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March 11, 2014
No. 1 Gators nearly sweep SEC awards
If you were to make up a team of this year's award-winners in the Southeastern Conference, it would look a lot like the 2014 Gators. Unsurprisingly, No. 1 Florida (29-2, 18-0 SEC) nearly swept the conference individual player awards announced Tuesday.
The only one the senior-laden Gators didn't win: Freshman of the Year. That went to Kentucky freshman sensation and soon-to-be millionaire Julius Randle. Everything else went to the team that finished SEC play undefeated. Makes sense.
"I was happy. My parents were really happy," SEC Player of the Year Scottie Wilbekin said. "I have people texting me. I'm just more happy for our team to see all the other people who got awards on our team. I think it's a reflection of how good this team is and how good we played during the regular season to see this many of us get awards."
Besides Wilbekin becoming the second player in UF history - Chandler Parsons was first in 2011 - to earn the SEC's crowning achievement for an individual player, Florida took home four other awards. Billy Donovan was named Coach of the Year for the second year in a row. Center Patric Young was named Defensive Player of the Year and became the first three-time recipient of the award for Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
"I just really strive to maximize my opportunity of being here, being the best I can be at everything I do," Young said. "Of course, coming here, I didn't always see it that way. That's something I've grown into."
"He has been the consummate student-athlete. He represents, in my opinion, what college athletics is all about," Donovan said. "His education is very important to him. Going to class is very important to him. He's very active on campus, he's very active in the community. He's got a great personality. I think he, maybe more so than anybody that's ever been in this program, has taken full advantage of everything on this campus and what it has to offer."
One year removed from sitting out a season to adhere to the NCAA's transfer regulations, sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith was named Sixth Man of the Year. The former standout at Virginia Tech has fought through adapting to a new role off the bench this season as well as a midseason shooting rut that he has since left far behind.
Donovan has repeatedly pointed to Finney-Smith's tendency to get down on himself when he has on-court struggles but also said it is something he is working through. Finney-Smith credits his teammates.
"I put so much pressure on myself, I want to do so good for them guys out there. I just, I feel like when I miss a shot I let them down," Finney-Smith said. "But they told me, by me just playing hard, that's not letting them down. … When somebody stays on your back and your whole coaching staff and team's got confidence in you, it just boosts your confidence."
Florida also litters the SEC's all-conference teams. Wilbekin and leading scorer Casey Prather are first-team All-SEC selections. Young, despite being Defensive Player of the Year, was left off the first team and instead was a second-team selection. When asked about the snub, Young said he didn't disagree with it and that he would have voted for Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes instead of himself.
Wilbekin and Young both made the SEC's All-Defensive Team. The awards all revert back to a team. As Donovan said Monday, he wouldn't win Coach of the Year honors if he didn't have good players. The Gators may not have a single 2014 first-round National Basketball Association draft pick on their roster, but Tuesday their collective seasons was recognized.
"I'm not sure about the talent. All I know is that we come together as a team and done what we needed to do each and every night, as far as little things, hustle plays, rebounding," Prather said. "So it's a collective effort between us and not just individuals."