Lin drawing comparisons to the wrong Gator

By Malik Grady – OGGOA Columnist

A great deal of national attention has been paid to NBA phenom New York Knicks‘ point guard Jeremy Lin as of late; unfortunately much of it has consisted of the second-year player being compared to former Florida Gators now Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, who had a breakout season in his second year in the NFL.

And though Lin and Tebow do share a few parallels – mostly in the social realm – the less obvious and more interesting comparison is actually with another former Florida player – point guard Jason Williams. What Lin has done and continues to do night-in and night-out is without question on an exponentially greater level but there are historical, racial and other parallels to what happened when Williams burst on the scene.

WELCOME TO THE PARTY, PAL
* Feb. 6, 2012: In a season shortened by a lockout, Lin bursts onto the national scene at the age of 23 years and 167 days, posting 25 points in 36 minutes for the struggling New York Knicks, a team in need of a spark and plenty of victories.
* Feb. 5, 1999: Exactly 13 years earlier (minus a day) – after a bitter lockout and the second retirement of Michael Jordan sapped the NBA of fans and support – Williams, at the age of 23 years and 79 days, scores 21 points in 36 minutes for the Sacramento Kings, one of the worst teams in the league the year before.

A PLAY THAT WILL LIVE IN INFAMY
* Feb. 14, 2012: Lin’s game-winning shot against the Toronto Raptors is endlessly played on SportsCenter, furthering his breakout campaign.
* Feb. 17, 1999: Almost exactly 13 years earlier, Williams’s crossover of Gary Payton (video) in a win over the Seattle Supersonics is played on a loop on SportsCenter.

EARLY HYPE AND ADORATION
* The slightly offensive nickname “Yellow Mamba” pops up for Lin.
* The slightly racial nickname “White Chocolate” pops up for Williams (though it was started by a team staffer and embraced by Williams).
* Lin is prematurely compared to Steve Nash.
* Williams is prematurely compared to “Pistol” Pete Maravich.
* Lin’s No. 17 jersey (including counterfeit versions) cannot be printed fast enough to keep them in stock in the United States or China.
* Williams’s No. 55 jersey becomes one of the top five sellers nationally in the NBA.

Perhaps the most interesting parallel between Lin and Williams how their physical characteristics have played a role in their acceptance, popularity and backlash.

Any time there is something that is out of the ordinary or different, the curiosity factor becomes a compelling reason for people to pay attention. Whether a player is really tall (Shawn Bradley), really ugly (Shawn Kemp), really tall and ugly (Manute Bol) or has a certain characteristic that is stereotyped to be one thing and not another, he becomes particularly noteworthy to the masses.

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FOUR BITS: Tebow, softball, lacrosse, Speights

1 » Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow rarely takes much time off from football and is already continuing to work on his game this offseason. According to ESPNLosAngeles.com, which spoke with new UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone on Wednesday, Tebow has been in Southern California since last weekend working on his quarterbacking. “He just came out here to throw and work on a few things and see if we can just become a little more efficient in what he’s doing,” Mazzone said. “Throwing motion, footwork, everything I work on with all my quarterbacks.” Ensuring that while he helps Tebow he is simultaneously not going against Denver’s teachings, Mazzone (who has also worked with the former Heisman Trophy winner in each of the last two offseasons) expects to continue training with him for at least four more days if not longer. The goal is to work on Tebow’s passing efficiency as he completed less than 50 percent of his throws a year ago. “It’s kind of like a golfer who hit that bad drive,” he said of Tebow’s motion. “Every other guy in the foursome can tell you what you did wrong and all three opinions are different. We’re just going out and kind of going back to the basics and working on some fundamentals to try and become a little more efficient.”

2 » No. 1/3 Florida Gators softball (6-0) routed the Jacksonville Dolphins (2-4) in their home opener on Wednesday, run-ruling the visitors 10-2 in six innings. Freshman pitcher Lauren Haeger, starting for the first time in Gainesville, FL, struck out seven batters her a complete game four-hitter and did not allow a single earned run in her outing. Finding a power stroke early this season, junior designated hitter Kelsey Horton (2-3) hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the second for Florida’s first runs of the game and finished the contest with three RBIs. Junior first baseman Ensley Gammel (1-2, R, BB) added a two-RBI double in the fourth, junior catcher Brittany Schutte (2-3, RBI, 2 R, BB) continued her hot start from the plate, and sophomore shortstop Cheyenne Coyle (1-1, 2 BB) crossed the plate three times. UF will conclude their four-game home stand with a Friday-Sunday series against Michigan State.

3 » Also taking on Jacksonville in their home opener on Wednesday, No. 4 Gators lacrosse (1-1) toppled the Dolphins (0-1) with a 14-5 rout thanks to a pair of five-goal performances from freshman midfielder Nora Barry and junior attacker Gabi Wiegand. Barry, who also tied a school record with six draw controls, added three ground balls and four forced turnovers in the match. Junior M Brittany Dashiell had a goal and three assists and was the only other Florida player with more than two shots on the evening (three), while junior goalkeeper Mikey Meagher played strong in the box, tallying six saves while allowing just five goals. UF heads on the road Sunday to face UMBC in Baltimore, MD before returning to Gainesville for three-straight home games.

4 » Wednesday was a good night for two former Gators basketball players. Posting season-highs in minutes, points, rebounds and shooting (on more than five attempts), Memphis Grizzlies center Marreese Speights played 38 minutes and earned a double-double of 20 points (on 10-of-13 shooting) with 18 boards and two blocks. He led Memphis to a 105-100 win over New Jersey and has now performed very efficiently in three of his last four games. Over 1,500 miles away, forward Chandler Parsons and the Houston Rockets topped Oklahoma City 96-95 partially due to the former Florida player’s efforts. Parsons scored 14 points on 6-of-12 shooting and filled his stat line with seven rebounds, two assists and a pair of steals.

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FOUR BITS: Grant, Manuel, Henry, OL transfer

1 » The No. 12/14 Florida Gators pulled off a 61-52 win Tuesday night against the Alabama Crimson Tide mostly due to an explosive start to the second half in which Florida scored 16-straight points. Though the Gators were without two primary reserves in the game, the Crimson Tide had two starters indefinitely suspended, a move that head coach Anthony Grant felt he had to make. As Grant and Florida head coach Billy Donovan communicated both before and after the game, suspending players is a hard decision for a coach to make but usually a smart run because the long-term health if the team is much more important than shot-term gains. The Associated Press’ Jim Litke gave Grant kudos for his decision in this column on Wednesday.

For the price of a ticket Tuesday night in Tuscaloosa, you could see something rare in college sports anymore: a coach putting his foot down. […] Grant is doing exactly what the NCAA high-handedly promotes as its core mission – holding himself and his players accountable – but the selection committee isn’t about to cut him any slack for doing the right thing. Every loss still counts as a loss, never mind that it occurred because the coach volunteered to tie one hand behind his back. Grant gets that, too. He won’t change a thing because of it.

2 » Former Florida safety Marquand Manuel, an eight-year NFL who spent last year as an intern with the Gators, has been hired as the Seattle Seahawks’ new assistant special teams coach. A two-year starter for Seattle, Manuel also played in the Super Bowl with the Seahawks and is obviously hoping to begin his climb up the coaching ladder with this move.

3 » Former Florida forward Aneika Henry was signed to a training camp contract on Monday by the Atlanta Dream of the WNBA. Currently playing in Poland and ranking fifth in the EuroLeague in rebounding and eighth in double-doubles (averaging 13.6 points and 9.1 boards per game), Henry spent two years with the Gators and tallied 110 blocks while shooting 53.7 percent from the field. Should she be added to the squad for the regular season, Henry will be just the second former Florida player currently playing in the league, joining DeLisha Milton-Jones of the Los Angeles Sparks.

4 » As they did a year ago, the Gators are hoping that an experienced offensive lineman will decide to transfer to Florida and boost the team’s unit. In fact, UF is currently pursuing a pair of players looking to continue their careers at a different school. The Gators are one of a number of top teams going after three-star JUCO guard Fehoko Fanaika (San Mateo, CA), who visited the school recently and has also received offers from Georgia and LSU. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Florida is also interested in Maryland transfer three-star tackle Max Garcia (Norcorss, GA), who is leaving the program but restricted from transferring to any ACC school, Connecticut, Temple, Vanderbilt or West Virginia. Unlike Fanaika, Garcia would be forced to redshirt the 2012 season before joining any team in 2013. A Georgia native, it is believed that he would strongly consider playing close to home if he gets an offer from UGA.

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No. 12 Florida starts slow, powers past Alabama

Looking to rebound from consecutive losses and fight for a road victory despite being down two primary reserves, the No. 12/14 Florida Gators (20-6, 8-3 SEC) reached 20 wins for the 14th consecutive season with a 61-52 defeat of the Alabama Crimson Tide (16-9, 5-6 SEC) at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, AL on Valentine’s Day.

It was a tale of two halves for Florida and Alabama on Tuesday night.

The Gators shot just 30.8 percent from the field and 25 percent (3-of-12) from three in the first half but turned things around in the latter portion of the game, hitting 50 percent of their field goals and 33.3 percent of their treys in the second half. Conversely, the Crimson Tide shot 58.8 percent from the floor and 60 percent from beyond the arc to start but made just 28.6 percent and nine percent (1-of-11) of their attempts, respectively, in the final 20 minutes.

Both teams opened the game playing sloppily with badly missed baskets and an abundance of turnovers. However, Alabama got things under control first and used a 9-0 run (along with a 5:36 scoring drought for Florida) to take a 20-16 lead in the first half. The Gators answered by outscoring the Crimson Tide 10-6 on the way to the halftime buzzer with a three-pointer by junior forward Erik Murphy tying the contest at 26.

Florida came out of the break with an explosive scoring barrage as the Gators netted 16-straight points as part of a 19-0 run dating back to 1:34 remaining in the first half. Alabama scored just two points in the first nine minutes of the second half with the Crimson Tide starting 0-for-10 from the field.

Picking up his fourth foul with 10:18 left in the game, Florida sophomore center Patric Young was forced to take a seat even though he was leading the Gators with 19 points on 9-of-12 shooting at the time. Alabama scored four quick points and got the home crowd energized by attacking the paint, but the Crimson Tide was soon silenced by Murphy’s fourth trey of the contest.

Alabama did not get within double digits of Florida again until the final 30 seconds as the Gators maintained their energy level and gutted out a much-needed road victory.

Florida got its biggest advantage in the turnover margin, forcing 18 Alabama miscues and converting those additional possessions into 24 points. The Gators outscored the Crimson Tide 26-22 in the paint but were outscored 0-32 off the bench.

UF did, however, have 13 assists on 21 made baskets including seven from senior point guard Erving Walker, who passed Ronnie Montgomery for No. 1 all-time on Florida’s career assists list (505).

Complimenting Young’s solid game in the paint, Murphy and freshman guard Bradley Beal each scored 14 points for the Gators with the youngster adding a team-high eight rebounds and three dimes to his total. Murphy was an outstanding 4-of-8 from downtown and grabbed five boards of his own.

Guard Andrew Steele, one of two Alabama players returning from suspension on the decision of head coach Anthony Grant, led the Crimson Tide with 11 points while bringing down five rebounds and dishing three assists on the evening.

Both teams were without a pair of important players for Tuesday’s game. Florida had sophomore F Will Yeguete (concussion) and redshirt junior G Mike Rosario (hip pointer) sidelined with injures, while Alabama F JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell – the team’s top two scorers and rebounders – were out on indefinite suspension.

The Gators will look to continue their winning ways Saturday when they travel to Arkansas for their second of four road contests in the next five games. The two teams will tip off at 6 p.m. live on ESPN2.

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Florida’s Nike Sportswear Basketball apparel set

Nike has released a brand new apparel set as part of the Nike Sportswear Basketball line for the Florida Gators as well as five of the other seven men’s teams that received Hyper Elite Platinum uniforms from the company (with he exception of North Carolina, which is being replaced by Michigan State).

Courtesy of NikeBlog.com, you can take a look at pictures of the “vintage-style” Florida apparel including an AW77 hoodie, crew sweatshirt, T-shirt, destroyer jacket and camouflage hat…all available after the jump (click below).

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Florida looking to gain momentum at Alabama

Coming off a pair of tough losses to the concensus No. 1 team in the country Kentucky and an underrated Tennessee team, the newly-minted No. 12/14 Florida Gators are looking to right the ship on Tuesday when they take on the Alabama Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa, AL. With both squads facing a number of questions heading into the contest, Florida head coach Billy Donovan and Alabama head coach Anthony Grant met with the media Monday to discuss their programs and the upcoming game.

INJURIES, SUSPENSIONS RAVAGING LINEUPS

The Gators and Crimson Tide will each be without two players for Tuesday’s game though their absences will occur for vastly different reasons. Florida sophomore forward Will Yeguete (concussion) and redshirt junior guard Mike Rosario (hip pointer) will miss the game with injuries, while Alabama Fs JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell are out of action due to suspension.

UF and UA will also get some players back for the showdown. Redshirt freshman F Cody Larson (illness) returns at less than 100 percent for the Gators, while the Crimson tide will welcome back Gs Trevor Releford and Andrew Steele from two more suspensions handed down by Grant.

The losses will severely hurt both teams. Florida loses their best defender and rebounder in Yeguete as well as a solid bench scorer in Rosario, and Alabama will be without their top two leaders in scoring and rebounding as the duo of Green and Mitchell average a combined 27.2 points and 14.2 boards per game.

Additionally information and thoughts from the coaches on the injuries and suspensions are available in the “notes and quotes” section at the end of this post.”

FRONTCOURT SITUATION “DIRE” FOR FLORIDA

With Yeguete injured and out indefinitely, sophomore center Patric Young regressing and junior F Erik Murphy not necessarily a true post player, Donovan agreed with a reporter’s assessment that the Gators’ backcourt is in need of major help.

“We’re going to have to do some different things both offensively and defensively,” he said. “Certainly going into Alabama without Will being there, there’s a tremendous void there for us defensively at the basket. Alabama […] is a very big, enormous team up front. Patric certainly logged way too many minutes in the Tennessee game, he played 36. We’re going to have to look at playing smaller at certain times.

“We may have to look at playing Patric and Murphy together some, not together some. We’re probably going to have to look at moving Casey Prather a little bit more toward the power forward spot. Our presence at the basket both offensively and defensively is hurt there with Will [out of action] because I think Will has proven at least through this first part of the SEC and some of the higher level competition that we’ve played … even though he may not be 6’10”, he still is a problem out there defensively. He can hold his own around the basket.”

HISTORY AND STREAKS

» Alabama leads the all-time series against Florida 73-58 though the Gators have a 15-5 winning advantage against the Crimson Tide since Donovan took over UF’s program. Donovan is 2-0 against Grant since his former assistant took the UA job.
» All five of Florida’s normal starters are averaging double figures in scoring.
» The Gators have made 10+ three-pointers in 17 of 25 games this year, a season-high mark under Donovan.
» Florida has made a three in 676 consecutive games dating back to Jan. 1992.
» The Gators are 284-38 since 1988-89 when holding opponents under 70 points.
» Florida is one victory away from winning 20+ games for the 14th consecutive season, which is currently the longest active streak in the SEC and fifth-longest nationally.

WALKER CLIMBING UP ALL-TIME LISTS

Senior point guard Erving Walker is steadily making his way up a number of Florida’s career lists. Below are some of the marks he is about to pass in UF’s record books.

» Assists: Walker (498) can move into No. 1 all-time with six dimes, passing Ronnie Montgomery (503).
» Minutes: Walker (3,966) moved into No. 2 all-time in time on the court, passing Chandler Parsons (3,964) on Saturday.
» Three-pointers made: Walker (265) can move into No. 3 all-time with three treys, passing Anthony Roberson (267).
» Scoring: Walker (1,629) can move into No. 4 all-time with 49 points, passing Stacey Poole (1,678).
» Free throws made: Walker (400) can move into No. 7 all-time with 12 makes from the charity stripe, passing Dan Cross (411).
» Free throws attempted: Walker (507) can move into No. 9 all-time with eight foul shots, passing David Lee (514).
» Walker is near the top 10 all-time in games started (three away) and steals (six away).

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Donovan does not know when Yeguete will be back and cautioned that he could be out for a while after only passing two of five required concussion tests as conducted by team doctors. “I’m concerned enough,” he said of Yeguete’s second concussion (Ohio State) this season. “There’s protocol that the trainer and the medical staff have to go through as it relates to conclusions. […] The concussion issues right now because of football have been addressed at certainly a very heightened level. There is this protocol we have to go through regardless of how Will is feeling. […] I don’t think he’s having any symptoms where he’s sick or dizzy all the time. He feels OK, but he’s not passing these tests. […] He’s way off from there right now. He’s way off. Will’s a tough kid. If it was up to him, he would probably want to go play, but we can’t risk his health and those things.”

» The single Florida player likely to benefit the most from Yeguete’s absence is Prather, who will see much more time on the court. Donovan badly wants for Prather to succeed but believes some of his failings are from over thinking and not just going out and playing basketball. “He has never ever once – and I’ve got unbelievable respect for him – he’s never had a bad attitude,” he said. “He comes to practice every day and works. He puts extra time in. he deserves to play well. He’s another guy where he wants to do so well so bad that sometimes he can go in with preconceived notions of how he’s going to play. […] He’s got to go in and play the game and read what’s going on. He’s got to get better at reading situations and not getting so bogged down mentally at wanting to do so well.”

» Grant is supremely disappointed in his players and believes he should not have to deal with behavioral issues like the ones he suspended them for (but would not disclose) at this point in their careers. However, he takes full responsibility for their failings and hopes his team can use these mistakes as a learning experience going forward. “The main thing right now is for our guys to understand the importance of making good decisions and understanding the consequences when you make poor decisions and then moving on and growing from there and learning from that,” he said. “I’m the leader. It’s my team. I certainly feel like I’ve got responsibility to them as individuals, to their families, to our program, to this university. Obviously it’s difficult when you have to call your bosses and let them know the situation like that and obviously the impact that has on the image of our program and the image of this university. That’s my responsibility as a coach to make sure those things are limited or prevented as much as possible.”

» Donovan understands what Grant is going through and fully supports his friend and colleague with the idea that sometimes tough decisions and sacrifices have to be made in the short term for major long term gains to occur. “The one thing I do know is I know Anthony Grant about as well as anybody. He is a guy that has got incredible integrity and character and knows exactly the way he wants his program run, what he’s going to do,” he said. “I really believe that in order to win big you got to be prepared to lose big. Anthony’s attitude is that he’s not going to be the kind for guy who is going to plug holes in a leaking ship. He’s not going to plug it because eventually that stuff – at some point – is going to rear its head and it’s going to bite you at some point. There’s a certain way Anthony wants to go about his team playing, what they want to do every single day in practice, how they want to conduct themselves. The easiest thing I think a lot of times in coaching is to look the other way. But I don’t think your team can fully maximize its fullest potential until you as a coach are prepared to lose big. By Anthony doing that, I think he showed his team that he’s prepared to lose big because he wants to win big and there’s a certain way you have to go about winning big and these things that are going on are not going to help us win big.”

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Gators fall but still standing in top 25 rankings

The 14th editions of the 2011-12 regular season USA Today/ESPN and Associated Press Top 25 Polls were released on Monday, and the Kentucky Wildcats (23-1, 9-0 SEC) held on to the No. 1 spot in both rankings, receiving the vast majority of votes as the top team in the country.

The Florida Gators fell in the rankings after reentering the top 10 one week ago for the first time since Dec. 26, 2011. Florida dropped to No. 12 and No. 14 in the respective polls on the heels of consecutive losses to Kentucky (78-58) on the road Tuesday evening and Tennessee (75-70) at home on Saturday afternoon. The Gators are one of three/two Southeastern Conference teams listed in the rankings.

WeekGator BaitRecordAP Top 25USA TodayNCAA RPI
Preseason--No. 7 (1,153)No. 7 (568)-
2W 68-45 vs. William & Mary1-0No. 8 (1,127)No. 7 (560)-
3L 69-67 vs. Miami
W(OT) 61-56 vs. ULM
2-1No. 18 (467)No. 16 (303)-
4L(OT) 65-66 vs. Georgetown
W 56-47 vs. UAB
L 64-75 vs. North Carolina
3-3NR (40)No. 24 (60)-

USA TODAY/ESPN COACHES POLL
This Week 1-5: Kentucky (31), Syracuse, Missouri, Duke, Kansas
6-10: Ohio State, North Carolina, Michigan State, Georgetown, Baylor
11-15: UNLV, Florida, Marquette, Murray State, San Diego State
16-20: St. Mary’s, Wisconsin, Louisville, Michigan, Indiana
21-25: Florida State, Virginia, Mississippi State, Gonzaga, Notre Dame

Last Week 1-5: Kentucky (31), Syracuse, Ohio State, Missouri, North Carolina
6-10: Baylor, Florida/Murray State, Duke, Kansas
11-15: Georgetown, Michigan State, St. Mary’s, San Diego State, Creighton
16-20: UNLV, Florida State, Mississippi State, Marquette, Virginia
21-25: Harvard, Wisconsin, Indiana/Louisville, Michigan

ASSOCIATED PRESS TOP 25 POLL
This Week 1-5: Kentucky (63), Syracuse (2), Missouri, Kansas, Duke
6-10: Ohio State, Michigan State, North Carolina, Baylor, Georgetown
11-15: UNLV, Marquette, San Diego State, Florida, Wisconsin
16-20: Murray State, Michigan, Indiana, Louisville, Florida State
21-25: St. Mary’s, Virginia, Notre Dame, Gonzaga/Wichita State

Last Week 1-5: Kentucky (63), Syracuse (2), Ohio State, Missouri, North Carolina
6-10: Baylor, Kansas, Florida, Murray State, Duke
11-15: Michigan State, Georgetown, San Diego State, UNLV, Florida State
16-20: St. Mary’s, Creighton, Marquette, Virginia, Mississippi State
21-25: Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Louisville, Harvard

*Numbers in parenthesis represent first-place votes.

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Florida, Alabama to be shorthanded on Tuesday

With both teams looking to rebound from tough losses, the No. 7/8 Florida Gators and Alabama Crimson Tide are set to square off Tuesday night in Tuscaloosa, AL though it appears as if neither team will go into the game at full strength.

Florida announced Sunday evening that sophomore forward Will Yeguete (concussion) and redshirt junior guard Mike Rosario (hip pointer) will both miss Tuesday’s tilt.

Yeguete, who banged his head into the stanchion underneath the basket while going up for a block against Tennessee on Saturday, received 8-10 stitches for a cut above his eye and failed concussion tests in the locker room. He was unconscious on the court and later diagnosed with his second concussion this season (at Ohio State).

Unlike Yeguete, Rosario did not even participate in Saturday’s contest after suffering a hip pointer during practice last week. The Gators were also without redshirt freshman F Cody Larson (illness) against Tennessee, but he will be healthy enough to travel with the team and come off the bench against the Crimson Tide.

Though Yeguete and Rosario are both bench players for Florida, the former has earned spot starts and extensive playing time in the front court while the latter has been a scoring spark for the Gators all season long. Yeguete is averaging 4.5 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game in 22.0 minutes, while Rosario scores 7.9 points and shooting 38.0 percent from downtown in 16.0 minutes per game on average.

Alabama is even worse off than their upcoming opponent with up to four players set to miss the game due to suspension. Crimson Tide head coach Anthony Grant suspended starting F Tony Mitchell indefinitely on Monday for “conduct detrimental to the team” that occurred over a period of time.

He followed that up by ruling Saturday that three more Alabama players – F JaMychal Green, G Trevor Releford and G Andrew Steele – would also be suspended indefinitely for violations of team rules.

“We are extremely disappointed in the choices and decisions made by these young men that has led to this suspension,” Grant said in a statement released by the school. “Talent is a gift, but character is a choice. The consequences of their choices have negatively impacted them as individuals and the people that love and support them. Our hope is that they will be mature enough to accept responsibility for their actions and place a higher value on their character.”

Greene, the Crimson Tide’s scoring and rebounding leader with 14.1 points and 7.2 boards per game, is the most impactful of the four suspensions though all will undoubtedly affect the team’s ability to perform at a high level going forward.

Florida and Alabama tip off at 7 p.m. on Tuesday live on ESPN.

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