Wilbekin back on the team

Florida has fought through injuries and suspensions through its first five games, and it will add a new piece on Monday night against Jacksonville. Florida head coach Billy Donovan announced on Sunday afternoon that senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin has been reinstated to the team after a five-game suspension to start the year for a violation of team rules.

It comes at a perfect time.

Freshman point guard Kasey Hill rolled his ankle on November 18 in a win over Southern and suffered a high ankle sprain expected to keep him out one month. Florida beat Middle Tennessee on Thursday without a true point guard on the roster, and ball movement struggled at times.

Scottie Wilbekin's return gives the Gators an experienced senior that can run the offense. He's also one of the top perimeter defenders in the Southeastern Conference.

"He's done everything. I'm really proud of him," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. "He has stayed on course since last spring. He's going to be available to play (Monday). He's all caught up in terms of what we're doing. He's a senior, bright kid. I think he's anxious and exciting to be playing.

"It can't be a situation where our guys relax and think roles will change. It's good to have another body that gives us more depth in the backcourt and more of a pure point guard who can run our team.

Donovan was unsure if Wilbekin will start the game, but the senior point guard will be available to play normal minutes.

Wilbekin is the second Florida player returning from a suspension. Dorian Finney-Smith returned on November 17 from a violation of team rules and has provided a spark of the bench. Center Damontre Harris remains suspended and isn't practicing with the team at this point in the season. His return to the team is in doubt.

The return of Wilbekin will help the Gators improve on the defensive end. The preseason second team All-SEC selection turned into a lockdown perimeter defenders over the last two seasons, and he figures to serve as that again this year.

"In my opinion, he's one of the best, if not the best, defenders in the country," Florida guard Michael Frazier said. "He's a leader for our team and a defensive anchor. That really helps us."

The suspension kept Wilbekin off the floor with the Gators in the summer. He wasn't allowed to work out or practice with the team in the summer, and he was forced to work out on his own. He stayed in shape and prepared to get back on the floor.

Wilbekin was on the court with the Gators when they opened official practices and has been working out with the team since. Reports out of Florida's scrimmage against Georgia Tech surfaced that Wilbekin was the best player on the floor. Even while running most of his reps with the scout team in practice this season, Wilbekin has caught his teammates attention.

"Teams are going to be dealing with a different animal when they go up against this guy," Florida center Patric Young said.

But it's off the court where Wilbekin has experienced the most growth. He had to mature in the offseason, and his teammates believe that he did because of the suspension.

"Great addition to our team," Frazier said. "He's going to add a huge piece for us at the point guard position and being a senior. I've seen Scottie grow so much since last year being around him. I'm so proud to be one of his brothers because I've seen the man he has grown into and learn from his mistakes. It's a great test for his character."

Young added, "He's proven that he's fully invested into the program with steps he has taken to get to this point. With his disposition in his senior year, he's very excited and hungry to show that he's invested in this team."

Donovan wouldn't have allowed Wilbekin to return to the team without showing that growth as a person.

"Scottie was never a bad kid," Donovan said. "It was more of a warrior mentality like, ‘I'll take anything on and can deal with it.' I think he's gotten a lot more humble, has a better understanding of how his actions impact himself and other people. I really have seen a great growth in him. I couldn't be more prouder of him."

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