Scars prepare Gators for conference play

Billy Donovan talks about it all the time to players, to coaches and to the media. The success of a team comes from its scars. It's the reason he builds the Florida program the way he has in recent years. The veterans are always an important part of the team's success, and it's no more apparent than this season, as Florida heads into conference play with a starting lineup of four seniors.

The seniors all have different stories. For Patric Young and Scottie Wilbekin, it's two that have been an important part of the team for all four years on campus. For Will Yeguete, it's a player who knows his skill set and has been an important piece in the second half of his career. And Casey Prather, the early favorite for most improved player in the Southeastern Conference that has led the team in scoring this year.

They all have their own scars. Young has been challenged by the coaches to play harder. Wilbekin has dealt with suspensions. Yeguete missed a majority of the second half of last season with a knee injury. Prather dealt with a lack of playing time and could've transferred.

They all had reasons to give up or leave. None of them did.

"Having those four guys, they understand the league and what league play is all about," Donovan said. "We have a group of guys that have some experience. I do think we have a group of guys who are very, very coachable. They've accepted their roles. They want to play their roles to the best of their abilities."

The impact of the veterans is noticeable, especially by the younger players. Michael Frazier played last season and had an important role as the three-point shooter off the bench, but now a part of the Florida starting lineup with the other four seniors, he knows the impact the four have on the rest of the team.

"They do a good job of keeping us focused during games and just telling us we have to stay in the moment, focus on the task at hand," Frazier said. "I think that's very valuable to a team like this. We have a lot of talent, but we need guys to kind of keep us zoned in to what we need to do."

Above it all is the reminder that the real season is about to start. Florida is already ahead of the game with a strong NCAA Tournament resume including wins over ranked teams like Kansas and Memphis. Even the team's losses came against tough opponents in Connecticut and Wisconsin.

But they know now is what matters. The SEC is better than it was last year, but the run to a conference title begins on Wednesday. The presence of a strong senior class helps the focus stay on that goal.

"I think it helps a lot, knowing what to do to get ourselves started and get a win," Yeguete said. "It's a different season now. We're playing for something and we know it. I think it helps a lot having four seniors on the team."

With that in mind, practices have zoned in on the task this week. The second season, and the most important one, begins on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the O'Connell Center.

"Now you are playing for something," Billy Donovan said. "It's almost like OK, now the season is starting. You've got the season starting somewhat new and fresh."

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