Through the weekend, OnlyGators.com will take a look at each of the four seniors that will be honored on Saturday afternoon when the men’s basketball program celebrates Senior Day at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
Thomas Edison once said that opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
If any of the four seniors on the No. 1 Florida Gators (28-2, 17-0 SEC) is a paradigm for that sentiment, it is Will Yeguete, who has taken full advantage of the opportunity presented to him by head coach Billy Donovan to be an all-work, no-glory linchpin for one of the most-accomplished classes in program history.
Yeguete has never scored more than 14 points in a single game. He’s only posted double-digit scoring marks 12 times in 118 career contests and has been selective on offense, finishing in the bottom third of the team in field goal attempts per 40 minutes over each of his four seasons.
Where Yeguete has made his mark for the Gators has been on the defensive end of the floor. He rebounds, defends the post with tenacity, knocks balls loose and gives tremendous effort more consistently than anyone else on the team.
“I describe him as a guy that is a rare breed because he really values and takes pride in doing a lot of the dirty work things,” explained Donovan in Jan. 2013. “He’s a great defender, he’s a great rebounder, he’s a terrific loose ball guy, he puts his body in plays. I never, ever want him to ever feel, from myself as a coach, underappreciated or undervalued because those guys are hard to find.
“You could always go out and find a great shooter. You can always go out there and find a guy that can jump real high. But when you talk about a guy that can do things that really impact the outcome of the game on loose balls, hustle plays, by putting his body in plays, rebounding, those guys are really hard to find.”
All of this despite the fact that Yeguete has been hampered by lingering injuries that began during his sophomore season and have persisted into his senior campaign. Yeguete has undergone three surgeries (one on his left foot, two on right his knee) and is likely to deal with issues for the remainder of his playing career.
It started against Auburn on Feb. 21, 2012, a game in which Yeguete broke his foot midway through the second half after landing awkwardly on his descent from a rebound attempt. Florida was in the middle of dominant defensive effort (holding the visitors to 17 total points in the second half) when Yeguete went down, got up, started limping and returned to the hardwood as trainers rushed to his aid. It looked bad at the time and X-rays administered on-site confirmed he was done for the season.
The Gators dropped the final three games of the regular season and lost four of five overall, falling twice to No. 1 Kentucky, the second time by just three points in the semifinals of the 2012 SEC Tournament.
Florida’s shooting got it to the Elite Eight of the 2012 NCAA Tournament, and Yeguete was activated for the contest just one month after breaking his foot. UF ultimately lost to Louisville by four, getting outscored 39-27 in the second half and 6-0 over the last 1:46 of the game. Yeguete, who also suffered two concussions earlier in the season, never stepped on the court and his absence was undoubtedly felt in those final few minutes.
He returned at the start of the 2012-13 season and played the first 21 games of the campaign but was bothered throughout those contests by what the trainers and doctors diagnosed as knee tendinitis and severe swelling.
It all came to a head for Yeguete on Feb. 5, 2013 – nearly a full year since his last injury – when he sat for all but one minute of an upset loss at Arkansas after his right knee flared up as soon as he began running on it early in the first half.
Two days later, an MRI revealed he had bone chips floating around his knee joint and arthroscopic surgery was deemed necessary. He went under the knife the next day.
“I can’t believe this is happening, this must be a nightmare,” he said via Twitter.
Yeguete was handed a recovery timetable of 4-6 weeks, but he only missed seven games over three weeks, a span in which UF went 4-3 (including the Arkansas game).
When he returned and played the final 10 contests of the season, Donovan noted that Yeguete chose to have a minor procedure rather than a more significant surgery that was needed to completely fix his knee issues.
He was made aware that it would not be long-term solution but was motivated to have the in-season surgery in order to return to the court and help his team during postseason play, something he completely missed one year earlier.
Yeguete was supposed to have the option to have a second, more extensive surgery either before or after the 2013-14 season.
Six weeks after the Gators got eliminated in the Elite Eight for the second-straight season, Yeguete went under the knife for an arthroscopic debridement that sidelined him for approximately four months. The procedure cleaned out infected tissue, bone fragments, cartilage and debris from his joint that was affecting natural movement. He may have also had bones in the joint smoothed during the surgery.
Though his knee has continued to bother him, Yeguete has not missed a single game in 2013-14. His consistent effort remains intact though his natural explosion has certainly diminished over the last two seasons.
Nevertheless, Yeguete remains a solid starter, model of consistency for his teammates to emulate, leader in the locker room and high-character individual that represents Florida with class both on and off the court.
A native of Bordeaux, France who grew up in Côte d’Ivoire, Yeguete always dreamed of playing college basketball – specifically in the orange and blue of the Gators.
Yeguete’s dream came true, and he’s now doing his best to ensure Florida’s hope of winning the program’s third national title does as well.
Photo Credits: Unknown, Phil Sandlin/Associated Press, Associated Press