The joke between Florida coach Billy Donovan and forward Will Yeguete during the preseason was that the sophomore may have done "a little too much pastry eating" during his summer break in his native France because he didn't return in the best of shape.
Yeguete took the ribbing in stride. Maybe because he knew he was a little more prepared for this season than many might have expected.
A reserve who received limited playing time last season and averaged 2.6 rebounds per game, Yeguete is beginning to emerge as a key defensive player and strong inside help for the No. 13 Gators, who play No. 22 Texas A&M at 2:30 today in Sunrise.
"He's really one of our better defenders," Donovan said, "and he's clearly one of our better rebounders."
Yeguete (pronounced ye-GET) has taken to heart that old adage of one man's injury is another's opportunity. When junior Erik Murphy was sidelined with a knee injury, Yeguete took over, in impressive fashion.
He made his first career start against Jacksonville, contributing eight points and nine rebounds. He had his first career double double in a win over Stetson. In his five starts, he has had at least seven rebounds in four games.
"I'm just trying to play hard and help my team out," said Yeguete, a native of Bordeaux, France, who starred at Florida Air Academy after his family moved to Melbourne in his junior year from the Ivory Coast. "My rebounding is what I focus on and try to bring to the team. That and just playing good defense. My defense is my game."
On a squad filled with guards who can provide steady offense, the improving play of Yeguete is proving to be a bonus for the Gators. At 6 feet 7, he adds size inside with 6-9 sophomore center Patric Young. The paint was an area of concern for UF when the season began.
"Will always plays pretty tough," Young said. "He always has an assassin's mind-set on the offensive and defensive glass that he's going to get every rebound."
Yeguete has gone from 2.6 rebounds last season to 6.8 and remains a starter for now.
"He's definitely helped out with the rebounding," junior guard Kenny Boynton said. "He provides energy and forces turnovers with his long arms. We definitely need him to be in the game."
Yeguete's biggest concern now is his offense and free-throw shooting. He is averaging 6.5 points and is just 6-of-17 at the free-throw line. Donovan said the offense will come, but he likes that Yeguete focuses on what he does best.
"The one thing about Will is I think he has a pretty good identity of who he is," Donovan said. "A lot of times players want to be something they are not. I don't think you see him taking a lot of crazy shots. He is what he is. He's a really good defender, he can guard four different positions, he's a terrific rebounder, he can get to the offensive glass. Still, there's things he needs to get better offensively as we run the offense."
Eventually, Yeguete most likely will return to his role of coming off the bench. Murphy returned to the lineup against Arizona, but he has played sparingly. As his knee continues to get better, he is expected to regain his starting role. That, Yeguete said, is fine with him. He will contribute in any way necessary.
"I'm just going to try to stay consistent and bring the same energy that I brought when I was in the first five," he said.
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.