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Archive for Monday, April 2, 2007

Commentary: Florida sitting on history’s doorstep

Players may not know it, but the Gators are close to leaving a glowing legacy in college hoops history

April 2, 2007

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— For most of the Florida players, college basketball history started in 1994, which may be why they had so much trouble when they were asked to identify the best college team of all time.

The John Wooden era and the 10 national championships he won at UCLA are basically prehistoric, as were the great unbeaten Indiana team of 1976, the 1979 Magic Johnson Michigan State team and the 1984 Georgetown team with Patrick Ewing.

"That's a tough one, man," junior forward Corey Brewer said. "Got to think about it. When did Kentucky win the championship, '96? Yeah, the 1996 Kentucky team with my guy Ron Mercer from Tennessee."

"I'm going to go with, I don't know what year it was, but the Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison team at North Carolina," junior guard Taurean Green offered, not realizing that that 1997 team lost to Arizona in the national semifinals.

"I'll go with the whichever UCLA team won the 88 games in a row," senior guard Lee Humphrey said. "I don't know. That's a lot of games to win. That's why I'm going with them."

"I lived in France for a long time, so I don't really know too much about history and stuff," junior center Joakim Noah said.

We bring this up because the Gators are on the doorstep of history. If they defeat Ohio State on Monday night at the Georgia Dome to win a second straight national championship, they will draw comparisons to some of the great teams in the post-UCLA dynasty era - and that certainly includes the 1991-92 Duke teams, the last to win back-to-back titles.

That '92 team had three great college players - Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill - and a Hall of Fame coach, Mike Krzyzewski. This Florida team is just as experienced and skilled and has more interchangeable parts, not to mention at least four future pros in the starting lineup.

And it has Billy Donovan, the Rick Pitino disciple who finally is getting the credit he deserves for motivating a veteran team to play at the same high level it did last March.

Donovan has had to live with his players being asked all season about repeating as champs.

"At least 86,344 times," junior forward Al Horford said.

But they have remained focused in the postseason, methodically taking out UCLA, 76-66, in the semifinals when they buried the Bruins under a barrage of threes-pointers from Brewer and Humphrey after Bruins coach Ben Howland chose to double-team their big men any time they touched the ball in the post.

Tonight likely will be the swan song for Noah, Horford and Brewer, but Donovan has recruited the type of class that can keep the Gators in the clouds, signing 6-4 guard Pat Calethes, a McDonald's All-American from Lake Howell in Winter Park, Fla.; and 6-8 Alex Tyus, a top-five fifth-year senior from Cincinnati's Harmony Christian.

They are right there with 6-9 Patrick Patterson from Huntington, W. Va.

Who says history has to stop in 2007?

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