For the first time in 138 days, No. 6/8 Florida Gators basketball (22-5, 12-3 SEC) practiced on Thursday with a full complement of players.
Junior forwards Will Yeguete (knee) and Casey Prather (facial laceration), freshman guard Michael Frazier II (concussion) and even junior transfer center Damontre Harris (torn labrum) returned to the court for Florida. (Harris, who is sitting out the 2012-13 season per NCAA transfer rules, remains unable to suit up in games.)
However, just 32 minutes into practice, Frazier “was rendered virtually incapacitated by back spasms” and “had to be carried to the training room for icing and treatment,” according to Florida’s school website.
The Gators reportedly expect Frazier to return to practice on Friday. Should his back act up again and he sit most of the two practices held heading into Saturday’s game, his availability to play in the weekend contest would certainly be in question.
Already dicey to play Saturday is Yeguete, who returned to practice just 20 days after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery on Feb. 8. Head coach Billy Donovan said Thursday before practice that Yeguete would be monitored and may miss Saturday’s game even if his knee does not swell during workouts leading up to the contest.
“Yeguete is cleared to play, but again, he has not done anything at all as it relates to practice and contact. [Thursday] will be the first day he actually gets into some contact and gets into playing. I have no idea,” he said. “Right now my expectation on him going into this game is not very high just because I haven’t seen him play.
“Obviously he’s got two days to practice, but I would be hard-pressed to believe he is going to be the same player he was before he went down with his injury. It will probably take him some time to get back but at least he can start working to get back in shape and get back in rhythm and his timing and those kinds of things.
“He has not played and he’s coming off of knee surgery. Obviously I hope that he can get back to the form he was in, but I think sometimes when you get your expectations way up on something like that, it can be something where you’re putting the kid in a bad situation. He needs to slowly get himself back into playing and hopefully he can get back into the level he was playing at. But he has not shown he can do that yet.”
To his credit, Yeguete was in a good mood Thursday before practice and appeared to be anxious to get on the court and go through the motions.
“I’m not even looking to Saturday yet. I’m just looking forward to [Thursday] and seeing how I feel today on the court,” he said. “I’m not putting any pressure on myself. I’m just looking forward to going out there and playing.”
By all accounts, Yeguete got through Thursday’s practice without any swelling occurring in his injured knee. He is being forced by trainers to wear a knee brace that he finds uncomfortable but nevertheless understands is mandatory for safety reasons.
“I was never used to growing up wearing a knee brace and playing with it. I feel like I’m not free. My knee is kind of strapped up in something,” he said. “If that’s what I have to do and if it’s the safest thing to do, I have to play with it and just get used to it. It was a little hard in the beginning, but now I’m starting to get used to it.”
If Yeguete’s knee holds up through Friday and he is able to contribute, Donovan and the trainers may give him the green light to officially return on Saturday. For now, Yeguete feels like everything that has come back on his knee is positive.
“It wasn’t easy watching them play and not being able to be out there, especially because I was out last year,” he said. “I just tried to stay positive. … I feel good. I do more stuff every day and we just check it out to see if my knee swells or anything. It has not been swelling after I do exercise, so I’m just trying to push through fatigue and that’s about it.”
Whether or not Florida gets Frazier and Yeguete back for the next game remains up in the air at this point. What Donovan is attempting to ensure over these two days of practice is that his team is not counting on either player coming back and has no designs on changing the way they have been playing while they have been absent.
“Our guys need to understand that although some of these guys are coming back … they can’t rest and relax. They’ve got to understand that they’ve got to step up and they’ve got to play,” he said.