GAINESVILLE — Forgive Florida coach Billy Donovan if he isn't jumping with enthusiasm and excitement as his No. 10 Gators open the season.
He has good reason to be cautious and concerned.
When they play North Florida on Friday afternoon, five players, including three potential starters, will be missing: three to suspension, two with injuries or illness.
So whatever Florida has the potential to become will have to wait a while before there's a chance for it to come to fruition.
"Before the year started, when you looked on paper at the guys that were supposed to be on our team, we looked like a very optimistic, promising team," Donovan said. "I think now because of what our team looks like, Eli Carter, right now, is not the same guy he was when he was at Rutgers. Chris Walker is not here. Will Yeguete is not who Will Yeguete was his sophomore, going into the beginning of junior year before he got hurt. (Michael) Frazier is now dealing with the mono.
"We've had some injuries, we're not the same team. I think if everybody looked at it on paper before the season started, each guy is healthy, each guy is here, what our team would look like, and our team is not that team on paper."
UF lost three starters and its top two scorers to graduation. Transfers Damontre Harris and Dorian Finney-Smith and senior guard Scottie Wilbekin are all suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. For now, Florida is down to four scholarship players: senior center-forward Patric Young, freshman guard Kasey Hill, sophomore guard/forward DeVon Walker and sophomore guard Dillon Graham. Walker, who briefly considered transferring, has added about 15 pounds and now weighs in at 200.
"I've grown defensively, being in the right position, my maturity as a player," Walker said. "And I've also knocked down a couple of shots. So I think that's what I've shown. I improved at just working on (3-point shooting) every day over the summer. My main focus was midrange, but I also worked on long range."
Although Harris can play center, the Gators will again rely heavily on Young, who averaged nearly 27 minutes last season. The Gators might eventually have the luxury of a four-guard rotation, but Hill will be thrown into the mix quickly. The McDonald's All-American is expected to start for Donovan.
"By far the best thing that I love about him is he's really coachable," Donovan said. "He's eager to learn. He's got incredible humility. He's a great teammate. I think his skill on the floor will only get better through experiences. That's the thing that has really stood out to me, his willingness and eagerness to want to be coached, want to learn, want to get better, his care for the team and winning being important to him."
As for that preseason ranking?
"I would say we're not even remotely close to being No. 10 in the country right now," Donovan said.
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]