By Andrew Kahn
In a scenario that would have been inconceivable before this season, Casey Prather took over the game for Florida. With the shot clock running down and Florida’s offense going nowhere, Billy Donovan called timeout. There were 90 seconds left and the Gators led Memphis by three. The ball went to Prather, who drove hard to the hoop and drew a foul, then sunk both free throws. Prather scored Florida’s final eight points in the 77-75 win.
Considering Prather’s teammates over his four years at Florida, it’s not hard to see why he wasn’t the first (or second, or third…) option: Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario, Erik Murphy, Bradley Beal, Erving Walker, Chandler Parsons—all high-volume shooters.
There weren’t many scoring opportunities for Prather, and when they did come, too often he tried to emulate the outside shooters. He wasn’t jacking three-pointers—he’s taken just 30 in his career—but he was settling for jump shots.
As a 6’6” über-athletic wing player, Donovan thinks Prather listened to critics who said he needed to shoot the ball better in order to play in the NBA. “As a freshman or sophomore, he was so consumed with his jump shot. That’s all he wanted to do, even though there were seven or eight things he did better than shoot the basketball,” Donovan said, citing his slashing and rebounding abilities. “This season he’s playing to his strengths instead of trying to prove he can overcome his weaknesses. It’s the first time I feel like he’s been playing with a clear head.”
Against Memphis, Prather showed off nice form on mid-range jumpers, but nearly all his 22 points came in the paint or at the foul line. “I’m just trying to play aggressive as I can, each and every possession,” Prather said after the game at Madison Square Garden, before adding, “I was trying to be smart on offense.”
For Prather, that means attacking the basket and using his athleticism to get easy baskets in transition. His numbers have gone up every year but have exploded in his senior season as he’s gone from a role player to a star, averaging 17.8 points and 5.7 rebounds while shooting 62 percent from the field. “And I still think he can play better, especially on defense,” Donovan said.
Whether NBA teams will be interested in him remains to be seen. What’s important for Florida is that he stopped trying to impress them. That gives the Gators, who have reached the Elite 8 three straight years, a chance to make another deep NCAA Tournament run. “Sometimes you worry about hitting a ceiling with a veteran team,” said Donovan, who starts four seniors. “But I still think that because of our lack of cohesiveness playing together [Florida has injury and eligibility issues this season] we can get better.”
Andrew Kahn is a contributor to CBS Local Sports who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn
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