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.
- 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.
Average wins per season: 11
NCAA Tournament Apperances: 5
Average wins per season: 21
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 8
Donovan’s record (prior to this year’s Tournament):
@ 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:
IT’S GREAT TO BE A FLORIDA GATOR…I SAID IT’S GREAT TO BE A FLORIDA GATOR!!!