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Injuries, suspensions leave Florida shorthanded as its season opener approaches

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Billy Donovan (Getty Images)

It's a good thing Florida boasts one of the nation's deepest rosters or the Gators wouldn't be able to field a team the first few games of the new season.

Three key players are indefinitely suspended, another failed to qualify academically and several others are nursing injuries, potentially leaving Florida with as few as six scholarship players when the regular season begins.

The attrition worsened Thursday when Billy Donovan announced forwards Damontre Harris and Dorian Finney-Smith both had been suspended indefinitely and will sit out at least next Friday's season opener against North Florida. Donovan said he'd determine the length of their suspension by their behavior, but ESPN.com reported Thursday that Harris and Finney-Smith are expected to miss two games apiece, meaning they would also be sidelined when the Gators visit Wisconsin on Nov. 12.

Their absence puts Florida in a bind because so many other players are either hurting, unavailable or both.

Starting point guard Scottie Wilbekin was indefinitely suspended during the summer and is expected to sit for at least a few games to start the season. Highly touted freshman forward Chris Walker did not meet NCAA minimum academic standards and cannot enroll at Florida until at least the start of the winter semester. And guard Michael Frazier (mononucleosis), Rutgers transfer Eli Carter (broken leg) and forward Will Yeguete ( offseason knee surgery) are all recovering from injuries.

Of the injured players, the most likely to play in the season opener is Carter, who Donovan said will test out the leg he fractured last season in Friday's exhibition game against Florida Southern. It's possible Florida will also have Yeguete, who reportedly returned to practice on Tuesday but then sat out again the following day.

If those guys either can't play or aren't effective, Florida will probably have to play walk-ons for long stretches. The only five fully healthy scholarship players on the roster who aren't suspended are center Patric Young, wing Casey Prather and guards Kasey Hill, DeVon Walker and Dillon Graham. And Walker was a redshirt candidate prior to the rash of injuries and suspensions.

Ultimately, this patch of early adversity will be long forgotten by the start of league play if the suspended players respond the way Donovan hopes and the injured players recover as expected. Nonetheless, it's not an ideal way to start the season for a Florida team with high expectations after three consecutive seasons have ended in the Elite Eight.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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