UF senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin was named SEC Player of the Year on Tuesday, leading a near sweep by the top-ranked Gators of the conference’s major year-end awards.
Coach Billy Donovan was named Coach of the Year for the third time in four seasons, senior center Patric Young was tabbed Defensive Player of the Year and sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith was named Sixth-Man of the Year in awards determined by the league’s 14 coaches.
Young also was named Scholar-Athlete of the Year for the third time.
Kentucky power forward Julius Randle, named SEC Freshman of the Year, was the only non-Gator to receive one of the half-dozen individual awards.
The Gators also place three players on the All-SEC teams - Wilbekin and Casey Prather on the first team and Patric Young on the second team. Wilbekin and Young were named to the All-Defensive team, too.
“I mentioned this to our guys, and I really, really think this, any individual honor to me is just a reflection on your team,” Donovan said Monday. “And whatever awards are given out or whatever honors are given out to any of our guys, I think they would be the first one to say, 'without my teammates this would not have been possible.'”
Under Donovan, the Gators have won six SEC titles, including three of the past four, captured the 2006 and 2007 national titles and have posted 16 straight 20-win seasons.
“I don't think those awards would happen if I had a bunch of bad players on my team,” he said.
The 6-foot-2 Wilbekin’s transformation from a one-time defensive stopper to the SEC’s top player is remarkable - and unexpected. After all, the Gainesville native began the season serving a five-game suspension for violating team rules for the second time during an eight-month period.
Wilbekin, 20, returned to immediately become the Gators’ leader on the court and catalyst for a record-setting season that includes 23 straight wins entering this week’s SEC tournament in the Georgia Dome. He enters the postseason averaging 12.9 points and 3.9 assists – modest numbers for a player of the year that belie his value.
A member of the SEC’s 2013 All-Defensive team, Wibekin has a team-high 38 steals and is as good an on-the-ball defender as there is in college basketball. But he has developed into a clutch scorer, too. He hit key baskets down the stretch in close wins versus Auburn, at Tennessee and at Arkansas and sank critical free throws during a win at Kentucky and versus Missouri.
Young joined Wilbekin on last year’s All-Defensive team, but has taken his game to another level. The 6-foot-9, 240-pound Young dropped 10 pounds during the offseason and is playing injury free and with a higher energy level, setting the tone for the SEC’s leading defense (58.5 points allowed per game).
Young, who has played in 142 games, tied for fourth all time at UF, averages 10.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and shoots 55.1 percent from the floor. He leads the team with 28 blocked shots and nine drawn charges to go with 21 steals.
No play sums up Young's maturation more his diving save of a loose ball last month at Tennessee.
With 1:32 remaining and UF ahead 61-55, Young chased down a missed shot, dove between two Vols and as he tumbled out of bounds barely saved the ball to a teammate. The play allowed the Gators to run down the clock and hold on for just the second win in their previous nine trips to Knoxville.
Afterward, Donovan called Young's save the "play of the year" for the Gators.
If an award was given for most-improved player, Prather would be a lock.
The 6-foot-6 forward averaged 3.1 points during his first three years, but leads UF in scoring (14.6 ppg) to go with career-high 5.3 rebounds a game. He also makes 62.5 percent of his shots to lead the SEC in field-goal percentage; LSU Jordan Mickey is second, shooting 53.3 percent.
Finney-Smith arrived from Virginia Tech with huge expectations. But after he sat out a year under NCAA transfer rules, Finney-Smith had an up-and-down season that finished with a flourish.
Finney-Smith scored in double figures in three of the final four games, totaling 49 points. The 6-foot-8 forwards broke out of a slump with a 19-point night during a 57-54 win on Feb. 25 at Vanderbilt.