Florida basketball’s tale of two transfers

By Adam Silverstein
July 11, 2013

Over a three-week span in the summer of 2012, head coach Billy Donovan added significant depth to his roster when center Damontre Harris (South Carolina) and forward Dorian Finney-Smith (Virginia Tech), both former four-star recruits, decided to transfer and continue their college careers with the Florida Gators.

Though both would have to sit out the 2012-13 campaign due to NCAA transfer rules, the goal was for Harris and Finney-Smith to practice with their teammates during the season, providing great competition and helping improve the Gators from the inside out.

Except things did not go exactly as planned by Donovan and one of the two players barely stepped on the practice courts at all last year.

On Oct. 17, 2012, Donovan announced that Harris dislocated his shoulder and tore his labrum. He soon decided to have surgery, forcing him out of action and away from any on-court contact for more than four months.

While still sidelined with his injury, Harris was arrested on Feb. 20 after failing to appear at an arraignment scheduled seven months earlier. He was originally cited by the University Police Department on July 16 for driving without a valid in-state license and was supposed to take care of the necessary paperwork and pay the fines associated with the infraction. (He has since settled the issue.)

Eight days later on Feb. 28, Donovan announced that Florida practiced with a full complement of players for the first time in 138 days as Harris was one of three injured Gators to return to practice.

Unbeknownst to the public, that was not the end of Harris’s struggles, as Donovan explained during a media availability on Wednesday.

“When he finally got back in the middle of February, [Harris was] dealing with a high-ankle sprain less than a week after he got back from his shoulder,” he said. “He [also] dealt with some strep in his throat. They thought they were going to have to do surgery and that it was an abscess. He was on antibiotics for six weeks.”

Combining the shoulder surgery, high-ankle sprain and strep throat, Harris barely saw the court for Florida during a year in which he was supposed to improve his game while serving as big-time competition for then-junior C Patric Young during practice.

“I really feel bad for Damontre because I really felt like last year was a wasted year for him. He really needed a year of individual instruction, player development, those kind of things,” Donovan said. “It really was a wasted year for him in terms of his development and his growth. He couldn’t do a lot of lifting with his shoulder, so he lost a lot of weight. … It was a real difficult year for him health-wise.”

He continued: “I really felt like it would’ve been good for Patric, it would’ve been good for him, it would’ve been good for all our frontcourt players if he was there, but he wasn’t.”

The good news for Harris and the Gators is that things have turned around for him this offseason. Donovan said Harris is in the process of getting back in shape and is “doing much better now.” With two hours a week set aside to work with players, Florida’s coaches and trainers are doing their best to help Harris “make up for some lost time.”

On the other end of the spectrum is Finney-Smith, who unlike Harris was able to remain healthy and practice with the Gators all last season.

While Donovan is concerned with helping Harris stay on the court, he is mindful that a full season of hype and outside expectations may be a lot for Finney Smith (nicknamed Doe-Doe) to deal with in his first year actually playing at Florida.

“I liken the situation with Doe-Doe very similar to what it was with Vernon Macklin,” Donovan explained Wednesday. “Vernon Macklin came out with as a McDonald’s All-American, this huge reputation. Our team, the previous year, lacked a lot of size and athleticism in and around the basket. He got portrayed as this guy who was going to kind of be the savior in our frontcourt. I thought the expectation that was placed on him was probably difficult. I think when guys transfer and people are sitting out, the legend of those guys grows to enormity in sizes that is probably not really reality.

“Those guys are good players. There’s no question they can help us. But when you see a guy like Doe-Doe who is a McDonald’s All-American, plays one year at Virginia Tech and he averaged [6.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.9 assists] and he’s got a year to sit out, I think sometimes people’s expectations can really grow.

“I told him he can’t worry about that. He’s got do what he needs to do to help our team. He’s been good in terms of the year last year was really good for him. He stayed healthy unlike Damontre and was able to improve and get better and have an understanding of what we’re doing.”

That experience is one reason some believe Finney-Smith, a member of the ACC All-Freshman Team for 2010-11, may either start for the Gators at the beginning of the season or at least see starter’s minutes off the bench.

Though Donovan may want the hype surrounding Finney-Smith to calm, those that follow the program are certainly excited to see what he can do for the Gators this year.

Should Harris come along as expected, frontcourt could return to being a strength for Florida, something fans have been waiting to see for quite some time.


  1. Michael Jones says:

    Man, as fired up as I am about the upcoming football season, it’s hard not to get giddy about the upcoming basketball season too!

    Any news on Walker, Adam? I was watching an NBA draft projection for 2014 (I’m ashamed to say. . . I actually DO have a life) and he was projected as a lottery pick.

  2. Matt says:

    Any word on what the issue has been with Scottie Wilbekin? How much time do you think he will miss to start the season?

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