The Southeastern Conference announced its league awards, voted on by the coaches, on Tuesday.
Befitting an unprecedented 18-0 record in SEC play, Florida hauled in an impressive amount of honors, including Billy Donovan’s second consecutive SEC Coach of the Year win and SEC Player of the Year accolades for senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, the second Gator in team history to claim the award.
Patric Young earned a league-record third SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year honor and was named Defensive Player of the Year. In addition, Dorian Finney-Smith was named SEC Sixth Man of the Year for his impressive play off the bench.
This marks the first time since the current SEC awards format was introduced in 2004 that one team has had three different players honored with league-wide individual awards, and it is just the second time that one school has claimed five of the six major individual awards.
Casey Prather and Wilbekin both earned first-team placement on the All-SEC squad, while Young garnered second-team recognition. For the second consecutive season, both Wilbekin and Young made the SEC All-Defensive Team.
”Any individual honor, to me, is just a reflection on your team,” Donovan said at his weekly press conference on Monday. ”Whatever awards are given out or whatever honors are given out to any of our guys, I think they would be the first one to say, âWithout my teammates, this would not have been possible.’ So if you have a goal, ‘I want to be Player of the Year,’ well, you can’t accomplish that by yourself. You have to have other guys to make that happen. I think any individual honor, to me, is always a reflection of the group. Everybody shares in that together.”
A testament to Donovan’s ability to develop and get the most out of his players, the trio of Gator seniors on All-SEC teams combined to start five games during their freshman season (2010-11, in which UF won the SEC with a starting lineup that featured three seniors). Prather, Wilbekin and Young combined to average 7.0 points per game as freshmen, a number that currently sits at 38.4 points per game during their senior year, a 549 percent scoring increase.
”For the guys that don’t leave early or are not afforded the opportunity to leave early, they get better if they are willing to stay the course on the process they have to go through,” Donovan said on Monday. ”I just want to create an environment here that whenever they are ready to go, they are going to have our blessing. But if they do stay here, rest assured they will get to be as good as they can possibly be once they leave here.”
After never receiving the SEC’s top coaching award during his first 14 seasons at Florida, which included two national championship seasons, Donovan has now won the award three of the past four seasons. He is the first coach to win the award in consecutive seasons since Don DeVoe did so at Tennessee in 1981 and ’82. Donovan joins DeVoe, C.M. Newton (Alabama, co-1975, ’76) and Adolph Rupp (Kentucky, 1968-72) as the only coaches to win the award in back-to-back seasons.
Wilbekin becomes the second Gator to win SEC Player of the Year honors, joining Chandler Parsons (2011). Wilbekin has averaged 12.9 points and 3.9 assists per game while playing a team-high 33.7 minutes. His many highlights include a buzzer-beating drive on the final play of regulation to send Florida into overtime at Arkansas, a jumper as the shot clock expired in the final minutes to help win at Auburn and a career-high 23 points in Florida’s victory at Kentucky. Like Parsons, Wilbekin wins the SEC’s top honor without leading his team in scoring, and he is currently ranks 25th in the SEC. The first-team All-SEC honor marks his first by the coaches, receiving Associated Press honorable mention in 2013.
Young is the first player to three-peat as SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year and brings that award to Gainesville for the sixth time in its 11-year history (Lee Humphrey, 2006 and ’07; Ray Shipman, 2010). It adds to his impressive list of classroom accomplishments that includes Academic All-American recognition this season. He also becomes the second Gator to win SEC Defensive Player of the Year accolades, joining Corey Brewer (co-winner in 2006). While Young does not put up gaudy blocked-shot numbers, his physical low-post presence coupled with his ability to call pick-and-roll coverage and effectively corral guards makes him one of the elite defenders in the country. His second-team All-SEC honor is the second of his career, earning it in 2013, as well.
Prather exploded into a major scoring threat this season and would be a shoe-in for the SEC’s most-improved player if the award existed. Having averaged 6.2 points as a junior, Prather is scoring 14.6 points throughout his senior season and ranks sixth in the nation with a .625 field goal percentage. This marks the first All-SEC honor of his career.
Finney-Smith provided a scoring and rebounding lift for the Gators off the bench this season, averaging 9.4 points and a team-leading 6.9 boards. He led Florida in scoring three times during conference play, including a career day with 22 points and 15 rebounds at Arkansas, his lone start of the SEC season. The 6-foot-8 forward also ranks third on the team with 34 3-pointers made. He is the second Gator to win the award, joining Chris Richard (2007).
Florida kicks off SEC Tournament action in Atlanta with a quarterfinal game vs. Missouri or Texas A&M on Friday at 1 p.m.