The Florida Gators will honor four seniors when their men’s basketball team takes on the Arkansas Razorbacks (7 p.m., ESPN2 or WatchESPN) in the O’Connell Center on Wednesday night.
But much like the O’Connell Center itself, much has changed since the last time Florida honored four seniors.
Kasey Hill was a Florida freshman when that happened. Now, he’s going out as one of the leaders of a squad that will return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since then, and as both one of the most-accomplished and most-maligned players in program history.
Canyon Barry was a redshirt freshman at the College of Charleston when that happened. He was still two years away from even considering Florida, but led the Cougars in usage off the bench, and had his finest day yet as a collegian on their Senior Day, scoring 27 points and draining five threes in a loss to Delaware.
Justin Leon was a freshman at Shawnee Community College, finishing up an honorable mention All-American season at the JUCO level in which he averaged 15 points and six rebounds a night. On the same day Barry dropped 27, Leon had 16 points, four rebounds, two blocks, and two steals in a Shawnee win.
And Schuyler Rimmer was a freshman scholarship player at Stanford in 2013-14, after committing to and then decommitting from Florida in the waning years of the Billy Donovan era as a prep standout at Boone High School in Orlando. He played sparingly for the Cardinal that year — his 16 minutes against South Dakota State in non-conference play were more than he got as Stanford made an unlikely Sweet Sixteen run. But he was a ship passing in the night for both the ghosts of Florida’s past and present: Former Gator Cody Larson started every game for that South Dakota State team, and Stanford came within 10 points of seeing Florida in the Elite Eight of the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
Three years have gone by since, and only Hill has remained at Florida. Rimmer came before Donovan left, if only barely, and Leon and Barry have arrived as stop-gap solutions for Mike White as he has rapidly rebuilt the program that slid in Donovan’s final year in Gainesville.
This is not the cohesive, indomitable, incredible senior class that Florida feted in 2014. But in its own way, it has become every bit as integral to the Gators’ program, lifting it from the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble to a position to get in and do damage this March.
Arkansas is a fine team, and likely an NCAA Tournament team, but the Gators led throughout their win over the Hogs in Fayetteville in December, and while both teams have improved since then, Florida has improved more — although the Gators will surely miss John Egbunu, who had 11 rebounds, six offensive, against an Arkansas front line that features fellow imposing Nigerian Moses Kingsley.
I can’t imagine this ragtag team losing on its Senior Night, though.