A special bond

They came to campus within days of each other during the summer before the 2010-11 season. There were mostly unfamiliar with each other besides playinga few times in high school and some in AAU ball, but none of the incoming freshmen knew what to expect in Gainesville. On Saturday, the Florida seniors will play their final game in the O'Connell Center after making a historical impact.

The four-man class of Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete and Patric Young has already left a noticeable imprint on the Florida program. They'll leave Gainesville as the first senior class to win a Southeastern Conference title in four of their years on campus. They're four wins away from tying the school record for wins in a career. The program has only won seven SEC titles.

They've taken an eraser to the school record books, bringing the Florida basketball program back to one of the most respected ones in the country. It sets up for an emotional sendoff from the home crowd on Saturday at 12 p.m. against Kentucky.

"Great kids, great people, people of substance, of character," Donovan said. "None of them are perfect. They've all made mistakes. They've all been through their ups and downs, but I think at the heart of who they are, they're really great kids. This institution means an enormous amount to them personally. Them putting on a Florida uniform, them playing here, has meant a lot to them and something they will carry with them for the rest of their lives."

The culture of college basketball has changed in recent years. While this four-man senior class was improving each year, the focal point of college basketball always seemed to be elsewhere. Whether it was in Lexington to focus on a Kentucky team stacked with high school stars or another blue blood college basketball program, the ‘one and done' mindset has infiltrated college basketball.

But the Florida program has done it a different way. Graduating three seniors last year and four after this year, Donovan has built his program without the fanfare of others. This year's senior class is a perfect example of it.

"Coach D has done a really good job keeping us here, just making sure we're improving every single year, and we know there's more out there as players and men," senior forward Will Yeguete said. "I don't regret staying here and I think this year we have a really good group and the experience we've had really helped us."

From sitting in their dorm rooms as underclassmen talking about what their careers would be like to having a chance to leave Gainesville as the most successful senior class in school history, Saturday will be the end of the seniors time in Gainesville. It's a difficult balance, as Donovan pointed out, since the Gators still have multiple goals left in front of them regardless of what happens on Saturday.

But with their "one game at a time" approach that has benefitted the team this year, it has kept the seniors from being able to take a step back and understand what Saturday means. The last few days have provided that opportunity.

Every thought about this season and the last four years has reminded the seniors what they've been through. Each of the four players has their own story of trials and hardship. All four could've left -- whether for the NBA or as a transfer -- but none did.

"I think we all have our own personal story," Yeguete said. "I think we all went through a couple things in our four years here. Me and my injury. Casey wasn't playing a lot first few years and now he's having a great year. Pat kind of being up and down a little bit. Scottie being in trouble. We fought through a lot of adversity we had and just staying connected. That's pretty much how we'll be remembered."

And it's how they should be remembered. Heading into a single-elimination NCAA Tournament that can sometimes provide fluky results, this season has already been an incredible success for the Florida program.

There's one goal remaining in the regular season -- the first undefeated conference record in school history and the first 18-0 record in SEC history. It became a reality after Florida won in Lexington on February 15. The Gators have to beat the Wildcats again to make it happen.

"I think it would mean a lot," Yeguete said. "We worked really, really hard for it."

But the seniors are used to that.

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