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Florida forward Will Yeguete cleans up for No. 1 Gators

Tuesday, March 25, 2014 | 6:02 p.m. CDT
Florida forward Will Yeguete yells after scoring against Pittsburgh during the second half in a third-round game in the NCAA tournament Saturday in Orlando, Fla. Although Yeguete averages just 4.9 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, he's been an essential part of the No. 1 Gators' 34-2 season because of his defense and ability to clear space around the rim.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Will Yeguete is one valuable player for top-seeded Florida. You just have to dig a little deeper than statistics and box scores to see how much he means to the Gators.

The 6-foot-8 senior forward from Bordeaux, France, is what coach Billy Donovan calls a "dirty work guy," doing things in the press and the paint that rarely make headlines or highlight clips.

But his tenacity and toughness were on display in the third round of the NCAA tournament Saturday. Yeguete had eight points, four rebounds, an assist, a steal and a blocked shot in the 61-45 win against ninth-seeded Pittsburgh.

"He just does so many different things in the press. He's such a great cover guy with our defense. He's a great help defender," Donovan said. "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. ... He really impacts winning.

"He impacts the game in a very, very positive way for us, and what he does is really, really rare."

Yeguete and Florida (34-2) return to the court Thursday night against fourth-seeded UCLA (28-8) in the South Region semifinals in Memphis, Tenn. It's another chance for Yeguete to go mostly unnoticed — at least to outsiders.

Yeguete has the size and athleticism to play the front of the press, trap all over the court and defend anyone from a guard to a center. And he's regularly diving on the ground for loose balls, taking charges and willing to sacrifice offensive fame for defensive fortitude.

On Monday, he was fittingly wearing a white Gators T-shirt with "Intensity Counts" printed on the front.

His numbers — Yeguete is averaging 4.9 points and 5.1 rebounds — are far less telling.

But considering how things went for Yeguete the last two years, just being on the court and contributing on a regular basis are accomplishments.

"It's exciting for me just being able to play, just being able to be out there for the postseason," Yeguete said. "That's what I fight for, that's why I've been working every single day."

Yeguete missed the final nine games in 2012 because of a broken right foot, and Florida went 4-5 without him. He was hoping to play had the Gators advanced to the Final Four, but they blew a double-digit lead against Louisville in the regional final.

Yeguete faced more adversity last year while dealing with tendinitis in his right knee most of the season. The pain got so intense in early February that he opted to have arthroscopic surgery to remove floating chips and cartilage. He missed six games, wasn't the same when he returned and ended up needing another surgery after the season.

While he seemingly has lost some leaping ability, he's still been a consistent rebounder and a dependable defender.

"It's hard to find," Donovan said. "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."

Yeguete has never gotten a lot of attention in Gainesville. He was born in France, but grew up playing soccer in Ivory Coast. He picked up basketball late and really fell in love with Florida while watching Joakim Noah lead Florida to back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007. He moved to Florida Air Academy in Melbourne, Fla., before his junior year of high school and met teammate Scottie Wilbekin while playing Amateur Athletic Union ball.

Wilbekin quickly realized that Yeguete's game was far from flashy.

"He's been that way since I met him," Wilbekin said. "He has a knack for it. He gets tough rebounds, gets his hands on tips and has a nose for the ball. He seems to get it when other players wouldn't. It's just an attitude. When you have it, you don't really realize it because it just comes natural. He has it."

Yeguete has no plans to change his style, either. He prefers to alter games without necessarily scoring points.

"Those plays impact the game and winning," he said. "I'm not the only one doing those things. ... It's a whole team effort."


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