Dec 17, 2013, 11:57 PM EST
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.
Dec 22, 2014, 11:54 AM EST
We went an entire week without an unbeaten losing.
Dec 22, 2014, 11:25 AM EST
It’s great that the Rams do this.
Dec 22, 2014, 10:01 AM EST
The Buckeyes are 9-2, dropping both of their key non-conferences games against ranked opponents.
Dec 22, 2014, 9:00 AM EST
Some new faces make their way into the Weekly Awards.
Dec 22, 2014, 6:30 AM EST
The top 12 remain the same, but there was plenty of movement in and around the rest of the top 25.
Dec 21, 2014, 11:09 PM EST
Yeah, you’re going to want to see this.
Dec 21, 2014, 10:31 PM EST
Four of the eight teams in the field reached the NCAA tournament last season.
Dec 21, 2014, 8:22 PM EST
Virginia limited Harvard to 27 points, Maryland won at Oklahoma State, and Georgia picked up a solid home win.
Dec 21, 2014, 7:04 PM EST
Could the Terps be the second-best team in the Big Ten? At the very least they’ve earned their place in the conversation.
Dec 21, 2014, 5:31 PM EST
Harrell was assessed a flagrant 2 foul in Saturday’s win over Western Kentucky.
Dec 21, 2014, 4:42 PM EST
Coaches donning festive holiday sweaters doesn’t happen all that often in college basketball.
Dec 21, 2014, 3:46 PM EST
Brad Stevens left Butler in 2013, agreeing to a six-year deal with the Boston Celtics, but that will not stop his name being linked to one specific college job.
Dec 21, 2014, 1:43 PM EST
Harvard did not set the record for lowest field goal percentage or lowest first-half points, but the Crimson did tie an NCAA record on Sunday afternoon.
Dec 21, 2014, 1:15 PM EST
The Orange and Wildcats have split a home-and-home series since the old Big East disbanded several years ago.
Dec 21, 2014, 11:15 AM EST
The Louisville forward spoke about the incident that took place at the end of the first half against Western Kentucky following the game.
Dec 21, 2014, 10:00 AM EST
The nation’s top recruit also dropped 37 points in a win for Montverde Academy (Florida)
Dec 21, 2014, 9:11 AM EST
Here’s a rundown of Sunday’s games.
Dec 21, 2014, 12:10 AM EST
With pieces that fit together better than last season’s 17-15 squad, the Huskies are off to a 10-0 start.
Dec 20, 2014, 10:26 PM EST
George Mason’s last win over a Division I opponent prior to Saturday came against another MAAC program, Manhattan, on November 29.
Dec 20, 2014, 9:00 PM EST
Jackson scored 22 points, with two coming on an emphatic dunk on Purdue freshman Isaac Haas.
- Tracking The Unbeatens: The showdown between Kentucky, Louisville looms 0
- New Year’s Resolutions: Ohio State Buckeyes 0
- Weekly Awards: Marquette’s new addition, a shakeup in Pac-12’s power structure ? 0
- College Basketball Talk’s Top 25: Virginia moves up, three teams drop out 0
- ACC suspends Louisville junior forward Montrezl Harrell one game 0
- Late Night Snacks: Villanova survives Syracuse while UNC, SMU get big wins 0
- No. 1 Kentucky dismantles UCLA 5
- Report: David Robinson’s son will be preferred walk-on at Duke in 2015-16 (VIDEO) (6)
- West Virginia’s Bob Huggins torches Marshall after coach calls Huggs ‘afraid’ (5)
- No. 1 Kentucky dismantles UCLA (5)
- Tracking The Unbeatens: There are now just nine teams without a loss (3)
- Lauren Hill’s playing career over, to become honorary coach (3)