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Gators set for return of suspended Wilbekin

AP - Sports
Gators set for return of suspended Wilbekin

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Florida's Scottie Wilbekin (5) drives around Northwestern State's Shamir Davis (3) during the second half of a second-round game of the NCAA college basketball tournament Friday, March 22, 2013, in Austin, Texas. Florida beat Northwestern State 79-47. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- The Gators' depleted roster desperately needs help and will get it with the return of point guard Scottie Wilbekin.

Wilbekin, a senior, was reinstated Sunday from his five-game suspension and will be on the court when No. 16 Florida visits Jacksonville on Monday.

Gators coach Billy Donovan suspended Wilbekin in June for undisclosed reasons, shortly after he helped lead the team to a third straight Elite Eight. He was barred from practicing with the team during the summer and had to meet a list of requirements to return.

''He's done everything,'' Donovan said. ''I'm really proud of him. He's really stayed on course all the way. With all that he's done to this point in time, he's going to be available.''

Wilbekin, who was not made available to the media, is a huge addition to a team that has been battered by injuries and disciplinary problems. In last week's victory over Middle Tennessee, the Gators had six scholarship players who were fully healthy and available.

As a junior, Wilbekin played a team-high 31.9 minutes per game last season. He averaged 9.1 points and five assists per game while shooting 45.3 percent from the field. He was voted to the SEC all-defensive team.

True freshman Kasey Hill started at point guard the first four games of this year, but went down with a high ankle sprain and is out until at least mid-December. That makes Wilbekin's return even more necessary for Florida (4-1).

''He adds a huge piece for us,'' guard Michael Frazier II said. ''He's our only point guard right now and he's a veteran guy, so we definitely could use him. Just having him back is really good for our team.

''In my opinion, he's one of the best defenders in the country. He's a leader for our team. He's a defensive anchor.''

Donovan did not say whether Wilbekin will start against Jacksonville (2-3), though he does expect him to play his regular share of minutes.

This was Wilbekin's second known disciplinary issue with the Gators. He was held out of the first three games of last season as well.

He claimed that he changed after that punishment, but he was suspended again seven months later.

Donovan has spoken very highly of Wilbekin throughout his recent drive to rejoin the team and believes the change is real this time.

''No question,'' he said. ''He's grown up in a lot of ways. He obviously made some poor choices last year and you would hope that situation would've been an eye-opener for him about his responsibility. For whatever reason, that experience of missing the first three games last year did not register with him at the level I wanted.

''With the situation we've put him in having to work his way back onto the team... the biggest thing I've noticed is a total change in his attitude. He's gotten a lot more humble. He has a much better understanding how things he does impact not only himself, but other people. I really have seen great growth in him. I couldn't be any prouder of him.''

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