GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — No. 2 Florida has dealt with a defection, a suspension, a concussion and minor injuries all season.
Now the Gators have a major setback to overcome.
Florida will be without forward Will Yeguete for at least the rest of the regular season following knee surgery.
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Yeguete will have arthroscopic surgery Friday to remove loose bodies, a potential blow to the team’s championship chances.
Yeguete has been slowed by tendinitis all season, but coach Billy Donovan said Thursday that the 6-foot-7 junior’s knee had “significant swelling” in recent weeks. It really started bothering after a minute on the court in Tuesday’s loss at Arkansas. Tests revealed the extent of the injury.
“He’s got some floating chips and cartilage in there, which we knew beforehand was there,” said Donovan, adding that Yeguete will be out four to six weeks. “A lot of it was based on pain. But I think because the chips are floating around, they’ve probably gotten into different parts of his knee that have just put him in a situation where I think the treatment going forward is not what we needed to do. He’s got to have some arthroscopic surgery to have it cleaned out.”
Yeguete, usually the first player off the bench, is averaging 6.0 points and 6.3 rebounds this season. The Frenchman also is the team’s best frontcourt defender.
Yeguete missed the final nine games last season because of a broken left foot, and Florida went 4-5 without him.
His absence could be even tougher on the Gators this time around.
Donovan’s team lacks front-court depth, and the guy who would pick up extra minutes — Casey Prather — has fallen behind because of a concussion and a high-ankle sprain.
“We become a very, very thin basketball team depth-wise,” Donovan said. “That’s probably more of a challenge because we’re really not getting anything from Casey right now. He has just missed so much time with the concussions and missed time with his high-ankle sprain. What we can get out of him, we really don’t know.”
Until Prather gets back to full speed, Donovan plans to use a four-guard lineup and give freshman DeVon Walker a chance to play power forward. Walker, a 6-foot-6 swingman from Winter Haven, has 15 points and 14 rebounds in 74 minutes this season. He hasn’t played more than 6 minutes in any game since the season opener and is 2 of 17 shooting.
“I don’t know if he is ready,” Donovan said. “We don’t have a whole lot of choices now, but I will say this about DeVon Walker, which I like: He is highly competitive. He is a tough kid. I think he’ll step in there and gives us everything he has. That’s a comforting part.
“Is he going to be in the right spot every time? Probably not. Is he going to make mistakes? Absolutely. Has he absorbed enough minutes to have any level of experience to handle that? Probably not. … We’ll see what he does when he gets out there.”
No matter who tries to pick up the slack, there’s little doubt the Gators will miss Yeguete.
He’s a tenacious rebounder and has a knack for taking charges, making steals and playing the kind of help defense that has Florida ranked third in scoring (52.4 points a game).
“Obviously, he’s one of our, like, dirty guys,” guard Mike Rosario said. “That’s what we would call it, like Dennis Rodman-type, grab every rebound, our hustle guy. Him and Casey basically play that role for us, rebounding the ball and being at the right spot at the right time, especially at the defensive end. That’s very important to us, having him on our team because he takes care of that area for our basketball team.”
Yeguete is the latest in a growing list of issues for Donovan’s squad.
Forward Cody Larson left the team just weeks before the regular season. Point guard Scott Wilbekin was suspended the first three games. And injuries have been the biggest hurdle. In addition to Prather and Yeguete, Wilbekin (broken finger), Rosario (sprained ankle) and forward Erik Murphy (broken rib) have played hurt.
None of them, though, was a serious as Yeguete’s injury.
“I feel more disappointed for him because I think he has worked hard,” Donovan said. “He’s a good kid. He’s obviously made a huge impact on our team. He’s a guy that does things for our team that not a lot of guys do. He’s a great defender, great rebounder. He gives you a lot of flexibility on the defensive end of the floor of things you can do from pressing to half-court defense to switching to having him guard certain players.
“That’s going to be definitely a loss. That’s just part of competing, part of playing. Guys are going to get hurt. That happens. I feel more, not so much for our team, I feel bad for him, just because going through his foot injury last year.”