The Gators hope to cut down more nets this postseason as they open NCAA Tournament play tonight.
AUSTIN, Texas -- As a freshman Kenny Boynton remembers the sting of a loss to BYU in the first round.
As a sophomore and junior, Boynton helped the Gators reach the Elite Eight both seasons before packing for home.
A senior guard, Boynton hopes his final NCAA Tournament is his best as the Gators open Friday night against Northwestern State.
"We want to go out as winners,'' Boynton said Thursday. "Our goal is to get to the national championship and win it. And nothing less than that."
Fellow senior Erik Murphy arrived with Boynton and developed into an All-SEC first-team pick his final year.
He wants more.
"We want to leave that legacy of just being winners,'' he said.
On the flip side, freshman Michael Frazier was in high school a year ago at this time and watching the Gators play in the tournament on TV.
He watched a horde of media come in and out of Florida's locker room Thursday and took in the scene stretched out on a trainer's table.
"There's nothing like this,'' Frazier said. "My dream has finally come true. I've always dreamed about playing in the NCAA Tournament. I'm very blessed to be in a situation where I get to play in it in my freshman year. It can't get much better than that."
The Gators are a popular Final Four pick with several national writers in the mainstream media. U.S. President Barack Obama also picked the Gators to make it to Atlanta.
Boynton doesn't want to disappointment the President.
"That's definitely big. I'm glad he got us in there but we've got to go out and live up to the expectations,'' he said.
UCLA’s Ben Howland and Minnesota’s Tubby Smith are the most high-profile coaches in the Austin tournament.
In 41 combined seasons, they’ve accumulated 911 career victories, 27 NCAA tournament appearances (Howland 10), four Final Fours (Howland 3) and one national championship (Smith at Kentucky, in 1998).
The above paragraphs ran in a local newspaper Friday. There's also a guy named Billy Donovan here in Austin who has 447 career wins, 13 NCAA Tournament appearances (28-10 record), and three trips to the Final four with two national titles.
Anyway, just thought it was worth a mention.
THE GATOR NATION ... THAT THING
Donovan was asked Thursday about how much impact winning back-to-back national titles have had on the culture of Florida athletics.
In other words, is Florida now more of a basketball school than football school? It's a question he has been asked many times over the years.
Donovan is in his 17th season at UF and, yes, things have changed for the better.
"In the Southeast there is nothing sports-wise that takes more precedent over football,'' he said. "The difference at Florida, in my opinion, to its fans, alumni and boosters, is bigger than any sports situation.
"And that's the thing that makes Florida so unique. People are supporting Florida when Florida whether it is playing volleyball, baseball, football, basketball, the university takes precedent over any sport."
Donovan said while others may see it a football vs. basketball question, that is not the way he has ever viewed it.
"There's a level of pride there in Florida, the Gator Nation, that thing,'' he said. "I just look at it that I'm part of a great athletics program and we're one sport and the goal is to have the best overall athletics department in the country."
FLASHBACK FOR DEMONS
Northwestern State was a No. 14 seed in 2006 when the Demons upset No. 3-seed Iowa in the NCAA Tournament on a shot at the buzzer.
While those players have long departed, the memory remains for this year's Northwestern State team.
"It gives us a lot of confidence,'' senior forward James Hulbin said. "Everybody is just reminiscing about the 2006 team. We are just pretty much trying to set our pace for our own memories in the future."
He started his career at Florida and is about to end it with Miami.
In between, fifth-year senior Kenny Kadji has played for the Gators against Miami (2009 NIT), missed time with a back injury, sat out a season due to NCAA transfer rules, experienced a coaching change, and rejuvenated his career with the Hurricanes.
Kadji played in 42 games at Florida his first two seasons before transferring to Miami, where he has started 61 of 65 games. Kadji is averaging 13.3 points and 7 rebounds this season.
Kadji turns 25 in May and credits better health and a change of scenery for helping him finish his career strong.
"I wanted to start anew, and Miami was recruiting me out of high school,'' Kadji said. And my brother was going to school there, so that sealed the deal for me."
What helped Kadji on the court was getting in better shape. When Jim Larranaga replaced Frank Haith as head coach prior to last season, he urged Kadji to drop 20 to 25 pounds. He did and it has made Kadji a better player.
"They wanted me to lose [weight], just to move better and don't put that much stress on my lower back. It's been great. I haven't had a problem since."
Being in the same region as his former team is one Kadji embraced when he learned of the groupings.
"I don't have anything but respect for them,'' he said. "It was a great time, a great two years at the University of Florida."
QUOTE OF NOTE I
"That wasn't an end-of-game problem. That was a coming-out-of-the-locker room problem." -- Donovan on losing a close game to Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament championship after owning a 12-point halftime lead
QUOTE OF NOTE II
"This event is like the lottery. You've got to be in it to win it. This is what college basketball is all about right now." -- Donovan on the mindset of playing in the tournament
QUOTE OF NOTE III
"As a shooter you always want to see another shooter get out of a slump because you know how it feels. You know how it feels to shoot and have it not feel right coming out of your hands. To see him get that back at the right time, it's great, this is when we need him to most." -- Frazier on seeing Boynton regain his shooting touch in SEC Tournament