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Tuesday January 17, 2012 James Bates series 'Here Come the Gators' debuts Tuesday night

Updated: 3:09pm, January 17

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- James Bates has always loved being in front of a camera, yet he’s never been more excited about working behind one.

In a joint venture between the University Athletic Association and his own B8sy Productions, the former Florida standout linebacker-turned-TV personality and play-by-play man will debut the first episode of the offbeat documentary series “Here Come the Gators” Tuesday night on Sun Sports.

“I am so fired up for this,” Bates said Tuesday. “I’m as proud of what we’ve done from an artistic standpoint with this as what we’ve done from a sports standpoint.”

The first installment, which will air after the Miami Heat-San Antonio Spurs game, will profile Heat forward and ex-UF star Udonis Haslem. The focus will be on his ties to Coach Billy Donovan and the Florida program, but also zero in on Haslem’s special relationship with the Miami community that has kept him in South Florida despite far more lucrative offers to go elsewhere as a free agent.

The Haslem episode -- like future ones featuring Mike Miller (Heat), Matt Bonner (Spurs), Al Horford (Atlanta Hawks) and Joakim Noah (Chicago Bulls) -- will take viewers inside the past and present of the former UF star, interview those close to him and feature rare archived footage from not only his early days in Gainesville but also his time as a high school star.

Spoiler alert for fans of Bates, one of the most popular and charismatic players of the Steve Spurrier era: He’s nowhere to be seen or heard during the show.

“Love it,” Bates said.

Mike Hill, UF’s senior associate athletics director for external affairs, was on the ground floor of the initials talks for the project, but has been absolutely floored by what he’s seen thus far.

“This is James Bates at his very best,” Hill said. “I’m telling you, it’s like something from ‘30-for-30.’ It’s that good.”

Bates, who partnered with longtime colleague and former UF student Tom Nunn on the series, wouldn’t go so far as to put his pet project alongside the critically series from ESPN Films.

But the positive feedback from a documentary he sold to about Urban Meyer last year got Bates’ creative juices flowing when he was approached by Hill and UF Athletic Director Jeremy Foley about telling the stories of the growing parade of basketball stars Donovan has sent to the NBA.

“I’d hate to compare it to ’30 for 30,’ but we have dug up some gritty archive footage that is really, really cool,” Bates said. “I mean, wait ‘til you see how fat ‘UD’ was when he first got here.”

Starting Tuesday night around 10:30, viewers will have four chances to see the Haslem story, with future airings scheduled for Jan. 25 (6:30 p.m.), Jan. 27 (7 p.m.) and Feb. 1 (11 p.m.).

After that will come more treks by Bates, such a visit to Miller’s old stomping grounds at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D., and a tour of the New York City playgrounds where Noah’s incredible rise to iconic stardom began.

This is a lot different than a ‘Billy Donovan Show’ or one of those ‘Inside the Heat’ or ‘Inside the Lightning’ shows. It’s cool, it looks beautiful and we love the concept,” said Jon Rubin, UF’s director of multimedia operations and GatorVision. “We love James Bates -- he’s great -- but he wanted the focus on be on the players and their stories.”

And tell them he has, apparently to rave reviews from the higher-ups.

“Everybody I’ve shared the raw stuff with has been over-the-top happy about it,” Bates said. “I want these guys to be proud. I want to make Billy and my school proud. And I want kids out there to be blown away by this stuff and see what Billy and [assistants] John Pelphrey and Anthony Grant and the University of Florida did for all these guys.”

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