Florida seniors travel long road to success

The seniors are the reason Florida has vaulted to the top of college basketball this season. The four-man senior class all had similar stories in its development. All four players started their careers coming off the bench and serving in different roles, but they learned during their first season to pay their dues and what it would take to start. It's paying off this season.

The current seniors had varying levels of success during the 2010-11 season. Patric Young served as a big man off the bench behind Vernon Macklin, Erik Murphy and Alex Tyus. He averaged 17.8 minutes per game and was the only freshman on the team to earn SEC All-Freshman Team honors. Scottie Wilbekin was the only other of the four-man group to average double-digit minutes.

"They've always been a pretty competitive group and they've always been a pretty physical group, but I think sometimes earlier on in their careers, their emotions got the best of them and they didn't channel that competitiveness the right way in a lot of ways," Billy Donovan said. "I think it was a maturation process for them to learn and grow through some of those things."

The maturation came in different ways.

For Wilbekin, it came off the court. He had multiple incidents that almost had him released from the team, most recently this offseason. It took until his senior year for him to understand the importance of preparation and taking senior what happens before the team steps on the court to play a game.

Young's issues came with energy. He provided it in spurts off the bench as a freshman, but when he started for Florida as a sophomore, he struggled to maintain energy throughout a game. His early years as a starter were full of inconsistency because of varying energy levels.

Health was the issue for Will Yeguete. He has battled knee injuries throughout his career, and now as healthy as he'll ever be on the court, he's learning what areas of the game he can help his team.

For Prather, it was stubbornness. He came to Gainesville believing he was a jump shooter and was ready to prove it. Donovan appreciated his effort and energy to show that he could shoot, but Prather didn't learn until this offseason that he could be used in other ways as a slasher.

"As a coach, you're trying to create something for them that you can see the things that are getting in the way of them being good players or a team being a good team, and then try to create something where they can kind of change -- not just change their actions, but change their beliefs and what they feel internally and how they do things," Donovan said. "It's really been a process for them over four years and they have steadily gotten better. The thing that I'm most proud about them is they've stayed the course. A guy like Prather not playing a lot his first two years probably would have been very, very easy to pick up and move on, go somewhere else. A guy like Scottie Wilbekin, after his freshman year, could have come in and wanted a bigger role. But he always kind of played to his role.

"Patric, I think to his credit, I've always talked to him, over the years you guys have heard me talk about his energy, his motor and those things. He's addressed those things, they've gotten better. And I think the same thing can be said for Will Yeguete as well."

The seniors have grown closer throughout their four years. When they all lived on campus earlier in their careers, the four would sit in one player's dorm room and talk about the future. They had conversations about what the team would look like when they were seniors, how they would lead and take examples from the positives and negatives they saw during the freshmen years.

The class has already set multiple school records this season, and they have their eyes set on more to accomplish.

"Hopefully the greatest thing hasn't come yet," Young said. "But as of now, this class has gone through a lot, from guys thinking about transferring to staying in school, to not playing games with injuries, all those things. This team, this senior class, has persevered, stuck together and won."

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