The depth of No. 10 Florida Gators basketball has been tested early in the season, especially considering juniors point guard Scottie Wilbekin (suspension) and guard/forward Casey Prather (concussions) each missed the first three games. With only nine other eligible scholarship players on the roster, head coach Billy Donovan has been forced to rely on his four-member freshman class for quality minutes.
Florida’s freshmen each played 18-23 minutes in the season opener against Alabama State on Sunday, but only G Michael Frazier II saw more than five minutes in the team’s second game against No. 22 Wisconsin. He was on the court for 19 minutes.
Donovan attributed Frazier II’s ability to understand the level of competitiveness he needed to achieve from the get-go as a major reason that he was able to see more minutes than the rest of his classmates combined. He also thinks Frazier is physically capable of playing so many minutes and believes he has a great understand of what the Gators are doing on the floor at any given time.
That does not mean the coach was not worried about playing Frazier, especially when placing him on the court at the three instead of his natural position at the two.
“When we play him at the small forward spot, I was very concerned going into the year [if he could rebound effectively]. He’s done a pretty good job on the backboard for us,” Donovan said. “He’s been going in there and rebounding. I think he’s got to get better defensively guarding the basketball and understanding rotations, which most freshmen go through. I think clearly he’s a guy, when he’s on the floor, he’s able to stretch the defense for us with the way he shoots.”
Donovan said Friday that he will be selective with how he plays the rest of the freshmen though he certainly believes each can contribute in his first season.
“It’s a lot for Braxton or any freshman to just come in without having a lot of older guys on the floor,” he said. “I’m probably a little bit sensitive of putting those guys in situations they can be successful. I have confidence in Braxton. I have confidence in all those guys. They’re great kids. They work hard. I think they’re going to be able to contribute. They still have a lot to learn, but they’re eager to learn and get better.”
The Gators are set to take on the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders on Sunday in a neutral site game in Tampa, FL. Like Florida, Middle Tennessee is 2-0 to start the season, but Donovan cautioned Friday that he thinks the Blue Raiders are closer to a contender (along the lines of a Butler, VCU, Xavier or Murray State) than a run-of-the-mill mid-major team.
“A great challenge,” he said. “Sometimes people really look at leagues and they determine BCS, high-major, mid-major, low-major. I think that Middle Tennessee State here, the last couple of years, has been a high-major program. … They’ve got a lot of depth. They’re very, very well coached. … This is an unbelievable challenge for us and probably, maybe in some ways, a much more difficult challenge than playing Wisconsin because we’ve got a lot that we’ve got to get prepared for.”