GAINESVILLE -- No. 1 Florida was perfect during the Southeastern Conference regular season, becoming the first team from a major conference to go 18-0 in league play since 1976.
The Gators’ historic run resulted in nearly a sweep of the league's end-of-season awards.
Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin — suspended multiple times over the past 18 months — capped his redemption story with the SEC Player of the Year honor, while Florida coach Billy Donovan collected his second consecutive SEC Coach of the Year award.
“I was happy. My parents were really happy,” said an admittedly humbled Wilbekin, who is averaging 12.9 points, 3.6 assists and 1.5 steals per game for the top-ranked Gators.
“I’m just more happy for our team to see all the other people who got rewards on our team. I think it’s a reflection of how good this team is and how good we played during the regular season to see this many of us get awards. … I definitely couldn’t have done it without my teammates, Coach D believing in me and [athletic director] Jeremy Foley giving me a second chance.”
Wilbekin was recognized for being the best player on the league’s best team, piloting UF’s historic run with tenacious perimeter defense, clutch shot-making and newfound maturity.
“It’s pretty cool for Scottie,” said senior center Patric Young, who was honored with multiple league awards, too. “For what happened in the offseason, his suspensions and coming back from that and being able to do what he’s done this year is special.”
Young was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and became the league's first three-time recipient of the Scholar-Athlete of the Year award.
“I’m grateful to my teammates for playing such terrible defense so I could pick up the slack,” Young quipped. “It’s just nice to be recognized for doing the right things by all the coaches on the committee and the people that voted me to win this award.”
Meanwhile, sophomore transfer Dorian Finney-Smith was named the SEC Sixth-Man of the Year in his first season with the Gators. Finney-Smith is averaging a team-high 6.9 rebounds per game to go along with 9.4 points per contest.
Not to be forgotten, UF's leading scorer (14.6 ppg) senior swingman Casey Prather was named to the an All-SEC first-team. Wilbekin (first-team) and Young (second-team) were also All-SEC selections.
“We come together as a team and do what we need to do each and every night,” Prather said. “As far as little things, hustle plays, rebounding, it’s a collective effort between us and not just like individuals.”
The Gators’ five (out of six) year-end awards is a school record, with Wilbekin joining Chandler Parsons (2011) as UF’s only other SEC Player of the Year recipient.
Donovan, a two-time national champion (2006, 2007), collected his third coach of the year award in four seasons, but Florida's stoic leader pointed the credit back to his team.
“I don't think those awards would happen if I had a bunch of bad players,” he said.