For Prather, hard work pays off

For Prather, hard work pays off

OMAHA, Neb. – It's been an up and down year for Florida sophomore Casey Prather. At times, just seeing the floor has been a challenge - let alone producing while on it. He persevered and stayed the course, however, and Friday he broke out in a big way - with a season-high 22 minutes and career-high 14 points.

It's fair to say it has been an up and down year for Casey Prather.

Averaging just shy of 10 minutes a game, the sophomore small forward has oftentimes found playing time hard to come by - and baskets even harder. Fifteen minutes and three points one game, 1 minute and zero points the next, with a handful of games in which he did not appear sprinkled in. That's how his season has gone from the perspective of a stat sheet.

Through it all, however, his teammates said he never lost focused. He continued to work hard and show a dedication to improving himself and helping the team. And Friday, at perhaps the best moment imaginable, it paid off.

Friday afternoon, the 6-foot-6, 212-pound sophomore scored a career high 14 points versus the Virginia Cavaliers during the first action for the Florida Gators during the 2012 NCAA Tournament. He logged a season-high 22 minutes and shot an efficient 6-of-7 from the field.

When asked if he saw that type of performance coming, Prather was straightforward in his response.

"No, I didn't," he said. "I just focused on the game and what I could do to help the team."

Humble and soft spoken he may be, but his head coach - Billy Donovan - and teammates couldn't keep from gushing.

"I have been around so many young players where they don't get a chance to play and they pout and sulk and they have no resiliency to come back the next day and work," Donovan said. "I can tell you this, whether he has played two minutes, not gotten in the game or 15 minutes, he is the same kid every single day."

"It gives me just (so much) joy and happiness to see one of my closest friends, and somebody I truly adore and love - my brother - his hard work is finally paying off," added sophomore forward Patric Young. "I'm so happy for him that he just stayed the course through the ups and downs an the roller coasters, and that we were able to keep this guy encouraged and he was able to keep his attitude strong."

His stat line may not be the best indicator of his ability. Friday, Prather did a little bit of everything, displaying outstanding athleticism in playing above the rim. Combine that speed and explosiveness with his size - at 6-foot-6 - and it's not hard to see why he can become a load for an opposing defense to handle.

On a day when the Gators were ice cold from the outside and scoring alternatives needed to be called upon to win, Prather was a big part of the equation. His emergence potentially makes them much more dangerous moving forward. They have the chance to make the ending to this season a special one, after their predicted Sunday opponent - Missouri - fell Friday night to Norfolk State in a shocker.

"They've gotta respect Casey now," said junior guard Kenny Boynton. "When Casey gets in the game they've gotta respect him, and that's going to open it up for other players."

Of course, Prather himself is still focused one what's best for the team - not his own stat line.

"It was very high," he said, when asked for where the game ranked in his basketball career. "I want to stay positive on it, do what I can do to help the team on defense, offense, rebounding - whatever."

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