It usually takes Florida Gators senior forward Will Yeguete several games to reach double figures in almost every statistical category.


The Florida Air Academy graduate, by way of Bordeaux, France, had 10 or more points three times this season, with a high of 12. Yeguete has grabbed double digits in rebounds three times, peaking at 11.

For his four-year career (124 games) Yeguete has had 11 double-figure scoring games and nine double-figure rebounding games. This season, he’s averaging 4.9 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game.

Yet, Gators coach Billy Donovan couldn’t imagine writing down a starting lineup without the 6-foot-8, 230-pounder with the Mohawk haircut.

Yeguete’s presence on the boards and on defense might prove to an important difference if Florida (34-2) continues its trek through the NCAA Tournament.

The road has led to Memphis, Tenn., where UF will play UCLA (28-8) at the FedEx Forum on Thursday at about 9:45 p.m., or sometime after the conclusion of the first game between Stanford and Dayton.

How vital has Yeguete been to Florida’s season?

“Huge ... big,” Donovan said last week after Yeguete had contributions seen and unseen in the box score during the Gators’ 61-45 victory over Pittsburgh in Orlando. “He’s the epitome of a guy, that when you look down at the stat sheet, it’s hard to have a level of appreciation for him.”

Yeguete overcame a shaky performance in the tournament opener against Albany by making 4-of-5 shots for eight points and collecting four rebounds, one assist, one blocked shot and one steal against Pitt. None of those numbers are earth-shattering.

But Donovan summed up Yeguete in one concise sentence: “He impacts winning.”

There’s an old NBA phrase about a player such as Yeguete: “garbage man.” More than his points, rebounds or other statistics are the items that never show up in the final tally, his floor-diving to recover loose balls, deflections (especially when he’s the front man in Florida’s press), tipped rebounds he keeps alive that a teammate winds up hauling in and his quickness that enables the Gators to double-down in the low post as well as anyone in the nation.

Yeguete has another knack: boxing out to enable the Florida guards to cherry-pick long rebounds.

Yeguete wasn’t at full strength last season when Florida reached the Elite Eight. He never played more than 25 minutes in a tournament game but saved his best for last when he converted 5-of-5 shots and scored 13 points and pulled down seven rebounds in the region final loss to Michigan.

As a sophomore, Yeguete went out for the season in late February after breaking his foot against Auburn. When he was a freshman, Yeguete played a total of 20 minutes in three tournaments games, scoring four points and getting five rebounds.

But he’s healthy now and a force opponents will have to recognize just as surely as 3-pointers from Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier, to-the-basket slashes by leading scorer Casey Prather and center Patric Young’s hooks and slams.

“He’s invaluable,” Young said of Yeguete after the Pittsburgh game. “You can’t put a price tag on how important this guy is to our team. We’re not the same team without him because of the way he can defend, the way he can rebound, the things he does that sometimes go very unnoticed.”

Yeguete’s comments sometimes go unnoticed also, because he’s not one to talk about himself outside the team framework.

Following his performance against the Panthers, Yeguete said all the right things.

“I was just trying to be aggressive defensively. ... I knew they were going to be a really good team,” Yeguete said about helping Young hold Pitt forwards Lamar Patterson, Talib Zanna and Michael Young to a combined 22 points. “On offense, I was trying to make plays and help my teammates.”

Donovan realizes that Yeguete doesn’t get much attention because so much of what he does fails to make highlight films. That’s why Donovan makes sure Yeguete knows he’s appreciated by the guy who counts the most — his coach.

“I’ve always tried to talk to Will about how much I appreciate [him], because he really impacts the game in a very, very positive way for us,” Donovan said. “What he does is really, really rare. It’s hard to find guys that really kind of hang their hat on being kind of a dirty‑work guy, and it’s hard sometimes because certainly it doesn’t really give them a lot of headlines. He’s not a headline guy. But he really does a lot for our team.”

Garry Smits: (904) 359-4362


Men's College Basketball