Thursday May 2, 2013Some answers to how the SEC Network will impact Gators coverage
Updated: 4:03pm, May 2
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.”
Updated: 12:10pm, May 2
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It was just over a year ago that he sat in Billy Donovan’s office torn and in tears over the biggest decision of his life.
Stay or go?
“I can still remember all my conversations with Coach Donovan,” former Florida basketball star Bradley Beal told The Washington Post. “This year went really fast, probably the fastest year of basketball I’ve ever played. It’s definitely been a fun year.”
A rewarding one, too.
Despite a string of injuries that bounced Beal in and out of the Washington Wizards lineup, the team’s first-round draft choice -- the No. 3 overall pick last June after an All-Southeastern Conference freshman season -- still placed third in the 2012-13 NBA Rookie of the Year voting announced Wednesday.
Beal, the 6-foot-3 shooting guard, finished behind Portland Trailblazers guard Damian Lilliard, who won the award by a unanimous haul of first-place votes, and runner-up Anthony Davis, the center from the New Orleans Hornets.
In 56 games, Beal averaged 13.9 points and 3.8 rebounds while shooting 41 percent from the floor and 38.6 percent from 3-point range. Those latter two numbers may not be so impressive, but his 47-percent shooting from the arc once former No. 1 overall pick and point guard John Wall joined the team off a knee injury gave the Wizards hope they’ve found their backcourt for years to come.
In many ways, Beal’s rookie season mirrored his freshman season at Florida, where he struggled through the first couple months to find his rhythm and confidence then blossomed into UF’s go-go scorer in a run to the 2012 Elite Eight.
“It was everything I thought it would be and a little bit more,” Beal said of the NBA. “I know there would be time when I would struggle. Guys are a lot stronger and faster -- and these guys are good. That’s what a lot of people don’t realize. You may never have heard of anybody, but they can play.”
Beal was one of 10 former UF players in the NBA this season and at No. 3 overall tied Al Horford as the second-highest a Gator had ever been selected in the draft. Center Neal Walk went No. 2 overall in 1969.
Updated: 8:39am, May 1
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Got a kick out of a tweet that went Tuesday morning from the account of Brendon Suhr.
If you’re not familiar with Suhr, he was the late Chuck Daly’s assistant for those back-to-back NBA championship teams in Detroit in 1989-90 and worked alongside Daly during his tenure with the Magic. In the years since, Suhr has become a respected coaching consultant while working out of Orlando.
Here’s what he had to offer after Houston Rockets forward and former Florida star Chandler Parsons went for 27 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in a huge comeback 105-103 win Monday night over Oklahoma City in Game 4 of their playoff series.
In the perfect and analytic world of the NBA DRAFT, Chandler Parsons was the 38th pick in 2011 Draft. What a joke. #playoffstar
Just last week, a banner displaying Parson’s name and No. 25 (right) was hung alongside the likes of Joakim Noah, Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem inside the Gators basketball complex, commerorating the 2011 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year one of Coach Billy Donovan’s all-time greats.
Suhr’s tweet got me thinking some more about Parsons.
Get a load of some of the stiffs players who were selected in the 37 spots before the Rockets had the foresight to pluck the 6-foot-9 forward who -- at the time -- was not only a willing rebounder in a very good league but an excellent ball-handler and adept passer.
Of those 37 players, nearly two dozen either are playing overseas or have logged mostly scrub duty from the end of the bench their first two seasons.
To be fair, 27 teams passed on Chandler Parsons, so I could pick on just about any of them. Heck, a handful passed on him twice.
But only two passed on him three times.
That’s where we here at GatorZone.com draw the line.
Cleveland was one of two teams that passed on Parsons three times, but one of those passes was point guard Kyrie Irving with the No. 1 overall pick. Forgiven. Another was forward Tristan Thompson, who started every game in his second season and averaged 11.7 points and 9.4 rebounds. OK, also forgiven.
The other team?
Take a bow, Washington Wizards. You may have got it right in taking Gators freshman Bradley Beal last year -- and when you’re picking third overall, you better get it right -- but General Manager Ernie Grunfeld showed in 2011 why he’s in the lottery every year.
With the sixth overall pick, the Wizards drafted 6-foot-11 Euroleaguer Jan Vesely (right), who’s averaged 3.6 points and 3.4 rebounds in two seasons, going stretches of games without ever leaving the bench.
Twelve picks later, Grunfeld used the No. 18 overall choice on Florida State’s Chris Singleton, another forward. He’s 4.4 points and 3.4 rebounds for his career and also has plenty of “DNPs” to show for it, also.
And four picks into Round 2, the Wizards drafted Butler point guard Shelvin Mack, who may have helped end Parson’s collegiate career in the 2011 NCAA South Region, but has already bounced around three teams (Washington, Philadelphia and Atlanta) and this past year played in just 31 games.
Parsons went four picks after that.
This past season, in starting all 76 games he played, Parsons averaged 15.5 points on 48.6 percent from the floor and 38.5 from the 3-point line, to go with 5.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists. In the playoff series against the reigning Western Conference champion Thunder he's at 18.5 points and 6.8 rebounds.
Updated: 11:45pm, April 25
When defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd was picked by the Minnesota Vikings with the No. 24 overall selection Thursday night in the 2013 NFL Draft, he became the 44th player in University of Florida history to be taken in Round 1. Safety Matt Elam, eight picks later, brought the all-time Gators first-rounders to 45.
Here's a list of UF's first-round alumni over the years.
Pick Player Year Pos. Team
2 Paul Duhart 1945 B Pittsburgh
3 Chuck Hunsinger 1950 RB Chicago
Steve Spurrier 1967 QB San Francisco
Wes Chandler 1978 WR New Orleans
Gerard Warren 2001 DT Cleveland
6 Lomas Brown 1985 OT Detroit
Kevin Carter 1995 DE St. Louis Rams
7 Ike Hilliard 1997 WR New York Giants
Joe Haden 2010 CB Cleveland
8 Larry Smith 1969 RB Los Angeles Rams
Derrick Harvey 2008 DE Jacksonville
9 Fred Taylor 1998 RB Jacksonville
10 Travis Taylor 2000 WR Baltimore
11 Wilber Marshall 1984 LB Chicago
12 Trace Armstrong 1989 DE Chicago
13 James Jones 1983 RB Detroit
14 John Reaves 1972 QB Philadelphia
Glen Cameron 1975 LB Cincinnati
Kenyatta Walker 2001 OT Tampa Bay
15 John L. Williams 1986 RB Seattle
Huey Richardson 1991 LB Pittsburgh
Ellis Johnson 1995 DT Indianapolis
Mike Pouncey 2010 OG Miami
16 Reidel Anthony 1997 WR Tampa Bay
Jevon Kearse 1999 DE Tennessee
17 Jarvis Moss 2007 DE Denver
Emmitt Smith 1990 RB Dallas
18 Maurkice Pouncey 2010 C Pittsburgh
20 Steve Tannen 1970 S New York Jets
Jack Youngblood 1971 DE Los Angeles Rams
21 Clifford Charlton 1988 LB Cleveland
Reggie Nelson 2007 S Jacksonville
22 Rex Grossman 2003 QB Chicago
Percy Harvin 2009 WR Minnesota
23 David Williams 1989 OT Houston Oilers
Mo Collins 1998 OG Oakland
Sharrif Floyd 2013 DT Minnesota
24 Reggie McGrew 1999 DT San Francisco
25 Louis Oliver 1989 S Miami
Tim Tebow 2010 QB Denver
26 Lito Sheppard 2002 CB Philadelphia
27 Lorenzo Hampton 1985 RB Miami
Neal Anderson 1986 RB Chicago
Ricky Nattiel 1987 WR Denver
32 Matt Elam 2013 S Baltimore
Updated: 9:25am, April 25
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- However his team’s playoff series against Brooklyn goes, it’s been a milestone season for Chicago Bulls center and first-time NBA All-Star Joakim Noah.
Apparently, it’s about to be an eventful one away from the court, too.
Noah, six years removed from the second of those back-to-back NCAA championships with the Gators, has teamed with former New York basketball prodigy Lenny Cooke to make a documentary film about the player’s rise to stardom (left) and crash to reality (right).
Trailers and media teasers for the film, “Lenny Cooke,” began circulating on the Internet this week. Noah played AAU ball with Cooke, the top-five national prospect and playground legend once was dubbed as the next Magic Johnson. On Wednesday, Noah tweeted out a link to the trailer (below).
“To all you young hoopers out there. This is a must see.”
The New York Times tracked down Cooke amid production of the film last year, a decade since he bypassed a chance to sign with a handful of major Division I schools (North Carolina, Ohio State, Miami, St. John's and Seton Hall were his finalists) to enter the NBA draft. Cooke went undrafted and never advanced beyond the D-League.
"Lenny has always been one of my biggest inspirations as a basketball player," Noah told The Times. "His story always reminds me to keep my eyes on the prize and to keep distractions away. ... I hope Lenny will push his story out to the next generation of kids who aspire to one day play competitive basketball at any level. ... If his story can make an impact on just one or two kids who have the opportunity to see the film, I believe we'll be making a difference.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Well before the 2012 football season began last summer, Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd sat down with Coach Will Muschamp and then-defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.
Both coaches could sense the sort of junior season the 6-foot-2, 303-pound Floyd was going to have.
Not to mention the opportunities that would follow.
“If you’re a first-rounder, I’m kicking you out,” Muschamp told Floyd.
Floyd (pictured left) relayed that exchange to reporters two months ago at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, where a jaw-dropping workout validated what everybody already knew -- and what Muschamp envisioned as a possibility months before.
“That took a chip off of my shoulder where I didn’t have to worry about what I was going to do after this season and allowed me to focus on my team,” Floyd said of his preseason chat with the coaches. “At the end of the year, after the Sugar Bowl, Coach came in and shook my hand and said, ‘Congratulations, now go make your name known in the league.’ So I shook his hand, shook all the coaches hands.”
Come Thursday night, Floyd will shake NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s hand.
And he won’t have to wait very long, either.
Floyd, a first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection, is considered the top-rated interior lineman in the draft -- a quick, slippery and strong vintage three-technique tackle -- with a slew of mock drafts placing Floyd to the Oakland Raiders with the third overall pick.
“They’re talking about me,” Floyd said. “Let’s keep ‘em talking about me.”
Former UF teammate Matt Elam, the safety who also left the Gators a year early, could be in for an anxious first night, but his overall draft experience will be a good one. Elam’s name is jumbled among five or so other top-tier safety prospects with projections placing him anywhere from the late first round to the middle of the second.
Ask Elam (pictured right), though, and he’ll tell you he’s at the top in his safety class.
“Yeah, I’m very confident in myself,” he said. “I’m very versatile and I feel that I can do a lot of things for teams: special teams, covering, tackling.”
The second and third rounds will be held Friday, with the balance of the draft -- Rounds 4-7 -- set for Saturday.
After Elam and Floyd, a handful of former Gators figure to be taken, with tight end Jordan Reed, linebacker Jon Bostic and tailback Mike Gillislee possibilities to be picked Friday.
Linebackers Lerentee McCray and Jelani Jenkins, safety Josh Evans, offensive tackle Xavier Nixon and kicker Caleb Sturgis are candidates for Saturday’s latter rounds.
Below are some thoughts, courtesy of draft analysts Mike Mayock (NFL Network) and Todd McShay (ESPN) on the status of some of these league-bound Gators.
>>> Mayock on Floyd: “What I love about the kid is he's a prototypical three technique which is the defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense. His quickness and ability to get off the field and disrupt the pass game is unique for a defensive tackle, and if you can get a defensive tackle that can affect the pass game, you've got something special. And he's also stout enough to play the run, so I have him No. 2 on my board. I love the kid.”
>>> McShay on Bostic (pictured right): “The more tape I watch of him, the more I appreciated Jonathan Bostic. He's just always around the ball and makes a lot of plays. He does a pretty decent job at 245 pounds of taking on blocks. He's probably a fourth round pick.”
>>> Mayock on Elam: “Really, the only downside is his height, and there's nothing you can do about that. I put the Tennessee tape on and the tight end, Michael Rivera, beat him down the seam twice. And it wasn't that he beat him down the seam, because it was really good coverage. It was just that they threw the ball up high and Rivera went and got it. The only downside with Elam as far as teams are concerned is there's nothing they can do about 5-10, and occasionally you're going to have to live with that. But on the positive side you get a kid that tackles, a kid that's tough, a kid that cares. ... I think he's going to play a lot of years in the league.”
>>> McShay on Gillislee (picturd left): “He doesn't have the great top‑end speed. You look at him size‑wise, and only one year of production. You can find all the things that you want about him. But when you have him back with the lateral quickness that he has and the determination that he has and the competitiveness with which he runs, I just like him. I think he's one of those guys that doesn't matter in the measurables. He's going to get in the league. He waited his turn, finally got his shot; and when he did, he took advantage of it. I think it could be a similar story in the NFL. To me, he's slippery in tight spaces, and I think that is the biggest thing with him. That lateral agility, playing with balance and competitiveness, just really impressed with the way he ran. I think he's one of the more underrated backs in this class. I wouldn't have a problem with the team using a third‑round pick on Gillislee.”
>>> Mayock on Reed: “He's an H-back type of guy, not a blocker, doesn't block and you can tell he was a former quarterback but has really good speed and hands and I think he's going to end up going in the fourth round.”
>>> McShay on Jenkins: “Coming into the year, I really liked Jelani Jenkins and thought that he was going to have a breakout year. Unfortunately, he couldn't stay healthy, and that's the big concern with him. ... One of the better natural cover linebackers that I evaluated coming into the year. Going back to study his 2011 tape, this year he was never healthy. I think he missed four games with different injuries; it was the foot, the thumb, the hamstring. He had a cast on in some of the tapes I studied. He's undersized. He's got to get stronger. ... But in terms of potential and in this league finding guys that can cover is so important, that I think a team takes a chance on him. It wouldn't surprise me if he goes in the fourth round. Because there is a lot of ‑‑ I hate using this word because I feel like we're constantly linked to it ‑‑ but there is a lot of upside with Jelani Jenkins. I think you're going to find some coaches that would come in and develop him.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- With their University of Florida careers winding down with Saturday’s Senior Day celebration and showdown against Northwestern, we asked the members of the first Gators lacrosse graduating class for a thought or lasting memory they will take with them.
Thank you, ladies, for providing the below items.
And the memories.
>>> Ashley Bruns (Attacker, Ellicott City, Md. -- right): “My favorite memory of being a Gator was the day we decided to tell strength conditioning Coach Karin (Werth) it was National Hair Net Day before conditioning. It all began when we somehow managed to find an entire box of hair nets, normally used during massages to keep the head piece sanitary. Everyone put on a hair net, turned off the lights, and started a huge dance party! Right in the middle of this ridiculous dance party, the career development and life skills specialist at the time walked in the locker room. And, yes, he too put a hair net on. ... I have learned so many things by being a Gator that this answer could be endless. I have learned dedication and what it takes to achieve my goals. Most of all, I am so lucky to have been surrounded by my teammates through this entire experience. They have molded me into the person that I am today and for that I am forever grateful.”
>>> Caroline Chesterman (Attacker, South Nyack, N.Y.): “My favorite memory was sophomore year when we beat Northwestern for the first time. It was the first time for us that we realized that we could play with the best teams in the country. It was a truly awesome feeling.”
>>> Kitty Cullen (Attacker, Rockville, Md. -- right): “I have made so many great memories over the past four years, it is impossible to just pick one. I think the most special part of all of them is that I have had the opportunity to compete on one of the best lacrosse teams in the country while doing it beside all my best friends. The relationships I have made with my teammates are ones I will carry forever. Every single one of my teammates has affected me in her own special way and each of them mean more to me than they will ever know.”
>>> Brittany Dashiell (Midfielder, Bel Air, Md.): “My favorite memory as a Gator would have to be the first time we beat Northwestern my sophomore year. At that time we were still a young team, but this game changed the way everyone saw Gator lacrosse. We were no longer the underdog, but a strong competitor. I will never forget that day. I don't think anyone on this senior class will.
>>> Emily Dohony (Defender, Parkton, Md.): “Over the last four years there are many things I have learned from being a Gator. If there is one thing I had to pick out it would be that hard work does pay off and your only limitation is yourself. We wouldn't have achieved the accomplishments we have attained if we hadn’t stuck together.”
>>> Sam Farrell (Defender, Millersville, Md.): “One of my favorite memories as a Gator is the first time we beat Northwestern. We stepped on that field as the underdog and pulled a 13-11 win over one of the top teams in the nation. That is definitely a moment I will never forget.”
>>> Erin Graziano (Attacker, Mendham, N.J. -- right): “After being a part of a program of this caliber, I believe that I will walk away with a relentless work ethic. I have learned how to work very hard every day for something on a much larger scale than I’ve ever done before. I’ve learned to take care of business and by pushing my teammates and myself to improve each day to go for a title that this program has not yet attained -- national champions. It has been quite the journey and one that I will never forget.”
>>> Hayley Katzenberger (Attacker, Damascus, Md.): “My favorite memory as a Gator would be making it to the Final Four last year. Everyone was beyond excited and ready to compete once we stepped on the field. Although it wasn't the outcome the team hoped for, it only made us stronger and more determined to be there the next year. Another one of my favorite memories was meeting my teammates for the first time. Even though I was definitely nervous, I was excited to meet the people who I was going to make history with on the lacrosse field, and be with for the next four years of my college career.”
>>> Mikey Meagher (Goalkeeper, Liverpool, N.Y. - right): “Being a Gator has taught me many valuable life lessons that I will take with me when this is all over. Being a part of this team and program has taught me the value of friendship and it's unbreakable bond to get through the toughest times of your life together. And that is exactly what my experience has been for me. I will forever value my opportunity here and the best friends I have made along the way. It is something that can never be taken away from me or this team.”
>>> Jamie Reeg (Defender, Atlantis, Fla.): “My favorite memory as a Gator has been all of the great friendships I've made. This team is my family and I know that we will all stay really close and continue to make great memories, starting with Emily Dohony’s wedding! I have learned that once you're a Gator, you're always a Gator. No matter where we've traveled, the Gator Nation was always there saying "Go Gators." So, now that I am leaving I will be sure to continue that tradition.”
>>> Colby Rhea (Midfielder, Abingdon, Md.): “One of my favorite memories as a Gator is beating Syracuse this year in Miami. After the game in the locker room, Mikey started the, “It's Great To Be A Florida Gator" cheer and we all joined and chanted it over and over again and danced around the room. This is a memory of this team that I will cherish forever.”
>>> Kayla Stolins (Defender, Glen Arm, Md. -- right): “My favorite memory as a Gator is a hard question. I think that the whole adventure of starting a program and meeting all my now best friends is the best memory. We have come so far in the last four years and have made so many different memories that choosing one specific thing as my favorite would be very difficult. What I have learned in my time here at Florida is the determination and commitment it takes to accomplish tasks. Starting from nothing and wanting to be a top competitor is a hard goal to accomplish. The determination and commitment that my team, coaches, trainers, and all the other people who have helped and pushed us toward our goal is something that I will definitely take with me into my career and down the road.”
>>> Gabi Wiegand (Attacker, Bay Shore, N.Y., transfer from University of Richmond): “In my time as a Gator I have learned that no goals are unattainable when you put all of your heart and determination into them.”
Updated: 8:20am, April 12
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Every golf fan has seen the iconic white overalls worn by caddies at The Masters.
Now, Tyler McCumber knows them better than most -- from the inside.
“Man, those things are odd,” McCumber said Thursday night by phone from Augusta, Ga. “It was hot out there, especially when we got in the sun, so I had to strip off my clothes -- down to my shorties -- and it was still a sweat fest.”
McCumber, the University of Florida senior, was bibbed up and on the bag for his Gators teammate T.J. Vogel during the Par 3 Contest played annually on the eve of golf’s cherished opening major championship of the PGA season.
Vogel, the senior from Cooper City, Fla., who qualified for the 77th Masters by winning the 2012 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in Utah, last July, finished 2-over in the nine-hole Par-3 event, with a birdie on the final hole.
For the two Gators, though, the Par-3 Contest wasn’t about the golf as it was the experience. The holes average about 110 yards each (only pitching and sand wedges needed) and players often walk the short course with family members. Some even let their children hit shots.
“It’s really laid back,” McCumber said. “But it’s fun.”
Picture Vogel and McCumber (in overalls, alongside Vogel, above) playing two holes behind a triumvirate of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player -- with 13 Masters titles and 34 major championships between them -- armed with a hearty gallery. The group in front of the Gator duo featured Rory McIlroy, the world’s No. 2-ranked player who brought along tennis star and girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki as his caddy.
[Note: No offense, Tyler, but ... “Advantage, McIlroy”]
Among the Par-3 traditions is that each caddy gets to hit a tee shot on No. 9 and McCumber was looking forward to taking his swing. In fact, he’d told Vogel that if he aced the ninth hole -- and, yes, it’s happened before -- he was going to zip off the bib, toss it aside and take a dive in the pristine lake that fronts the green.
His glove and ball in hand, McCumber was ready to step to the tee box when a tournament official informed him the event was running behind schedule and to bypass the shot and proceed to the green.
“I was so bummed,” McCumber said. “I wanted a chance to swim across that lake.”
Probably at the cost of being banned from Augusta for life.
“Would’ve been worth it, though,” he said. “I would’ve had a hole-in-one.”
Instead, he had to settle for a steamy walk around the little-known short course that partners with one of the true cathedrals of the game.
On Thursday, McCumber followed Vogel during the tournament’s opening round and watched his teammate fire a 77.
“T.J., I think, handled the whole thing pretty well,” he said. “It’s tough. You don’t really go into this tournament, in his position, with expectations. You go more to enjoy it and have a good time and be happy that you’re there.”
That’s what McCumber did, too.
An overall cool (and sweaty) day, no doubt.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The only surprise about Patric Young’s decision to return to the University of Florida for his senior year would be if anyone was surprised.
Young, UF’s junior center, is the two-time Southeastern Conference Scholar Athlete of the Year and a loyal teammate and friend who adores Will Yeguete, Scottie Wilbekin and Casey Prather, all of whom arrived on campus together and have lived together since the fall of 2010.
Now, they’ll go out together in 2014.
A few weeks back, the day the league announced its postseason accolades, I asked Young about cramming a college career’s worth of memories and trophies into his first three seasons. He was proud, rightfully so, but not necessarily satisfied.
“I would like to think I can still improve as a person and player,” Young said. “I have goals.”
“Like being the three-time SEC scholar athlete. Or All-Conference. Maybe even SEC defensive player of the year.”
Lofty goals, all of them, and the only thing we know right now is that Young will be back in a Gators uniform to try and reach them.
In the big Gators picture, what does the return of the 6-foot-9, 260-pound pivot man mean? Well, the answer is easy: Florida will have the deepest and most experienced frontcourt in the SEC. Maybe in the country.
Think about that a second.
For the last two seasons, the Gators have started (maybe) 6-3 Bradley Beal and (no chance) 6-3 Mike Rosario at what normally would be the small forward position. Not only that, but in each season UF lost its top backup forward, defensive specialist and rebounder Will Yeguete, for significant time due to injuries, thus further depleting the Gators’ size up front.
Now, fast forward to the fall, keeping in mind that no one knows right now who’s going to start. For the time being, who cares? Instead, just consider the possibilites.
Let’s start with Young, who needs 122 points to become the 50th player in school history to score 1,000 points and is on pace to finish his career as one the 10 best rebounders in school history. Donovan’s pleads for Young to play with passion and energy on a more consistent basis are well documented. So are UF’s results when he does. Assuming these past three years and 111 games have sunk in, there will be no secret as to Donovan’s expectations for Young as a senior.
But he won’t be banging around down there alone.
It’s possible the Gators could pair Young with 6-11 Damontre Harris, the transfer from South Carolina, where he was a first-team All-SEC Defensive Team selection and second in the league in blocked shots last season behind only Kentucky’s Anthony Davis. How’s that for length at the “4” and “5” spots (either can play both).
Now, throw 6-8 Dorian (“Doe-Doe”) Finney-Smith, a real face-the-basket forward, at the “3” spot. Finney-Smith, who some in the program feel may have been in the best player on the practice court this season, transferred from Virginia Tech, where he averaged six points and seven rebounds a game as a freshman. He’s a high-flying finisher and improving shooter, who can get his own shot, too. So at 6-11, 6-9 and 6-8 up front, the Gators are potentially mashing teams inside.
Namely, the 6-7 Yeguete and 6-6 dunk-crazy Prather off the bench. Maybe one of them starts. Maybe both at times, given the opponent. Bottom line: either is capable of guarding at least three positions, not to mention what they do in the press (wait ‘till you see Doe-Doe do that, too).
Oh, and we're not Done-Done, yet.
Welcome 6-10 incoming freshman Chris Walker, out of Bonifay (Fla.) Holmes County, who just won the slam-dunk contest at the McDonald’s All-America Game festivities last week. Another long and leaping guy to roll in and mix it up down low.
Lots of potential combinations. Lots of different looks. Lots of options.
Now, take your pick in the backcourt, with Wilbekin and sharp-shooting Michael Frazier back, plus freshman point guard Kasey Hill, an electrifying, pass-first McDonald’s All-American who Saturday led his team, Montverde (Fla.) Academy, to the high school national championship.
That's a nine-deep squad (nice press potential) and without taking into account what the Gators could get from returning freshmen Braxton Ogbueze, DeVon Walker nor Dillon Graham, assuming they use the offseason to build on their rookie season improvement to provide competition and depth down the road.
Clearly, next year’s Gators will have a much different look to them relative to the last two teams. After Frazier and Wilbekin, for example, there will be questions about how well the '13-14 squad shoots from the 3-point line.
But with Young back, they’ll have plenty of live, long and athletic bodies to chase missed shots.
Not a bad place to start.
Updated: 9:20am, April 2
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Meet Chris Walker.
A gym full of high school basketball fans -- and future college superstars -- did Monday night.
Walker, who signed with Florida last fall, won the Powerade Jam Fest dunk contest in Chicago by out-pointing some far-better known players during the popular run-up even to Wednesday night’s McDonald’s All-America Game from the United Center.
Here’s a sample of what the 6-foot-10, 205-pound forward -- known as "Sky" Walker, of course -- threw down last night in finishing ahead of the likes of Jabari Parker (Duke) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Arizona), along with uncommitted stars Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1-ranked player in the nation, and Aaron Gordon.
@cwalkertime23 tweeted this out after the competition:
Had fun going out there and competing in the dunk contest , we all put on a great show for crowd #McDAAG
Walker, who led Bonifay (Fla.) Holmes County High to the state championship last month with a spectacular title-game performance, is a part of UF’s two-man recruiting class -- along with point guard Kasey Hill -- rated a consensus top-five in the nation by most services. Both Hill and Walker were five-star recruits who finished rated among the nation’s top 10 prospects by Rivals.com
DALLAS -- Florida’s defensive focus going into Sunday was clear, but wasn’t going to be easy. Billy Donovan knew that.
The Gators set out to limit not only scoring options, but passing options for Michigan point guard Trey Burke, who likely will be named National Player of the Year at the Final Four next weekend in Atlanta. He was the engineer who drives the Wolverines’ offensive locomotive.
“It’s all a result of Burke,” Donovan said.
The UF coach said that after Michigan’s 79-59 blowout win in the NCAA South Region at Cowboys Stadium even though the Gators held Burke to 5-for-16 from the floor and 1-for-5 from 3-point range. Burke’s ability to get into the lane, force a defense to collapse, then get the ball out and rotating proved the difference.
“The shooter, I can’t pronounce his name, he just knocked down shots,” senior guard Kenny Boynton said. “He shot the lights out.”
The name was Nik Stauskas, and, yeah, 6-for-6 from 3-point range qualifies for “lights out.” He was 5-for-5 in the first half, staking the Wolverines to a 47-30 lead. That was the most points the Gators had surrendered in a first half since giving up 53 at Georgia on Feb. 14, 2009.
Stauskas came into the game at 42 percent for the season from the arc and just 2-for-16 over his last four games. Burke and his teammates found him at the perfect times and he made the Gators pay.
UF had a similar point guard challenge Friday against Florida Gulf Coast’s Brett Comer, another guy adept at driving and finding the open man. The Gators smothered Comer and forced him into nine turnovers, but they could not defend Burke the same way, Donovan explained, because Comer can’t shoot 3s all that well.
“He has such deep range,” Donovan said of Burke, whose 28-footer (and 23 second-half points) helped oust top-seeded Kansas two days earlier. “Now you’re playing him on the 3-point line, with his speed and quickness. When he turns the corner you have to provide help. ... Some 3s Stauskas got off were our fault and some were really, really good offense by them.”
STAYING OR GOING?
Before he’d even had time to process another unanswered knock on the Final Four’s door -- his third in as many seasons -- junior center Patric Young was peppered with questions in UF’s post-game locker room regarding his possible early entry into the NBA draft.
Sunday’s outcome, he said, had no bearing on his decision.
“I’m just going to catch up on school, take a little bit of time away, talk to my family,” said Young, whose season numbers showed 10.1 points on 58.6-percent shooting, 6.3 rebounds and 58 blocked shots. “I’ll do whatever I feel is best.”
Most draft projections have Young as a mid- to late-round selection in the second round. The two-time Southeastern Conference Scholar-Athlete of the Year very well could opt to return to school, but has not discussed the future with his coaches.
NOT-SO GREAT LAKES STATE FOR GATORS
Perhaps Florida should avoid facing teams from Michigan in future NCAA tournaments. Of UF’s eight double-digit losses in tournament play, four of the eight have come against either Michigan or Michigan State.
Margin Score Year Site Comment
23 Michigan 108, UF 85 1988 Salt Lake City Glen Rice’s 39 rips Gators
22 Michigan State 66, UF 46 2003 Tampa, Fla. Rematch of 2000 NCAA title game
Colorado State 68, UF 46 1989 Dallas SEC champs ice-cold vs Rams zone
21 Temple 75, UF 54 2001 New Orleans Gators trailed by 20 at halftime
20 Michigan 78, UF 58 2013 Dallas Nic Stauskas 6-6 from 3
15 Manhattan 75, UF 60 2004 Raleigh, N.C. Lowest seed (12) ever to beat Gators
13 Michigan State 89, UF 76 2000 Indianapolis Gators first NCAA title game
11 Villanova 76, UF 65 2005 Nashville, Tenn. Final game for Lee, Walsh, Roberson
TOUGH NIGHT FOR COMBO
Two weeks earlier, the Gators played Ole Miss in the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game. In that one, point guard Scottie Wilbekin and forward Erik Murphy struggled offensively, combining to go 8-for-34 from the floor and 2-for-12 from the 3-point line.
Wilbekin-Murphy is an inside-out, pick-and-pop combination that UF needs, especially against really good teams that can score. Like Marshall Henderson and the Rebels. And the Wolverines.
Their output against Michigan was 1-for-17 from the floor, 0-for-2 from distance.
They weren’t much better Friday against FGCU (5-for-18, 0-4).
For the two regional games, the Wilbekin-Murphy combo shot 17 percent (six of 35).
In his final game as a Gator, Boynton scored 13 points, taking his career tally 2,033.
That turned out to be 57 points shy of the school scoring record of 2,090 held by forward Ronnie Williams (1981-84).
“I’m honored to have played for Coach Donovan,” Boynton said after the game. “I’ve played with great players, I’ve met some great people. They’re players that play college basketball and never make the NCAA Tournament, so I’m honored to make it to three straight Elite Eights. I’m proud of my team to come this far.”
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Seems like last year.
And the year before.
The Florida Gators (29-7) hope they’re not saying the same Sunday afternoon when they try to reverse their fortunes in NCAA Elite Eight play in taking on the Michigan Wolverines (29-7) in Sunday afternoon’s South Region championship game at Cowboys Stadium.
As far college programs go, Florida and Michigan are big-ticket attractions, but this will mark just the third time the teams have played in men’s basketball and the inside-the-game dynamic is mind-blowing.
The Wolverines will roll out the nation’s second-most efficient offense as it relates to the points-per-possession advanced metric. UM scores at a 1.135 clip every time it has the ball. Only Gonzaga was better this season and the Bulldogs, seeded first in the West, did not survive the tournament’s first weekend.
The Gators will counter with the nation’s second-most efficient defense, allowing just .838 points per possession. Only Stephen F. Austin, of the Southland Conference, was better and that team did not make the NCAA field.
Something has to give.
In the meantime, allow me to breakdown five key areas, any one of which could determine the outcome that puts UF in its first Final Four since 2007 or leaves the Gators one win shy -- and devastated yet again -- for the third year in a row.
The Wolverines have a huge advantage in Trey Burke -- and that would be the case no matter who they were playing. The 6-foot, 190-pound sophomore is the favorite to be named National Player of the Year next week. He is a scorer (18.9 ppg) and a maestro facilitator (6.8 apg) who can do damage in both categories from anywhere on the floor and is most deadly when it reaches the lane. He will drive and score, drive and leave for cutters, and drive and kick out to 3-point shooters. He is the No. 1 concern for the Gators and containing him -- they’re not going to stop him -- goes far behind the responsibility of UF counterpart Scottie Wilbekin. Oh, Wilbekin will battle and he’ll fight doggedly through UM’s pick and rolls, but the Gators have to be on point with help defense and recovery when Burke throws out of or splits double- and triple-teams. If not, they run the risk of Burke, who had 25 in the second half Friday against Kansas, and backcourt mates Tim Hardaway Jr. (14.8 ppg, 39 percent from 3-point range) and deadly distance shooter Nik Stauskas (11.3 ppg, 42.9 from 3) being in sync and in rhythm. Not good. And speaking of Wilbekin, he’s the one charged with making sure UF is moving and sharing the ball; preferably in a manner unlike what was on display Friday against Florida Gulf Coast. The Gators didn’t just fail to move the ball against the Eagles, they didn’t move their bodies, with a few exceptions from senior Mike Rosario, who has 40 points the last two NCAA games. Kenny Boynton had another tough shooting night (2-for-6, 0-for-3) against FGCU, but he had a couple nice plays attacking the basket. Against Michigan’s shaky interior defense there will be some openings, so Wilbekin and his backcourt mates need to exploit them. If they can make some 3-pointers (that FGCU 4-for-15 stuff isn’t going to cut it), they’ll do their bigs some favors, too.
Burke is the key to the Wolverines. Period. If the Gators have an X-factor in their favor its 6-10 forward Erik Murphy and his ability to stretch a defense with his 3-pointer shooting (45.9 percent). Murphy, though, is coming off one of his least-productive games of the season (2-for-7 from the floor, only one attempted trey, just 4 rebounds) and it goes without saying a similar performance will undermine Florida’s chances to win. If Murphy is making shots (heck, even attempting them), the Wolverines have to send someone to the arc to check him. That guy likely would be Glenn Robinson III (11.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 56.9 percent from field), who at 6-6 is really a two-guard playing power forward. In the post, UF’s 6-9, 260-pound center Patric Young will get his jump hooks (he needs to make them after going 2-for-7 vs FGCU), but the Wolverines have a red-hot pivot man in Mitch McGary (7.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 60.4 percent from the floor), who had 23 points and 14 rebounds against a huge and defensive-minded Kansas team Friday. McGary loves to drive to his left and float around the basket for putbacks. Young has became an excellent defender, a disciplined one too, but both he and Murphy also have to be on high-alert when it comes to Burke’s drives to the basket. Yes, they can provide help on the double-team, but at what price?
Florida has an edge here for no other reason than Michigan’s starters play heavy-duty minutes. How ‘bout four UM starters over 31 minutes and just one backup who plays more than 17. The Gators have three backups who play more than 17 minutes and junior forwards Casey Prather and Will Yeguete both loom as huge factors in this game. Prather and Yeguete can guard multiple positions, but Prather figures to log a bunch of minutes in matchup situations against either Robinson or Hardaway. UF will roll both players in out and utilize the depth in press defense. Gators freshman Michael Frazier was 0-for-5 in the tournament going into Friday, but knocked down his first two 3-point shots -- back to back, no less -- when Florida was down 10 early against FGCU. Huge shots. The Gators could use some more of that. The Wolverines will go to Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford (yes, Al’s baby brother) for frontcourt minutes, but the player to be leery of off the bench is guard Spike Albrecht. He’ll give Burke a minute here and there (not much more) and look for 3-pointers at all times (11-for-25 on the season, 2-2 in tournament).
Florida’s Billy Donovan improved to 31-10 in NCAA play Friday. That’s a winning percentage of .756 bested by only Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Southern Methodist’s Larry Brown among active college coaches. This will mark Donovan’s seventh Elite Eight game and he’s 3-3 coming in, including those back-to-back late-game daggers against Butler (2011) and Louisville (2012) the last two years that kept him from adding to his total of three Final Fours. Michigan’s John Beilein is one of nine coaches to take four schools (Canisius, Richmond, West Virginia and Michigan) to the NCAA Tournament. [Note: Lon Kruger is one of those nine] He is 11-7 in tournament play and this is his second trip to the Elite Eight. His Mountaineers team of 2005 lost to Louisville in the West Region final.
Seven of Florida players bear the scars of the back-to-back losses in the Elite Eight; both of them after blowing double-digit leads inside of 10 minutes. Whether that’s motivation or a curse probably depends on the individual. In the grand scheme, this game has nothing to do with those, but psychologically? Who knows. UF also bears the cross of those close-game losses of the 2012-13 season: 0-6 in games decided by six points or less. The Wolverines, on the other hand, went 5-3 in the same scenario, including Fridays comeback from 10 down in the final 2:20 to beat No. 1-seed Kansas. Michigan starts three freshmen. That’s a lot, especially against an opponent with a combined 71 games of NCAA experience. How will some of those young guys handle the big stage? Especially long minutes against a deep team?
DALLAS -- After winning their NCAA South Region semifinal games Friday night, both Florida and Michigan were allowed 90 minutes of closed practice Saturday on the floor of vast Cowboys Stadium.
The Gators took about 30.
And just to shoot around.
“These guys needed to rest and recover,” UF trainer David “Duke” Werner said.
Instead, the Gators pushed back their full-blown practice and preparation for the Wolverines a couple hours Saturday to give the players more time to relax and the assistant coaches more time to scout UM before presenting a game plan to the team.
Think about the timeline and what the NCAA asks these teams to do.
Florida put the finishing touches on its 62-50 defeat of Florida Gulf Coast around 11 p.m. local time. By the time the Gators wrapped their post-game media obligations and took the 22-mile bus ride from Arlington to downtown Dallas, it was after 1 a.m. Saturday.
The players, even after some treatment from trainers, were still amped up from the game. Hardly ready for lights-out. The coaches had to cram.
Eventually, the players went to sleep while the staff spent nearly three hours previewing tape of Michigan before going to bed around 4. The coaches got five hours of sleep. Maybe.
Breakfast was at 11, immediately followed by a bus ride back to the stadium for its required media session. Afterward, the Gators had 90 minutes inside the cavernous stadium, but opted for a light half-hour of shooting and were back at the hotel around 3 for lunch and more rest.
At 5:30, the team bused to Southern Methodist University for its Saturday practice, with massages and flushes scheduled for afterward. Then dinner.
“When the schedule is this tight, the best thing we can do for them is make sure they eat right and hydrate,” Werner said.
Strength and conditioning coach Preston Greene made three trips to Whole Foods this week -- “The best place in America,” he said -- for snack foods (he likes nuts and berries) to supplement the players between meals.
After practice, the training staff provides body massages (emphasis on legs) and flushes to get the players ready for a 1:20 p.m. local tipoff Sunday that will mark the biggest game of the season ... just 38 hours after finishing the last biggest game of the season.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- We’re mere hours from the biggest basketball game involving two teams from the state of Florida in ... well ... ever.
Obviously, the only way this game could be any sexier would be if Florida State or Miami were lining up tonight in the NCAA South Region against the tournament-tested Florida Gators (28-7), but then we wouldn’t have the remarkable story of Florida Gulf Coast (26-10) and its improbable/historical run from a No. 15 seed to their place at destiny’s doorstep.
And make no mistake, the Eagles are a great story.
But when the ball goes up tonight -- tipoff is set for 9:57 ET, but expect things to start late -- neither UF’s rich and recent NCAA success or FGCU’s fairy-tale ride will mean a thing. It’ll be basketball savvy, athleticism and toughness that decides this game.
So let’s talk about those things, for a change.
Both teams start three guards, with the matchup at the point taking front and center. Eagles sophomore Brent Comer is the guy most responsible for FGCU’s “Dunk City” moniker -- and not because he’s playing above the rim. He’s the one tossing those lobs or finding the cutters and open men to get easy, momentum-charged baskets the likes of which UF has to deny. Comer is averaging 12 assists per game in the tournament. Gators point guard Scottie Wilbekin will get the assignment of staying with Comer, fighting through a multitude of screens and making his counterpart work to find open men. The Eagles’ other two guards, Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson, have glossy resumes. Brown was the Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Year. Thompson was its Defensive Player of the Year. Together, they’re averaged nearly 30 points per game in the regular season, but have upped those numbers to 40-plus in the tournament. Both are capable 3-point shooters, so the Gators needed to close out the distance line, but Brown and Thompson also can take the ball to the basket and finish, which means UF’s Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario are on the spot defensively. At Florida’s end, Wilbekin needs to get the Gators playing -- here comes that phrase again -- “the right way” from the outset; like he did in the last outing against Minnesota when it was Rosario who went nuclear in the first half en route to a UF career-high 26 oints. Except for five spectacular minutes against Alabama in the SEC Tournament, Boynton has been stone-cold of late (now 39.3 percent for the season, 32.6 from the arc) and Coach Billy Donovan showed last weekend (with Rosario vs. Minnesota and Boynton vs. Northwestern State) he’s now willing to sit either one down when they’re struggling. Wilbekin’s job is to get his teammates open shots, but Rosario and Boynton need to make extra passes for the UF offense (72 points per game, 48.2 percent from the floor for the season) to be at its best.
The Eagles don’t have guys the size of Gators center Patric Young (6-9, 260) or forward Erik Murphy (6-10, 240). They just don’t. So UF needs to do what No. 2-seed Georgetown either didn’t or couldn’t do and work the ball into the post. Down low, Young and Murphy will find physical mismatches against forwards Chase Fieler (6-8, 210) and Erik McKnight (6-9, 210). They are very rangy and athletic, but both Young and Murphy should be able to body them and get position -- and rebounds. And when UF gets the ball down there, those guys need to convert. Period. When the Eagles are on offense, Fieler scores 12 a game and McKnight less than 7, but a good chunk of their points come in transition or on the receiving end of Comer’s drives and dishes. Young and Murphy -- with guard help -- need to impede the Eagles from knifing and crashing down the lane (their calling card). Note: 22 percent of FGCU’s points in the NCAA Tournament have come on dunks. While Wilbekin gets a ton of notoriety for his skills as a stopper on the perimeter (and rightfully so), Young is the absolute key to the Florida defense. When he is energized, communicating and (this is key) chasing rebounds, that's when UF is that ridiculously efficient defense force and can beat anybody. When he’s not (or in foul trouble), the Gators have no chance to be great on that end.
The Eagles go nine deep, with their most productive reserve guard Christophe Varidel, who will come off the bench with an itchy 3-point finger. Varidel averaged 6 points per game and well more than half of his field goals (39 of 65) were treys. Forward Eddie Murray is 6-8, 205 and will bang around low for some stickbacks and boards. Forward Filip Cvjeticanin (6-9, 212) and guard Dejuan Graf will give the starters about 15 minutes of rest. For the Gators, forward Will Yeguete is coming off his best all-around performance since returning from knee surgery eight games ago. He only had seven points and five rebounds, but was vintage Yeguete with his defense, in the press and with hustle/tipped-ball plays. Forward Casey Prather’s athleticism will be huge for matchup purposes against the high-flying Eagles and allow him to guard four positions, if necessary. Three-point sharpshooting Michael Frazier has missed all five of his shots in NCAA play, so this would be a nice night to get out of his funk.
Donovan is a staggering 30-10 all-time in NCAA plays. That .750 winning percentage ranks second in the nation among active coaches with at least 10 tournament games, behind only Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (.771) and Southern Methodist’s Larry Brown (.760). Donovan and his staff have had parts of the last six days to prep for this game and Donovan has a pretty good track record in regional semifinals, winning five straight Sweet 16 games dating to the 2000 season. Interesting note: Donovan has been coaching at Florida since 1996, longer than Florida Gulf Coast University (founded in 1998) has been existence. Eagles coach Andy Enfield was groomed as an assistant to Mike Dunleavy with the Milwaukee Bucks (1994-96), alongside Rick Pitino with the Boston Celtics (1998-2000) and for six seasons under Leonard Hamilton at Florida State (2006-11). During his time with the Seminoles, Enfield enjoyed three wins over the Gators, so he knows Donovan’s tendencies and how to attack them. He recruited a number of the players on UF’s roster while at FSU, so he’ll have that for his scouting report, too. Enfield also beat Big East co-champion Georgetown and has done something no coach in NCAA history can claim. He’s obviously does some work at halftime, too. The Eagles outscored Georgetown 22-2 to start the second half and San Diego State 17-0 to seize control of those games.
Make what you want of this stuff. The Eagles have the beloved underdog chip on their shoulder. They’ll also have most of the estimated crowd of nearly 40,000 on their side. It is the definition of David and Goliath, with the fact we’re talking two Sunshine State teams taking that storyline to another level. The Gators, on the other hand, can play the ol’ Us-Against-the-World card, if that’s the direction they want to go. America’s love affair with the Eagles has played on TV screens and front pages across the country, which includes Texas, where the Gators have been holed up the past five days soaking in highlights from FGCU pep rallies and sound bytes. Again, the moment the ball is tossed, all the distractions are gone. It will be about who’s better on this one night.
And there’s an awful lot at stake.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- So I was sitting there in a mostly empty media room at the NCAA South Region waiting for Florida Gulf Coast’s shoot-around to end so the Gators could take the floor.
Thought I’d bang out a few nuggets about Cowboys Stadium, a.k.a. “Jerry World” -- and the sports venue version of the Death Star.
Cowboys Stadium, the vision, brainstorm and virtual property of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, opened May 27, 2009 as home to the Cowboys, and a pair of college football games: the Cotton Bowl Classic and Cowboys Classic.
Originally budgeted at $650 million, the final construction costs were in excess of $1.156 billion and included a retractable roof. Jones footed the bulk of the bill, but local sales taxes, occupancy taxes, tourist taxes, plus $325 million in bonds from the City of Arlington helped cover the costs. The NFL also kicked in $150 million (that’s chump change for “The King”) to get the project done, well aware of its revenue possibilities as a Super Bowl site.
The stadium’s listed capacity is 85,000, but with considerable expansion capabilities, including more than 100,000 for Super Bowl XVL on Feb. 6, 2011 when the Green Bay Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25.
The attendance record for a football game here is 105,212 for the Cowboys and New York Giants on Sept. 21, 2009, the grand opening of the stadium. Think that’s a lot of people? The most ever to see an event here was the 108,713 who filed in for the 2010 NBA All-Star Game (above). A world-championship boxing match between Manny Pacquiao and Joshua Clottey drew 50,994 on March 13, 2010.
The famous video screen is the fourth-largest in the world (second in the U.S. to the one that Charlotte Motor Speedway) measures 60 yards long (from 20-yard line to 20-yard line). Tennessee Titans punter A.J Trapasso actually hit the screen with a kick in the stadium’s debut preseason game.
Cowboys Stadium will play host to the 2014 Final Four and is reportedly the leader to host the inaugural college football play championship game.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Gators have their required open practice and media cattle call Thursday afternoon at Cowboys Stadium, but the day’s real work gets going this morning with the start of a real practice at the University of Texas-Arlington, a few miles from the spaceship-looking edifice known as “Jerry World.”
Coach Scott Cross and members of his staff greeted the Gators upon their arrival at the UTA practice facility.
UTA is a state school, the commuter type, of 33,439 that calls its teams -- with apologies to a certain squad about 25 miles away -- the Mavericks.
These Mavs were here first, as a charter member of the Southland Conference in 1971. That’s nine years earlier than when the Dallas NBA franchise was born via expansion in 1980. UTA made the NCAA Tournament in 2008 as a 16-seed, losing to top-seeded Memphis, which later forfeited the win due to NCAA violations.
Among UTA’s famous alumni:
- Actor Lou Diamond Phillips (pictured above with Denzel Washington in "Courage Under Fire")
- Drag racer and NASCAR owner Kenny Bernstein
- Former Portland Trailblazers interim head coach Kaleb Canales
- Boston Red Sox pitcher John Lackey
- Former NFL cornerback Tim McKyer
- San Francisco Giants outfielder Hunter Pence
- Former Kansas City Royals manager Trey Hillman
Note: I think I may have written this blog just to get the first (and probably only EVER) photo of Lou Diamond Phillips on GatorZone.com.
Updated: 5:49pm, March 27
DALLAS -- Billy Donovan (Providence) and Rick Carlisle (Virginia) both helped lead their college teams on improbable runs to the Final Four in the 1980s.
Carlisle managed something of a career in the NBA, logging reserve minutes and winning a championship alongside Larry Bird in Boston.
Donovan’s pro career? Not so much.
But toward the end of their NBA runs as players, both were teammates on the New York Knicks under Coach Rick Pitino his first season and spent a lot of time on the bench together. In fact, during their time off on the road, Donovan and Carlisle would find a local gym to play 1-on-1 for about an hour and a half.
“And then we’d go talk basketball,” Carlisle said Wednesday. “We both had an intellectual curiosity for the game. Both loved the game. We knew our playing days in the pros were numbered and also knew we both had an interest in coaching.”
They’ve done OK for themselves since.
Donovan, of course, has those back-to-back NCAA championships in 2006-07 with the Gators, while Carlisle is the Dallas Mavericks coach who shocked LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat to win the 2011 NBA Finals in six games.
Donovan and Carlisle have remained close friends the past two decades and they’ve taken advantage of this week’s proximity, with UF facing Florida Gulf Coast in Friday night’s NCAA South Region semifinals at Cowboys Stadium.
Monday night, the Florida and Dallas staffs went out to dinner and Tuesday the Gators attended the Mavs game -- a 109-102 overtime thriller over the Los Angeles Clippers -- at the American Airlines Arena, where Donovan was a guest in Carlisle’s seats behind the team bench.
On Wednesday, Carlisle attended UF’s afternoon practice at Southern Methodist University and watched Donovan put his team through a spirited workout in anticipation of the Sweet 16 game.
“I’ve been amazed on the impact Billy has had -- not just at Florida, but on all of college basketball,” Carlisle said. “A lot of the things he does are things that are kind of universally done now and that’s a credit to his hard work over a long period of time.”
Carlisle recalled how Knicks players were resistant to the maniacal, fullcourt-pressuring ways of Pitino when he arrived after guiding Providence (led by Donovan) to the Final Four. In practices, though, Carlisle said it was Donovan -- his hustle, willingness to play hard every possession, ball-handling skills against traps and pressure -- who helped Pitino sell the style to the likes of Patrick Ewing, Mark Jackson, Gerald Wilkins, etc.
That Knicks team qualified for the playoffs the final game of the season.
Carlisle saw the coach in Donovan then.
“He was one of the smartest players I ever saw,” he said. “Billy had an extremely high level of resourcefulness. His brains and skills were great, but the resourcefulness was what was going to make him a great coach. And it has.”
Updated: 5:49pm, March 27
DALLAS -- Tom Williams has been a valuable sixth man this week.
The University of Athletic Association’s assistant athletic director-student services arrived back in Gainesville shortly after 2 a.m. Monday morning on UF’s charter flight from Austin, Texas, following the Gators’ defeat of Minnesota in the NCAA South Region the night before.
The win advanced the Gators to the NCAA Regional site in North Texas -- massive Cowboys Stadium at Arlington -- and UF coach Billy Donovan opted to keep his team in the Lone Star State rather than come home only to turn around and fly back.
Just a few hours after touchdown in Gainesville, Williams was at his post in the Office of Student Life scanning players’ class schedules, huddling with tutors and alerting professors to make sure the Gators -- holed up in Marriott City Center here in downtown Big D -- maintained their academic responsibilities in the days leading up to Friday night’s South Region semifinal against Florida Gulf Coast.
“We’re doing some long-distance educating,” Williams (pictured) said Wednesday. “So far, it’s working.”
Williams has been coordinating through director of basketball operations Darren Hertz and assistant to the head coach Mark Daigneault in efforts to keep the Gators up to date on their classwork.
*Scottie Wilbekin took a test on-line late Sunday after the win over the Gophers.
* Junior forward Will Yeguete took a geology exam.
* Freshman guards Michael Frazier and Braxton Ogbueze wrote political science papers that Williams will hand-deliver to their professor Thursday.
* Junior forward Casey Prather turned in an assignment in his “Contemporary Youth Problems and Solutions” course that Williams forwarded.
Williams got back a response on the latter.
Very pleased. Great grade. Here’s another assignment.
Without having a tutor on the trip, the players have leaned on each other - especially when it comes to math, calling on walk-on Jacob Kurtz, a mechanical engineering major, for help with statistics and calculus.
“Jake’s good in math,” Ogbueze said. “Really good.”
The academic routine may not be optimum, but the Gators are making the best of it as they focus on their quest to reach the Final Four.
“Obviously, the professors care about them and understand the situation,” Williams said. “Overall the academic community has been very supportive.”
DALLAS -- For the Florida Gators, Monday was technically an “off day,” with the team busing from Austin to Dallas, about 25 miles from the site of this weekend’s NCAA South Region bracket at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The squad lifted weights at the Dallas Mavericks complex late in the afternoon, then had the night off. Most of the players went to a local mall, while Billy Donovan and his assistants went out to dinner with Mavs coach Rick Carlisle and his staff.
Tuesday morning, it was back to basketball business.
The Gators had their team breakfast at 10 a.m., followed by their first review -- the good and the bad -- of the 78-64 win over Minnesota in Sunday's regional quarterfinal. There was very little talk about the next opponent, giant-killing 15-seed Florida Gulf Coast, which shocked second-seeded Georgetown and handily defeated San Diego State over the weekend.
Instead, Donovan talked about the Eagles in a radio interview with CBS Sports and then a teleconference with his beat media after breakfast.
Among the topics he touched on:
* On Florida Gulf Coast: “They’re just a really good team. They’re terrific. They’re as good as anyone we played this year. You cannot just go in and beat Miami, which was a top-five team the entire year, and Georgetown, another top five team, unless you’re really good. You don’t get to the Sweet 16 unless you’re really good. The only thing surprising to me is that they’re a 15 seed.”
* His relationship with FGCU coach Andy Enfield: He got to know him a little bit from Enfield's time as an assistant with mentor Rick Pitino, then with the Boston Celtics, and later as an assistant for Leonard Hamilton at Florida State when they crossed paths recruiting and at their annual games against the Seminoles.
* A proposed preseason scrimmage between UF and FGCU: Enfield called Donovan to try to schedule the Gators for one of their two NCAA-sanctioned preseason scrimmages. Donovan declined, though, explaining he wanted to scrimmage Rollins because it ran a Princeton-style offense that would better prepare UF for its opener against Georgetown. Enfield promised he could give Donovan a really competitive game, saying the Eagles were stocked with “high-major” players. “So I’m not one bit surprised with the year they’ve had, based on our conversation. He was telling me how good they were and very special they could be.”
* The past experience of facing a “Cinderella” team in the tournament (aka George Mason): “The country may give a team a label. We never do that. We’re looking at a team on film and what they do and the things we have to do against them. We have to prepare for this game like any other game. This is a really good team that has played exceptionally well, maybe as well as any team in the country.”
* On senior guard Mike Rosario following his 25-point night against the Gophers: “Mike has made incredible strides. ... He’s nowhere near now where he was last year. I’m really proud with what he’s been able to do -- as a kid and for our team. He’s a great teammate and adores the guys he plays with.”
* On missing so much school for this extended roadtrip: Donovan explained UAA academic advisor Tom Williams, who routinely travels with the team, is coordinating school responsibilities, such as arranging for point guard Scottie Wilbekin to take a test online Sunday night after the Minnesota game.
Immediately following the teleconference, Donovan and the Gators boarded a bus to Southern Methodist University. There, they practiced for about 90 minutes on the women’s court before returning to the team hotel in downtown Dallas.
Practice was mostly focused on Florida, with a little intro to the Eagles and what they like to do. The real scouting begins tonight when assistant coach John Pelphrey rolls out his “First Look” presentation of FGCU after the team dinner.
Gators guard Mike Rosario drives to the basket in Sunday's win over Minnesota.
SOMEWHERE ON INTERSTATE 35 -- After their three-game clangfest at the Southeastern Conference Tournament last week, plus Friday night’s win over Northwestern State in opening-round play of the NCAA South Region, the Gators went into Sunday’s quarterfinal game against Minnesota having made just 45 of their 80 free throws in the postseason.
That’s 56.2 percent.
That’s not good, especially in March.
There were some anxious second-half moments, but the 3rd-seeded Gators (28-7) took care of business against the 11th-seeded Gophers for a 78-64 victory. That UF advanced to the Sweet 16 to face 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast (26-10) was the biggest feel-good takeaway from the game, but don’t discount UF’s performance at the free-throw line in finishing 26 of 36 to help close things out.
That’s 72.2 percent.
That’s much better, especially in late March.
“Before every free throw we came together and said, ‘We need two,’ ” senior guard Kenny Boynton said. “We’re supposed to knock down free throws.”
Two nights earlier, UF went 14-for-23 (60.9 percent), but did go 12-for-17 in the second half, which equates to 38 of 53 over the last 60 minutes of basketball. All NCAA Tournament basketball.
Or 71.7 percent.
When Patric Young (49.6) and Will Yeguete (58.8) combine to go 10-for-16, that’s a big boost. Plus, some of their key makes came when the Gophers were staging that comeback from 23 down to just seven.
“Knocking down the free throws let them know we were still pouring the points on,” Young said. “They could keep fouling us, but the momentum was not totally going to shift their way just because we were at the line.”
>>> HOW SWEET IT IS
Junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin could only shake his head. Three years at Florida, three Sweet 16 appearances.
That’s a first for the Florida program.
“It’s a great achievement,” Wilbekin said. “I guess, like you said, it’s making history, but it seems like that’s normal for us. I haven’t experienced what it’s like to lose early in the NCAA Tournament and I’m grateful for that.”
No one in the UF locker room was taking it for granted.
“It’s just an amazing feeling,” junior forward Casey Prather said. “I think it speaks volumes about our program and our coaches.”
Only four teams in the nation have reached the Sweet 16 three years in a row. Along with the Gators, the short list includes just Kansas, Ohio State and Marquette.
“I’m really proud of our kids,” Donovan said. “This, obviously, is a long journey for everybody involved and it started way back on Sept. 1 with preseason. To get to this point, we’re very excited and looking forward to next weekend.”
>>> STATE OF THE STATE IS SWEET, TOO
A couple hours after UF’s victory, the Miami Hurricanes, seeded second in the East, dispatched of Illinois at the Erwin Center.
The Big Ten may have four teams in the Sweet 16, but the Sunshine State -- with the Gators, Hurricanes and FGCU Eagles -- have three.
“The state of Florida has great basketball teams,” UM All-America guard Shane Larkin said. “Florida Gulf Coast was a team we played early in the season and they beat us. A lot of people gave us grief for that, but now they’re showing they’re a great team.”
Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga, named last week as National Coach of the Year, found unique situations with each of the three programs.
“Billy Donovan has been at Florida now  years and done a fantastic job,” he said. “[FGCU Andy Enfield], on the other hand, this is only the second year of competing at this level and he’s done a fantastic job of bringing players in I thought went under the radar screen.”
UM, he went on, had a nice core of players when he arrived, but adding the likes of Larkin and UF transfer Kenny Kadji gave the Canes “the ingredients” to make a run this year to capture the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season and tournament championships.
“There’s not only a lot of good college basketball being played in the state,” Larranaga said, “but a lot of good high school basketball as well.”
>>> FREE THROWS
The 25 points Mike Rosario scored in the win over the Gophers was his career-high as a Gator, besting the 22 in a blowout win at Auburn last month. But Rosario’s career career high remains 33, which he got as a sophomore at Rutgers against St. John’s on Feb. 2, 2010. ... Donovan was hired as UF’s basketball coach on March 29, 1996. That’s 17 months before Florida Gulf Coast opened its campus for its first academic year. ... With two NCAA Tournament wins by margins of 32 and 14, the Gators now have a combined margin of victory this season of 18.2 points. That leads the nation. ... In the Friday night win against Northwestern State, the Gators held the top-scoring team (81.5 points per game) in the NCAA this season to just five second-half field goals and 5-for-26 shooting. In the first half against Minnesota, UF limited the Gophers to 9-for-23 from the floor in building a 21-point lead at the break. Combine those two halves (the second vs. NW State and first vs. Minnesota) and Florida allowed just 14-for-29 from floor. Or 28.5 percent. ... Florida's 26 free throws and 36 attempts were both season highs on Sunday.