The Gators practiced with 12 healthy players on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, something they hadn’t done since the team opened preseason practices.
The list of players that have been healthy and eligible all season is small. Freshmen Chris Chiozza and Devin Robinson both fall into that category, while post-grad transfer Jon Horford and walk-on Jacob Kurtz do, too. Past that, USF transfer John Egbunu, who is sitting out this season because of the NCAA’s transfer rules, is the only other player that hasn’t had an ailment of some time.
Some of the injuries have been minor, like Kasey Hill’s stomach bug that kept him out of practices and the starting lineup against Jacksonville on December 14. Michael Frazier got hit in the face and needed stitches against Wake Forest on December 20 but returned to the game and hasn’t been limited in practice since.
The more serious injuries have come to Eli Carter and Dorian Finney-Smith. Carter suffered a mid-foot sprain in practice and multiple games while playing at less than 100 percent in others. He even dealt with strep throat that kept him out against Wake Forest. Finney-Smith suffered a hairline fracture in his hand minutes into the season opener and is just now starting to feel comfortable using his left hand.
Then there are the other issues. Chris Walker faced a three-game suspension to start the season. Alex Murphy became eligible when the fall semester ended because of NCAA transfer rules when he elected to leave Duke mid-year last season.
Florida even got a boost over the weekend when freshman Brandone Francis practiced for the first time. Academics kept him off the court in practices during the fall, but his grades were good enough that he is allowed to practice now, but he won’t see the court in a game until next season.
All in all, it was 12 healthy bodies on the practice court for the first time.
“Knock on wood, we had a whole roster,” Billy Donovan said. “Friday, Saturday and Sunday, we had a full roster. Everybody should be cleared to play. In terms of all our numbers, this is the first time we’ve had three consecutive practices. Practices have been much, much more competitive.
“I think there’s a better opportunity for us to get better and improve in practice with more bodies. There’s a little bit more subs, there’s a little bit more rest, we can go a little bit longer and we can do a little bit more.”
The newfound health comes at a perfect time for Florida. The Gators travel to Tallahassee on Tuesday at 7 p.m. to face Florida State on ESPN2, and they return home on Saturday to face defending national champion Connecticut at 2 p.m. on CBS in a rematch of last year’s national semifinal.
After that, it’s on to conference play.
As the season continues to fly by, the Gators have done their best to make it positive with a limited roster. Florida makes the trip to Tallahassee with a 7-4 record and riding a four-game winning streak, but both players and coaches acknowledge that there’s still room to grow.
That’s the change for a team that deals with injuries and moving parts. They’re still learning to play together and get comfortable in different lineups. The recent insertion of Murphy is a perfect example of what the Gators are trying to learn. He can play shooting guard, small forward and power forward, but none of the players on the team are used to playing with him other than some practice reps.
“I think I’ve always had a pretty high basketball IQ,” Murphy said. “I’ve been in college for a while now so I’ve learned a lot here and my past experiences, too. I guess it’s just something where things come easy to me. Plays, different schemes and stuff we want to do offensive or defensively -- I just pick things up fast.”
With only two games left until the start of Southeastern Conference play, the Gators will all have to pick things up fast to make it work.