15 Gator Bites for Wednesday, September 11

From time to time, OGGOA will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share – too much to fit into one of our truncated BITS segments. When stories like these fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Jeff Demps missed the entire offseason while running track but officially joined the team on Monday in hopes of earning a roster spot and playing football in 2013. The Buccaneers have a roster exemption or Demps, who will have one full week to prove his worth and take one of the 53 available spots or else be released by Tampa Bay. Though the Bucs will certainly see what Demps can do for them, head coach Greg Schiano was perturbed a few weeks ago when asked where Demps was in the world and why he had not reported at the time.

» Former Florida Gators forward Cody Larson, who lost his scholarship and then quit the basketball team before the 2012-13 season but remained at Florida for academics, transferred to play for the South Dakota State Jackrabbits in May and had a waiver to play immediately accepted by the NCAA this month. “We want to thank the committee and the NCAA for taking the time to look at Cody’s waiver,” head coach Scott Nagy said in a school release. “We appreciate the fact that this ruling allows him the opportunity to be eligible to compete immediately.” Larson will have two years of NCAA eligibility remaining but has not played college basketball in two full seasons.

» One of the greatest tennis players in school history, Jill Craybas has decided to retire at age 39 after spending the last 18 years playing professional tennis. One of two Florida women to win the NCAA Singles Championship, Craybas captured the title in 1996 while leading the Gators women’s program to the team NCAA Championship that same season. Inducted into the UF Athletic Hall of Fame as a Gator Great in 2008, Craybas never won a Grand Slam title but advanced to the fourth round of Wimbledon in 2005 after shocking Serena Williams 6-3, 7-6 in the Round of 16 that year. She also represented the United States in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. “It’s a really tough decision to make because it’s been part of your life for so long. But I feel like lately my priorities have been starting to change, I’ve been starting to want other things in my life,” she told Tennis Panorama about her retirement decision. “I really struggled this past year with my tennis and how I was doing. I started pursuing some other things and started getting interested in other things, but it’s never an easy decision. You never know when you want to stop, but you kind of come to terms with it sooner or later.”

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FOUR BITS: Beal, Frazier, Larson, Prather

1 » Washington Wizards rookie guard Bradley Beal, whose attendance at the 2013 NBA Draft Lottery on Tuesday earned his team the No. 3 overall pick in this year’s draft, faces a long journey before he returns to the court. Beal suffered numerous injuries during the 2013 season and was forced to miss the final nine games of the campaign (as well as 20 of the last 25) after it was revealed that he had a stress injury (fracture) to his fibula. He was originally given a six-week timetable for recovery but is past that at this point. Beal told Comcast SportsNet on Tuesday that he has not “done any basketball-related activities” since the end of the season and will be “going to get another X-ray” in the next few weeks. He should be fine for the start of next season but must heal the stress fracture completely before he returns to the court.

2 » Florida Gators guard Michael Frazier II has accepted an invitation to try out for USA Basketball’s under-19 team, which will be coached by Florida head coach Billy Donovan through the 2013 U19 FIBA World Championship. Frazier, who is entering his sophomore season, will be one of 24 invitees competing for 12 roster spots. Training camp lasts for six days from June 14-19 in Colorado Springs, CO, but the roster will be finalized on June 16. Should he make the team, Frazier will join Donovan in Prague, Czech Republic from June 27-July 7 as Donovan looks to win a second FIBA gold medal. “It’s an honor to have this opportunity with USA Basketball,” Frazier said in a school release. “I’m really looking forward to competing with some of the best players in the country and trying to earn a place on the team.”

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Gators PG Scottie Wilbekin suspended indefinitely

Updated at 5:30 p.m.

Already missing one role player, the No. 10 Florida Gators will now be without a starting point guard for the team’s season opener on Friday as junior Scottie Wilbekin has been suspended indefinitely by head coach Billy Donovan.

Wilbekin, who spent his first two years with the Gators as a reserve but was set to open the season as the starter following the departure of Erving Walker, did not make the trip with Florida to Jacksonville, FL for the team’s game against the Georgetown Hoyas in the Navy/Marine Corps Classic.

“I think any time publicly when you [suspend a player], I think a lot of times it can get to a point where I think a really good kid is portrayed in a very poor way, and Scottie is a great kid who I think made some choices and did some things that I’m not going to have him a part of. How long it lasts, I don’t know. Right now, I just felt like he didn’t need to be here on this trip and didn’t need to be playing in this game,” Donovan said.

“Really, it was my decision this morning to do that after finding out some information on some things. I made a decision. … We were leaving at 8:30 this morning. I made a decision about 8:00 or 8:15 this morning when I got the information. Like all these guys are in college, they’re all growing and maturing and trying to make decisions and get better and find out and discover who they want to be as people. I think Scottie will learn from this; he’ll grow from this. I think he’ll be better from it.”

He continued, “None of us are immune from making mistakes and making poor choices and doing things. I think sometimes a person’s actions or a decision a person makes doesn’t say who the person is all the way around. I think Scottie is a good person with a good heart whose got to be responsible and accountable and committed in every area of his life to play for our team. I think he’s got to grow and mature and, in a lot of ways, that’s what college is for.”

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10/29: Rosario to start, Larson welcome back

Just a few days before his team steps on the court for its first and only exhibition game of the season, Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan met with the media to discuss how his roster is shaping up heading into the 2012-13 campaign.

ROSARIO GETS FIFTH STARTING SPOT…FOR NOW

Redshirt senior guard Mike Rosario, by all accounts, matured a great deal this offseason. Not only did coaches on the Puerto Rico National Team rave about his conditioning and efforts, Donovan said he got a sense that Rosario understands this is his last chance to prove that he can be a contributing member of a team and play well enough to take his career to the next level.

Because he is starting to build a trust level inside the team and has shown, both on and off the court, that he has made great strides, Rosario is listed as the starter at the small forward position for Thursday’s exhibition game against Nebraska-Kearney.

“His behavior, his accountability, him being responsible has carried n through. I think he has a better understanding of the expectation level here on him,” Donovan said. “It really didn’t make a difference. I could have started Casey [Prather]. I threw him out there because I certainly, with what he’s been doing, wanted to give him an opportunity to go out there and do that.”

He continued, “Mike has done a good job. As far as my trust level for him on the court, I think it’s growing and growing because he’s taking care of his responsibilities. I think the biggest thing right now for him that he needs to take care of on the court where he’s got to get better is just his carelessness with the ball at times. I think sometimes he’s too loose and too lax. In terms of him playing hard, being here every day, not missing practice, his attitude, trying to be a positive guy each and every day, how he’s trying to play the game, things he’s doing, I think are things that I’m kind of expecting out of him right now.”

Donovan would have no problem starting Prather against a team with a larger small forward or in a game in which rebounding may be of prime concern. Though he said he appreciates the efforts that the guards have made in rebounding, he admitted that Florida’s lack of size will be an issue all year on the glass. That is just one of the reasons why Donovan does not expect to name starters on a regular basis, though four of the players spots are obviously decided.

“I’ve never really been a big believer in just naming – these are our starters and these guys are starting. I would say there’s going to be some process of elimination,” he said. “I’m never going to come out and say, ‘These are our starters,’ because I think sometimes personnel in games dictates that, sometimes how guys practice dictates that, injury dictates that. And I think what it also does is it sends a message to your team that [players can earn more playing time or a starting job].”

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Cody Larson quits Florida Gators basketball

Just months after being taken off of scholarship and promising to earn his way back into the good graces of head coach Billy Donovan, Florida Gators redshirt sophomore forward Cody Larson has decided to quit the team.

“After a lot of careful thought, I have decided that I need to place my focus on my personal life and my academics,” Larson said in a team statement. “I really appreciate Coach Donovan and the whole staff here at Florida for the support they have given me and that made this decision harder than ever.”

According to Scout.com, which first reported Larson’s decision, it is currently unknown if he will eventually transfer in order to play elsewhere though he does plan to finish out the academic year in Gainesville, FL.

“I know this was a difficult decision for Cody. He has made great strides in his personal growth, and I’m very proud of him for that,” Donovan said in a statement. “All of us here wish him the best as he moves on from our team.”

Donovan’s decision to recruit Larson was a controversial one. The South Dakota native, who was originally committed to Iowa but backed out after a coaching change, was coming off of an arrest for a misdemeanor drug charge when he committed to Florida.

After taking a redshirt his first year on campus, Larson was arrested at the conclusion of the season on April 10 in St. Augustine, FL and charged with third-degree felony burglary (it was later reduced to a second-degree misdemeanor). The arrest nevertheless violated his two-year probation, and he was forced to return to South Dakota to attempt to avoid jail time.

Aside from his off-the-court issues, Larson’s did not make the jump Donovan expected him to on the court. He played in 25 games as a reserve last season, averaging just 0.5 points and 0.8 rebounds while shooting 45.5 percent from the floor in less than six minutes per game. Larson occasionally appeared unsure of himself on the floor and often made errors on both ends of the court.

The Gators did not lose a frontcourt member in the offseason meaning Larson was unlikely to see extended or additional playing time during the 2012-13 campaign.

While his departure may not have much impact on Florida’s game rotation, it does hurt the team in practice as he is now the second player listed at 6’9″ or taller who will no longer be working with the team between games. The Gators lost junior transfer center Damontre Harris to a shoulder injury just last week.

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Larson now a walk-on; Donovan joins Gators

Redshirt sophomore forward Cody Larson was far from surprised at the decision he was faced with this summer and that acknowledgement, combined with the mature choice he made, could be the first steps on the road to his turnaround with the Florida Gators.

Florida head coach Billy Donovan announced Wednesday during the team’s annual media day that Larson is no longer on scholarship but will pay his own way and remain with the Gators as a walk-on player.

Donovan did not come to this decision based on what Larson has done as a player during games (which has not been much to this point) but rather due to off-the-court issues both basketball related and not.

“Cody has had some responsibility issues over last year and I think certainly some of the things with Cody’s past [were] well documented. It had nothing to do with those things but had more to do with his level of responsibility here,” Donovan explained. “There were some things I wanted him to do during the course of the year that he knew there was a possibility [if] he didn’t do these things there was a chance he may not be back and he came up short on those things.”

He continued, “I think everyone’s scholarship is very valuable and you want guys to have a responsibility to take care of things they need to take care of and for Cody, those things were not happening. So, we got his family involved. Basically informed his family we were not going to renew his scholarship until he took care of these things. [We] gave Cody the option to transfer if he wanted to leave to find another school and also gave him the option to come back, try to earn his scholarship back. To his credit, this is where he wanted to be.”

Larson’s difficult decision, the first on a long list of things he must do in order to prove his commitment to the program, was a big step in the right direction for Donovan, who said he is pleased with what he has seen from him so far this offseason.

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Gators C Patric Young dealing with mono

Junior center Patric Young, one of the top frontcourt players in the country and a huge returning asset for the Florida Gators, has missed the last three weeks of workouts while suffering from mononucleosis, head coach Billy Donovan told ESPN on Tuesday.

Young, who started 32 of 37 games for the Gators in 2011-12 and averaged 10.2 points along with 6.4 rebounds, is scheduled to begin working out again on Wednesday and expected to be on the court for the first day of team practice on Oct. 12.

“I think he’s going to be fine, but there’s going to be some stamina issues with him because he hasn’t done anything for three weeks,” Donovan told ESPN. “We’ve got plenty of time where we can get him back to that point.”

Young expressed his frustration with being out of action via his Twitter account one week ago. “Do i still play basketball? Havent touched a basketball in forever,” he wrote in two consecutive tweets on Sept. 11.

Florida bolstered its frontcourt in the offseason though both players it added to the fold – transfers sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith and junior F/C Damontre Harris – will not be eligible to play this season as they must sit out a year per NCAA rules.

That leaves the Gators with Young, junior F Will Yeguete, senior F/C Erik Murphy and redshirt sophomore Cody Larson as players capable of spending extended time inside.

Considering Florida is set to open the season on Nov. 9 against a top-notch opponent for the first time since 2001-02, getting Young back healthy for the start of the 2012-13 campaign is of paramount importance to the team.

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Florida forward Walter Pitchford will transfer

Florida Gators freshman forward Walter Pitchford has decided to transfer after one year with the team in order to play basketball closer to home.

Spending just one year at the University of Florida and only seeing a total of 22 minutes of action in 13 of the team’s 37 games, Pitchford was the last scholarship player on the bench this season and considered a bit of a project. However, he always worked hard in practice and was a productive member of the team.

Pitchford told OGGOA on Wednesday that he and his family decided it would be best that he leave the program and play closer to his home state of Michigan at least partially due to his grandfather being ill.

“It’s definitely the best thing for him and his family, just with some of his extenuating circumstances,” head coach Billy Donovan told the school’s website. “Right now, he just needs to be near his family. They need him home and they want him home.”

Pitchford was pleased with his time in Gainesville, FL and praised both the coaching staff and his teammates for helping make him a better basketball player.

“My time here – I like to say that this was a learning year for me,” he said. “I really enjoyed learning from one of the greatest coaches in Coach Donovan. The assistant coaches – I really loved learning from them. Besides that, I learned a lot from my teammates. I learned something from everybody in the program. Everybody had something to add that I picked up from and will learn from.”

Donovan noticed that leadership was an issue with UF during the season and began preaching communication among the players during games. Pitchford said that is one thing in particular that he will take away from his time with the team.

“Something that clicked for me was being more verbal, being able to help tell [my] teammates what to do, saying good job, picking them up or just keeping the team excited. I learned [how important it is] to bring more energy and extra stuff,” he said.

His departure opens up one scholarship for the Gators to utilize in 2012-13. The team may wind up with two available slots should freshman guard Bradley Beal decide this month to declare for the 2012 NBA Draft.

Florida has targeted five-star power forward Anthony Bennett (Henderson, NV) to fill that remaining scholarship, but he will not make a decision until early May and is also considering a number of other schools including Kentucky, Oregon and UNLV.

The Gators’ 2012 recruiting class currently consists of three guards. With Pitchford planning to leave the team, Florida will have only three players over 6’7” on the roster next season (as of press time) – sophomore center Patric Young (6’9”), junior F Erik Murphy (6’10”) and redshirt freshman F/C Cody Larson (6’9”).

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