Prather brings energy off the bench

The Gators don't need points out of Casey Prather. Since the loss of forward Will Yeguete for the remainder of the regular season, Florida has needed Prather to bring energy and do the little things that made Yeguete invaluable. In the two games Yeguete has been out, Prather has posted a season-high 12 points in each of them, but that's not where his true value to the Gators comes.

The value is in his athleticism and unselfishness. Prather showed that within minutes of checking in against Kentucky on Tuesday. Just 28 seconds after Prather stepped on the court, he stepped in front of Kentucky guard Archie Goodwin and took a charge.

Less than a minute later, Prather did it again, this time stepping in front of Kentucky center Nerlens Noel. This ended up being even more important as Noel picked up his second foul with 6:26 left in the first half and didn't see the floor until the second half. In that span with Noel off the court to close the first half, the Gators went on a 16-10 run to close the half with a 13-point lead.

"When guys make defensive plays like that, it feeds off positive energy," Florida guard Mike Rosario said about Prather. "Seeing Casey go down there and put his body in there, that means a lot to our team because that's something Coach always talks about. He brought that energy early."

Prather brought the crowd to its feet late in the first half. After point guard Scottie Wilbekin penetrated near the paint, he pulled the ball back out to the three-point line before throwing a behind the back pass to Prather. The Gators were in a four-guard lineup with Prather playing center, so he used his quickness to blow by Willie Caulie-Stein and thrown down a thunderous dunk on the freshman center.

His athleticism changes the Florida offense and defense. He makes the press a nightmare for opponents. He's one of the few highflying members of the Florida team that can get the crowd on its feet with a dunk. Now healthy after fighting a high ankle sprain, Prather is showing off his versatility.

"I just tried to block everything out," the soft-spoken Casey Prather said. "I was just trying to come in here and help the team. I stay focused. I have to come in each and every night with the same energy, focus and passion."

It's a testament to Prather's persistency. He didn't play much as a freshman, but when Will Yeguete was injured late last season, Prather was forced into duty. Sound familiar? Prather used that opportunity last season to close the year strong, and he was set to carry that into this year.

Then the injury bug struck.

Prather suffered a concussion in preseason practice, and after he was cleared from it and returned to practice, he suffered another one. It set him back and held him out of the first four games of the year. Then he suffered the high ankle sprain at LSU on January 12, holding him out for two and a half weeks.

"He has worked really, really hard on his own to get extra work," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. "That's the biggest thing. This guy had two concussions and then a high ankle sprain—he's probably saying to himself, "What's next?" The thing that was encouraging is that he started to do things more recklessly and fearlessly."

His teammates have seen Prather's drive after the multiple injuries. He's always working to get back on the court and not let them change his outlook. That's a big reason why they truly enjoy watching Prather on the floor and have success.

They've seen the other side of it — closed doors, early morning and late nights in the basketball facility when Prather has been putting in extra time to get back to where he was before the injury. And it has showed the last two games.

"I commend Casey a lot," Rosario said. "He had a lot of bumpy roads since he has been here. This is his opportunity to step up, and he's taking advantage of that. He never lost sight of getting better every day. He bounces back, especially when we need him to. That shows a lot about his character and how much he cares about the team."

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