Scottie Wilbekin gets his act together

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Florida trailed Kentucky by seven points in Rupp Arena midway through the second half when Scottie Wilbekin grabbed his hammer and chisel and began chipping away at the Wildcats' lead. To Kentucky, Wilbekin became the unpredictable director of a game called "Scottie Says." 

Every time he feinted, the Wildcats flinched and fouled.

Patric Young, Casey Prather and Michael Frazier II all participated in the Gators' rally, too. But Wilbekin -- 9-for-10 from the charity stripe in the final 8:14 of Florida's 69-59 win on Feb. 15 -- orchestrated that coup in Lexington.

"He's being a leader out there," Young said after the game.

The Gators would ascend to No. 1 in the country shortly after and are 17-0 in the SEC heading into Saturday's rematch with the Wildcats in Gainesville.

Wilbekin nearly squandered the chance to be a part of the Gators' success this season. Last summer, the senior point guard was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. It was the second time Wilbekin had been suspended in less than a year.

Wilbekin missed Florida's first five games before being reinstated by Billy Donovan, who brokered a deal with the Gainesville native.

If Wilbekin wanted to leave the program following his most recent rules violation, Florida's coach promised to paint the right picture about his departure. He'd tell those interested that Wilbekin just wanted a fresh start. He'd call him a good kid who just made a few mistakes.

He'd allow the occasionally troubled leader to exit his hometown in peace.

The alternative, he told Wilbekin, would involve much more than missed time. A return to the team would include a road paved with checkpoints and accountability, but also littered by the fibers of trust he'd strewn into the ditch through his carelessness.

"I said, 'Listen, Scottie, right now, this is not who we are here at Florida, this is not what we're going to do,'" Donovan said. "'And you know what? If you do not want to deal with the suspension and being suspended games and you would like to go somewhere else and just sit out a year and go play, I'm OK with that. I'm not looking to do anything to hurt you as a person. But we've now gone through this several times with you, and you've made some poor choices and poor decisions, and what we're doing right now is not working.'"

As he considered his future, Wilbekin called his father, Svend Wilbekin. The pastor and former coach knows the senior point guard as well as anyone. He instructed him. He taught him. He raised him.

He refused to guide him.

Not this time, he told his son. After Wilbekin informed his father that he'd been suspended again -- Wilbekin missed three games last season, too -- Svend made the difficult decision to let his son decipher the dilemma on his own.

He had to.

Wilbekin's family would always support him, Svend reminded him.

But Svend also warned his son that if he decided to transfer, Wilbekin would have to call someone else if he needed a reference or wanted help contacting other college coaches. Svend wouldn't tell him what to do, either. This was his mess to clean.

Wilbekin's parents believed they had to show their son that his mistakes could place him in a pit so deep that basketball would never be enough to rescue him.

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