Updated at 5 p.m.
After serving a three-game suspension for a violation of team rules, junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin has been reinstated and will play but not start for No. 10 Florida Gators basketball in its next game on Sunday against Middle Tennessee State in Tampa, FL, the school announced on Friday.
Wilbekin, who did not make the trip to Jacksonville, FL for the Navy-Marine Corps Classic with the Gators after head coach Billy Donovan learned of some disturbing news the morning of the team’s departure, also sat out Florida’s subsequent games against Alabama State and Wisconsin despite the fact that he was penciled in to start at point guard prior to the season.
“Obviously, I think he certainly paid a price of missing three games – three pretty big games to start his junior year,” Donovan said Friday. “I think he missed out on an opportunity to play on the ship, which is a great experience, and then playing the home opener against Alabama State and then playing the other night against Wisconsin. I think he’s definitely paid a price. My meeting with him here [Friday], I felt like it was time to let him be able to come back and start practicing, be a part of our team.”
Donovan often claimed he needed more information on Wilbekin’s status before deciding how long his indefinite suspension would continue. Now after three games, he is back with the team and expected to see action over the weekend though he will likely have to work in practice to earn back his starting role.
“He’s got to work back. He’s missed a week of practice right now by his own doing. That’s not to say that he’s never going to start here again,” Donovan said. “One of the things that I feel like, as a coach, is I don’t believe in having a doghouse, so to speak. To me, he starts fresh and clean.
“In my mind, although we did address the things that he has done, I think I’d be making a mistake as a coach to constantly keep holding on to that because I’m expecting him to move on and I’m expecting him to be committed to himself, the team and the things that he needs to do here. To say that he’s never going to start again or never going to be put in a position to start again, I think, is unfair to him, unfair to our team and just not right from my standpoint as a coach.
“I think right now he needs to move forward. He has the opportunity … to prove himself out on the court. If he does that, he has every opportunity to earn back what he’s lost.”
“It was really kind of the first conversation I’ve had with him,” Donovan said. “I spoke to him last Thursday and then periodically. I’ve wanted him to be able to come in here and workout and lift weights and do those kind of things away from our team. He has not practiced or been a part of our team since that point.
“I think Scottie’s very remorseful. The one thing I respect – a lot of times when guys make mistakes, it’s very easy to cast blame or point fingers elsewhere or try to say ‘It’s not my fault’ or ‘I didn’t do anything wrong.’ I respect the fact that he’s taken responsibility. He’s disappointed. He’s upset. He’s bothered. I think he realizes that being gone for a week, he needs to really make an investment to the guys on this team, which I think he’s going to do.
“Everything I’ve got from Scottie, even in our meeting [Friday] where we really sat down and we spoke, was somebody that was very, very sorry, I think disappointed in himself, disappointed in terms of maybe he let his team down, disappointed he gave up an opportunity to be a part of our team these last three games. I saw somebody that, just like anything else, wants to be forgiven, wants to move on, and wants to be bale to go back and try to prove himself.”
Senior guard Kenny Boynton has been running the point in Wilbekin’s absence and will start at the one on Sunday. He will continue to see time at point guard even after Wilbekin returns to the starting lineup, if he is able to earn his way back in the team’s good graces.