Preparing to play without Yeguete

Florida's worst fears turned into a reality on Thursday. After losing their first came in conference play on Tuesday at Arkansas, the Gators will now be forced to find a way to play without junior forward Will Yeguete. He will have arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Friday morning with hopes to return for the postseason. Yeguete is expected to miss 4-to-6 weeks while recovering.

"He's going to need surgery," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. "Best-case scenario would be probably out for the remainder of at least the regular season. (Team doctors will) probably re-evaluate then."

Donovan said that Will Yeguete has some "floating chips and cartilage" in the knee that has been causing tendinitis for weeks. He played through the pain but was barely practicing. There wasn't any risk for Yeguete to continue playing through the pain, but after he played just over a minute on Tuesday at Arkansas, the pain became too much.

The hope is that Yeguete will return for the start of the postseason. Donovan expects him to miss 4-to-6 weeks. The SEC Tournament starts in just less than five weeks, so that could be when he returns. It is not expected to happen before that.

Donovan was disappointed the injury happened because of how well the team is playing, but it's also the second straight year with a serious injury for Yeguete. He broke his foot last year and missed the second half of conference play and the remainder of the season.

"I feel bad for Will. I feel more disappointed for him because I think he has worked hard. He's a good kid. He's obviously made a huge impact on our team. He's a guy that does things for our team that not a lot of guys do. He's a great defender, great rebounder.

"He gives you a lot of flexibility on the defensive end of the floor of things you can do from pressing to half-court defense to switching to having him guard certain players. That's going to be definitely a loss."

Yeguete also gets rebounds and loose balls

Without Yeguete, the Gators are searching for answers in the frontcourt. Erik Murpyh and Patric Young will continue to start. After that, the roster is full of question marks about who will serve as the backups. Casey Prather recently came back from a high ankle sprain, but he's probably a better fit at small forward. The 6-6, 208-pound forward will be forced into playing power forward now.

But he might not be the first big man off the bench.

Freshman DeVon Walker is averaging just 4.4 minutes per game this year, but with Prather still not back to where he was before the injury, Donovan said Walker might be the third big man on the roster right now.

"I may put DeVon Walker as the third guy right now," Donovan said. "That's what we maybe have to do. It puts a lot on Patric and Erik Murphy in terms of minutes, foul trouble, those kind of things."

The statistics for Walker aren't impressive. He's 6-6, 191 pounds and needs to add weight on his frame in the next few years of his career. That doesn't matter anymore. He's going to be forced into playing bigger minutes for the Gators. In his 4.4 minutes per game, Walker is 2-for-17 (11.8%) from the field with 14 total rebounds.

Most of his time has come in mop-up duty as the Gators are just trying to run the clock and finish a blowout win.

"I don't know if he is ready. We don't have a whole lot of choices now," Donovan said. "I will say this about DeVon Walker, which I like. He is highly competitive. He is a tough kid. I think he'll step in there and gives us everything he has. That's a comforting part. I think at this point in time in the season, you need somebody to come in that has energy, has toughness. Is he going to be in the right spot every time? Probably not. Is he going to make mistakes? Absolutely. I think for him I do have confidence in his competitiveness and his willingness to do whatever is necessary to help our team.

"I feel really good about that, but he still has a long way to go to continue to improve and get better. We'll see what he does when he gets out there. I say this all the time. Freshmen a lot of times are not playing as much as they want. They always want to play more and he is going to get a chance to play a little bit more."

Florida needs Prather to be effective

Prather is fully healthy and not suffering from any pain. He's just suffering from some rust and isn't as sharp in practice as he was before the injury. His two preseason concussions limited him on the practice floor there, and he's still fighting to get back in playing shape to be a factor.

The injury to Yeguete means he needs to be ready a lot faster.

"I don't think he probably has full strength in his foot right now," Donovan said. "He has got to go and push himself. He has been back in practice, but he has not been himself at all, in terms of athletically moving, cutting, jumping. He's not in pain. There's no pain there. It could be a little bit of a loss of strength. It could be some confidence issues. Once you get hurt, there's always a fear of leaving the floor and cutting, moving and how's my ankle going to respond?

"In terms of his health, (Prather is) full healthy and fully cleared to play. There's nothing else lingering there. It's just a matter of him getting back to where he was, but right now, he's pretty far from it, in my opinion."

Donovan also said the team will look at playing a lineup with four guards, moving Michael Frazier to the power forward spot. The issue now becomes teaching a freshman how to play a new position in the middle of conference play.

"We're going to have to move around some different pieces here," Donovan said. "We're going to have to look at playing four guards. We're going to look at moving Frazier to a power forward spot some."

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