Updated on Thursday at 10:30 a.m.
Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan on Wednesday night announced that redshirt junior center Damontre Harris, a 2012 transfer who was suspended from the team and ultimately kicked out of the program for a variety of off-the-court issues, has re-enrolled at the University of Florida just weeks after deciding to leave school.
Harris completed his coursework in the fall and chose to try his luck with a new school after balking at a list of demands Donovan put in front of him, things he could do to work his way back into the coach’s good graces and rejoin the team. Donovan subsequently dismissed him from the program.
However, over winter break, Harris changed his mind and asked Donovan for one more opportunity. Donovan said he granted Harris an additional chance, allowing him to take classes in the spring, but cautioned that the 6-foot-10, 225-pounder still has a long way to go to potentially join the team for practices at some point this spring and play in games during the 2014-15 season.
“Damontre Harris is back in school. Right now, he is not playing this year. I’m not going to allow him to play,” Donovan announced.
“He had basically texted me over Christmas and really wanted to try to somehow earn his way back on the team and work his way back on the team. I think the easy thing for me would’ve been just to kind of just remove him and keep him away. But I think it could be a great, great story in his life if we can find a way to try to help him. Whenever he gets to practice, if he’s ever able to play here, he knows exactly what he needs to do.
“This was all his decision of him kind of really being pretty persistent with me over the holiday, saying that the feels like he’s made a huge mistake, just feels like Florida basketball is all he’s got and he really needs our help. He understands the criteria, the groundwork that needs to be done. He understands what we expect out of him. And he said that he’s going to try to do those things to the best of his ability.
“But as I said, he’s not playing this year and he’s aware of that. He’s going to try to earn, basically, work his way back, kind of like Scottie’s had to do. This is going to be a long road for him. Whether or not he can do it, we’ll see, but he wants to give it a shot. And I figured I’d like to try and help him see what he can do. … He wants to be here. So he’s here in school. We’ll try to work him, get him back in shape. Right now, I told him his main responsibility is to help our team moving forward. But he will not play this year.”
Donovan was disappointed when Harris split from the program, noting that he did not take the player’s actions personally but failed to understand why Harris would not attempt to earn back a great opportunity to continue his career with the Gators.
He was not in an academic bind but rather became distant from the coaches, his teammates and the program, failing to return communications in the form of phone calls and text messages.
“He was never disrespectful as far as his attitude. He was a nice kid and never blamed anybody for what was happening,” Donovan said in a statement on the school’s website back on Dec. 21, 2013. “We tried to help him off the court and help him with some of the challenges he was dealing with. But there was never this reciprocation of wanting to be helped or wanting to do the things necessary [to stay on the team].”
Donovan continued: “The things we were asking him to do weren’t anything out of the norm. But we’d go a week without hearing from him. He wouldn’t return our phone calls or text messages. His teammates didn’t know where he was.”
Harris was expected to play a major role for Florida this season as the team looked to advance past the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007. He was slated to serve as the back-up center behind senior Patric Young, someone who would give Florida immense frontcourt depth.
The decision to give Harris was not just Donovan’s as the coach first consulted with the players on Monday before reaching out to the estranged big man.
Photo Credit: Associated Press