There may not be a more beloved senior class in Florida Gators basketball history. The Oh-Fours were probably the most loved class ever, but remember Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer, and Taurean Green all left after their junior season. This team is quickly and quietly moving their way up the charts in Gators fans hearts. Florida this year has used unselfishness, great defense, hustle, and, most importantly, fun to make this the best regular season in UF history. Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete, and Patric Young have all had important leadership roles and have been key to the unprecedented success the Gators are having this season. Without these seniors, Florida would look like their opponent on Senior Day Kentucky, who has a young team that has floundered lately.
Casey Prather might be the poster child for staying in school for all four years of your eligibility. Prather saw playing time in his three previous seasons, but it wasn’t until this year that he really broke out. Prather was a finalist for Tennessee’s Mr. Basketball his senior season of high school, averaging 29 points, 13 rebounds, 5 blocks, 5 steals and 3 assists. He saw that number decline greatly as a college freshman: He averaged 1.2 points and 1.1 rebounds in 33 games, which included two starts. In year two, Prather improved, averaging 2 points and 1.8 rebounds off the bench in 28 games. His junior season saw improvement once more, when he averaged 6.2 points and showed even more of the athleticism he showed throughout his first two years (just Google “Casey Prather Dunk” and look what comes up:)
This season, he’s been an absolute beast. He’s the Gators leading scorer, nearly doubling the combined total scoring average of his first three seasons. Prather averages 14.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.6 assists and has worked hard to get there. Prather slashes his way to the hoop this season, not settling for outside shots like he used to. He’s using his athleticism to his advantage. And he plays defense. His length and quickness cause problems for any player he defends and he averages just about a steal per game. Prather’s defining moment may have come against Kentucky at Rupp Arena when he skyed for a rebound above three Wildcat big men to help seal the game for the Gators. His dunks this season have been emphatic and shown on SportsCenter’s Top 10, but that rebound shows what kind of player Prather’s evolved into. Prather’s a lot like former Gator great Corey Brewer. Besides both being from Tennessee, they slash to the basket and use their length and quickness to alter the game. And it’s the reason he’s been named to the Wooden Watch List, the Naismith Watchlist, and a finalist for the Oscar Robertson Award. All three honors go to the Player of the Year in college basketball.
Scottie Wilbekin became a late addition to the 2010 recruiting class, but he may have been the most important. As only a two-star recruit, Wilbekin skipped his senior year at The Rock in Gainesville to play for Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators at the young age of 17. He may have been the youngest member of the team, but he quickly gained the trust of his coaches and peers. Wilbekin played in all 37 games his freshman season, backing up Erving Walker and putting up respectable numbers: 2.4 points, 1.5 rebounds, and 1.6 assists with the teams best assist-to-turnover ratio (61-28) in 17.1 minutes per game. But Wilbekin’s impact was felt more on the defensive end where he showed flashes of his defensive prowess. His sophomore year, he backed up Kenny Boynton and continued to contribute in less playing time. Wilbekin, in 15.2 minutes per game, put up 2.6 points, 1.5 rebounds, and 1.6 assists as he grew more comfortable. Boynton would usually take the opposing teams best shooter and Wilbekin would help if needed. It wasn’t until he was the starting point guard that he really started to shine. His junior year he really became known as a lockdown defender, being named to the 2013 SEC All-Defensive Team and added an All-SEC Honorable Mention. Wilbekin averaged 9.1 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 5 assists in almost 32 minutes per game. Wilbekin dished out 174 assists, good for fifth-best in UF history. His senior season has been memorable and unbelievable. He is the front-runner for SEC Player of the Year because he is the captain of the Gators ship with the team going as he goes. In Florida’s two losses up to this point, Wilbekin missed the Wisconsin game due to suspension and injured his ankle with three minutes left to play at UConn. If you remember correctly, Shabazz Napier hit a buzzer-beating pull up jumper to win the game. Napier was Wilbekin’s man and if he hadn’t injured his ankle, Florida might have pulled that one out. This season, Wilbekin’s put up stellar numbers, averaging 12.9 points after his recent scoring outbursts, 2.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 1.5 steals. But his most important stat: the Gators are 24-0 when he finishes the game. Wilbekin’s defense has been on-point and he’s become Florida’s most indispensable player. He’s iced games with his free throws, shooting, and especially his defense. Plus he can hit trick shots like this:
Will Yeguete’s will never fill up the stat line. Although he’s respectable in all the major categories, it’s his defense, ability to rebound, and selflessness that define Yeguete. He’s never scored more than 5.5 points per game in a season. His career high is 14 points. Yeguete’s blue-collar attitude is exactly what the Gators need. As a sophomore, he broke his foot after 26 games and the Gators sorely missed his rebounding and defense. If he had been healthy, who knows if they had enough to get past Louisville in the Elite 8. His junior year saw another injury. Yeguete had to have surgery on his right knee in February, but he returned to play in the final six regular season games and the SEC and NCAA Tournaments, albeit hobbled. He ended up having surgery again in May to clean up the knee. But his senior year has gone as expected so far with him playing great post and perimeter defense, as well as snatching up big rebounds and diving for 50/50 balls. For his career, Yeguete averages 4.1 points, 5 rebounds, and about 1 steal per game. But as good and important he is a basketball player for Florida, he’s an even better person. Yeguete is constantly out in the community, making an impact in young people’s lives. Here are just a few examples.
I strongly believe that Improving people’s lives and doing things for others it’s what life is about…
— Will Yeguete (@Will15Yeguete) February 20, 2014
- Will Yeguete (@Will15Yeguete) March 5, 2014
- Will Yeguete (@Will15Yeguete) November 28, 2013
Giving back to the fans. He’s always posting pictures of fans and him on his Twitter.
- Scott Mullen (@ScottMullen26) January 5, 2014
- Florida Gators (@GatorZoneNews) February 5, 2014
And he’s formed a special bond with a young fan:
- Andy Staples (@Andy_Staples) March 5, 2014
Patric Young is the definition of #HUSTLE. In fact, that’s where we get the hustle hashtag from.
Young may be the most likeable Gator in a long time with his infectious smiles, but it’s his selflessness on the court that endears him to fans. No one works harder for loose balls or rebounds and that dive for the ball against Tennessee this season perfectly exemplifies this. Young was rated the best prospect out of high school in this senior group. He’s the only McDonald’s All-American. But he’s made an impact from day one with his NBA-ready body that all the announcers rave about (see: Dykes, Jimmy). He’s always been tenacious on the defensive end, protecting the rim, but this season, he’s added some offense to his game. Young is a three-year starter who have averaged 10+ points in each year. He’s also averaged better than 6 rebounds and 1 block per game. He’s another one of those blue-collar players Florida has that just wants to win. He’s been playing on bad knees and he still gives it his all. He’s also getting it done off the court. Young was an All-SEC Freshman, on the SEC Academic Honor Roll in 2012, named the SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year for two straight years (2012, 2013), named Second Team All-SEC last season, and is up for the Senior CLASS Award, which measures a players contributions on and off the court through performance in school and in the community. He’s always been the most candid of the senior class, and most likely the most beloved. Young had the chance to jump to the NBA and be a possible top-20 pick after his freshman season, but he decided to stay at Florida and has never really looked back. He’s the embodiment of student athletics with his love for the school. And of course, there’s this defining play: This years senior class has already set pretty much all the team win records except two: The number of wins by the senior class and the number of wins in a season. Only Walter Hodge has more wins at 117, but with five more wins, this years class will pass him. And Florida’s record for wins in a season is 35, something within reach with a 28-2 record and the way the Gators have played. They have a chance to make SEC history by winning 18 conference games in a season, something not even Kentucky can boast. They’ve set the consecutive wins overall, wins at home, SEC wins on the road, and pretty much every other record that matters. They’re the only team that has gone to three straight Elite 8s. This team is special and they’re not going to be done until they cut down the nets at Jerry World. This last picture says everything you could ever want about this group of seniors. We’ll miss them and remember them forever for their efforts on and off the court.
- Will Yeguete (@Will15Yeguete) February 26, 2014