Commentary

Familiar challenge for Billy D

Coach must scramble his team after a major injury, but he has done it before

Updated: February 23, 2012, 12:05 PM ET
By Michael DiRocco | GatorNation

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The loss of key reserve Will Yeguete to a broken left foot is a huge blow to the Florida basketball team's chances of making a run in the Southeastern Conference and NCAA tournaments.

But it's not insurmountable.

UF coach Billy Donovan has dealt with an even worse injury situation. Not only was he able to hold the Gators together, he got them to overcome the loss of three starters and eventually claim a share of the SEC regular-season title.

In the 2000-01 season, the Gators lost forward Brent Wright and point guard Justin Hamilton to foot and knee injuries, respectively, during the first 14 games of the season. Wright averaged 15.9 points and 11 rebounds in UF's first 11 games but played with pain in his right foot, and X-rays eventually revealed a stress fracture. He had surgery -- during which a screw was implanted to stabilize the fracture -- and missed four games.

He returned and played in the next five games off the bench, and rejoined the starting lineup against Arkansas. In that game, Wright suffered a fractured right thumb, had surgery to repair the break, and missed UF's next game. He returned in the following game, though he didn't start. He was in the starting lineup for the next game, against Ole Miss -- and aggravated the stress fracture when his foot tore through his sneaker. He missed the remainder of the season.

Hamilton started UF's first 14 games but was lost for the season when he suffered a torn ACL, bone chips and torn cartilage in his left knee against Georgia.

In addition to losing Wright and Hamilton, high-scoring guard Teddy Dupay was in and out of the starting lineup and missed seven games because of surgery to repair two herniated disks in his back.

Because of those injuries, the Gators had only seven scholarship players, and two of their three walk-ons were ineligible to play in games. The Gators started 1-3 in the SEC and it appeared UF's streak of consecutive NCAA tournaments was going to end at two. But Donovan coached the Gators to 11 wins in their final 12 regular-season games and a share of the SEC title with Kentucky. The Wildcats were the only team to beat the Gators in that stretch, 71-70 in Lexington.

Florida went 1-1 in the SEC tournament and 1-1 in the NCAA tournament, beating Western Kentucky and losing to Temple in New Orleans. Still, that's a 13-3 record minus two starters and a severely limited third starter.

[+] EnlargeWill Yeguete
Kim Klement/US PresswireThe absence of sophomore Will Yeguete has become a major issue for Florida.
This season, UF has a lot less time to adjust to losing Yeguete. The 11th-ranked Gators (22-6, 10-3 SEC) have only three regular-season games remaining -- at Georgia, at Vanderbilt and vs. Kentucky -- and some of the players Donovan will use in Yeguete's spot also are battling some nagging injuries. Scottie Wilbekin, a 6-foot-2 guard, has a hyper-extended knee; 6-6 guard/forward Casey Prather has a sprained ankle; and 6-9 forward Cody Larson has an inflamed bursa sac in his knee.

The only one who isn't banged up is 6-3 freshman guard Bradley Beal.

Using those four at times will force the Gators to use a smaller lineup, which leaves them severely shorthanded against physical teams such as Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

Beal might be the only one capable of really giving the Gators some quality minutes at power forward. He's tied with Yeguete for the team lead in rebounding (6.3 per game) and leads the team with 37 steals.

"We're going to have to make some adjustments," Donovan said. "We're going to have to look at Casey Prather playing the four, Brad playing the four, Scottie playing the four. Cody Larson needs to step up and provide a little bit more. Casey's going to have to provide a little bit more."

Michael DiRocco covers University of Florida sports for GatorNation. He can be reached at espndirocco@gmail.com or on Twitter @ESPNDiRocco.

Mike DiRocco | email

ESPN Jacksonville Jaguars reporter