Will Yeguete the Florida Gators small forward who provides energy, athleticism, rebounding, and great defense has been suffering from an acute case of tendinitis in his knee. On Tuesday night he lasted only one minute into the Arkansas game before hitting the bench. On Thursday we found out that the knee will require surgery which will sideline Yeguete for basically the rest of the regular season.
Head coach Billy Donovan said at today’s media session before practice that team doctor’s discovered bone fragments floating around in the knee area and decided that arthroscopic knee surgery will be necessary to remove the bone fragments and clean the area up. The surgery will require a rehab time of four to six weeks which will sideline him for the rest of the regular season. There is a chance he could come back for the post-season if his rehab goes successfully without setbacks but that will remain to be seen.
“He’s going to need surgery,” Donovan said. “He’s going to be out, best case scenario, probably out for the remainder of the regular season. Probably reevaluate it then. He’s had some significant swelling over the last several weeks. He’s got some floating chips and cartilage in there.”
“He’s got to have some arthroscopic surgery to have it cleaned out,” Donovan added,. “He’ll probably do that at the end of the week. My guess right now is four to six weeks before he’ll be able to get back.”
It will likely be a huge blow for the Gators who have become somewhat accustomed to having a man or two down. They have played with 7 different starting lineups this season due to injuries and suspensions. They had to play parts or all of games without Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather, Erik Murphy, and Mike Rosario. Fortunately, for the most part they’ve played well with different lineups.
“I think anytime you lose a player on your team it always hurts,” Donovan said. “But this is not something that we are unaccustomed to dealing with this year. The first three games we were without Scottie, we’ve been without Murph, we’ve been without Prather, we’ve been without some different guys. So this is another guy that we’ll be without.”
Yeguete, however, is a totally different player to be without. He has a very specific role on this team that is difficult to replace. He’s a very active defender who provides length and athleticism in the press, he’s very disruptive in the post in halfcourt, and he is able to do a lot of things in terms of doubling in the post and switching against screens and the pick and roll. He’s also a fantastic backside rebounder often getting his points from second chance opportunities on the offensive glass.
“He’s obviously made a huge impact on our team,” Donovan said. “He’s a guy that does things for our team that not a lot of guys do. He’s a great defender, he’s a great rebounder, he gives you a lot of flexibility on the defensive end of the floor with different things you can do. From pressing to halfcourt defense to switching to having him guard certain players. So that’s going to be definitely a loss but that’s just part of competing.”
The other issue is that Yeguete’s backup, Casey Prather, is still not nearly recovered from his latest injury the high ankle sprain. With him being incapable of producing effectively, the Gators become very thin in the frontcourt and that puts pressure on center Patric Young and power forward Erik Murphy to stay out of foul trouble and to up their minutes in the game.
” A bigger concern for me is Prather is still not healthy,” Donovan said. “We’ve become a very, very thin basketball team depth-wise, that’s probably more of a challenge because we’re really not getting anything out of Casey right now. He’s just missed so much time between the concussions and missed time with the high ankle sprain. What we can get out of him, I don’t really know.”
What this means for the Gators in the short-term is freshman DeVon Walker will be called upon to step into the lineup and provide significant minutes, perhaps before he is quite ready. It’s very difficult for freshman to come in and contribute productively in the midst of the SEC conference schedule especially in Donovan’s system which requires a lot of knowledge and experience to perform effectively. The freshman, who doesn’t lack talent or confidence, will simply have to fill in as best as possible.
“I don’t know if he’s ready. We don’t have a whole lot of choices right now. but I would say this about DeVon Walker which I like, he’s highly competitive, he’s a tough kid. I think he’ll step in there and give us everything he has. that’s a comforting part.”
” Is he going to be in the right spot all the time,” asked Donovan. “Probably not. Is he going to make some mistakes? Absolutely. Has he absorbed enough minutes to have any level of experience to handle that? Probably not. But I think for him, I do have confidence in his competitiveness, in his willingness to do whatever is necessary to help our team. I feel really good about that. But he’s still obviously got a long way to go to continue to improve and get better.”
Of course, it won’t be simply on his shoulders to pick up the slack for the missing Yeguete, by all means. It also means that Donovan will have to experiment with the lineup to try to get the best match-ups possible which of course will change from game to game depending upon who they are playing.
“We’re going to have to move around some different pieces here. We’re going to have to look at playing four guards. We’re going to have to look at moving Frazier to a power forward spot some. We’re going to have to look at different lineups with Walker on the floor as well.”
And in spite of the effect Yeguete’s knee injury may haveon the team on the court, it’s still a big blow personally to Yeguete, a fan favorite who always has a smile on his face and is as passionate off the court as he is on it. With his trademark “Brohawk” and his french accent, he’s from Bordeaux in the South of France, and his perpetual positive outlook on things, this injury is the worst case scenario, considering he missed considerable time last season due to injury as well.
“I feel bad for Will,” Donovan said ruefully. “I think as a coach you’re alwyas going to deal with the players who are available to play. I feel more disappointed for him because I think he’s worked hard, he’s a good kid.”
Sadly, Yeguete was having the best season of his career in scoring, rebounding, and assists. He continually has lifted his teammates with big plays on the defensive end, rebounding, blocking shots, and forcing turnovers. Often it’s not the steals or rebounds, it’s simply the way he forces opponents to alter shots making him extremely disruptive and it’s something that opponents can’t really gameplan for.
But, it’s like head football coach Will Muschamp likes to preach: man down, man up. Freshmen DeVon Walker and Michael Frazier will certainly get their opportunity to step up and show some maturity as they get extended playing time through the rest of the regular season.
“We’ll see what he (Walker) does when he gets out there,” Donovan said. “I say this all the time that freshman a lot of time are not playing as much as they want. They always want to play more, play more. He’s going to get a chance to play a little more.”
Both guys will get the chance to play a lot more and we may even see another freshman or two get some extended playing time as well as Donovan fiddles with the lineup attempting to find the right combination to continue the Gators winning ways in the SEC, the Arkansas game not withstanding.
Climb aboard, strap yourself in. It should be an interesting ride.