1/28: Prather, Wilbekin, rankings, building a winner

With No. 4/4 Florida Gators (16-2, 6-0 SEC) set to begin a challenging week of action including consecutive home games against South Carolina on Wednesday and Ole Miss on Saturday, head coach Billy Donovan met with the media Monday to provide injury updates and discuss his team’s issues heading into its next two games.

RETURN POSSIBLE THIS WEEK

Junior forward Casey Prather may return to the floor at some point this week, but it will not be in Florida’s first game of the week. Donovan noted Monday that Prather has already been ruled out for the South Carolina contest but may be cleared in time to play against Ole Miss. In order for Prather to actually step on the court, Donovan would like him to be a full-go in practice first that way he can get back in the swing of things before participating in game action.

“We’ll try to see if he’ll be able to come back for Mississippi. I don’t know if he will. He still has pain. He’s been able to do some light running. He’s definitely not pain-free right now,” Donovan said.

CONFERENCE RECOGNITION

Junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin was named SEC Player of the Week on Monday for averaging 15 points, six assists and two rebounds over two games last week. Wilbekin has come on strong for the Gators in SEC play by being a smart ball-handler, terrific defender and much more consistent shooter.

Read the rest of this post…after the break!

HYPE IS GROWING

Back inside the top five of the top 25 polls for the first time since the conclusion of the 2006-07 season, Florida basketball is finally starting to garner national attention for the dominant showings it has put forth in SEC play so far this season. The Gators are winning league games by an average of 26.5 points and look to be easily the best team in the league.

Asked what he has told the team in regards to staying focused while the hype grows around them, Donovan explained that he likens the situation to driving a car.

“You’re out driving in a country field and there’s nothing to look at so you’re looking at the road. Then all of a sudden you get into a city and now all of a sudden there’s a bunch of sights and sounds and things you start looking at. If you’re not paying attention to what’s in front of you, you’re going to drive the car right off the road into a pole,” he explained.

“Our guys got to understand that the chatter and stuff around them is on the peripheral. It’s got nothing to do with us preparing to get ready for the next game. Any good team or team that moves up in the rankings, you have to deal with that. That’s part of it. It still has nothing to do with our preparation or our responsibility to do what we need to do game-in and game-out.

“We got to drive our car with two hands on the wheel, inside the lane, looking at what’s in front of us. And what’s in front of us right now is South Carolina. That’s the challenge that they need to understand.”

Vocal about rankings not meaning anything has been junior center Patric Young, who added Monday that the team is proud to be recognized for its hard work but will not allow the latest polls to get to its collective head.

“It lets us know that we’re doing the right thing so far, that we have to keep improving,” he said. “No championship has been won in January or February. Hopefully we can keep this thing going and have a one-seed going into the tournament but that’s down the road and later on. We got to worry about this game that’s coming Wednesday.”

BUILT STRONG ON CHARACTER

After the departure of the Oh Fours, it took the Gators a while to get back to their winning ways. Florida looked to be running like a well-oiled machine come tournament time each of the last two years, but both squads fell short of the Final Four.

Now leading what is arguably Florida’s best team since the 2006-07 season, Donovan explained why the team is so successful. He said Monday that it is not because he went out to recruit individual pieces that fit together to build a team but rather because of the character and drive of the players that have joined the program over the last few years.

“I’ve never really looked at how to go about building a team. I’ve been much more about what kind of individual am I coaching,” he explained. “What’s his makeup? What’s he about? Is he about winning? Is winning important? Is he competitive? Does he have a great work ethic? Does he want to get better? Is the game important to him? [I am] trying to find those things out.

“You can go to a high school gym or an AAU tournament and watch a guy play, and it doesn’t take you too long to figure out this guy is really good. But there’s another element to that – that really enables a guy to fit into a team.

“At every point in time with a player you bring in here, there has to be a level of sacrifice that goes on because every player is not going to play as many minutes as they want, going to get as many shots as they want. With that being said, sometimes you got to take a little bit less for the team to be better.

“Those are the hardest things to evaluate. The physical talent of running, jumping, shooting, passing, catching, low-post skill, you can see that with the visual eye, but you never know what you’re coaching until you actually start coaching a guy the first day of practice to find out what they’re about.”

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