Full of memories

This season didn't end the way any of Florida's seniors expected. The Gators rode a 30-game winning streak into the Final Four and looked poised to at least earn a berth in the national title game. The historical season came to an end with a 10-point loss to Connecticut on Saturday night, but there is plenty the seniors will take with them into the next stage of life.

For some players, that will include a shot at the NBA level. Scottie Wilbekin and Patric Young are the two most likely to get draft but the athleticism of Casey Prather could warrant a flier late in the second round. Minutes after Saturday's loss, the future couldn't have been further from the mind of the Florida seniors.

For a team that worked so hard to forget about the past during its 30-game winning streak, they were now encouraged to look back and reflect on a historical run that tore down many school records.

"For the first time in my life, I was a part of a group of guys that were really willing to bleed for one another," Patric Young said. "Guys that were really willing to just do whatever it took to go outside of themselves, to commit to the greater goal. Looking at the year, going into it, we didn't know what was going to happen with the suspension and the injuries and all that stuff. We stuck together through it, had a lot of great memories.

"One thing I can take from this team is just when you can truly love a group of guys or people like this, you bring out the best out of them and you bring out the best out of yourself."

What made this season special, regardless of the record books and the team record, were the stories. Florida's back-to-back national championship teams had their own stories of failures turning into success, but they were nothing close to the stories of this year's team.

There's the well-documented suspensions for Scottie Wilbekin and turning his life around his season on and off the court. For Young, it was the consistent effort he needed to give at all times while also battling the high expectations he came to Gainesville with. For Will Yeguete, it's the constant knee issues and multiple surgeries he underwent. Casey Prather thought about transferring because of playing time and turned into an All-SEC player as a senior.

They all have their own stories. They all have their own paths. Those came to an end in orange and blue on Saturday, but the lessons learned over the last four years will go on during each of the players' lives after they leave college.

"The four seniors, we came together and we have been through a lot," Yeguete said. "Just finishing up doing all the things we done this year, I think it's really special. Going to a Final Four is something special as well. I think we're going to continue to just cherish our friendship and we're going to stay close after this. We're a great team, I think. We accomplished a lot of things during the year. They played better than us tonight, but I think Scottie is a great player, Patric as well, and so is Casey.

"This game is not changing anything, regardless of how I feel, of my relationship with them. They're great guys. I love them, love to be around them. I just wish them the best and I know they're going to be successful in life."

This season had every opportunity to go down the drain early in the year. Wilbekin's suspension left the Gators with only one true point guard on the roster while Dorian Finney-Smith also faced a suspension to start the season before going on to win SEC Sixth Man of the Year. An injury to Kasey Hill forced him to miss time, and an inexperienced Florida team began the year trying to keep the ship afloat.

No one would have blamed the Gators if it got ugly in a hurry. Billy Donovan would have received a pass and there wouldn't have been much fault on the players. They had every reason to check out on the season, but they held together and ended the season with only three losses.

"I think that everybody will remember this season for the team that we were able to become, because at the beginning of the year, it didn't look like we would be much of a team," Wilbekin said. "Throughout the year, we just really came together and did a lot of special things, broke a number of records at the school and won some really tough games.

"Unfortunately, we didn't go out the way we would like to, but only one team is going to do that. We have to try and remember all the good things that we did before this point. Even though it's hard right now, I'm sure that I'll look back on this year and be really proud of the guys that were standing next to me and just us as a team."

The memories will stick with the Florida fanbase as much as they will with the players. From the road wins at Kentucky and Tennessee during conference play to the home win over Kansas that put Florida on the map as a national power, this season has been full of memorable moments.

And those won't go away any time soon.

"This team was so special, something I'm never going to forget for all my life," Young said. "We accomplished a lot just by loving each other and being really committed and loving playing with one another. I'm just really going to cherish everything that we had this year and it's going to be something I'll never forget."


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