The Florida Gators are heading to a naval carrier without their floor general. This team will have an entirely different look than we all imagined in the offseason.
Gators’ head coach Billy Donovan has suspended starting point guard Scottie Wilbekin for undisclosed reasons. He will be out indefinitely and not travel with the team to Jacksonville for their matchup with Georgetown in the Navy-Marine Corps Classic.
The suspension right before the season opener came as a shock to Gator Nation, as Wilbekin has anything but a checkered past. The son of a minister, Wilbekin has always been well-regarded ever since he skipped his senior year of high school to play for Donovan in 2009.
Last season while Erving Walker used his minute frame to make plays in the offense and drain the occasional 25-foot rainbow three, he was a defensive liability that Donovan had to take out in close game stuations.
The Gators’ relied on him for his defensive prowess, while his teammates carried the offensive bulk. This season, suspended or not, he’s the best on-ball defender on the roster. Many of the Floriada faithful can recall him guarding many of the SEC’s top guards last season in relief of Bradley Beal. With Beal gone to the NBA, Wilbekin will take on many of league’s toughest matchups, while running the offense as well.
He had been regarded as the Gators’ weakest starter, as there have been questions about Wilbekin’s offensive production. He shot sparingly in the offense, averaging a mere 2.2 points a game last season.
Regardless, in his junior year, he was supposed to take the reins from Erving Walker as the Gator’s unmatched signal-caller- a position held by Walker, Nick Calathes and Taurean Green before him.
An accomplished list to follow, but Billy D had the confidence for him to be the next in line.
Now that faith has been shook a bit. Donovan has chosen the moral high ground, assuming the suspension was not team-related, over basketball reasons.
This leaves a huge question mark in the Gators backcourt, as senior Kenny Boynton will have to move out of position to replace Wilbekin at point guard.
Boynton has been more a natural fit on the wing, where he can hoist three-pointers on end in Billy D’s aggressive offense. However, Boynton has some experience running Donovan’s offense sparingly the last couple seasons, so he will do an amiable job in Wilbekin’s absence.
Even so, this should create a bit of ball-stopping on the part of Boynton, as he hasn’t been known as one to get his teammates involved over his own shot count. Perhaps in his senior season he will think about dishing the ball inside to Patric Young and Erik Murphy for a split second before hoisting up a jumper. Maybe not.
Taking up the rest of WIlbekin’s minutes will be two freshmen looking to make a name for themselves and turn the tide. Shooting guard Michael Frazier and point guard Braxton Ozbueze will spell Boynton throughout the night. Frazier has an opportunity to start, depending on Donovan’s preference between him and senior Mike Rosario.
Frazier could come in and provide instant-scoring behind the arc. Look no further than ESPN Scouting’s endorsement: “When his feet are set you can practically mark it down”. He and Ozbueze first-year players have the shooting chops for Donovan to be able to plug and play them in his offense, yet they’ll miss Wilbekin’s abilities on the other end.
Expectations for these freshmen should be tempered in a nationally-televised game as they begin their college basketball playing careers. All in all, they shouldn’t waver with Boynton, Young and Murphy leading the way, with eight players total from their Elite Eight team back in the fold.
It may be a rough go with Wilbekin at the controls, but there’s enough potential on this Gator team to carry them through in their season opener. With another deep roster at his disposal, maybe Donovan made this decision for basketball reasons after all.