For the first three seasons of Casey Prather's career, he was either injured or a role player without a role. It took two years for Donovan's staff to, as he put it, "figure him out." Will Yeguete has battled knee injuries for years. Scottie Wilbekin spent most of his first three seasons backing up a coterie of Florida guards. He was also frequently in trouble. Last summer, Donovan all but dismissed his starting point guard from the program for good. Every day for months, the senior guard had to prove to his coach and his teammates that he was committed, that he really wanted another chance and that he deserved it.
"He really had to work to infuse himself into the team," Prather said.
When Young was a sophomore, he was expected to replace veteran forward Vernon Macklin, but his skill set wasn't there -- he was little more than a big body and a rim protector. When he struggled, he was criticized for being out of shape, for lacking the motor that drives all great big men. At one point, Young considered a transfer.
On Saturday night, Young finished with 12 points on a varied selection of impressive post moves, outworking and out-muscling Dayton's overwhelmed back line. Prather was the Gators' star for the first three months of its season, the player who almost single-handedly kept them competitive when Donovan's roster was still hard-hit; he will almost surely be named to an All-American team next week.
Wilbekin was the SEC player of the year and has become Florida's go-to player. The Gators trust him to make all of the big plays down the stretch. There might not be a more reliable guard in the country.
"We trust him totally," Yeguete said.
It's too easy to chalk too much up to chemistry; teams are good when they have good basketball players, whether they like each other or not. Make no mistake: This Florida team won 36 games before the Final Four because it is very talented, very long, very deep, playing the best and most adaptable defense in the country.
Even so, it is impossible to ignore the Gators' rapport. You can see it on the court, in huddles and timeouts. You can feel it in the locker room as the Gators dance to Yung Beastie's goofy twerking song (and then jokingly boo an equipment manager for turning it down). And you can see it at the news conferences, where Wilbekin and Young have practically turned their answers into a two-man comedy show.
Young is the ebullient, talkative, sensitive type. He is happy to talk about his feelings, and at length. Wilbekin is straightforward, even blunt.
On Saturday, a reporter asked the two to describe their thoughts just after the final buzzer sounded. Young, as always, spoke first.
"The first thing that came to my mind, I was just in disbelief," Young said. "It still hasn't hit me that we're going to be one of the final four teams in the country. The next thing that came to my mind was just to go down on one knee and just thank God, just thank him for allowing us to fight through adversity and do it the right way and come out on top."
He continued: "At the beginning of the year, you always set your goal to make it here, especially last year when we ended in the same position but we were the other team. It was kind of weird, because I'm so used to walking into my locker room after that final buzzer. It was all just a shock and a surprise and just -- gratitude."
Wilbekin followed up.