The tough route pays off for Wilbekin

Scottie Wilbekin could've left in the offseason. Billy Donovan suspended him from team activities but gave him the option to leave and finish his career at another school if he wanted his time at Florida to end that way. Wilbekin had no interest in that. He wanted to work his way back and become a trusted member of the Florida team. And that's exactly what he has done this season.

The option to leave Florida was never one that Wilbekin took seriously. The Gainesville native had no interest in leaving the school he always wanted to play at, so he was more focused on what Donovan expected from him before he got back on the active roster.

It wasn't easy. Neither Donovan or Wilbekin has wanted to get into the details of what the senior went through before he was cleared to rejoin the team, but they both acknowledge how strenuous it was.

That process helped Wilbekin enjoy his senior season more and have a greater appreciation for the opportunity he has.

"Becoming more mature and learning the values of everything in life, and especially the value of being here at a school like this," Scottie Wilbekin said about what he learned. "Being ranked in the top five in the nation and being able to play for a bunch of fans that are great."

His production this year -- 13.5 points and 3.7 assists per game -- has turned him into a strong candidate for Southeastern Conference Player of the Year. But Donovan isn't sure this kind of season would have happened if it wasn't for what Wilbekin went through in the offseason.

"I think off the court and on the court, there are correlations for how you play," Billy Donovan said.

Last week was a clear example of just how important the senior guard is to No. 2 Florida. The Gators started the week with a game at Tennessee, where they had lost seven of their previous eight games in Knoxville. Wilbekin's defense, sparking the team with four steals, was the difference maker while he added 21 points.

With one challenge down, the Gators then traveled to Kentucky, where they hadn't won since 2007. Wilbekin made plays down the stretch, scoring 23 points and being a force down the stretch to give the Gators an important win. He ended the two-game stretch with zero turnovers in 71 minutes played.

Wilbekin was honored on Monday as the SEC Player of the Week and was later named as one of the 23 finalists for the Bob Cousy Collegiate Point Guard of the Year Award.

"I trust him with the ball in his hands," Donovan said. "I think as time goes on and we run things on offense, everybody gets a lot more comfortable. Everybody kind of starts to fit into some roles. But that's a tribute to him taking care of the basketball and making some good decisions."

The good decisions are now taking place on and off the court.

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