Prolific senior class departs Florida after Saturday's loss
Florida's loss to Connecticut ended the college career of four very successful seniors.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather, Will Yeguete.
Those four seniors were everything to Florida.
They went to four Elite Eights and one Final Four during their time in Gainesville, and gave the Gators an edge in pretty much every game this season.
And now they're gone.
Florida's season ended on Saturday in a 63-53 loss to Connecticut, and with it, four seniors who helped lead the Gators to 120 wins over the last four season are walking out the door.
"I think 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," Young said. "Guys that were really willing to just do whatever it took to go outside of themselves, to commit to the greater goal.
"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."
It wasn't Florida's talent that carried the Gators to 30 straight wins and a trip to the Final Four this season; it was the experience and the senior leadership of four guys who have been together for so long. Up until Saturday, opposing teams just didn't go on extended runs against Florida -- and a lot of that had to do with the seniors' ability to fight through adversity.
The younger players will miss their leaders.
"They kind of just brought us together the whole entire year," sophomore guard Michael Frazier said. "They lead this team. Just everything they've done for the program."
"They've been through it," forward Dorian Finney-Smith added. "We followed in their footsteps. They jumped on it. All through the year, they came out with the right mindset in practice, on and off the court."
Almost immediately, though, the page turns.
The biggest strength for Florida this season was its experience. Having four seniors in the starting lineup is a luxury very few elite teams possess.
But next year, the Gators will immediately become one of the least experienced teams in the SEC. With so much to replace, can Florida continue its run near the top of the national rankings?
"As long as Billy Donovan is here, the ship is going to be heading in the right direction," assistant coach Matt McCall said.
While that's probably true, the team will have a completely different look next season.
Guys who came off the bench this season will have to be slotted into the starting lineup, guys who were bit players for most of the season will have to take on bigger roles.
Michael Frazier will be the lone returning starter for the Gators. His ability to stretch the defense opened up driving lanes for the perimeter players and angles down low for the big men, but now he will be the focal point of opposing defenses. That could be a tough step for him to take. Kasey Hill takes over the full-time point guard spot; instead of being counted on for a spark off the bench, he needs to be consistent and reliable. Dorian Finney-Smith should slide into the starting lineup without much of a hiccup. He played starter minutes as it is, and his versatility at both ends of the floor will be an asset.
Chris Walker will be a major question in the coming weeks for the Gators. Is he planning to go pro or return to Gainesville? He didn't play extended minutes after becoming eligible in the middle of the season, but he's a future first-round pick with a high ceiling.
"I don't really know what the future holds," Walker said after the game. "I just have to wait until it gets here."
Florida does bring in three top-40 recruits, though, including forward Devin Robinson, who should make an immediate impact as a freshman. He's going to be a matchup nightmare for opponents from Day 1. Brandone Francis and Chris Chiozza will also help in the backcourt. There are three players sitting out too: Eli Carter, who transferred from Rutgers but didn't play this season due to injury, Duke transfer Alex Murphy and former South Carolina transfer Damontre Harris, who was suspended from the team before being brought back if he meets certain requirements.
There will be talent in Gainesville, as there always is under Donovan. But the biggest question for 2014-15 will be the Gators' experience.
The best veterans they could ask for just played their final game in a Florida uniform.
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