Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Enjoy the rest of your week, suckers...

This might be my shortest post of all time. I'm leaving for Seattle tomorrow morning and wanted to finihs up a ramblings style column before I left. However, the good people I work for ahve rendered that an impossibility at this point. I won't get into the specifics of what transpired, rather I'll just say that they decided to wait until this afternoon to give me a number of tasks/items that I'd been practically begging for since last Wednesday. So blame my bosses for the lack of opining on topics such as the absurdity of Vince Carter making his "tough/mean" face after a big play, the emergence of two young QBs (one of which is now wide receiver) during Florida's annual Orange & Blue game, the joy of seeing Roy Williams exposed for the cheating little liar that he is (though he'll suffer no ill effects from it), and the underrated athletic component to Jay Cutler that makes him less of a risk than you think (though he's still no sure thing...Sorry Mort).

Anyway, that's it. I'll be in Seattle for the next five days and will try and get something up at some point this week. Hopefully I'll get some good pics at Safeco tomorrow night and I'll be able to post them with a mini-update of the goings on in the Pacific Northwest. Here's hoping that my friend John doesn't live in something that resembles this:

Oh yeah, one last thing, I have been growing the full beard again for about 6 weeks now. It's pretty much all filled in and pretty fucking fantastic if you ask me (or, surprisingly, my girlfriend). Mind you, not only am I sporting the full beard, but I also have a freshly shaved head and a number of very visible tattoos (one of which has arabic writing) to help fill out the look. I'm only mentioning my current physical appearance for one reason, actually in order to pose one question.

What is the over/under on the number of security searches I'm likely to get during my cross country flights (with a layover in Chicago in during each) ?

Alright. I'll see you bitches on the other side.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Uh oh it's Magic...

…when I’m with you. In case you’re wondering, I’m not singing that song to anyone in particular this afternoon. Rather, I’m singing to a group of people who’ve managed to restore my flagging faith in a downtrodden and moribund franchise. I’m singing to none other than the 2005-2006 Orlando Magic. Many people would wonder why I’m professing my love for a team that couldn’t even qualify for the playoffs in the lowly Eastern Conference. Those are the kind of people who have no idea what it’s been like to follow the Magic over the last 6 or 7 years.

There a few franchises in sports that have been so spectacularly bad (in all phases) over that period of time as Orlando has managed to be. Not only has the product on the court been consistently subpar, but the player acquisition side of things (both through the draft and free agency) may have been worse. Actually, let’s remove all doubt here. It was worse, far worse. I’m not going to relive the managerial blunders of John Gabriel and John Weisbrod here, let’s just say that both of these guys should have Isiah Thomas on their Christmas card list for all that he’s done to deflect attention away from their ineptitude these past two years. For the first time since Shaq left America’s wang for LaLa Land, the Magic are a franchise on the rise with legitimate designs on next year’s playoffs and a run towards an NBA title by the beginning of the next decade. What follows is my outlook for the future of the franchise.


The Magic have been in a rebuilding mode before. However, the strategy that this front office is taking is far different from the strategy employed by John Gabriel in the summer of 1999. The Magic’s basic plan of attack at this time was to trade any veteran with an average sized contract and sign a ton of players to league minimum contracts in order to create as much cap space as possible. Don't believe me? Look at this. That was it. There was no backup plan. The Magic pinned every single hope they had for the foreseeable future on the free agent class of 2000. While we’ll never know if this strategy could’ve worked (A special “Thanks” to the Magic team doctors), it’s not hard to see that there were far more ways that it could fail than succeed.

For further proof of the single mindedness of the Orlando front office at this time, one need only look at the case of Chauncey Billups. Despite acquiring Billups for a sack of beans in February of 2000, the Magic actually refused to play Billups one single minute during his time in Orlando. Instead, the Magic deactivated the former #4 pick in the draft and sent him home for the offseason without so much as an audition. Think about that for a second, the Magic had a chance to pair Tracy McGrady and Chauncey Billups together in a backcourt (the following year) and never even gave it a second thought. More than anything, this dependence on the free agency doomed the Magic to a fate of piss poor role players and constant roster turnover. Here’s where the major difference lies in the Magic’s latest attempt to resurrect their franchise. This time around the Magic have the building blocks in place for a successful future already. The task that lies ahead now is to acquire a few more pieces to the puzzle and integrate those pieces into the fabric of a young group of core players.

In what can only be described as “his finest moment”, John Weisbrod set the wheels in motion for much of this with his selections in the 2004 NBA Draft. While many (myself included) were clamoring for Emeka Okafor, Weisbrod saw the tremendous talent and character in a young Dwight Howard and made the call to make Howard the draft's #1 pick. In perhaps an even more daring move, Weisbrod later traded for the rights to Denver’s first round pick, Jameer Nelson. Two years later, these two players have established themselves as franchise cornerstones through both their on court play and off the court leadership.

Building blocks

It is clear that both Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson have the necessary talent to help lead a successful NBA franchise. While few doubted Howard’s toughness and freakish athleticism, fewer still would’ve been able to guess that he’d become such a dominating big man this early in his career. While not as offensively skilled as Amare Stoudemire, Howard’s rebounding and defensive prowess already rank among the best in the entire NBA. Nelson, on the other hand was not nearly such a sure thing. Many scouts doubted that Nelson had the size (or even the ability) to be a starting PG in the Association. When Nelson flashed a shaky jumpshot in his rookie year, it fueled further speculation that he was destined for a career as a “sparkplug” second unit PG. Anybody who still holds these ideals as true should have their head examined. Nelson is amongst the most improved players in the entire NBA this season, improving his jumper by leaps and bounds, especially his three point shot ( from 31% last year to 42% in 2006), and even becoming a deadly fourth quarter scorer down the stretch this year. I’ve said it here before that I believe Nelson has “poor man’s Tim Hardaway” potential and I’ve got to say that I may have shot a little low with my expectations. If he continues to improve over the next few years, you’re looking at a possible NBA All-Star.

While the development of these two players has been crucial to the fate of the Orlando franchise, it is the development and acquisition of numerous other players that has placed the Magic squarely on the precipice of the NBA’s promised land. We all know about the Magic’s trade for Darko Milicic. What nobody really knew was if the young Serb could play. By they way, doesn’t “Young Serb” sound like some indie band’s name. Yet, I digress. The answer, we would quickly find out was a resounding “Yes”. While he may never live up to the hype that accompanied his #2 selection in the 2003 NBA Draft, or the legacy of those drafted around him, Darko has proven himself a skilled and capable player in his short tenure in Orlando. He possesses a feel for the game few young big men have that allows him to handle and pass with aplomb (both in the high/low post and the open floor). He has range that extends just beyond 18 feet and possesses an inate sense of timing when going after opponents’ shots. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, Darko’s natural high post game is seemingly the perfect ying to the yang that is the bruising down low game of Howard. I commented earlier this year that I’d be happy if Darko could become Primoz Brezec. After what I’ve seen over the last 30 games, that is no longer an acceptable ceiling. He can be a far better player than that and, I believe, will become one as his confidence and game experience continue to grow.

Beyond Darko, the Magic have assembled a cast of young role players that seem to fit very well with one another. A cast that is (for the most part) still full of potential for growth. Below is a list of players, and their individual roles whom the Magic would be wise to continue to build around/with:

Hedo Turkoglu: Came into his own after the Steve Francis trade, after which both he and Nelson became the “go-to guys” for the Magic offensively. Once a stand still jumpshooter, Turk now possesses a varied game that gets him to the line and exploits the matchup problems that his 6’10” height creates. Future role: Third option offensively as the starting small forward.

Carlos Arroyo: Most popular Magic player who has enabled the franchise to finally connect with the sizeable Puerto Rican population in Central Florida (the second highest PR total anywhere other than NYC). His aggressive, confident approach on offense brings an energy to the team and provides the Magic with some much needed creativity and scoring off the bench. Future role: Basically the same. Coming off the bench allows him to play the natural style that he has played for so many years on the Puerto Rican national team and while in college.

Keyon Dooling: Instant offense. A two guard in a point guard’s body, Dooling injects the Magic with athleticism and toughness off the bench. Dooling possesses the ability to score in bunches with his streaky shooting and wild forays to the basket. Future role: Sixth Man. If Dooling accepts this role, he could become one of the more feared second unit scorers in the league. Besides his explosive ability, Dooling also seems to play without fear, constantly challenging bigger players on both the offensive and defensive ends. With continued improvement, Dooling could certainly be a better version of Antonio Daniels.

DeShawn Stevenson: The best perimeter defender on the roster, Stevenson has emerged within the last season and a half as a player willing to subjugate his own offense for the good of the team. While many would label Stevenson as a “bust” (in comparison with many of his fellow high school entrants), this assessment is far from the reality. Stevenson has emerged as one of the better one-on-one defenders in the entire NBA and also proved himself as one of the toughest by playing through nearly the entire season with a partially torn ACL. As recently as Saturday evening, Stevenson further proved his growing defensive prowess by holding Allen Iverson scoreless over the final 10:41 of the Magic’s win over Philadelphia. Future role: This is a little tricky. One of Arroyo, Stevenson, and Dooling will have to go at some point. The Magic desperately need a high scoring two guard and there isn’t enough room on the roster for these three with an elite shooting guard on Orlando’s roster. If Dooling can mold himself into an semi-adequate second team PG (he would still need to look for his offense plenty) then Stevenson probably stays on as the defensive stopper off the bench as Arroyo is traded to make room on the bench for Stevenson. If not, then Stevenson probably ends up as a 12-15 ppg fifth wheel on a team in need of defense and toughness from their two guard.

I’ve reserved judgement of Trevor Ariza and Mario Kasun because I’ve yet to see enough of either of these guys to make a definitive judgement of their ability to contribute to the Magic in the future.

One thing that should be noted, there isn’t a player on the Magic’s roster that I’ve mentioned in this column older than 26 (Arroyo).

Loose ends

Keep Howard happy: The Magic have to continue to work to surround Dwight Howard with not only good players, but also good people. He is the key to any success that the Magic hope to experience over the next decade. Furthermore, if the Magic manage to lose Howard to free agency at any point in that span it will effectively spell the end of the franchise's time in Orlando. You can’t lose three superstars, three franchise players for that matter in 15 years and expect the crowds to keep coming back. If the Magic lose Howard, Orlando will lose the Magic.

Keep the owners happy: Another move that the Magic must make is the construction of a new arena. The TD Waterhouse Centre is among the oldest in the NBA, and almost completely devoid of luxury boxes. In a small market like Orlando, the revenue stream provided by said luxury boxes is of vital importance. If the Magic are to hope to continue to lure crowds (and free agents) to the Magic Kingdom, then the fans are going to have to bite the bullet and shell out some cash for a new arena.

Piss off the Hill family: Despite my objections, the Magic brought Brian Hill back for a second go-round as the team’s head coach this year. While many thought that this was nothing more than an apology for the way that Hill exited Orlando the first time, he proved himself to be a more than adequate leader during a year full of tumult and upheaval. He established a level of professionalism that eventually led to the dismissal of malcontents (Francis) and lazy bastards (Kelvin Cato). He juggled the need to integrate young talent (Darko, Dooling) with the natural instincts of a coach (ie: winning at all costs). All in all, he did as good a job as can be expected given the circumstances. He should remain as the Magic’s coach while this team grows and learns how to win consistently against the NBA’s elite. However, if this franchise is going to ascend to the top of their conference, it is going to need a higher level of coaching expertise (both X’s & O’s as well as psychologically) than I believe Hill possesses. The other factor at play here is the “burnout factor” that exists amongst NBA coaches and their teams. Eventually teams will begin to tune a coach out after he’s been around them long enough. Sadly (for him), this is how I see it playing out for Hill. If the Magic are to ever become one of the league’s elite teams, it will have to be without Hill. Finally, while I’m getting waaaay ahead of myself here, here’s a name to remember when that day comes…Scott Skiles. He’s a very good coach whose hard driving style is eventually going to lead him to an exit from Chicago. He was a fan favorite in Orlando during the early expansion years and still has a number of friends within the Magic organization. By my (admittedly shaky) estimates, Skiles should wear out his welcome in the Windy City just around the time that the Magic are ready for a fresh outlook (and voice) to lead them back into the NBA’s nobility.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Killing machine on the loose...hide your babies.

You're going to have to wait another day for my latest post. Strangely, this is not due to my extreme fatigue (Jesus, this weekend was rough. Sunrise Service= Never, ever again.) or lack of work ethic. Rather, it is due to the extended lunch break that I was forced to take this afternoon. Let me be clear when I say that this lunchbreak was neither planned nor appreciated. In fact, the last hour has been a rather stressful one for yours truly. Basically, as I was finishing up lunch I received a semi-frantic phone call from a friend of mine (whose uncle happens to be my landlord/next door neighbor) telling me that my dog had gotten loose. While these events would be bothersome to most any dog owner, these feelings are further amplified by the fact that my dog is a Pit Bull. As I've explained in this space before, my dog is an enormous pussy. He whines more than your average three years old, sleeps under the covers (regardless of if I'm sleeping or not), and (as you've seen before) is afraid of the flash on my camera. To put it simply, he is not an animal that should be feared. However, his appearance doesn't lead strangers to this conclusion. The sight of my 70+ lb. Pit Bull running the streets unleashed generally evokes reactions similar to what you'd see if Milton Bradley and Carl Everett ever went charging into the stands in a tag team fashion (see: running, screaming).

As I drove towards my house, a million scenarios were running through my head. Some of these included, my dog being hit by a car (I live just off A1A), my dog being snatched up by Animal Control and my dog sinking his teeth into the head of some wayward four year old (this IS the south, you're kidding yourself if you don't think I see shoeless toddlers walking the streets on a weekly basis). Thankfully, none of these scenarios played out. Actually, I'm not completely sure about the last one but I didn't notice any blood on him when I finally got home. This much I do know:

My landlord left his front door open and Tinsley strolled in the front door approximatley five minutes before I arrived home. I walked into my landlord's house to find my dog panting heavily while staring at me in a way that suggested he'd just been out doing his daily workout (read: impregnating local muts). Fucking bastard. After apologizing to my landlord and refusing his offer for a hit of his joint (he's an entirely different posts worth of material), I figured that I ought to make my way back to work. So here I am. I'll be back tomorrow.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Getting drunk, killing bunnies...you know your average Easter.

As you may have noticed over the past week, I haven't posted anything. I've got a couple of different things that I'm working on and hope to have up by next week (one on Monday, and possibly one next Friday). While my current workload isn't especially pressing, I am working on a number of other work projects that normally don't rear their collective head until much later in the month. The reason for this is twofold. First, I have to go to Tallhassee for work next Tuesday Wednesday, & Thursday. It's a simple business trip that I'd rather not take (especially since it requires that I travel to Georgia, make no mistake about it...Tallahassee is NOT part of Florida). However, the length of the trip and the fact that I won't have access to the preferred technology for much of the week makes it neccessary that I dedicate some of my time this week to those endeavors. Secondly, and more importantly, I'll be flying out to Seattle the week after next. This is not a business trip, rather a vacation to see some old friends most of which I haven't seen in over a year (if not longer). The trip was sort of scheduled around the NFL Draft but there is plenty more in store once I make my way out to the Pacific Northwest. As you might guess, I plan on being quite boozy during the entirety of this trip so it's far from likely that anything that could even be considered work will be accomplished during this time (unless of course you consider throwing up, heckling Carl Everett, or rolling teenage heroin addicts on the streets of Seattle "work"). At any rate, that's the flimsy excuse (or set of excuses) that I'm using to justify my lack of presence here over the last week (that and 16 hours a day that I've spent sitting next to my mailbox waiting on my Florida National Championship shirts to arrive). So there you have it. Now, try and keep it together for another couple of days without killing yourself in a horrible salad and soda accident ala uber-booster Logan Young and I'll be back early next week, provided that I don't get arrested in a bar fight this weekend with all the people that are sure to be back in town for Easter. If there's one thing that the celebration of JC's resurrection is consistently good for, it's a monster weekend of ridiculous drinking and the luscious hangovers that surely follow.
"Of course they want you to believe they landed on the moon, it's just another cover up...like them fake ass Dinosaurs nigga!"

Friday, April 07, 2006

Albert: Women want him. Men want to be him.

Since it’s Friday and I stayed up waaaay too late last night watching the Nuggets-Lakers game, I’m not going to be writing with a tremendous amount of structure today. Seriously, who needs proper punctuation, paragraph construction and themes anyway? Not me.

Now you may be asking yourself why I stayed up to watch a fairly meaningless game featuring two teams that I have zero vested interest in, because I love the damned NBA that’s why. Thankfully, I was rewarded for my allegiance with a closely contested ballgame that ended on yet another game winning bucket from Carmelo Anthony. Say what you want about Carmelo, but that guy is clutch. He’s already amongst the top 5 big shot makers in the league, no question.

Speaking of the NBA, Darko’s former team is in Orlando tonight to take on his current team. You can be assured that I’ll be drinking, swearing, and yelling (in Serbian, no less) while proudly wearing my Free Darko t-shirt this evening.

Before I get to some of the more recent topics that I’ve been thinking about while I should be working, I figured that I ought to tie up the loose ends from Monday night that I didn’t include in my last post.

Monday Night Leftovers:

- Is there a cooler mascot than Albert the Alligator? (say the Stanford Tree and I’ll Tony Skinn you, I swear). Seriously, name me one other mascot that has his own girlfriend? As if that wasn’t enough, now he’s kicking that doucebag Steve Erwin’s ass in the halls of ESPN. Albert and Yannick Noah must kill at the strip clubs when they go out together.

- While watching the National Championship game, I started to wonder whether Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh were watching. Beyond that, I wondered how they felt about the events of the past year. I’m sure neither is too heartbroken over their current financial situations but you have to wonder if they have some regrets about their tenure in Gainesville.

By the way, I read a stat that summed up Roberson’s inadequacies as a point guard better than any type of description of his game ever could. Roberson dished out 77 assists all of last season. Each Gator starter during this past season accounted for at least 70 assists.

I don’t want anybody to misconstrue these thoughts as a hatchet job on either Walsh or Roberson. They were both terrific players at UF who did a great job of elevating the program during their three years in Gainesville. Christian Drejer, on the other hand, can die of ass cancer for all I care.

Speaking of ass cancer, I’d rather contract that than have to walk through life everyday looking like Lorenzo Mata. He’s probably the first UCLA basketball player in history to not reap the benefits of the “groupie love” that comes with the deity like status that accompanies a basketball scholarship in Westwood.

- I failed to mention the conclusion to my NCAA pool. I came in second place. Pretty good showing for me, and not nearly as vexing as it could’ve been for two reasons. The first reason is obvious, Florida won the National Title. The second reason is that my friend Sammy and I decided to split the profits while drunk on Saturday night. The way it would’ve worked out was this: UCLA beats Florida: I win. Florida beats UCLA: Sammy wins. Sammy is a Florida graduate like myself so I naturally assumed that he would ride it out and take his chances. Luckily for me, UCLA’s performance on Saturday night (as well as a healthy does of alcohol) scared Sammy into hedging his bets. He actually approached me about splitting the winnings. I couldn’t have agreed faster. Not only did I believe that Florida would win, but now I didn’t have to have the Gators lose in order to earn some scratch. Sweet. Sammy left me this message on Tuesday morning, “I should’ve let it ride…fuck”. Thank you Sammy, and thank you Jagermeister.

- I’ve commented on the hilarity that is Corey Brewer in this space many times. Luckily for me, the National Championship celebrations have given me a number of reasons to rejoice, here are two of them:

The total package: Defense, athleticism, and good looks.

- I know that a lot of people think that CBS’s “One Shining Moment” is cheesy and overdone because, well, it is. That being said, I’m a sucker for it. When I was young I used to tape every National Title game. I wouldn’t stop recording until after the end of OSM. Something about the song always made my house a little dusty. In recent years though, CBS began to really over do it and I stopped caring about the montage/song. Of course, after the Gators won on Monday night you’d have needed a loaded sawed-off shotgun to keep me from watching that montage. I have to say, I was quite pleased. Not only did CBs cut down on the cheesy effects, they also threw in audio clips of their announcers for some of the tournament’s biggest moments (Northwestern State, Paulino’s shot, etc.). I didn’t get goosebumps like when I was 12 but I did enjoy the hell out of it.

Now, back to some topics of more recent vintage:

- I love TNT’s “Inside the NBA”. It’s as good a studio show as there is in sports. Even if it wasn’t though, I’d still watch it just for Charles Barkley. Here’s what Barkely had to say after the induction of Dominque Wilkins into the Basketball Hall of Fame was announced, “I’m just glad Dominique got in this year. I don’t know how many points he averaged this year. He must have got a lot better this year. Apparently, he was really good this past year.”

- Though it’s kind of slid under the radar, Seton Hall made a really good hire in Manhattan’s Bobby Gonzalez. He has already proved that he can build a program (Manhattan had been awful since Fran Fraschilla left) and he has a ton of ties to high school coaches within NYC and the outlying areas. With that said, he probably won't be as succesful as Mike Davis will be at UAB. Davis is a whiny bama with very questionable skills, but the competition in Conference USA is so far below that in the Big East that it's going to take a near miracle for Bobby Gonzalez to reach the level of success at Seton Hall that it'll take for the mainstream media to acknowldege him for being the kind of coach and recruiter that he is.

- I 'd like to say that I've really been enjoying the live webcast of Amen Corner over the past two days. What the hell did people do at work before computers, work?

As for the Masters themselves, I normally watch rather impartially. It's a great event on a beautiful course that also happens to give us the gift of four consecutive days of hearing Jim Nantz whisper sweet nothings in our collective ears. That's enough for me, I don't need a rooting interest. That is, until I saw Phil Mickelson's sweet ass mullet earlier this week. Now that is a reason to pull for somebody. The only way that I'd root for anybody else is if Vijay Singh showed up with activator in his hair tomorrow morning.

-I like baseball, really I do. Sure, not as much as Jerry or the guys over at Misery Loves Company but that’s what happens when you worked for slave wages in baseball for a couple of years. Despite my harrowing experiences in baseball, I love attending games in person and have zero problem watching quasi meaningless early season games (much to my girlfriend's chagrin). However, I cannot, will not watch baseball highlights. There just something about watching a single to right field that doesn’t get my blood flowing (probably b/c I’m a commie). That being said, I am extremely excited about the return of Web Gems. That’s the only five minutes of Baseball Tonight that I ever watch on purpose. The more I think about this, the more convinced I am that this is more than likely due to my constant battle with the Mendoza line throughout the entirety of my Little League career.

- Who willingly drives a bright yellow Hummer? I mean, other than the Hamburglar.

- Finally, for any rap fans out there, allow me to recommend the latest album from Ghostface Killah, entitled Fishscale. 24 tracks long, (for those of you not familiar with hip-hop math, that means 18 songs and 6 skits) it’s his best effort in quite some time (probably since Supreme Clientele) and hasn’t left my car’s CD player in over a week. Not only is Ghostface the only Wu-Tang member who consistently churns out quality albums (or albums period, for that matter), he’s also about as ridiculous a rapper as any of us are ever likely to hear. There are a lot of abstract rappers out there (MF Doom, Aesop Rock, Del ) but there isn’t another rapper alive who can put out an album of this caliber while broaching subjects such as his alcoholic mother, fucking Catwoman, and getting his kid to beat up the rude 3 year old son of the lady (at least one of them) he’s currently banging. All of that, and it’s only $6.99. As the kids say, go out and cop that.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


I toyed with what to name this column as the game was ending late last night (though the night was far from over), but the only thing that seemed right was TEAM. It sounds cheesy, and its becomes cliché to a certain degree, but this Florida team was the absolute embodiment of that word. From day one they’ve played how every coach would hope they could get their team to play. The way so few coaches ever get their teams to play. To paraphrase Larry Brown, “They play the right way.” On offense, defense and everywhere in between. This Florida team had already sewn up the greatest season in school history before last night. Now, they’ve sewn up a place in history. There is so much that I want to mention today. Too much, actually. My mind is still racing with excitement, joy, relief and god only knows how many others emotions. This is as good a feeling as I’ve ever felt as a University of Florida fan/alumnus. I’m far from alone here. I must’ve made/received over a dozen phone calls from friends and former classmates last night. From Miami to San Francisco, we all screamed at each other and passed on congratulations like we had been the ones to lead Florida to the National Title. We hadn’t, but that didn’t stop us from soaking up every bit of euphoria. Every last one of us was overjoyed, almost in disbelief. The feeling was so good, that it almost saddens me to know that the feeling is going to subside just a little as the coming days begin to pass. I’ll attempt to keep that feeling alive with the purchase of memorabilia of all types (t-shirts, newspapers, DVDs). I’ve already done it, and I’ll continue to do it. My trip to Gainesville for the Orange & Blue game just got a lot more expensive. It’s funny to feel so overjoyed by an event that you had no impact on. I didn’t yet attend UF when the Gators captured the 1996 National Title. Sure the feeling was great then, but it pales in comparison to today. I feel a part of something special. It’s a feeling like few I’ve ever felt in all my life. It is AMAZING.

Game Notes:

- Further proof that Florida plays “the right way”: Of their 26 baskets last night, 21 of them were assisted. Florida also only committed six turnovers all night. Against a team that plays the type of defense that UCLA typically does, those numbers are unbelievably efficient.

- Corey Brewer’s defense was fantastic. Not only did he completely shut down Aaron Afflalo, he also managed to thwart at least four UCLA fastbreaks with his hustle and freakishly long arms. If there is a better defensive player in the nation, I’d like to meet him. By the way, I think Brewer is going to leaving early now. Just a feeling.

- Adrian Moss. I’m willing to bet that a number of people (see: Digger Phelps) could not have picked Moss out of a lineup before last night’s game. Can you blame them? Not really. Moss had only scored 10 points in UF’s last nine games. He picked a hell of a night to have his best game of the year. He won’t get nearly enough credit but, in my opinion, him and Brewer were the difference in the first half (and thus, the game). Moss allowed Donovan to keep Horford on the bench when he picked up his second foul without losing anything defensively or on the boards. He’s been the ultimate team player during his tenure at UF. He overcame injuries and team turmoil to become a leader for this young team. Nobody deserved a piece of the spotlight more.

- Another unsung guy in all of this is Larry Shyatt. The former Wyoming and Clemson coach will never get the amount of credit that he deserves for turning around the Florida program. He brought a new emphasis on toughness and defense when he joined Donovan’s staff two years ago. He recruited players who would fit the mentality that Donovan and he were attempting to instill within the UF program. When Shyatt joined Donovan’s staff, Florida was coming off a year that saw the Gators finish 11th in the SEC in defense as well as an embarrassing loss to Manhattan in the NCAA Tournament’s 1st Round. Two years later, the Gators our National Champions on the strength (at least partially) of their extraordinary defense. Shyatt deserves a lot of that credit for that, and another shot at a head coaching job.

- A lot of people are saying things like, “Florida was the best team in this tournament” of “Florida peaked at the right time”. While this is true, it seems as if many analysts are unwilling to call Florida the nation’s best team, which is a shame. I was struck by something my Dad said last night, that he would have loved to see the Gators take on UConn. The Huskies were universally regarded as the most talented team in the NCAA this year. Much of that was based on their extremely tall and talented frontline. However, when you compare the frontcourts of Florida and UConn, it becomes rather apparent that Florida, not UConn, was the team with the more loaded of the two frontcourts. Maybe I’m biased but I’ll take Noah and Horford over Boone and Armstrong any day. Beyond that, I’d gladly take Richard and Moss over Adrien and Nelson. Finally, while Rudy Gay is certainly more talented than Corey Brewer, there is absolutely no comparison between those two in terms of intensity, hustle and passion. In fact, the differences between Gay and Brewer are emblematic of the differences between Florida and UConn in general, and one of the main reasons why Florida is the National Champion this afternoon.

- Ben Howland is a hell of a coach, every bit as good as Billy Donovan. He’s won everywhere he’s been and seems to have a genuine affection for his players and UCLA. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t lead the Bruins to a National Title someday soon. With that said, I though he made a major mistake by double teaming Florida’s big men. Horford and Noah are the best passing big men in the NCAA. By double teaming them, you are playing to the strength of their games, both individually and as a tandem.

- How in the hell did Al Horford not make the All-Tourney team? While he was overshadowed by Noah (to a degree), there wasn’t a more dominant rebounder in the entire tournament.

- Did you see the throwback Gator t-shirt that Yannick Noah was wearing last night? How effin cool is that guy?

- I don’t have lot of negative things to say about Florida, but I will admit that this year’s team has to rank among the ugliest in recent college basketball history. Other than Horford, the entire starting five for UF is downright hideous. Brewer, Noah, Humphrey, Green are all great players and they’re also all as ugly as they are talented. Can you tell that I watched last night’s game with my girlfriend next to me on the couch?

- I don’t know if the NCAA tracks these things, but has there ever been a NCAA Title game with more dunks by one team? I doubt it.

- I made the comment a couple of months ago that highlight of Lee Humphrey’s career had come and gone during the SEC Tournament in his freshman year. That was when Humphrey hit a 15 footer from the corner to beat Alabama at the buzzer. Boy was I wrong. Not only did Humphrey play great basketball in this year’s SEC Tourney, he stepped his game up to a level never before seen during the Gators’ run through this year’s NCAA Tourney. Defensively, he routinely guarded (and shut down) more heralded and more athletic guards. He wasn’t flashy, just solid. Using his quickness to keep opposing guards out of the lane and frustrate them with his ability to stay in front of them. More importantly, Humphrey became the “x-factor” for the UF offense, especially during the last four games. Despite the fact that he’s a 45% three point shooter, I’d always considered Humphrey less than elite as an outside shooter. Not because he wasn’t a great shooter but more b/c I always felt that he didn’t deliver at the biggest moments. When one of his shots could swing the momentum or act as a backbreaker, he invariably misfired, or so it seemed to me. All of that changed this month. Humphrey hit big threes against Georgetown in the second half that kept Florida in the game. Once the Gators reached the Final Four, Humphrey elevated his game to yet another level. His shooting blew both games open in Indianapolis despite both George Mason and UCLA gameplanning against him. Humphrey could have easily been the MOP. In fact, if the award was just for the Final Four (like it used to be), you would be hard pressed to give it to anybody else. Not that it matters much to Humphrey. He played the best basketball of his life on the biggest stage of his life. Somebody buy that kid a new bike.

- My buddy Vitas brought up an interesting point last night. This may sound crazy, but there’s a real chance that Florida could’ve gone undefeated this year. Mind you, I’m not saying that it would’ve happened, just that it would’ve been interesting to see what the Gators’ final record would have been if Corey Brewer and Lee Humphrey had never been injured early in the SEC season. Both were major injuries that changed the dynamic of Florida’s team in a number of ways. I don’t have to tell you how instrumental both of these players are to Florida’s success. If you watched the Final Four then you saw it for yourself. However, it is worth mentioning that each of Florida’s six losses this season came while either Brewer or Humphrey (or both) were either sidelined or seriously hindered by injuries. One thing I’m pretty sure about, Florida wouldn’t have lost to South Carolina twice.

- When Taurean Green was being recruited by Billy Donovan there was an awful lot of criticism directed towards Donovan for failing to nab Darius Washington, the state player of the year and, like Green, a point guard. After the way that Donovan put the gameplan in Green’s hands last night (as well as the way that Green executed it), is there still anyone who questions that decision? If there is, I’d like to ask those people to go back and review the tapes of UCLA’s Regional Final against Memphis. You will never see a player score two points and have more impact on the outcome of a game than Green did last night.

- Nobody has to defend Billy Donovan’s ability to coach anymore. Truthfully, nobody should’ve had do that to begin with. For further proof, consider these numbers:

UF Basketball

Average wins per season: 11
NCAA Tournament Apperances: 5

Since Donovan:
Average wins per season: 21
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 8

Donovan’s record (prior to this year’s Tournament):
Overall: 204–104
@ Florida: 169–84
NCAA Tournament: 9-6

- Finally, Jeremy Foley deserves some praise for all his efforts to help build up the UF Basketball program. In his time at UF, Foley has molded the athletic department at Florida into one of the most prolific in the nation. One of his biggest moves (and risks) was the hiring of a Donovan when he was a young, relatively unproven coach at Marshall. Many athletic directors wouldn’t have taken a risk like that. Then again, not many athletic directors are in the same league as Foley. Florida owns a National Championship today because Jeremy Foley has the guts, the resources, and the vision that few in his line of work possess. He’s rebuilt the baseball and basketball programs, and has the football program on it’s way back. All the while elevating the entire athletic department to among the very elite in the entire nation.

Now, if you'll excuse the cheesiness, I have one last thing to say:


Monday, April 03, 2006

Holy Shit...

The University of Florida will be tipping off against UCLA for the National Championship in less than 8 hours. This is not news. There will be nothing here today that could be construed as "news". In fact, there's going to be precious little here today at all. It's not that I'm too busy to put something together. It's more of a combination of my extreme fatigue from a hellacious weekend of drinking (Is it possible to have a 72 hour hangover?) and my ridiculously childish superstitions. To put it simply, I'm afraid that any sort analysis that I write here will result in the exact opposite occuring this evening in the RCA Dome. For example, I have an irrational fear that a sentence like "Ryan Hollins is an awful free throw shooter" will backfire as Hollins goes 10-10 from the line tonight including sinking the clinching free throws with less than a seconds left in the game (by the way, you're the best at everything Ryan).

All of this may sound ridiculous to you, but it makes perfect sense in my strange, alcohol soaked brain. For these reasons (and many others) you'll receive no thoughts from me on tonight's matchup. If you think this ritual is pathetic and sad (it is), then you should see me during fall Saturdays. I promise that it gets much, much worse than this. Anyway, if this leaves you unsatisfied and you want to read hackneyed analysis of tonight's game, then make your way over to the Worldwide Leader's website and read the worthless trash that Pat Forde and Gene Wojciechowski knocked out in approximatley fifteen minutes (total, for the both of them) this morning.

I'll be back tomorrow (win or lose) with some thoughts on tonight's game. God, can't I take the rest of today off?