Donovan’s discipline, Wilbekin’s work, Young’s extended hand set up Florida Gators for success

By Adam Silverstein
March 25, 2014

Much has been written about the offseason suspension of senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, which lasted five games into the 2013-14 season, and the road laid out for him by head coach Billy Donovan to return to the Florida Gators.

During a Monday afternoon appearance on ESPN Radio‘s SVP & Russillo, Donovan provided additional insight into Wilbekin’s offseason struggles, explaining why he put so many obstacles in Wilbekin’s way while relating a story about how, with one gesture, his floor general went from outcast to full-fledged team member.

First, some background. Suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules – his third infraction overall and second in a seven-month span – Wilbekin was told by Donovan that it would likely be best for him to transfer and start over elsewhere. If he did choose to stay with the Gators, the Gainesville, FL-native’s hometown team, earning his way back in the good graces of his coach and teammates would be a tall task that he may not have the necessary motivation or discipline to scale.

“Scottie Wilbekin’s situation was a unique one not only from the standpoint of a suspension, but I do think there were some guys on our team that were disappointed in him, there were some guys that had to regain trust, so to speak.. And he needed to be put into a situation – because he does have good leadership qualities – to be able to do that,” Donovan began.

“One of the things I felt like in looking at the whole thing is I was very disappointed, our team was very disappointed in some of the choices and decisions Scottie made. When he made the decision that he wanted to stay here and he wanted to battle and fight his way through, I do think there was a lot of guys on our team that were a little bit skeptical of how committed is he to us. How committed is he to this team? He’s making bad choices and in the past he’s not been committed [off the court].”

That is when Donovan decided he had no choice but to set forth a myriad of demands including Wilbekin moving back in with his family and dedicating himself 100 percent to his team and his craft, free from distractions and the bad scenarios he had placed himself in over the previous three seasons.

“I had to put him, I felt like as a coach, in a situation where he could restore his credibly and his trust inside the team. Although people may have looked at the suspension or his punishment as being really, really harsh, I’m not so sure – if I made it easy on him – if we as a team would’ve regained that trust,” Donovan continued.

“I think those guys saw what he went through. He was totally removed from our team for really all of preseason and the start of practice. Our guys would have 7 o’clock in the morning conditioning on Tuesdays and Thursdays; Scottie Wilbekin was in there at 5:30 in the morning doing his conditioning by himself. When our players were coming in, they saw him exhausted, full of sweat by himself. When our guys came out there for individual instruction as a group of fours, he’s coming off the floor by himself soaking wet. When our guys were walking into the weight room, they saw him in the weight room. I think they really appreciated [his effort].”

Donovan and the assistant coaches noticed that Wilbekin had begun fostering respect and accelerating forgiveness from his teammates, including three of his closest friends and classmates in seniors center Patric Young and forwards Casey Prather and Will Yeguete. However, it was not until a symbolic hand was extended by one of those three men that Wilbekin’s extended exile came to an end.

“I’ll tell you what really was a great, great visual for me,” Donovan began. “Our team was getting ready to go through conditioning. [Wilbekin] had just finished up. He was sitting on the side. He was exhausted, he was tired, by himself, against the wall.

“Our guys kind of huddled up to break, they were getting ready to start conditioning, and Patric Young called him over and said, ‘Come on in the huddle.’ Scottie [was] looking around [at] the coaches like, ‘Am I allowed to do that?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’

“It was amazing what had happened to him with our guys kind of pulling him back into the fray with our team. Scottie deserves all the credit because he’s the one that did it. He put the work in, he was committed. He really restored his relationship, his credibility. I just wanted to try and create an avenue for him, as a coach, for him to get back what he lost.”

One could argue that Florida would not be where it is right now – standing as the No. 1 overall seed in the country and preparing to compete in the Sweet 16 of the 2014 NCAA Tournament – had Donovan not demanded so much from Wilbekin in the offseason as the player attempted to work his way back onto the team.

The extra practice and conditioning undoubtedly helped Wilbekin, the 2014 SEC Player of the Year, get back on the team, but it also took his game to another level.

On a larger scale, his offseason efforts brought the Gators closer together than they had ever been before.

Florida dealt with and overcame perhaps its greatest challenges before the season even began. The result was a group of players more connected than any UF squad since the 2007 team that won the second of back-to-back national titles.

Through acceptance and forgiveness, the Gators have built respect, trust and a belief that they are better as a focused unit than an assembly of individual parts.

And it has been Donovan pulling the strings the entire time.

Photo Credit: Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel


  1. Betamath says:

    Great read. With so many of these stories ending a different way, it’s great to see a young man rise to the challenge and commit to doing the right thing for himself and his team. I look forward to watching these guys continue their remarkable run. Go Gators

  2. Jared says:

    What an incredible. The Pat Young hand gesture is awesome. Time to put it all together and beat UCLA.

  3. Excellent, Excellent article, Adam. That is truly quality stuff.

  4. Joonas says:

    I think this story is one of the biggest reasons Donovan will stay at Florida and not go to the NBA ever, he can help grow these kids into men and I think he cares more about that than any number of wins or the amount of money he could make.

  5. Sharon M says:

    By letting it be Scottie’ decision Billy D was being an excellent role model. There needs to be consequences for bad behavior.

  6. gatorboi352 says:

    With all the hoopla around Scottie’s offseason suspension, it better have not been something like he got caught with weed.

    • RoadDogRuss says:

      If it was again, and again; then I’d say BD had no choice. Scottie’s not the player he is today if Billy doesn’t bust his balls, and hard. Man, move back in with your folks. That’s brutal. (Okay Adam, how come I keep getting the FSU questions? two-?=1)

    • Gatoralum88 says:

      (I wrote a response to Adam’s excellent Senior feature on Scottie. Feel free to look it up.)

  7. suedawgue says:

    This excellent article is not just about an outstanding coach for basketball, but also about an incredible person as a coach for shaping and molding young men for the rest of their lives. Bringing out the best of them, after going beneath the layer of what outside forces can influence young people and then seeing the long term potential. Wasn’t Wilbekin 17 yrs old when he was a freshman basketball player? Is that pretty young? Think when we were 17. It takes quite a person (like Coach Donovan) to see the underlying character or future (not just as a basketball player) of an individual at that age. And look at what else….the character of Young (extending his hand to come into the huddle) and 3 time SEC academic player of the year, the improvement of Prather over the past 4 years, the off-campus involvement of Yuegette with his hospital visits and mentoring the 5-yr old kid (with Young) along with his incredible hustle on the court. Donovan saw all this. He is quite THE MAN. Go Gators. Take Donovan to the top…….again!

  8. Thanks everyone for the kind comments on the story.

  9. HeadOfficial says:

    Adam, do we know if Donovan has made similar progress with Damontre Harris?

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