It did not take long – just under two minutes, actually – for Florida Gators senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin to find his groove on the court.
With 18:09 left in the first half, Wilbekin made his first impactful play of the season by driving into the paint, drawing two defenders and dishing the ball to senior center Patric Young for an easy two-handed dunk.
He grabbed his first rebound 22 seconds later, registered his first steal 40 seconds after that and pushed the Gators ahead by 10 points after 52 more seconds elapsed by finding sophomore guard Michael Frazier II wide open for an easy three-pointer.
“It seemed like forever. It was just great to get back out there,” said Wilbekin following Florida’s 86-60 victory over the Jacksonville Dolphins on Monday night. “I was a little nervous before the game just because it had been so long, but once the ball got tipped up and we started moving up and down, I got back into it.”
Missing the first six games of the year due to a suspension for a violation of team rules, Wilbekin played for the first time this season and could often be spotted with an ear-to-ear grin on his face, especially while surrounded by his teammates.
In all he assisted on four of Frazier’s five threes, drained two triples of his own and served as the floor general the Gators have been so sorely missing this season even though freshman PG Kasey Hill filled in admirably in his absence.
Wilbekin was not all smiles after the game, however. Head coach Billy Donovan brought the local product out to his post-game press conference, an unusual occurrence outside of a tournament in which the team is participating, and sat alongside him as he delivered a contrite apology to Gator Nation.
“I just wanted to start out by saying that I apologize for my actions over the summer and apologize to the fans. I already apologized to my teammates when it happened. I’m just glad to put that stuff behind me,” Wilbekin began.
“It was great to be out there playing back with my teammates. I’m just looking forward to moving past the suspension and not looking back. I think I’ve really matured a lot as a person, grown in some ways.
“This suspension was probably the best thing that could ever happen to me because I learned a lot over the summer. Through Coach D and just through some work that I did, I really think I progressed a lot as a person. I’m just glad it’s behind me, and I’m looking forward to moving on with the rest of the season with my teammates.”
Wilbekin said he learned the value of things in his life, especially the opportunity he had to play at Florida under Donovan. Before handing down a punishment, Donovan first gave Wilbekin the option to transfer, something the player turned down on the spot.
“[I declined] just because I love this program and I love my teammates and Coach D is a great coach,” he explained. “I think I have a good relationship with him, and I couldn’t see myself playing for anybody else.”
And play is exactly what Wilbekin did on Monday, nearly as well as he has in any other game in his four-year career. He finished with 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting and registered five rebounds while leading the Gators with seven assists and three steals. He also played a team-high 34 minutes.
“He knows what I expect, what I want. He can get us in and out of offense quite a bit,” said Donovan. “Scottie’s got a lot of minutes and a lot of games under his belt.”
The end of Wilbekin’s suspension happened to coincide with Hill suffering a serious high-ankle sprain during last Monday’s game. Coincidentally, Florida only had to make due for one game without a legitimate starting point guard.
It just so happens that as much as Wilbekin needed Donovan pushing him to become a better person and player, Donovan is now counting on Wilbekin to push the Gators to become a more cohesive team, one slowly but surely appearing to be capable of making some major noise this season.