Knee surgery several weeks ago caused Will Yeguete to miss all of six games and most of a seventh. In that time frame Florida lost all three of the SEC contests that they have lost all year. Is Yeguete the only reason? Probably not. But he certainly seems to make a difference.
Yeguete has been back for two games now, but the first was a little shaky. He played timid in the game against Alabama on Saturday, and told coach Billy Donovan he was petrified out on the court. On Wednesday he appeared much smoother, but still has a little ways to go.
“I think his knee actually feels better,” Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. “I think he feels like he’s getting stronger and stronger every day he’s out there he’s out there playing, which is encouraging. Knock on wood there have not been any effects from the surgery and being back playing. He’s totally cleared minutes wise.
“His conditioning has taken a hit, so to speak. You do the best you can putting him in a pool running, getting him on a bike, but it’s just totally different than being out there and dealing with the physical contact and running and pressing and just the movements are totally different so it’s going to take him some time. We just need him to play with really great energy in great spurts.”
Wednesday he was much more the Will Yeguete we have seen. The guy that does a lot of the dirty work in a basketball game collecting loose balls and making opponents work for every inch and every shot they take. Still, he is a bit uncomfortable out there.
“It’s not easy just getting back in the game and going up and down,” Yeguete said Thursday. “It’s not like it used to be. But it’s a process and it’s only my second game since I came back. So I’m going to be patient and keep playing and practicing every day and get better.”
Donovan knows it is just a matter of time as well, but the Gators need him to do those things that he does on the court.
“I thought, even (Wednesday), just his passing was off-timed quite a bit,” the coach said. “I don’t know if it has anything to do with the injury, but you know what, he probably hasn’t had enough reps when we work on passing or those things in practice to do that enough. But what we still need out of him more than anything is just his defense, his energy, his motor, just keeping alive loose basketballs, his defense. Those are the things we need. If he scores because he’s the recipient of a pass that gets thrown down to him, that’s fine.”
“In the second half, I think Scottie drove it and bounced it to him and he made a reverse layup. That’s all we need for him to do offensively. He doesn’t need to shoot 3s, doesn’t need to put in on the floor, that’s all we need him to do. But he gets an offensive rebound, he’s off balance, he probably should have thrown the ball out, he tries a jump hook off balance, those kind of things, he needs to eliminate that kind of stuff, through individual instructions and practice time that will start to come back. But we really need the things that have made Will Yeguete who he is as a player.”
Yeguete is actually back a little earlier than expected and excited about that. He missed all of the tournament action for an Elite Eight team a year ago sitting out with an injury.
“Yes and we’re thankful for that,” he said about being back early. “It’s not going to be easy. I’m just going to keep practicing. Practicing has been better. I played more minutes (Wednesday) than I did before that. So I’m just going to keep going.”
And being able to play in the tournaments is something he will relish.
“I mean, it feels great, you know, being able to just play a couple games, winning an SEC Championship. It feels really good because last year I wasn't able to come back. I'm just trying to enjoy every single day I have and make sure I have a lot of fun out there.”
He will have to continue to wear a knee brace that he is not so fond of.
“I think I'm going to have to wear it,” he said. “I think I'm just going to have to wear it and just get used to it. I don't think Duke's (team doctor) going to let me go out there without a knee brace to be safe. I think I'm just going to have to wear it the whole year.
“I feel like I'm not as free as I want to, because my knee is like really compressed. I've gotten better. I'm getting used to it practicing and just going up and down and just trying not to worry about it, think about it.”
The worry is on the upcoming schedule which starts with a date with perennial power Kentucky in Lexington to finish off the regular season. The game doesn’t mean anything as far as the SEC race because the Gators clinched the regular season outright title on Wednesday, but it is still Kentucky. But more than that, it is the next game leading up to the post season and they want to approach tournament time on a high note.
“We want to finish strong,” Yeguete said. “We already won the SEC but we still want to go out there and beat them. I don’t think we’ve done that the past couple years, so I think it would be good to go out there and finish strong.”
“I think it's really critical,” he said. “We just want to win every single game. Confidence-wise, I think that will help us a lot just being able to go out there and show that we actually can go and beat them. We haven't beat them last couple years there, so it would be a good chance to go out there and just win.”