Florida opens practice with Wilbekin
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)
Coach Billy Donovan partially reinstated Wilbekin on Wednesday, saying the senior point guard will rejoin teammates at their first practice Friday.
Yeguete and Carter, meanwhile, have not been cleared to practice or play. Yeguete, a 6-foot-8 forward, is recovering from surgery to repair cartilage damage in his right knee. Carter, a 6-2 guard who transferred from Rutgers earlier this year and is eligible to play right away, is recovering from a broken right leg.
''There are so many unknowns on our team right now,'' Donovan said at the team's annual media day.
Donovan declined to fully dismiss a report that forwards Damontre Harris, Dorian Finney-Smith and Casey Prather will be suspended multiple games to start the season. The Gators open Nov. 8 against North Florida and play at Wisconsin four days later.
''Everybody but Will Yeguete and Eli Carter is ready to practice going forward and on our team,'' Donovan said.
All the early season uncertainty has created questions for Florida.
The Gators went 29-8 last season, reaching a regional final for the third consecutive year. They returned seven players, including starters Wilbekin and Pat Young, and added former transfers Finney-Smith (Virginia Tech) and Harris (South Carolina). Finney-Smith and Harris sat out last season under NCAA transfer rules. They also added Carter, who left Rutgers after the school fired embattled coach Mike Rice, and added highly touted freshman Kasey Hill.
Florida expected its experience and those extra bodies to make it contender in the Southeastern Conference and maybe even for a national title.
But injuries, suspensions and moving parts have dampened the outlook.
''Every year, we go through different things as far as injuries and different other issues that we have and we always fight through it,'' Yeguete said. ''I think we have a really good of guys that are willing to put in the work. I think we are really close and we can do something special this year.''
Wilbekin staying out of trouble surely would help.
Donovan suspended him indefinitely in June for a violation of team rules. It was Wilbekin's second suspension in seven months. He was suspended for three games to begin last season.
Wilbekin, who averaged 9.1 points and 5.0 assists last season, still has hurdles to clear before being fully reinstated.
''I'm really, really proud of him and what he's done and the way he's handled and conducted himself,'' Donovan said. ''I think from the spring all the way through now, it's been a long, long road for him just being disconnected from our team, not working out with our team, not really being around out team and then slowly trying to work his way back.
''He's done everything that I could ask of as a player in terms of taking responsibility and growing. He's still got some things in front of him before he's actually fully back on our team, but we'll give him the opportunity to practice.''
Donovan has no timetable on the return of Yeguete and Carter. Yeguete, one of the team's four seniors, averaged 5.5 points and 5.8 rebounds last season. Carter averaged 14.9 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists last year as a sophomore.
''I feel bad for Eli,'' Donovan said. ''Any time you transfer in and you start your career at a different school on an injured note and not able to go out there and prove yourself and play every day, I think that's been difficult. I have less of a worry about Will. He has an understanding.
''But Eli is trying to pick up a new system, maybe a different style of play, everything's going to be different. When you can't go through things on a regular basis, that's always challenging. We'll have to see how he progresses, but he's just not ready to play.''