Florida’s Not Having The Best Offseason: Why Gators Fans Should Pump The Brakes and Just ChillPosted by Chris Johnson on June 14th, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
One top-10 recruit’s eligibility issues on one national championship-capable roster typically wouldn’t feel like anything to work up a sweat over five months away from the start of the season. Chris Walker is one of the top players in the class of 2013. His addition arguably makes the Gators the most wholly-talented group Billy Donovan has coached since the 2006-07 national championship starting five. Florida would be better with him than without him. These things are all true, and they are all real. But academic eligibility issues like Walker’s – he still needs to complete three core courses and improve his ACT score before becoming eligible – usually (re: usually) tend to untangle themselves before the start of the season. It’s not like Walker attended high school classes that didn’t actually exist. And besides, what’s the worst that could happen? Walker is ruled ineligible for the non-conference season, only to enter Florida’s lineup around New Year’s for a repeat mashing of SEC competition? When you really bore down into what the Gators bring back, and who they welcome for the very first time, Walker’s possible ineligibility is less than crippling specter. More like a minor buzzkill in an otherwise tantalizingly positive summer season lead-up.
Viewed on its own merits, Walker’s situation is an annoyance. A tic slowly sucking the preseason optimism out of Florida fans. Nothing more and nothing less. This particular situation is different, because Walker’s ineligibility isn’t the only thing the Gators are anxiously tracking this offseason. There are other concerns, and when you add everything up and lop Walker’s prospective ineligibility on top, what once looked like one of the four or five best teams in the country in the rushed postseason Top 25 deluge has a fistful of questions to get past before season opening in November. Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin has been suspended indefinitely by coach Billy Donovan for an unspecified violation of team rules one year after a similar punishment forced him to miss the first three games last season. We can only presume another brief multi-game absence, or some form of serious punishment, is in the offing. There’s also senior forward Patric Young, who underwent a procedure in April on his ankle, and whose game – frustratingly unrefined and only incrementally improved offensively – hinges heavily on his sheer athletic capability. Forward Will Yeguete likewise had his right knee scoped out one month later, the second such arthroscopic procedure in a four-month span.
Piece by piece, minor ailment by minor ailment, Florida’s indomitable preseason form is fraying at the edges. But that’s the entire point: All of these minor hitches are only casually inconvenient, and not immediately alarming, because of one big underlying caveat. It’s only June! The season doesn’t begin for a few more months, and by that time, who knows what shape Florida could be in as they begin official preseason workouts (Walker’s eligibility issues could keep him from enrolling in summer classes and participating in team workouts, which begin July 1)? It is entirely possible all the Gators’ problems will have miraculously solved themselves – that Walker breezed past his foreboding academic checkpoints, that Wilbekin is reinstated by the start of the season, that Young and Yeguete are back with more bounce and pep in their repaired joints than ever before. It’s never comforting to look up and see your favorite team weathering a host of minor foibles involving key players, but until those question marks start to infringe upon Florida’s expected SEC co-dominance, its status as an unquestioned Final Four and National Championship threat, taking the long view and gulping one big sigh of reassurance into your hyper-activated thoracic cavity (I imagine UF fans have had to control their inclination to hyperventilate over this mounting trickle of fuss) is the best way to approach the situation. Save the angst for November, or even January. Because other than Kentucky, Florida has every right to believe it can outclass every team in the SEC even without one of its ensnared offseason crop of potential starters.
Incoming freshman Kasey Hill is an NBA talent with the potential to infuse Florida’s backcourt with a needed heaping of scoring punch. Rutgers transfer Eli Carter is waiting on a hardship waiver that would allow him to play upon arrival this season. ACC All-Freshman performer Dorian Finney-Smith will be eligible this fall. So much is pointing undeviatingly skyward for the Gators and their 2013-14 prospects right now, that one freshman’s academics, another’s doesn’t-look-to-be-terribly-serious suspension, and yet another two’s offseason clean-up procedures shouldn’t distract from the devastating group Donovan will have at his command this season. Getting this roster trimmed and refurbished into its unmistakably capable complete form, with every offseason miscue purged from the spotlight and a full complement of guards and forwards at the ready, makes Florida a somehow-underrated contender to not only challenge but eclipse Kentucky in a top-heavy SEC.