Nebraska invades Chicago, Wake Forest lands big recruit, Wisconsin gets another system fit 0
- Four-star forward becomes Nebraska’s third 2015 commitment 0
- Wake Forest lands four-star point guard in Class of 2015 0
- CBT’s Recruiting Roundup: Boston College, Illinois, LSU have big visitors 0
- Kentucky’s John Calipari offers his thoughts on USA Basketball critiques 0
- Coach K responds to USA Basketball criticism during press conference 2
- Jim Boeheim calls Yahoo’s Coach K story ‘completely off-base’ (8)
- Jalen Rose believes Chris Webber should apologize for what happened at Michigan (5)
- Bo Ryan hits golf balls into Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium (PHOTO) (4)
- Watch Kentucky fans sprinting to line up for Big Blue Madness tickets (VIDEO) (2)
- Coach K responds to USA Basketball criticism during press conference (2)