About a year after he moved from Africa's Ivory Coast to France as a 10-year-old, Will Yeguete switched from soccer to basketball.

It's easy to guess why.

Yeguete was tall, athletic and aggressive, traits that serve him well as a starting forward for Florida, which will visit Arizona on Saturday. He also has a father who played professional basketball in Africa, and who liked the idea of his son following those footsteps.

"I don't want to say he forced me," Yeguete said of his dad. "But he wanted me to play basketball more than I wanted to play soccer."

Except those weren't really the reasons Yeguete (pronounced yuh-GET) switched. It's simply that Yeguete didn't enjoy playing outside in France too much.

"I don't like the cold," he says. "Soccer was my first love, but when I came to France, I didn't want to play soccer because of the weather."

So that was it. From there, Yeguete stayed indoors and played basketball, showing enough promise that he opted to enroll at a U.S. prep school.

Perhaps not surprisingly, he chose to play for Central African Republic native Aubin Goporo at Florida Air Academy, in warm-weather Melbourne, Fla.

There, Yeguete made a name for himself by his senior season of 2009-10. In a game against Pine Crest School, Yeguete all but demanded to guard Pine Crest star Brandon Knight, now of the Detroit Pistons - and proceeded to interrupt the sightline of the scouts watching Knight that day.

Knight scored 42 points but was 10 of 34 from the field, while Yeguete defended and tossed in 21 points of his own. Florida Air Academy won 63-62.

"He blocked shots, he yelled at people, he was pushing guys and getting them fired up. I mean, Will went crazy that night," Goporo told Gatorzone.com. "Will refused to be intimidated and did not back down to a challenge. … He'll never back down to a challenge."

Shortly after that game, Yeguete heard from Florida and, in the spring of 2010, committed to the Gators. It was an easy choice: He was familiar with Florida's 2006 and 2007 national champions and, well, the weather on campus isn't too bad, either.

"I said, 'why not?'" Yeguete said.

But there were more adjustments to make once Yeguete arrived in Gainesville. Yeguete averaged only seven minutes a game as a freshman in 2010-11, then decided to play for France in the 2011 Under-20 European Championships the following summer even though Florida coach Billy Donovan had wanted him to stay and work out in Florida.

Donovan might have had a point. Yeguete picked up a bronze medal, but it came at a cost.

"After my freshman year, I just said, 'I want to play basketball, and this is a chance to play for my country,'" Yeguete said. "It was good experience for me. But when I came back here I was out of shape. I just was really tired. I worked extra hard to get back to where I was."

Yeguete became a part-time starter last season with the Gators, averaging 4.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game while playing an average of 21.9 minutes. He was at his best at the top of the Gators' zone defense, with his long arms and aggressive play disrupting opponents.

Then, last summer, Yeguete stayed in Gainesville most of last summer to work on other parts of his game that included his free-throw shooting, which has so far moved up from an abysmal 35.9 percent last season to 55percent this season.

After an exhibition game last month, Donovan noted a difference.

"Will has gotten better scoring the ball and gotten better around the basket," Donovan was quoted as saying in the Palm Beach Post. "But I still think where he's carved a niche is … when he's really defending, he's in the front of the press, he's deflecting, he's offensive rebounding, he's defensive rebounding, he's tipping in, he's doing all these things you don't really get a chance to see in the stat sheet."

In the offseason, Yeguete also put 15 pounds of strength on his 6-foot-7-inch frame, now weighing about 240 pounds, in part by figuring out how to bulk up without his mother's cooking.

"I like steak," he said. "That makes me happy."

So could Saturday's game. The Gators have been off since they won at Florida State on Dec. 5.

The break is "very good for us because we have finals week this week, and we've got to focus on that," Yeguete said. "But I can't wait to play a game."

On StarNet: Follow the Cats as they approach the Pac-12 season on Bruce Pascoe's blog at azstarnet.com/pascoe

Up next

• Who: No. 5 Florida (7-0) at No. 8 Arizona (7-0)

• When: 8 p.m. Saturday


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