When, in the course of Internet events, things get so hectic as to require a single post about Florida basketball that stands in for what could've been several posts split up, that post shall be called Around the World.
Scottie Wilbekin, Kasey Hill both available for Florida vs. Kansas
Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Hill are each dealing with high ankle sprains — Hill's was suffered back on November 18, while Wilbekin suffered his a week ago, on December 2, against Connecticut — but both seem likely to play for the Gators on Tuesday against Kansas.
GatorZone's Chris Harry headlined a weekend blog post "Wilbekin back at practice, will play vs. Kansas," and wrote a glowing article on Florida's medical staff over the weekend, and mentions that Hill is "questionable" for Tuesday's showdown. ESPN's Andy Katz appears to have re-reported that article today at ESPN, adding only that Wilbekin was "listed as probable" — and, well, "will play" connotes more certainty than "probable" to me.
And Billy Donovan confirmed to reporters on Monday that both players would be available in some capacity against the Jayhawks.
I have thought and been told that the lack of an announced timeline for Wilbekin's injury in the wake of it was a good sign, and wrote as much last week, and Florida announcing that Wilbekin will play and moving Hill from the black-and-white of out to the gray area of "questionable" is confirmation that there are, in fact, tea leaves to be read with this team. I expect both players to play against Kansas, though I'm also expecting neither to be at full strength.
And an injury theoretically hurts Wilbekin less: Discipline, smarts, and tenacity make up most of his game, especially on defense, while Hill's less advanced and experience, and counts athleticism as his greatest asset at the moment.
Chris Walker likely to join Gators soon — in one sense
Adam Silverstein of Only Gators reported last week that highly touted forward Chris Walker is expected to finally join the Florida basketball team on December 14, having completed the necessary coursework and attained the necessary grades to enroll at Florida. And though the school and Walker are still waiting on NCAA Clearinghouse approval of his academics, Silverstein called that "a formality," something backed up by Donovan saying as much to reporters on Monday.
Conspicuously absent from Silverstein's report, however, is a definitive date for Walker's Florida debut. If Walker enrolls later this week — and he should — he would be eligible to play against Memphis on December 17 in the Jimmy V Classic, barring any other complications. But Gator Country's Franz Beard buries this nugget about Walker in a story we'll get to in greater detail later in this column:
Walker is expected to get clearance to begin practicing with the Gators when final exams end next week, but he could serve a 2-3 game suspension for an unofficial visit to Kansas that was paid for by Matt Ramker, former director of the Florida Rams, who has gotten a show cause and a five-year ban from the NCAA. Walker played AAU ball for Ramker.
Ramker coached the Florida Rams AAU team that Hill and Walker both starred for until 2012, when the NCAA found that the relationship Ramker and other AAU coaches had with sports agent Andy Miller was inappropriate, and essentially forced the reorganization of those coaches' teams. The Florida Rams were dissolved, and Ramker's association with the two teams ended, but Hill and Walker continued to play AAU ball together for the Florida Elite, winning the 2012 Adidas Invitaional under that name.
Ramker paying for an unofficial visit to Kansas — 247Sports suggests Walker unofficially visited Kansas in October 2011 — would be somewhat akin to Sharrif Floyd having unofficial visits paid for by a non-profit group that helps prospective NCAA student-athletes — something that got Floyd suspended for two games by the NCAA, led to Will Muschamp blistering the NCAA, and resulted, partially, in Floyd being adopted.
Walker and Floyd both come from similarly disadvantaged backgrounds — Floyd lived with his grandparents for much of high school, while Walker ended up with a guardian for his high school years — without even considering their significant economic disadvantages, and so this is a familiar situation for Florida fans, in a sense, even if Beard modifies his report with that valuable "could" before "serve." Harry also hinted cryptically on Twitter this weekend that Walker might not be available for December 16 — the day before Florida's game against Memphis.
And Donovan might be able to keep an NCAA suspension for Walker quiet, if that's his prerogative. He said Monday that Walker won't play against Memphis, and Florida's two final games of 2013, against Fresno State and Savannah State, should be walkovers even without Walker being available.
In any case, Walker is almost certain to play for Florida shortly, even if "shortly" may be "in a few weeks, "and likely to be mostly integrated into the Gators' rotation by the time SEC play begins in January. And the Gators could certainly use him as soon as he is eligible...
Report: Damontre Harris leaving Florida basketball program
...because Beard's Sunday report on Gator Country was mostly focused on Damontre Harris leaving Florida for good.
Harris has been suspended from Billy Donovan's team for more than a month now, and Beard reports that he and Donovan had a discussion over the weekend that "came to a parting of the ways."
Harris leaving would be a reflection of Florida's failure to keep him in line, certainly, but feels far more like a talented player not taking advantage of the opportunity given to him upon transferring. Harris left a South Carolina program that can be charitably described as lowly (the Gamecocks have made no NCAA Tournament appearances since 2004) after the 2012 season, and transferred to a Florida program that is regarded as one of the finest in the country for players, primarily because of Donovan's ability to help his players develop their game and their lives.
And Harris has done a poor job, by all accounts, of taking responsibility for his actions while at Florida, having been arrested this spring and suspended from the program along with Dorian Finney-Smith earlier in the year, and having spent the last several weeks in purgatory, with Donovan publicly lamenting his lack of accountability for his actions.
Donovan denied Beard's report to reporters on Monday, but Harris departing from Florida is more likely a matter of when than if. And it's a sad thing: Former Florida manager Ryan King noting a friend's dead-on assessment of the situation nails it for me.
.@EH_Gator13 Nailed it. If u can't get your life & basketball career together under Coach Donovan, you're in trouble. Ultimate players coach— Ryan King (@RKingGator) December 9, 2013
If Harris is truly gone, I would expect Florida to announce it sooner rather than later — pairing it with news of Walker's enrollment would be a smart decision.
Without Harris, Florida's limited in the frontcourt, with only Patric Young, Will Yeguete, and Dorian Finney-Smith equipped to play more than short stretches under the basket. Walker's arrival and integration will help significantly with that, but Harris, as a defensive stopper and shot-blocker, would have been an asset for a team that has asked Young to do Herculean things underneath; Walker may have a similarly stringy body, and substantially better athleticism, but Harris was a very goodplayer on the defensive end for South Carolina, and it would be a feat for Walker to match that as a freshman being thrown into the fire.
Eli Carter, Dillon Graham to redshirt
Getting Wilbekin and Hill back allows Florida's backcourt to return to relative strength, especially because both Eli Carter and Dillon Graham will redshirt for the 2013-14 season.
Carter's decision to redshirt was reported last week by SNY's Adam Zagoria and USA TODAY's Nicole Auerbach, then announced Monday by Donovan; Graham's decision to redshirt was announced by Donovan last month. Both decisions seem to be the player's decision, agreed to by coaches.
Carter, who transferred to Florida from Rutgers earlier this year and was granted an NCAA waiver allowing him to play immediately, instead of sitting out, has never looked quite right for the Gators in his 53 minutes over seven games this season.
At his best, Carter can be a dynamic guard, capable of handling the ball, slashing to the hoop, and bombing away, but the version I saw over his seven games was significantly limited, likely because Carter is still recovering from a broken leg suffered in February. Carter made just one of his 14 shots on the year, a three against North Florida, and took nine of those 14 shots from behind the three-point line. He did not play against Connecticut last Monday, and played just two woeful minutes against Florida State, in which he missed two free throws and committed an awful turnover.
Carter would have been able to provide depth as a reserve guard behind Wilbekin, Hill, and Michael Frazier II, but his recovery is far more important than the limited value he can provide to this team, and if he can be full strength by the beginning of the 2014-15 season, as he should be, a larger role awaits him. Carter should be eligible for a hardship waiver, which, if granted, would preserve his two years of eligibility by making 2013-14 a redshirt season for medical reasons.
Graham, meanwhile, played in just one game this year, Florida's opener against North Florida, and looked pained in the eight minutes of run he got. There was good reason for that: He has bone spurs in both hips, and is looking at surgery and a long recovery. He's even more clearly a good hardship waiver candidate, and Graham would probably have been buried on the bench in 2013-14, so a medical redshirt season, preserving three years of eligibility, would produce a result little different than a redshirt season would have produced in the first place.
Just a note on how injured Florida is
With Carter and Graham off the roster, Walker yet to join it, and Harris in a limbo of his own creation, Florida enters Tuesday's game against Kansas with eight scholarship players,
six five (I originally forgot DeVon Walker, who played just two minutes against UConn thanks to an injury) of whom are close to full health — so exactly a third of the team is unavailable, and less than half of it is healthy.
That's a larger percentage of the Florida men's basketball roster that's unavailable or ailing — entering the biggest game of the non-conference schedule — than Florida's football team ever faced this fall. The contexts of the respective teams' injuries vary wildly, and make drawing bright-line comparisons a fool's errand, but I think it's fair and accurate to note that this year has really been not fun, Fate, so you should knock it off as soon as we flip the calendar.
Gators to take part in 2014 Battle 4 Atlantis
Finally, Florida's 2014-15 season got a massive early boost to its non-conference schedule with the announcement last week that the Gators will play in the 2014 Battle 4 Atlantis, a non-conference tournament taking place in the Bahamas from November 26 to 30, 2014.
Florida would have been the tournament's co-headliner this year — Kansas was by far the most prominent team in the field, which also included eventual winner Villanova, runner-up Iowa, and Tennessee — but the Gators will have to settle for a spot lower on the marquee next year, with UCLA, North Carolina, Georgetown, Wisconsin, and Butler all sharing press release space. (Oklahoma and UAB will also be part of the field, because it needed to be eight teams.)
That's a good thing, though: If participating in a non-conference tournament, Florida ought to be in one that provides benefits, like media attention and non-conference rigor, commensurate to the losses, in the outlay of funds and the opportunity cost of primo non-conference matchups taking place somewhere other than the O'Connell Center. The 2014 Battle 4 Atlantis certainly counts, as Florida's guaranteed at least one game against one of those five other big-name teams — all of them with significant history against the Gators this century, which is cool — and will likely play more than one showdown, win or lose, with the bracket giving each team three games.
There's just one little issue that Florida fans might have with this: Florida's football team plays Florida State on November 29, 2014. Granted, that game's in Tallahassee, but Gators who want to see Florida in the Bahamas (my hand is raised) will be sacrificing the chance to see the Florida-FSU game in person, and vice versa.