Thursday July 11, 2013Raveling's words resonated (plus other Gators hoops notes)
Updated: 2:58pm, July 11
Updated: 2:58pm, July 11
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- George Raveling won 337 basketball games over 22 seasons at Washington State, Iowa and Southern Cal before retiring from coaching. He is probably just as famous for being on the podium with Dr. Martin Luther King when the famed civil rights leader delivered the historic “I Have A Dream” speech in 1963.
As King left the stage, he handed the speech to Raveling.
(And, yes, he saved it)
A 19-year-old college basketball player that knows that much about Raveling is going to give the man the undivided attention he deserves. That’s a given.
But Raveling (pictured left) now serves as Nike’s Director of International Basketball. As such, he is heavily involved in USA Basketball and thus was called on to speak to the U19 squad, coached by Billy Donovan, before the team left for Czech Republic last month to compete in the FIBA World Championships.
Donovan said Raveling’s message resonated with a group of young men who were trying to be just the third American team to win the gold medal at the Worlds in the last 26 years.
“He’s been involved in USA basketball for like 30 years,” Donovan said. “And he made a great comment to our players.”
Raveling, who was an assistant for Bobby Knight on the USA’s 1984 Olympic gold-medal team led by Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin, stood before the team and explained how 95 percent of America’s population will never be asked to serve their country.
That other 5 percent, Raveling continued, is made up of the brave men and women in the military -- and athletes who represent the United States.
“He talked about the importance of representing the country, and not necessarily from a winning standpoint, but how they played the game,” Donovan said. “I don’t know how this team will be remembered -- and I haven’t seen all the 19-and-under [teams] -- but this was a special group. And George mentioned that.”
The Americans went out and justified Raveling’s words, going unbeaten in pool play, then defeating Canada and Serbia in the medal round to claim the gold.
Since the advent of the FIBA World tournament in 1979, the USA had won the event only four times (1979, ’83, ’91 and ’09), but only twice since 1987. Donovan’s team, which featured Gators sophomore guard Michael Frazier (right), took its rightful -- and patriotic -- place in history.
"Really an incredible experience," Donovan said.
In other UF basketball developments:
>> The status of guard Scottie Wilbekin has not changed since the school announced last month the senior playmaker had been suspended from the team indefinitely for violating team rules. “He’s got a road to hoe here to get himself back,” Donovan said. “There are some things out there in front of him he needs to do right now. He’s working hard to try and do those things, but this is not a situation where, all of a sudden, it’s a quick fix and he’s back for Summer B. No. For the rest of the summer, he’s not part of our team. I’ll meet with him once fall semester starts and go from there.”
>> Incoming freshman forward Chris Walker, the 6-foot-10 McDonald’s All-American from Bonifay (Fla.) Holmes County High, is not enrolled at UF this summer. “He may or may not be here for the fall semester,” Donovan said. “I think the one thing I feel like with Chris, in just talking to him, is his commitment to Florida and wanting to be here -- however long that takes. He wants to make that happen. He’s got some things that he still needs to do.”
>>> The other freshman McDonald's All-American, guard Kasey Hill from Montverde (Fla.) Academy, is in school and already taking part in the team's offseason conditioning. Hill was rated the top point guard in the nation by virtually every recruiting service. "The biggest thing for him is getting better and getting acclimated to what we’re doing," Donovan said. "More than anything else, just earning respect within our team'' [should be his first focus].
>> Senior forward Will Yeguete, who underwent knee surgery in May, is still walking with crutches, but recently shed his knee brace. The UF health staff is optimistic he is on course to be cleared when the Gators open fall practice.
>> Junior guard Eli Carter, who is enrolled after transferring from Rutgers, is going through the process of petitioning the NCAA to gain eligibility for the 2013-14 season. Carter has averaged 14.3 points and 3.0 rebounds in two seasons with the Scarlet Knights, including a career-high 31 in an upset of the Gators two seasons ago.
Updated: 2:52pm, July 9
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- A pay scale still in its infancy and a brother with some NFL stripes apparently are all Matt Elam needs to negotiate his first professional contract with the reigning Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
Elam, a first-team All-America safety with the Gators last season, is the only first-round pick of the 2013 draft class to bypass hiring representation, according to The Baltimore Sun.
Instead, the No. 32 overall pick in the April draft -- the final selection in Round 1 -- is being advised by his brother, veteran Kansas City safety Abram Elam, and using the guidelines of the league’s rookie wage scale that was implemented in 2012 as part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement in advance of signing his first deal.
Elam, who was second on the team with 76 tackles and led the Gators in interceptions with four, is in line under the rookie scale for a four-year contract worth nearly $6.8 million, including a $3.03 million signing bonus.
[Note: That doesn’t include whatever the former Palm Beach Gardens star will be pulling in from an endorsement deal with Under Armour.]
By forgoing representation, Elam won’t have to pay out the industry standard 3-percent commission, which would translate to just over $203,000.
Elam was drafted by the Ravens as the heir apparent to the strong safety spot manned (and dominated) the last 11 seasons by nine-time Pro-Bowler Ed Reed, who signed a free-agent deal with Houston. Elam was one of two former Gators picked in the first round of the draft, joining defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who went 23rd overall to the Minnesota Vikings.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Chandler Parsons had 269 assists for the Houston Rockets last season.
But none were bigger than the offseason ones he's been dishing the last few weeks.
Parsons, the former Florida Gators star and 2011 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, is being hailed as one of the chief facilitators behind Dwight Howard's decision to bolt the Los Angeles Lakers and sign a four-year, $88 million contract with the Houston Rockets.
In fact, according to FORBES, “no one [was] more responsible” for the Howard deal, with Parsons having formed something of a bond with the former Orlando Magic star after joining on with Howard’s agent Dan Fegan this offseason.
“Chandler was relentless,” a source told FORBES. “He called and texted [Howard] every day, even face-timed and would answer every question Dwight could potentially have. We would drive to his house in the hills and talk to him. Basically Chandler Parsons recruited him like Nick Saban and a 5-star defensive tackle; they hardly knew each other at beginning of process.”
After Howard made his decision official Friday, @ChandlerParsons tweeted out the following (see below):
Everybody welcome my boy @DwightHoward to the @HoustonRockets!! #NEWAGE
In Houston, Howard will join a frontcourt that already features All-Star forward James Harden, who averaged 25.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game, plus Parsons, who checked in at 15.5, 5.3 and 3.5, respectively.
The Rockets also have incumbent 7-foot center Omer Asik (10.1 ppg, 11.7 rpg) under contract, though Asik has asked to be traded.
Wonder of Parsons can find a place for him ... or better yet, talk Asik into sticking around.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Abby Wambach wasted no time accomplishing the inevitable.
“Which was awesome,” Florida soccer coach Becky Burleigh said late Thursday night from New Jersey. “Her mother was so nervous.”
Burleigh was with a handful of Wambach’s family members when the former Gators star scored four goals -- all in the first half -- in the USA’s 5-0 exhibition win over South Korea to become the all-time scoring leader in women’s international soccer.
Wambach entered the game needing two goals to pull even with icon Mia Hamm, who scored 158 goals during her 275-game career before retiring in 2004. Wambach, who helped lead the Gators to the 1998 NCAA title, needed just 29 minutes to pass Hamm, with the record-setting 159th coming on a line-drive header off a corner kick from teammate Megan Rapinoe.
As the ball hit the back of the net, Wambach wheeled and ran toward the U.S. bench, with Rapinoe leaping into her arms as the rest of the team poured onto the field.
From her seat among the sold-out crowd of nearly 19,000 at Red Bull Arena, Burleigh began exchanging hugs with Wambach’s parents and family members, most of them from Rochester, N.Y.
“It was pretty amazing,” Burleigh said.
Wambach, 33, scored her fourth goal on a tap-in later in the half, giving her 160 in 207 career international games.
“Her goals were classic Abby. Headers, powers, just tremendous to watch,” Burleigh said. “She has a skill set that sets her apart from everyone. She plays so aggressively and so powerfully in the air. ... It’s just a unique trait. I was talking to her older sister, who said that’s what happens when you’re the youngest. You get beat up and that brings out toughness.”
Ultimately, it brought out greatness.
Gator greatness gone global.
“It was a special night,” Wambach told reporters after the game. “My teammates know me super well and at halftime they said, ‘You’re such an extremist. You are all or nothing. When you want to do something, you just go do it.’ ”
(Second of occasional dispatches from Team USA U19)
Who: Gators representing their country include Billy Donovan (head coach), Michael Frazier II (guard) Mark Daigneault (assistant to the head coach), David “Duke” Werner (trainer) and Billy Donovan (transfer guard from Catholic University last year and working as USA team manager).
Where: Colorado Springs, Colo.
What: FIBA U19 World Championship camp
>>> The roster was finalized Monday night, trimming from 16 to 12. There was much discussion over the final two spots and all four players were considered. One of the more difficult parts of the process was comparing two or three players who can play different positions. Comparing like-sized players is usually an easier process, but comparing, say, a point guard to a wing to a center is an inexact science.
>>> The staff is really pleased with the roster. Five players return from last year's U18 team -- led by Coach Donovan -- that won the FIBA Tournament of the Americas in Brazil (Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell, pictured left in NCAA title game vs. Michigan, Tennessee’s forward Jarnell Stokes, Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon, Syracuse forward Jeremi Grant and Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart). Another four have prior international experience (Louisiana guard Elfrid Payton, incoming Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon, plus the two high school kids who made the team). There’s also a comfort level with 6-foot-11 center/forward Mike Tobey, who plays for assistant coach Tony Bennett at Virginia, and Mike Frazier, with his ties to UF. Nigel Williams-Goss, a guard/forward headed to Washington, rounds out the roster after a very impressive showing over the weekend tryout.
>>> One of the biggest considerations (and one some may overlook) in selecting the team was factoring in how each individual player will handle being in a different country for an extended stretch of time. Another consideration was that our nine games will be played over a stretch of 11 days, so having depth at every position and a healthy amount of multi-position players is a necessity.
>>> Leadership has yet to really emerge. Coach Donovan tends to allow that to happen in a natural way rather than appointing guys. The team has a diversity of experiences that could spawn valuable leadership traits. The most valuable type of leadership on a team with this kind of talent is one's ability to sacrifice for the good of the team -- and the country. We have a lot of guys that will be asked to play more limited roles than they are used to in order for the whole to be greater than the sum of the parts.
>>> We have three more practices here in Colorado Springs (two Tuesday, one Wednesday morning), then it’s off to Washington for three days of workouts there at the NBA’s Wizards complex downtown.
Updated: 8:39pm, June 17
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- With the NBA Draft set for next week, ESPN college basketball writer Eamonn Brennan has put together an excellent series counting down the 20 best programs for producing NBA players since the draft went to two rounds in 1989.
In his “Path to the Draft: Ranking NBA Pedigree,” Brennan laments how college basketball fans, in essence, stop caring about whether a player’s college experience prepared him for the NBA once that player is gone.
In most cases, true.
So his series -- extremely detailed and informative, including a starting five (plus sixth man) from each program -- does not rate the schools by the sheer numbers of players it has sent to the NBA, but how good those players have performed.
Example: Friday’s installment had Wake Forest checking in at No. 9. If that raises your eyebrows, maybe Demon Deacon alums Tim Duncan and Chris Paul will lower them.
Quality over quantity.
Florida, by the way, gets the No. 11 ranking with a starting five of Joakim Noah, David Lee, Mike Miller, Al Horford and Jason Williams, with Udonis Haslem off the bench. Check back in a couple years and it may be tough to keep Chandler Parsons and Bradley Beal, a pair of ascending stars, from punching into that rotation.
Brennan breaks down each installment under the following categories: Why they’re ranked where they are; Why they could be ranked higher; Why they could be ranked lower; What’s ahead; Final thoughts.
That first category is clear cut, relative to UF.
The Gators are ranked where they, Brennan writes, because: “Seventeen years ago the University of Florida took a chance."
UF could have gone the conservative route when looking to replace departing coach Lon Kruger, but instead, “the Gators walked through door No. 2, hiring a 31-year-old former Providence star and Rick Pitino protege with five years as an assistant and two as a head coach on his resume.”
That was 1996.
In 2013, Billy Donovan is a slam-dunk future Hall-of-Famer with an impressive (and growing) list of players not just performing, but starring at the next level.
Anyway, it’s an excellent series. If you don’t have time to read it, here’s how Brennan ranks his 20 programs (plus his starting lineups) through Monday's installment at No. 8.
20) Syracuse -- Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Coleman, Sherman Douglas, Billy Owens, Hakim Warrick and John Wallace (sixth man)
19) Ohio State -- Michael Redd, Mike Conley, Jim Jackson, Evan Turner, Jared Sullinger and Daequan Cook (sixth man)
18) LSU -- Shaquille O’Neal, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf/Chris Jackson, Glen Davis, Marcus Thornton, Brandon Bass and Tyrus Thomas (sixth man)
17) Alabama -- Latrell Sprewell, Antonio McDyess, Gerald Wallace, Robert Horry, Mo Williams and Jason Caffey (sixth man)
16) Michigan State -- Steve Smith, Jason Richardson, Zach Randolph, Morris Peterson, Eric Snow and Shannon Brown (sixth man)
15) Memphis -- Penny Hardaway, Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, Lorenzen Wright, Elliot Perry and Will Barton (sixth man)
14) Kansas -- Paul Pierce, Kirk Hinrich, Drew Gooden, Mario Chalmers, Raef LaFrentz and Nick Collison (sixth man)
13) UNLV -- Larry Johnson, Shawn Marion, J.R. Rider, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony and Keon Clark (sixth man)
12) Georgia Tech -- Chris Bosh, Stephon Marbury, Kenny Anderson, Dennis Scott, Thaddeus Young and Matt Harpring (sixth man)
11) Florida -- (see above)
10) Texas -- Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, T.J. Ford, Tristan Thompson, D.J. Augustin and Avery Bradley (sixth man)
9) Wake Forest -- Tim Duncan, Chris Paul, Josh Howard, Rodney Rogers, Jeff Teague and Darius Songalia (sixth man).
8) Michigan -- Chris Webber, Glen Rice, Juwan Howard, Jamal Crawford, Jalen Rose and Mo Taylor (sixth man).
Now, with seven spots remaining (reserved mostly for the roundball blue bloods), I’m going to go out on a limb and and say the rankings will fall something like this (and without reigning national champion Louisville anywhere to be found).
2) North Carolina
Or something like that.
First of occasional dispatches from USA Basketball U19
Who: Gators representing their country include Billy Donovan (head coach), Michael Frazier II (guard and tryout invitee) Mark Daigneault (assistant to the head coach), David “Duke” Werner (trainer) and Billy Donovan (the coach's son and current Gators player who transferred from Catholic University and is working as USA manager).
When: Sunday night
Where: Colorado Springs, Colo.
What: FIBA U19 World Championship tryouts
>>> The cast of coaches here this weekend was impressive. Buzz Williams (Marquette), Ed Cooley (Providence) and Tim Ryan (College of Central Florida) worked as court coaches, meaning they coached the 26 players during tryouts. The selection committee (which recommends which players to keep and cut) was comprised of Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, Washington’s Lorenzo Romar, Purdue’s Matt Painter and former Villanova standout Curtis Sumpter. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski checked in for the first two days. That crew, plus the team staff of UF coach Billy Donovan, VCU’s Shaka Smart and Virginia’s Tony Bennett, made for quite the think tank.
>>> We had four different tryout sessions; one Friday night, two Saturday and one Sunday morning. The roster was cut from 26 to 16, with four more cuts required by Monday night to get the team down to 12.
>>> Mike Frazier (left) survived the first cut. He played well, but not great. He has a chance to make the final roster based on his 3-point shooting, which definitely is needed in international play, plus his familiarity with Donovan's system. Frazier made 52 of his 111 shots from 3-point range last year for a 46.8 shooting percentage. That’s the best among players here trying out.
>>> With the roster reduced for Sunday night’s practice, the coaching staff began rolling out offensive concepts and defensive fundamentals. Things can't get too complicated with barely a week to prepare for pool play.
>>> Tom Williams, the men’s basketball rep and academic advisor from UF’s Office of Student Life, attended the practice. So did Coach Donovan’s younger son Bryan.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Nothing like a Tim Tebow signing (by the New England Patriots, no less) to set the Twittersphere aflame.
The very second ESPN’s Ed Werder reported late Monday afternoon that University of Florida icon and international lightning rod was headed to the Patriots, the Tweets -- from lovers and haters, analysts and satirists -- began spewing on timelines.
Come Tuesday, with hours to process the development, we were in full-blown Tebowmania again with lengthy pieces breaking down the move, starting with a nice headline in The Boston Herald.
Here’s Yahoo!'s Mike Silver, who quoted a source in the New England a month ago that Bill Belichick “hates” Tebow as a player.
He stands by his story.
UF grad and pro-Tebow guy Alex Marvez, FoxSports.com, had nice glass half-full look, making mention of how JaMarcus Russell, arguably the biggest quarterback bust in NFL history, appeared to have more pro prospects than Tebow just last week. Now this.
“Whether the Patriots keep Tebow exclusively behind center is really immaterial at this point. Even if he’s a reserve passer who gets snaps at tight end, H-back, fullback or becomes a core special teams player, Tebow has a chance to stay in the league for a fourth NFL season.”
What round-up on this subject would be complete with some quick-hitting excerpts from the lead basher of the anti-Tebow cult?
Take a bow, good friend Pete Prisco, of CBSSports.
“This is what the Patriots’ Tim Tebow signing says to me:
1. Bill Belichick is doing a favor for his buddy Urban Meyer.
2. The Patriots’ arrogrance is in full force. It’s more of this: ‘We can make anything work. We’re the Patriots. We don’t deal with distractions, just football players. We’re the Patriots.’ ”
The NFL is a passing league. The Patriots are one of its premier passing teams. The knock on Tebow has been his accuracy throwing the ball. Hmmm.
Steve Politi, columnist for The Newark Star-Ledger, wrote an advice piece for New England area columnists, based on his past year dealing with the year-long circus of Tebow as a member of the New York Jets. Pretty entertaining stuff.
“Tip 1: Take a strong stance right away. Either acquiring Tebow is a stroke of genius that will surely revoluntionize how the Patriots play football, or it is a disastrous move that will undermine Tom Brady and this entire football dynasty. Brilliant. Or insanity. No room for nuance here. Pick one and dig in.
“The best part: There is no wrong answer. If, for example, Tebow has no impact on the Patriots offense, then you can blame the team’s offensive coaches for failing to untilize him in a way that revolutionized football. Find a suitable scapegoat like Tony Sparano -- I’m looking at you, Josh McDaniels -- and blame him for everything.”
Perfect columnist plan. When you stand for nothing, you can never be wrong.
There was more, of course.
Belichick’s news conference came Tuesday morning (live on NFL Network, obviously). To exactly no one surprise, Belichick provided very little insight to how Tebow fits into the team's plans, outside his usual Beli-speak.
“Anything we do is what we eel is in the best interest of the team,” he said. “Time is a talented player that’s smart and works hard. so we’ll see how it goes.”
More Tebow questions followed.
“We’ve already talked enough about him,” Belichick said, clearly Belichick-styled annoyed (but seriously, what did he expect?). “I think I’ve covered it. Anything else?”
Yeah, quite a bit. But it’s only June 11.
The NFL has another "Summer of Tebow" on its hands.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Jeff Driskel got word Saturday night.
His fans heard about it not long afterward, via the @jeffdriskel account on Twitter.
"Got drafted by the Red Sox today. Did not see that coming."
No one did ... except maybe the Red Sox.
Driskel, Florida’s incumbent starting quarterback, was taken by Boston in the 29th round (the 863rd overall selection) of the MLB Draft.
The UF junior was eligible for the draft because he enrolled at Florida in January 2011 after graduating early from Oviedo Hagerty, leaving him the MLB-required three classes removed from high school.
Because Driskel was taking part in spring football practice in 2011, he obviously wasn’t playing baseball at Hagerty, where as a junior outfielder and pitcher he hit .330, stole 22 bases and clocked a 94-mph fastball. That was enough -- even three years ago -- for some scouts in Beantown to lobby on the 6-foot-4, 236-pound Driskel’s behalf, based on pure down-the-line potential.
That, or maybe the Red Sox were just throwing UF athletic director Jeremy Foley, the franchise's No. 1 fan on campus, a proverbial bone.
Bottom line: Driskel was as flattered as he was flabbergasted by the news.
But he’s a football player.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Got a chance this weekend to settle down on the couch and go flip through a couple of those newsstand college football magazines.
‘Tis the season for preseason projections.
The periodicals of choice were Athlon and Lindy’s, two of the most traditional favorites when it comes to June football reading.
Now you've probably seen similiar prognostications from some media outlet somewhere and the early look-aheads and general content for these 2013 previews aren't that different. In fact, Athlon placed the Gators at No. 13 to start the season and finish third in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division; Lindy’s says 12th and third. Both praise the potential of UF's power running game and defense, much like last year, while questioning whether the Gators can upgrade a passing attack that not only ranked near the bottom of the SEC, but also 116th of 124 teams in the FBS nation.
Both are pretty much in line with some long-range polls that came out earlier in the offseason, with The Sporting News giving the Gators the most love at No. 4, but second to South Carolina. But seriously, folks, what rabid football fan who is counting the days to the Aug. 31 opener against Toledo doesn't eat this stuff up?
By the way: 83 days (and counting).
So here are some excerpts and other fodder I came across I figured were worth mentioning.
* Top 10 (plus where it rates the rest of the SEC)
Alabama; 2) Ohio State; 3) Oregon; 4) Georgia; 5) South Carolina; 6) Clemson; 7) Stanford; 8) Notre Dame (but went to press before the season-long suspension to quarterback Everett Golston, whatever that’s worth); 9) Texas A&M; 10) Louisville; 12) LSU; 13) Florida; 28) Vanderbilt; 33) Ole Miss; 41) Mississippi State; 42) Auburn; 46) Tennessee; 48) Missouri; 49) Arkansas; 65) Kentucky.
* Summing ‘em up: “The Gators did practice throwing the football last year. It’s just that when it came time to toss it around in a game, the results weren’t so good. So, UF was bland last year. Tapioca bland. Disney bland.” ... Until the Gators can get a little more diverse offensively, they won’t be climbing to the top of the SEC. ... Then there’s the little matter of the Sugar Bowl. Louisville made the Gators look like an old-fashioned Big Ten team. Coach Will Muschamp would like to chalk the blowout loss up to overconfidence and disinterest, but unless Florida can get the ball downfield a little more, they’re going to need the world’s nastiest D.”
* In pointing out that “Florida started to look like Florida again,” at least on paper last season, maybe the fact the Gators had to struggle against Missouri, Louisiana-Lafayette and even Bowling Green in the opener can help explain that lopsided loss in the bowl game.
* Quarterback Jeff Driskel’s 6.7 yards per attempt ranked last in the SEC among QBs with at least 200 passes and the Gators were one of the worst in the league in three major offensive categories: total offense, passing and scoring.
* Curious. It mentions how a difficult schedule could be a road block in getting back to the BCS, but the Gators had one of the toughest schedules in the country last year and were the nation’s lone team to defeat four teams that finished in the final AP Top 15.
* Pegged as the team’s rising star? Sophomore cornerback Brian Poole.
* Here’s a really telling note with regard to the Gators struggles in the passing game the last few years: Florida has not produced a first-team All-SEC wide receiver in four years. That’s the longest such stretch from 1987-91.
* Always love to read the “Scouting the Gators” block, which asks opposing coaches to speak anonymously about the team. “Florida was the most difficult [offensive] team to prepare for last year. They have so many different personnel groupings, and they can do so many different things, and their identity changes on a weekly basis.” That’s a nice shout-out to offensive coordinator Brent Pease. ... “They are trying to find their identity. They probably thought they had their identity at one point, but then some of the bigger stronger teams in our league kind of challenged that identity.” ... One coach called new defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, the special teams guru, “one of the bright young coaches in the country.”
* Top 10 (plus where it rates the rest of the SEC)
Alabama; 2) Ohio State; 3) Stanford; 4) Oregon; 5) Texas A&M; 6) Georgia; 7) Clemson; 8) LSU; 9) South Carolina; 10) Louisville; 11) Oklahoma State; 12) Florida; 29) Ole Miss; 32) Vanderbilt; 46) Mississippi State; 52) Arkansas; 54) Tennessee; 61) Missouri; 65) Auburn; 88) Kentucky.
* In placing the Gators third in the SEC, the magazine cites the loss of tailback Mike Gillislee and lack of playmaker at wide receiver. Florida has no offensive players on Lindy’s first or second All-SEC teams. Telling stat: After Quinton Dunbar (36 catches), no returning UF wideout caught more than three passes last season.
* Sophomore running back Matt Jones is the “breakout player to watch on offense.”
* Top newcomer: Offensive right tackle Tyler Moore, the transfer from Nebraska who hails from Clearwater, Fla.
* The magazine ranked the top 20 players in the nation at every position. The only Gator on offense that received mention was Driskel, as the No. 23 quarterback (or fifth-best in the SEC). On defense, tackle Dominque Easley (No. 6) and cornerback Louicheiz Purifoy (No. 5) got the nod, while Kyle Christy was ranted as the No. 1 punter in the country.
* In the rankings of overall units, the Gators had the No. 5 secondary. That’s probably a little low, actually, given the defensive back depth on this team, but much of that could be based on how badly Teddy Bridgewater shredded UF’s pass defense in the Sugar Bowl.
* Regarding the track record for lack of production at the receiver positions, UF’s incoming freshman haul of Alvin Bailey, Ahmad Fullwood, Marqui Hawkins, Demarcus Robinson and Chris Thompson rates as No. 1 in the nation on the recruiting front.
Now, for perspective sakes, here’s a quick look at some other outlet’s early top 25 rankings.
SI.com’s “Way Too Early 2013 Top 25” (released in January)
Alabama; 2) Texas A&M; 3) Stanford; 4) Oregon; 5) Ohio State; 6) Notre Dame; 7) Louisville; 8) South Carolina; 9) Florida; 10) Clemson; 11) Georgia; 14) LSU; 23) Vanderbilt.
The Sporting News (released in May)
Alabama; 2) Stanford; 3) South Carolina; 4) Florida; 5) Ohio State; 6) Oklahoma; 7) Texas A&M; 8) Oregon; 9) Clemson; 10: Notre Dame; 11: Louisville; 12) Georgia; 16) LSU; 25) Ole Miss.
ESPN (released in April)
Ohio State; 2) Alabama; 3) Oregon; 4) Louisville; 5) Stanford; 6) Texas A&M; 7) Georgia; 8) South Carolina; 9) Michigan; 10) Notre Dame; 11) Florida; 16) LSU.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- A key start-up date for the Florida basketball offseason tipped off Wednesday morning when a core group of the 2013-14 Gators reported for individual instruction workouts.
DeVon Walker was there.
It was exactly a month ago that Walker, a seldom-used freshman forward, informed UF coach Billy Donovan he was going to transfer to another school.
After playing only 99 minutes his rookie season and averaging less than a point per game, Walker had gone home to Winter Haven, Fla., at the end of the spring semester to ponder his future. He talked to his family, who knew he was unhappy on the bench. He talked to his friends, who didn’t understand why he was on the bench.
From that vaccum, Walker made a decision.
“I just felt like they all wanted me to go somewhere else,” he said.
It took a day or two away from family and friends for Walker to realize what he wanted to do was all that mattered.
Walker, deep down, wanted to stay. His coach was supportive, but clear in what his player could expect.
“If I thought he had no chance, I would have told him he needed to make a change, but I never said that because I don’t believe it,” Donovan said. “The fact is, I told DeVon I think he can be a really, really effective player here if he was willing to go though the process.”
Not all freshmen can be Bradley Beal. Heck, not all can be Michael Frazier. There are a lot of DeVon Walker stories in college basketball.
The so-called process Donovan referenced can be frustrating -- especially at 0.8 points per game and 11 "DNP/Coach’s Decisions" in your first year -- but sometimes players need to sit in order to develop. Sometimes, in a program like Florida’s, players occupying roster spots 7-thru-13 roster can grow into starters or invaluable contributors as they mature as sophomores, juniors and seniors.
That is now Walker’s vision for himself.
“I’m here and I’m excited,” he said. “I’m sure there are people out there saying, ‘Man, this guy doesn’t know what he wants to do,’ but I do know. I want to be here and I want to work to become the best player I can be.”
The 6-foot-6, 191-pound Walker needed to step away from outside influences -- the ones that saw him average nearly 24 point and better than 10 rebounds per game in high school and figured he’d make an instant impact in the Southeastern Conference -- before realizing the best situation for him was the one he already was in.
After a year being coached by Donovan and his staff, and a year in the UF system, Walker is worlds ahead of where he was when he signed in April 2012. He also understands there’s still so much room for improvement.
“Next year, there’s a lot of uncertainty for me, but what I do know is that I’ve got to get a lot better,” Walker said. “I’ve got two guys in front of me at my position, so no one knows how much I’m going to play. The coaches were honest with me about that; they were very honest.”
Honest enough to throw out the “R” word.
As in redshirting.
“Going into the year, I’m going to give him every opportunity to compete and play, but I don’t want him to go through a year like last year where he really only got a chance to play in very limited roles,” Donovan said. “We can’t afford to do that with him, so I told him one of the things he may have to consider is redshirting.”
Perspective check: Walker would have had to red-shirt had he transferred anyway, so what he had to weigh is whether a new landing spot (new system, new coaching staff, new teammates) would have been a better situation in 2014-15 than his place with the Gators.
Right now, UF’s fall depth chart likely has Dorian Finney-Smith, the 6-8 sophomore transfer from Virginia Tech, and athletic Casey Prather, who averaged 6.2 points and 3.3 rebounds as a key reserve last season, ahead of Walker at the small forward spot. Finding minutes between those two, not to mention Donovan’s preference to play three guards for long stretches, could be difficult.
Last year, some of Walker’s most quality minutes came at the power forward spot when the Gators dealt with foul trouble or the injury to Will Yeguete. Walker is not a power forward anymore than he’s a two-guard, another position UF figures to be stocked next season. His true position is the "3" spot.
That’s his focus now when he wakes up at 6:30 each morning to come to the gym to shoot; when he reports for brutal lifting and conditioning sessions; when he’s back in the gym for pickup in the afternoon and again for more shooting late at night. Now, roll individual instruction into the mix.
They say players are made in the offseason. DeVon Walker intends to live that motto and see what happens.
“I understand there are guys here who are older and better right now and I can’t overlook that, but just being in this program with all these great players gives you more incentive to work and become a better player,” Walker said. “Nobody knows the player I’m going to be, but what I do know is that I’m going to work really hard and nothing but good -- for me and this team -- can come from that.”
OKLAHOMA CITY -- My mother, bless her heart, emailed me from Virginia asking if I was all right -- and if it sounded like a train.
Actually, my first tornado experience sounded like a crowded parking garage.
That’s where all the guests and employees of the Sheraton Oklahoma City, plus everyone attending the minor-league hockey game at Chesapeake Energy Arena, were evacuated to Friday night as another furious storm and series of tornadoes rolled through the area.
At least nine people were killed, including two children, more than 90 more injured and 86,000 homes and businesses were without power, according to news outlets.
I’ve lived in Florida most of my life, so I’m familiar with hunkering down when it comes to dealing with hurricanes. But with hurricanes the warnings come days in advance.
So it was somewhat surreal, as I finished up a story from my 10th floor hotel room, to hear sirens wailing from the city streets below last night. They brought back memories -- and I’m dating myself here -- of the old Civil Defense drills when I was kid, but I figured this was no drill.
I texted a UF colleague who grew up in the Midwest.
“Yes, those are tornado sirens,” she texted back.
Not long after that, sirens began screeching in our hotel, with a voice ordering us to evacuate to the basement of the hotel immediately.
And down I went.
It got crowded there quickly, and soon security was herding everyone into the adjacent city parking garage, where hundreds of people were glued to their cell phones -- some sat in their cars listening to radio reports -- for weather updates or talking/texting with friends and relatives.
Among the evacuated, of course, were the softball teams here for the NCAA Women’s College World Series, all of which are staying at the Sheraton. The Gators squad, however, had left for dinner in Norman, some 30 minutes south, about two hours earlier.
Once in the garage, a handful of people moved toward the entrance ramps and tried to peek out and get a look at the incoming storm (I took the photo to the right). That didn’t go over too well with the guys in the badges. Just 11 days removed from the monster storm that ravaged and killed 24 people in nearby Moore, these folks weren’t messing around.
They wanted (and ordered) everyone to back up against walls.
[Note: I actually did a couple remote interviews for news stations in Jacksonville and Baltimore. Not exactly Jim Cantore (whom I’ve never seen working from a garage), but hey, they asked.]
It wasn’t long before the center of the storm rolled through downtown, with chunks of hail bouncing into the garage -- then lots and lots of water. A couple pipes even busted open with leaks.
In the grand scheme of things, what we were dealing was a mere inconvenience compared to the gridlock on interstates 35 and 40, where twisters touched down, bouncing cars and even semi-trucks about. The towns of El Reno and Yukon reportedly took the brunt of the storm’s fury.
As for the Gators team, they were at dinner in Norman when parts of the storm turned that direction. People there were evacuated to Memorial Stadium, home to the University of Oklahoma’s football, where they holed up in the locker room until things were safe.
The team got back to the team hotel in OKC around midnight, but had to take some back roads because sections of the interstates were closed down.
This morning, everything in our little corner of town is fine, for which we are thankful. Outside, some debris littered the streets -- tree branches, downed traffic signs -- but nothing approaching what some residents were dealing with in other areas.
In the lobby of the Sheraton, softball players and coaches were readying for the reboot of the WCWS, which had two games cancelled Friday night and thus pushed the bracket schedule back a couple games.
The Gators, who were set to play Nebraska at 11 a.m. today (local time), will now play tonight at 6 p.m. (or 7 ET).
The weather, we’re told, will be beautiful.
MOORE, Okla. -- Tim Walton and his family held their collective breaths as they watched the terror unfold last week.
“My wife is from Oklahoma,” the Florida softball coach said Wednesday. “We were glued to the TV for two or three days probably like everybody else across the country. But it’s so different when you’re familiar with the area and the streets and the paths.”
The devastation of the E5 tornado that flattened this town May 20 and killed 24 people remains the dominant storyline in the region, as FEMA workers and volunteers still have months of clean-up work ahead.
Meanwhile, families are picking up their lives.
On Wednesday, I made the drive to Moore, about 10 miles to the southeast of Oklahoma City. Traffic slows to a crawl on Interstate-35, where the twister crushed a shopping mall in plain sight of cars heading north or south.
On the other side of that mall, is a subdivision of homes that was totally wiped out. Several bulldozers and bobcats hummed about hauling debris. Tossed and scattered about were simple signs of people’s everyday lives -- chairs, checkbooks, toothpaste tubes and televisions -- so easily taken for granted, yet rendered useless and insignificant by the indiscriminate brutality of the storm.
The last time I saw anything remotely like this was on assignment in New Orleans as a newspaper reporter in the months after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The images, some captured below with my cell phone, were as unfathomable as they were heartbreaking.
I walked past one lot (pictured right) that had been almost completely cleared. All that remained was a brick chimney, strong enough survive the storm. The owner was there sweeping the concrete slab even as a thunderstorm brewed in the distance.
“This is home,” he said. “We’ll be back here.”
A wave of tornadoes hit here in 1999. Four years before that, Timothy McVeigh came through town.
Walton was here for both those tragedies; as an assistant softball coach at University of Oklahoma for the latter, as a Sooners pitcher standout for the former. He knows the resolve of the people of this state and spoke about that during Wednesday’s news conference at the Women’s College World Series.
“I came here as a player from California because of the people, because of how well they treated me and how well they treated the Sooners,” Walton said. “I know that’s what they’ll do. There are so many people willing to help. This area hosts this tournament because of how open-armed they are. They’re willing to bend over backward for people.”
[Example: OU football football Bob Stoops, who has some Gators ties himself, showed up at a volunteer clean-up site (in jeans, work gloves and Sooners visor) and worked anonymously for 30 minutes before a fan recognized who he was.]
Walton has seen that Sooners spirit and knows it will carry the region through.
“It’s tough. My daughter, who is young, was very scared to think that something could happen to our family that lives close by," he said. "With these kids losing their lives ... it’s very humbling, very sad. But in the same sense, the state of Oklahoma will band together, get help, rebuild, rebound and be better and stronger for it.”
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Greetings from the home of the Women’s College World Series.
I arrived in OKC late last night and checked into my hotel on the southeast side of town. With the tornado tragedies of last week, many regional hotels are full with FEMA workers and volunteers, so a few members of the UF traveling party are spread about, while the team is staying downtown.
As for softball, No. 2-seed Florida (55-7) faces Southeastern Conference rival Tennessee (49-10) in their opening game Thursday at 2:30 p.m. ET. The Gators took two of three from the Volunteers in their three-game series back in March in Gainesville, but each of those games went to extra innings. The winner will face either Nebraska or Washington Friday night.
Florida and Tennessee battled down to the wire for the regular season SEC title, with the Gators taking the crown by one game.
UF’s coaches and players will meet with ESPN this morning then practice that have a two-hour practice starting at noon at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium. Their NCAA media obligations will follow -- and so will a second practice after that. That’s how Coach Tim Walton rolls and he’s not going to change this time of year.
Walton wants the Gators to have fun and relish this experience -- the program’s fifth WCWS berth in six seasons -- but he won’t compromise the work ethic that made this surprising season possible.
“The team that goes out there and plays the game like they’re playing in the backyard is going to win,” Walton said. “We’re not going to do anything we haven’t done all year. We’re going to play hard, practice hard and we’re not going to go out there and put a bunch of pressure on ourselves.”
For stories and an occasional blog from the WCWS, check back with GatorZone.com and follow me for on Twitter for live updates and pics @GatorZoneChris.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Tim Walton likes it because he had nothing to do with it.
“It’s theirs,” UF’s softball coach said.
It’s the motto “#16Strong,” and the Gators have lived by it since strength and conditioning coach Paul Chandler tossed it out in January.
Chandler is known to shout random sayings, usually with the word “hashtag” as a precursor. Example: “Hashtag Ballers!” The one that pinpointed the number of players on the UF roster just seemed to hit close to home for this tightly knit band of Gators.
It’s been the battle cry throughout this surprising and wildly successful season, so you better believe the Gators (55-7) will take it into their NCAA Super Regional against UAB (40-17) Saturday and Sunday at Pressly Stadium.
“It means even more now because these games means even more,” junior pitcher Hannah Rogers said Friday after the final practice before regional play. “You’re only as strong as your weakest link. We have to stick together.”
Second baseman Kelsey Stewart: “It means family.”
The Gators have T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase. They break team huddles with it and bellow it after every game; win or lose.
“And it’s always loud and proud,” Walton said.
You’ll hear it Saturday (quite clearly, in fact) when the Gators line up against the Blazers for Game 1 at 1 p.m.
“The first time we heard, we thought it was catchy,” sophomore slugger/pitcher Lauren Haeger said. “We’ve been saying it all year and it’s all come true. We’re definitely 16 strong. So small, so close. We love our team.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Ten former University of Florida basketball players were in the NBA this season. Nearly a third garnered postseason honors.
“Hopefully, playing here, in our system and this style of play, helped put them in position and prepared them for that,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said Friday. “I’m really proud of those guys.”
Headlining the trio is Golden State power forward David Lee, who Thursday was named third-team All-NBA after averaging 18.5 points and 11.2 rebounds in helping guide the Warriors to a playoff berth.
Joining Lee on the postseason hardware circuit were Chicago center Joakim Noah, named to the league’s All-Defensive team, and Washington guard Bradley Beal, the third overall pick in the 2012 draft who was named to All-Rookie squad.
“The one thing about those three guys, they all had talent, but they also had work ethic,” Donovan said. “They maximized those two things and put themselves in situations to flourish.”
Lee, a 2005 first-round by New York, signed a six-year, $79.5 million free-agent deal with Golden State in 2010. This season, he led the league in double-doubles with 56 and is the first UF alum ever to receive All-NBA honors.
When Lee played at Florida (2002-05), he did so alongside noted scorers like Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh. Donovan tried to get Lee to be more aggressive on the offensive end during those Gator days, but that wasn’t in his makeup.
“He was always a team guy,” Donovan said. “Look at Golden State. He’s surrounded by guys like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes, so he can play that other role where he’s comfortable.”
On Beal, whose pro career started slowly (like his college career a year earlier): “I thought that would happen. He needed to feel his way around some, have his ups and downs, then become a more consistent player.”
And on Noah (Donovan just shrugged): “No surprise at all. Just a warrior. Terrific player.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The opportunity to represent his country both humbles and excites Michael Frazier II.
The mere honor of being one of 24 players invited to try out for USA Basketball’s U19 FIBA World Championship squad speaks for itself. But there’s an underlying perk to the process that has Frazier particularly jacked.
A built-in chance to get better. A lot better.
“This is going to make me work even harder,” Frazier said of the run-up to the tryouts next month and the June 14-19 training camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. “Whether I make the team or not, just being in that setting, working with all the great players there, it’s going to be very motivating for me.”
Frazier, the 6-foot-4, 200-pound guard from Tampa, was one of the biggest surprises of the 2012-13 season for the Gators. He arrived last summer a far more polished product than even UF’s coaches anticipated, thanks to his year of prepping at Montverde (Fla.) Academy, and gave the team a jolt of outside scoring.
In 36 games, Frazier averaged 5.6 points, 3.1 rebounds and was one of the deadliest 3-point marksman in the Southeastern Conference, finishing at 46.8 percent from the arc on his way to being named to the league’s All-Freshman squad.
Now comes a doorway Frazier did not anticipate: a chance to wear the uniform of his country at the FIBA World Championships, set for June 27-July 7 in Prague, Czech Republic. To do so, he’ll have to line up and perform against the likes of Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes, Duke’s Rasheed Sulaimon, Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell, plus 19 other elite players either already in college or entering this fall.
“I’ll have a level of respect for everybody there, but I’m also going to go there and play with confidence and play within myself,” Frazier said. “I want to show people what I can do.”
He’ll have at least one familiar face.
Billy Donovan will coach the U19 squad.
“There are going to be some exceptional players there,” Donovan said Wednesday. “But I think regardless of what happens in the tryouts, the experience of three or four days there is really going to help Mike get better.”
Frazier needs and wants to get better. In no way is he satisfied with how he performed last season, despite the accolades that came his way. And there’s plenty of room for growth, too.
Or as Donovan put it, “He’s going to have to do a lot more there than shoot the ball.”
Frazier’s role as 3-point specialist off the bench was ideal for him as a freshman and that facet of his game will be crucial for the Gators next season, with Florida losing the outside shooting punch of Erik Murphy, Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario.
But Frazier intends to use the summer (both in Colorado and in Gainesville) to expand his game off the dribble, upgrade his defense and work on lateral quickness and conditioning.
“There’s always room for improvement,” he said. “And my goal is to shoot better than I did last year. That means being a gym rat. The goal is to get better every day.”
If that means taking an international route, all the better.
For Frazier and the Gators.
For two weeks, I’ve been absent from one of the most whirlwind sports times of year; a time my colleagues at the University Athletic Association like to call “Championship Month.”
For me, it's been “Life-Changing Month.”
My father died on Mother’s Day morning after being diagnosed with cancer nine months ago. The last two weeks were spent at my parents' home in Arlington, Va., with my family. His service was Friday. I’m back at work Monday, writing about the Gators.
Last week, I had to write the hardest thing of my life.
My dad’s eulogy.
Trying to encapsulate in 10 minutes the 60 years he shaped our family, loved and took care of our mother and imparted his wisdom on my brother and I was impossible -- and I won’t try to do it here in cyberspace.
Instead, I’m re-posting a story that ran in The Orlando Sentinel eight years ago. A story about my father, and me, and baseball. It’s because of him, I truly believe, that I ended up in this business of writing about sports.
This particularly story, was the second-hardest thing I’ve ever written.
The first time, it ran was for my job.
This time it’s in his memory.
COMING HOME: BASEBALL RETURNS TO WASHINGTON
On Sept. 30, 1971, Baseball Left The Nation's Capital In Pandemonium, And Sentinel Staff Writer Chris Harry Was There. This Was His Ticket Stub. Tonight, He'll Be There For Its Return.
April 14, 2005
By Chris Harry
Sentinel Staff Writer
WASHINGTON -- The room would be dark, except for a slight glow from the clock radio on the bedside table. West Coast games, with those 10:30 starts, required a plan. Volume had to be low, vigilance high.
Around the fifth inning, the door creaked open, and my father's silhouette appeared.
"Turn that off and go to sleep!" he'd snap with just a hint of impatience before disappearing around the corner. His slippers would stop sliding about halfway down the hall.
Then came the whisper.
"What's the score?"
The Washington Senators were always behind. It didn't matter. The Senators were ours. We treated them as property, yet spoke of them like royalty. We forgave ineptitude because of that "W" on the cap.
There was something special about having a team to call your own -- and something crushing about losing it at age 11.
Sept. 30, 1971, was the day baseball died in the nation's capital. It was the day it died for me, too.
From a $4.50 box seat behind the first-base line, I watched as several thousand stormed the field at RFK Stadium and robbed my beloved, woeful Senators of what dignity was left for a laughingstock franchise.
The mob scene came with the Senators leading the New York Yankees 7-5 and two outs in the ninth inning of the last game in team history. A forfeit was declared. The game's statistics were wiped from the books. With that, the Senators became the Texas Rangers.
I knew nothing of Senators owner Robert W. Short. Why would I? I was in sixth grade and had enough trouble handling beginning algebra, Virginia history and a secret crush on Laura Schram. Short's money problems? All I knew was the team I loved -- the game I loved -- was leaving.
It would be years before I realized how clueless baseball's powers that be were -- even then. The nerve to steal America's pastime from America's most powerful city.
How dare they?
Over the years, resentment festered into cynicism about a game that exited my life in pandemonium. I never forgave baseball for my idle summers. I refused to root for the Rangers, refused to root for anyone. How could I pledge allegiance to a team that never truly would be mine?
Soon, the keepsakes that honored the Senators' significance -- posters, caps and Keds boxes stuffed with trading cards -- were tossed in the back of a closet with forgotten board games, puzzles and G.I. Joes.
Baseball. It saved Ray Kinsella's soul. It put a dagger through mine.
No wonder I became a football writer.
IN FAMILY BLOOD
My father used to spin tales of the old days, when his friends, home on Navy leave, would roll like kings in their white '51 DeSoto convertible, through the lush Shenandoah Valley and into the city. They'd park and take a 25-cent streetcar ride to old Griffith Stadium, where they cheered Mickey Vernon and his hapless teammates in defeat. Their devotion was no match for Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio, but their loyalty never wavered.
Neither did mine. It was in my DNA.
Station-wagon windows down, the summer rides from nearby Arlington took us by monuments built to heroes past -- Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln -- while my heroes warmed up at RFK.
I recall the eagerness of walking through the gates and waiting for that first glimpse of the diamond. Smelling the hot dogs. Hearing the organ music. Buying a program. Filling out the scorecard. Keeping watch for the cotton-candy man.
And waiting for Frank Howard to come out of the dugout.
"Hondo," the Senators slugger, stood a steroid-free 6 feet 7 and 285 pounds. His homers were moon shots in an era of Apollo launches. So titanic were Howard's blasts that stadium officials used white paint to designate their touchdowns in the gold upper-deck seats.
Amazingly, three of those white tributes remain at RFK. As I walked into the stadium Wednesday, my eyes immediately went searching for them. The admiration for their staying power put a smile on my face.
The city weathered nine presidential inaugurations, three wars, Watergate and a terrorist attack since the last regular-season baseball game here. The stadium hosted more than a hundred Redskins games.
Through it all, those hallowed seats remained untouched, as if beckoning for baseball to come back.
Memories of playing catch with Dad are every son's treasure. I have those, yes, and many others. I used to scan the Little League bleachers for his face. It showed approval after a diving catch and support after a called third strike. I needed those then, cherish them now.
But the most poignant baseball moment of my life occurred at my father's side, right here, at RFK.
Section 211, Row 2, Seat 11.
That's where I sat 34 years ago. Together, we chronicled the death of the Senators in the form of a scorecard obituary. It hung in a basement gallery of precious family memorabilia for a third of a century.
Tomorrow, a new scorecard will hang next to it.
It would be fitting if I could be in 211-2-11 next to my father tonight when the Washington Nationals bring baseball back to the nation's capital. Dad couldn't get a ticket. He'll watch from home but be with me in heart.
I'll watch from the press box.
How is it that a league that put a team in an empty dome in St. Petersburg goes more than three decades without one in Washington, D.C.? Only baseball's owners can answer that question.
At least they had the good sense to make things right. Just you watch. The Nationals, formerly the Montreal Expos, are about to go from paupers to princes.
Some 46,000 are expected for the spectacle that'll mark baseball's first relocation since the Senators high-tailed to Texas. George W. Bush will join Taft, Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon as presidents to throw out D.C.'s ceremonial first pitch.
The Expos routinely played to crowds of 1,500 in Montreal and for the past two seasons played 22 home games a year in Puerto Rico. Now, they've moved to America's No. 6 television market. Nationals season-ticket sales already have topped 20,000, placing '05 attendance estimates at nearly 2 million. In three years, the team will move into a $528 million downtown waterfront ballpark.
"We're seeing everything from the reverse side this year," Nats center fielder and former University of Florida star Brad Wilkerson said. "We're going to a city that's getting a team and is excited about it."
Wilkerson, 27, wasn't alive when the Senators existed. Only two of his teammates were.
"You can only imagine what a city like Washington must have gone through when it lost that team," he said.
Nats hitting instructor Tom McCraw played first base for the Senators in '71. His single in the eighth against the Yanks 34 years ago was the last hit at RFK.
"If you look at the cycle of events, I've made this big circle around the Earth and now I'm back where I started," said McCraw, wearing a cap with the same shade of red and familiar script "W" that stamped the last Washington franchise. "It's the strangest thing I can imagine."
Not as strange as the image of McCraw and his teammates being chased into oblivion.
THE FINAL GAME
History books tell of baseball being played in D.C. before the first shots of the Civil War were fired in 1861. Two National League franchises failed in Washington in the late 19th century. The Senators arrived in 1901, a charter member of the American League.
Behind Walter "Big Train" Johnson, they won the World Series in 1924. Over the next five decades, the city earned the slogan, "Washington: First in war, first in peace, last in the American League."
In 1960, the franchise moved to Minnesota and became the Twins. An expansion version that took the original's place lost more than 100 games its first four seasons.
Short, the miserly owner, bought the team in '69. In just his third year, he gutted a team managed by Ted Williams with a series of horrific trades. He didn't even wait for the '71 season to end to announce he was moving to Texas.
Our family went to the Senators' farewell game anticipating a sentimental sendoff.
Not a rebellion.
Barely 14,000 showed, but starting pitcher Dick Bosman sensed the uneasiness well before taking the mound. Now a minor-league pitching instructor with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Bosman refused to warm up at the usual spot in foul territory, opting for the bullpen.
"It was evident early there wasn't enough security," Bosman said.
In center field, a banner honored the reviled owner: "Bob Short Fan Club." The section was empty.
Patrons yelled anti-Short chants throughout. One group climbed atop the home dugout and stomped away, shouting Short obscenities until stadium police came. In the eighth, three fans began circling the bases, shaking hands with players. By the time the trio had been rounded up, 40 or 50 more raced into the outfield. They were cleared without incident, but tensions were mounting.
In the top of the ninth, Senators reliever Joe Grzenda got Felipe Alou to ground out. McCraw, playing first, saw hundreds of fans inching toward the fences.
Umpires did, too.
McCraw recalled verbatim the conversation with a man in blue.
"Mac, they're about to come on the field. If they do, I'm out of here."
"I'll be in your back pocket."
Bobby Murcer bounced one back to Grzenda, who threw to McCraw for the second out. Horace Clarke was in the on-deck circle.
Grzenda waved frantically for Clarke to hurry into the batter's box. There was no chance.
"They wanted something, anything," Bosman said. "They wanted a memento."
The infield and outfield were torn apart in a ravenous souvenir hunt. The bases disappeared, the outfield was a pockmarked mess, and the light bulbs and placards from the scoreboards were gone.
What I remember most was a primal scream for order. Mine.
Minutes later, the loudspeaker crackled: "This game has been forfeited to New York." The stadium lights dimmed.
For me, so did baseball.
BASEBALL IS BACK
In January, Wilkerson accompanied teammates to RFK. Someone pointed to Howard's white seats in the gold upper-deck distance. Wilkerson shook his head at the longest homer ever recorded here.
"There's no way he hit one that far," he said.
Back in RFK on Wednesday, I was thinking the same thing as I circled the stadium and made the long walk to that immortalized spot. Climbing the outfield ramps, I thought of the trinkets I saved from back when baseball mattered to me. Just last week, I placed a 35-year-old Senators pen set on my desk and dusted off a key chain and cap. Collectors items, they'd been unretired from storage recently.
Sitting in the seat Howard made famous -- that same wooden chair back, with paint so battered it chipped off with a flick of a fingertip -- I squinted to see home plate in the distance. Wilkerson was right. It was hard to believe Howard, or anyone, could hit a ball that far. Not as unfathomable, though, as baseball ever leaving here in the first place.
It probably took Howard's homer about four seconds to get here. It took baseball and me a lifetime.
But can I love it again?
It's two weeks into the 2005 season. Already, I've found myself watching ESPN crawls, waiting for Nats highlights and spending a few more minutes with the box scores each morning. That's a start. This summer, I'll be back in Washington on vacation. I'll bet my daughter -- she's 11 -- would enjoy going to a game at RFK with her daddy . . . and granddaddy.
I can see it now: I'm walking through the house one night and catch her e-mailing friends and surfing the Net when she's supposed to be asleep. I tell her to go to bed.
Shuffling down the stairs, I stop halfway, knowing all too well what she's up to. And vice versa.
Then the whisper.
"What's the score?"
Ralph B. Harry
March 20, 1930 - May 12, 2013
Updated: 6:37pm, May 3
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The 2013-14 non-league schedule won’t rack up the air miles of last season’s travel agency special, but the Florida basketball team definitely will be tested before opening Southeastern Conference play.
Highlighting the slate for the Gators will be home dates against powerhouse Kansas and Florida State, plus road dates at Wisconsin and Connecticut. There also is the likelihood of a Florida-Memphis matchup in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden, with negotiations for the event ongoing.
The season will tipoff against North Florida the afternoon of Nov. 8 -- yes, the afternoon -- as a precursor to Gator Growl on football homecoming weekend, followed by a road trip to Wisconsin, as the return for the Badgers playing at the O’Connell Center.
Next up for the Gators is a trio of home games against Arkansas-Little Rock (Nov. 16), Southern (Nov. 18) and Middle Tennessee (Nov. 21). Both Southern and MTSU made the 2013 NCAA Tournament, with Southern giving top-seeded Gonzaga fits in their first-round West Region matchup.
The Gators will play a true road game at Jacksonville on Nov. 25 at Memorial Arena, a date for which UF will get two guaranteed future home games against the Dolphins in return.
Then comes what could be one of the toughest gauntlet of opponents in the program’s history.
Florida will host Florida State on Nov. 29, the eve of their football rivalry, then three days later play at UConn and All-America candidate Shabazz Napier (pictured) on Dec. 2. UF’s first trip ever to Storrs -- and first game against the Huskies since the 1994 NCAA Tournament -- will be followed by just the second visit to Gainesville for perennial power Kansas on Dec. 10, with the trip to New York and the Jimmy Classic (likely against Memphis, another NCAA team this past season) a week later on Dec. 17.
The Gators will be back at the Orange Bowl Classic at Sunrise, Fla., to face an undetermined opponent on Dec. 21 then return from Christmas break for home dates against Savannah State (Dec. 29) and Richmond (Jan. 4), the latter serving as the final tune-up before SEC season tips off.
UF men's 2013-14 Non-Conference Basketball Schedule (all times TBA)
Nov. 8: North Florida (afternoon game)
Nov. 12: at Wisconsin
Nov. 16: Arkansas Little-Rock
Nov. 18: Southern
Nov. 21: Middle Tennessee State
Nov. 25: at Jacksonville
Nov. 29: Florida State
Dec. 2: at Connecticut
Dec. 10: Kansas (Jayhawks coach Bill Self, pictured right)
Dec. 17: vs. Memphis in Jimmy V Classic at New York (details still in negotiation)
Dec. 21: TBD in Orange Bowl Classic at Sunrise, Fla.
Dec. 29: Savannah State
Jan. 4: Richmond
Updated: 4:03pm, May 2
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- With Thursday’s announcement in Atlanta that the Southeastern Conference and ESPN are joining forces to launch the SEC Network in August 2014, there obviously are questions from Florida fans wondering how the new network will impact coverage of the Gators.
Mike Hill, UF’s executive associate athletics director for external affairs, anticipated some of those questions.
What does this mean for the Gators on Sun Sports?
“We will still have a relationship with Sun Sports, but it will be dramatically reduced in terms of television programing. “The Coach Will Muschamp Show” will remain on Sun Sports. So will Billy Donovan and Amanda Butler’s shows. Our magazine show, “GatorZone Television,” will stay on Sun Sports. But in terms of live events and replays, no, they will no longer air on Sun Sports. . “Breakfast With the Gators” will be gone, and football replays will likely air on the new network.
How about GatorVision and live streaming of events on the GatorZone website?
“Moms and dads who want to watch their daughters play softball, for example, won’t see it streamed through our GatorVision system anymore. But we will still be able to stream those events through ESPN. Basically, for select games not being telecast on the network or on one of the national platforms, the new network will produce some streaming events on ESPN or the WatchESPN app. Beyond that, the institutions will be allowed to produce additional events to be streamed, but they will have to be streamed through the SEC Network and ESPN’s site, provided that ESPN has enough capacity on that event day to accommodate it and provided the production is of a certain quality -- and we will give them high quality. I will say, for example, Friday nights in February, when you have gymnastics going on and baseball games going on and softball going on, not everybody is going to get [streamed]. We don’t stream every baseball and softball game right now, anyway. Our hope is that we’ll maintain the number of events we stream now and hopefully increase programming in the future.”
Will this make it any easier to find games on TV?
“It should make it much easier. Basically, this is going to consolidate a lot of programming that has been piece-mealed between the syndicated, over-the-air network currently branded “SEC Network,” plus events on Sun Sports, Fox Sports, etc. to one channel, in addition to the national networks: ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and, of course, the CBS deal.”