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February 17, 2014
Notebook: 'Changed' Wilbekin leading the way
Scottie Wilbekin chose change for days like this. At something of a crossroad last spring, he chose to inspect himself when the option was placed in front of him to right his off-court issues or leave.
Having seen players come and go for 18 years at Florida, Billy Donovan has developed enough of a belief that off-court behavior creeps into on-court play to draw a line with Wilbekin.
"If you want to change and become the kind of person and player we all think you can be, then you've got to make that decision," he told his starting point guard. "If he would have stayed like he was and would have stayed here and wouldn't have changed, our team would not be in a position like this."
That position has now grown to 23-2, 12-0 in Southeastern Conference play and ranked No. 2 in college basketball. Last week, Florida won at Tennessee for the first time since January 2011 and ended a six-game skid at Kentucky. It was the first time Florida has won in Knoxville and Lexington in the same season since 1988. Donovan doesn't like to single players out, and rightfully so in a locker room that avoids putting its identity behind any one player, but no one was more important to the Gators' success than Wilbekin.
He set a career-high in scoring with 21 points Tuesday night to go along with four steals and six assists. The self-record lasted until Saturday, when he scored 23 against Kentucky. He didn't have a turnover in either game. Wilbekin was unsurprisingly named SEC Player of the Week on Monday for his two performances.
"It's nice to be acknowledged, but I've still got to put in work and we've still got practice today, so it's not really going to affect anything," he said.
Maybe most pivotal was Wilbekin shooting 21 of 24 from the free-throw line in those two games, icing both at the end.
"I was shooting really bad at the beginning of the year, so I put some work into it," Wilbekin said.
Once known solely as a defensive player, Wilbekin worked tirelessly on his offense during the summer. After being isolated from his team as part of a suspension, teammates commented on how focused he was. Wilbekin was suspended for Florida's first five regular season games, including one of its two losses. Because of an injury, he was not on the floor when Florida lost its second game at the buzzer against Connecticut.
"It's a combination of me working to get better in the offseason and during the season, coaches helping me do things and teaching me the ins and outs of the college game," Wilbekin said. "Just the opportunity."
-- "The Cellar" --
Donovan is a king of metaphors and phrases, and he's exhausting every bit of word play in his book during a 17-game winning streak. Hell-bent on fighting complacency within his team and searching for any way to keep his players even-keeled, Donovan has challenged his team to embrace the difficulty of staying mentally tough during good times.
"The key is are our guys willing and prepared today to start all over again in the process of getting ready to play Wednesday night and be willing not to skip steps?" he said. "Are you prepared to go all the way back down to the cellar again and have to prepare and have to go back up? That is a tedious, grinding, fatiguing, hard process to go through. But it's one you have to go through in order to be successful."
As usual, his players seem to be listening.
"I would say that we don't know what (it takes to be great) is yet," Wilbekin said. "(Donovan) knows because he was on back-to-back national championship teams, but he keeps telling us and we're striving to get to that place where we're working as hard day-in and day-out to accomplish something great."
-- INJURY UPDATE --
Freshman point guard Kasey Hill left Saturday's game with a groin injury. He was not scheduled to practice Monday and is listed as doubtful for Wednesday's game against Auburn.
"I would not anticipate him playing on Wednesday," Donovan said.