GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida coach Billy Donovan is cautiously optimistic about his team’s health.
Forward Will Yeguete and guard Michael Frazier II were cleared to practice and play Thursday, giving Donovan a full complement of players heading into Saturday’s game against Alabama.
It’s the first time in three weeks the eighth-ranked Gators (22-5, 12-3 Southeastern Conference) have been fully healthy.
But Donovan doesn’t want his players putting too much stock in having Yeguete and Frazier back in the mix.
“They’ve got understand that they’ve got to step up and they’ve got to play and they cannot take the approach of, `Well, we’re a little bit deeper. We have more guys available,'” Donovan said. “Because I just don’t know if Frazier and/or Yeguete are going to be really able to provide some significant minutes for us.”
Yeguete, a 6-foot-7 junior averaging 6.0 points and 6.3 rebounds, missed the last six games following arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. Frazier, a 6-foot-4 freshman averaging 6.4 points, sat out Tuesday night’s loss at Tennessee with a concussion.
Without them, the Gators pretty much went with a six-man rotation against the Volunteers and seemed to wear down in the second half.
Swingman Casey Prather also went down with what looked like a concussion in the final minutes against Tennessee. But Donovan says Prather, who missed four games early in the season because of a concussion, passed baseline tests and is fine.
“Obviously, it’s great to have those guys back,” forward Erik Murphy said. “You know, it gives us back a full team, at full strength. But I think that doesn’t give us any reason to expect anything out of them. … We can’t expect too much out of those guys. Everybody’s got to stay on edge, continue to stay focused and do what they’re doing.”
Yeguete’s injury caused the most concern.
Initially, Donovan said the Frenchman would miss at least the remainder of the regular season. But Yeguete’s knee responded well following surgery to remove loose bodies Feb. 8.
Yeguete has been running and cutting more than a week, but hadn’t practiced fully until Thursday.
“I have no idea right now,” Donovan said before practice. “My expectation on him going into the game is not very high just because I haven’t seen him play. Obviously, he’s got two days to practice, but I would be hard-pressed to believe he’s going to be the same player he was before he went down with his injury. It’ll probably take him some time to get back, but at least he can start working to get back in shape and get back in rhythm and timing and those kinds of things.”
Yeguete, who also missed several games late last season, was nervous and eager to get back on the court.
“I feel like a little kid right now,” he said. “I’m a little excited to get back out there. I feel like it’s been a minute since I played with those guys and on the court and competing. But at the same time, I’m not going to be like 100 percent and not going to be able to go up and down for 30 minutes like a regular practice. So it’s going to take time. It’s going to be a process. I think the coaches know that, and I’m ready to go whenever they want me to go.”
Yeguete still has to get used to playing with a bulky knee brace.
“I feel like I’m not free,” he said. “My knee is still kind of strapped up or something, but if that’s what I have to do and the safest thing to do, I have to play with it and just get used to it. It was a bit harder in the beginning, but now I’m getting used to it.”
The Tide (19-9, 11-4) is the first test.
The game also could decide the regular-season title. A win would put the Gators, who are 13-0 at home this season, two games up over Alabama with two to play.
Florida, though, cares more about getting healthy in time for the postseason.
“I always get nervous when guys miss practice and games because there is a rhythm that you kind of miss out on — the normal routine of going through practice, going through shooting, going through individual instruction and game preparation, getting ready to play, being out on the court, going through shoot-around, all those things,” Donovan said. “And when those things are taken away, it takes a little bit of time to get back. … We’ve got to play with the guys that really kind of have been there, so to speak, for the last several weeks.”