Wilbekin breaking out in junior year

Florida head coach Billy Donovan has been around a lot of good perimeter defenders in his time at Florida. He's not shy about putting junior guard Scottie Wilbekin among the best. Donovan has raved about Corey Brewer and Justin Hamilton playing defense in the past, but Wilbekin has turned into his new stopper. His on-ball defense has sparked one of the nation's best defenses this year.

"He's made our defense a lot better because he's got really, really good feet," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. "He can move his feet and keep people in front. He's a physical guard and a hard guy to screen. If he does get screened, he's got a real good ability to get around that, off contact and get back on the ball."

Scottie Wilbekin is just now starting to get the recognition he has earned on the defensive end of the floor. It started last week when Florida made a trip to College Station to face Texas A&M just five days after senior guard Elston Turner scored 40 points against Kentucky. Wilbekin took the change and shut him down for four points on 1-for-10 shooting and 1-for-4 from behind the three-point line.

Less than 48 hours, the Gators returned home to face Missouri and preseason player of the year Phil Pressey. The point guard turned the ball over 10 times while scoring just two points on 1-for-7 shooting and 0-for-4 from behind the three-point line.

"It's unbelievable," senior forward Erik Murphy said about Wilbekin's defense. "The guy just comes out and guards. I don't think I've ever played with a guy who can guard on the ball like that on any level — high school, AAU or college."

The defense has always been there for Wilbekin. Now halfway through his junior year, he was never much of a scorer during his first two years on campus. Wilbekin was just trying to fit in and find his role. As a freshman, Wilbekin skipped his senior season of high school and came to campus to serve as the backup point guard. He held his own and grew more comfortable throughout the year.

Last season, freshman Brad Beal was on campus, and most of the shots Wilbekin would've taken as a sophomore went to Beal. After Beal left school early and went with the No. 3 overall pick in the NBA Draft to the Washington Wizards and Erving Walker graduated, Wilbekin is now starting to get more shots on offense.

It wasn't a priority for him. He has always been focused on the defensive end.

"A lot of times players hang their hat on something they're good at," Donovan said. "If you've got a player who is a really good scorer, they think the way they get on the floor and play is by doing those things and the other things fall by the way side because they aren't focused on them. For Scottie, he's always hung his hat on being a great defender, that's always been important to him."

While the defense will always be there, Wilbekin is seeing a breakout on the offensive end of the floor this year. He's fifth on the team with 8.3 points per game and shooting 44.9% from the field this year, including 36.4% from behind the three-point line.

After averaging 2.4 and 2.6 points during his first two years respectively, Wilbekin looks more comfortable this season. In his first two years, he sometimes shied away from even taking open shots. His confidence has grown to take those shots now, but his most important asset is taking good shots and running the offense.

"He's making the right decisions at the right time," Florida guard Mike Rosario said. "He's letting the offense come to him. With his mindset right now, he's having defense first and then offense is feeding off that. When he's open, he takes the shot and knocks them down. He's just being consistent in those areas as far as knowing when to shoot and when not to shoot."

Running the Florida offense will always be his most important responsibility on that end of the floor. His responsibilities of getting the offense moving in the right direction and into the proper plays is a role Wilbekin took on early in his career.

This season, his increase of scoring has made him more of a threat. His ability to penetrate the opposing defense helps the Gators because Wilbekin can score in the paint or pass the ball to an open shooter on the perimeter.

"When he gets down the lane it kind of opens things up for us," Donovan said. "It opens up the perimeter, it opens up the low post. He's done a really good job because he's strong and he's physical. A lot of times when Erving (Walker) would get down the lane he would bet swallowed up. He would leave his feet sometimes, would drive me nuts.

"Whereas I think Scottie can get down the lane and he can finish at the rim a little bit better. If he can't finish, he can kind of dribble it out and get it where it needs to go. He has really made some nice improvements on the offensive end of the floor."

The timing of his breakout season isn't a coincidence. Wilbekin was suspended for the first two games of the season after a violated of unnamed team rules. Donovan and players wouldn't talk specifically about what happened, but there was attention on helping Wilbekin get his priorities straight off the court.

Since returning, Wilbekin has put together a strong junior year. Donovan thinks the growth from his suspension is a reason for that.

"I think a lot of times some of your greatest growth and development as a person comes when you have adversity or setbacks or make mistakes," Donovan said. "I think it's made him a better player and it's maybe forced him to look at life, his basketball career, playing here at Florida, being here in Gainesville, maybe a little bit differently than he ever has before.


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