Al Horford cleared for contact, hopes to return

On the shelf since early January after tearing his left pectoral muscle, Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford said Friday that it is “realistic” to believe that he would be able to return to the team before the NBA Playoffs begin in May.

“I’m feeling better and better each week, which is very positive,” he told OGGOA in an exclusive interview on Friday. “I’m spending all my time in rehab doing a lot of stretches to get my range of motion better. It’s realistic that I could be back for the playoffs.

“It’s all about for me getting back that conditioning and the basketball part of it and getting comfortable playing again. That’s the biggest thing. In a normal season you would have time to prepare, start practicing and get ready for a game. When I go and play, I’m actually going to have to go in and actually play. I’m not going to have any time to practice or anything. I’m remaining positive and hoping that I can come back for the playoffs.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Tuesday that Horford has now taken a major step toward that goal after being cleared by the team’s medical staff to participate in contract drills.

The torn pectoral is the first major injury that Horford has suffered in his career. Despite being unable to help his team in games or during practice, he told OGGOA that he has found a way to turn a big negative into something of a positive for him going forward.

“I definitely think about that a lot,” he said. “I just have taken this time and looked at it in a positive way. My whole thing is that I want to be able to come back from this better than I was before. I feel like I’m able to appreciate the game a little more.

“Being off of the court, my whole thing was to really focus in on myself and get better and grow as a player. That’s where I’ve put my energy and my efforts towards, and that’s why I feel pretty good where I’m at now. I can honestly tell you that I never felt depressed or down for not being with the team or not playing. I feel like I just put all this into perspective and tried to make a positive from it and just improve as a player.”

Currently the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference, Atlanta is set to face No. 4 seed Boston in first-round action. Both teams have five games left to play in the regular season so their seedings and opponents could change in the next nine days.

Donovan named head coach of USA Basketball

Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan has been selected to lead USA Basketball during the 2012 FIBA Americas U18 Championship from June 16-20 in Brazil.

Donovan, a court coach during the 2011 USA Basketball Men’s U19 National Team Training Camp last summer, will represent his country as a head coach in international competition for the first time in his career. He chose Virginia Commonwealth head coach Shaka Smart (a former Florida assistant) and Gonzaga head coach Mark Few as assistants for his coaching staff.

“It’s always an honor to be selected to represent your country, and I’m incredibly thankful for this opportunity to be a part of USA Basketball,” he said in a statement released by the school. “I have great respect for Shaka Smart and Mark Few, and I’m looking forward to working alongside them.”

Donovan will begin coaching the team on June 5 in Colorado as training camp opens before narrowing the roster down to 12 prior to getting on a plane for Brazil.

It will be interesting to see if any of the Gators’ 2012 commitments join USA Basketball for training camp or make final cuts for the team.

Florida sophomores center Patric Young and point guard Scottie Wilbekin tried out for the U19 team in 2011 though only Young made the final cut.

The United States will go up against seven other teams (Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Columbia, Mexico, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands) in an attempt to win the tournament and qualify for the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship in June of next year. Donovan is not guaranteed to be the head coach of that team should USA Basketball advance.

Seven Gators placed in first ESPNU 150 for 2013

Released Tuesday afternoon, the first ESPNU 150 for the class of 2013 is filled with players verbally committed to play for the Florida Gators next season. Though four Florida commits are part of the top 50 players in the group, three more are listed among the top 150 recruits in the nation.

Below is a breakdown of where the Gators’ commits are ranked:

18 – DT Caleb Brantley (Crescent City, FL)
* No. 4 defensive tackle in the nation.
22 – RB Kelvin Taylor (Belle Glade, FL)
* No. 1 running back in the nation.
38 – LB Daniel McMillian (Jacksonville, FL)
* No. 3 linebacker in the nation.
44 – WR Ahmad Fulwood (Jacksonville, FL)
* No. 6 wide receiver in the nation.
58 – DB Nick Washington (Jacksonville, FL)
* No. 4 safety in the nation.
64 – DB Keanu Neal (Bushnell, FL)
* No. 7 safety in the nation.
109 – LB Quinton Powell (Daytona Beach, FL)
* No. 10 linebacker in the nation.

Florida’s 2013 commitments as of April 17, 2012:
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FOUR Tebow BITS: Jets, Miller, video, ratings

1 » If one thing is certain in regards to quarterback Tim Tebow’s role with the New York Jets this season it is that he will not often be standing on the sideline with his helmet off. According to ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio, the Jets plan to use Tebow at a variety of positions during games including quarterback, running back, H-back, fullback and even as the “personal protector” on the punt team. Left guard Matt Slauson even told ESPNNewYork.com that it appears to him as if New York has created a clear set division in the offense. “It’s like we’re going to be two separate teams, but as far as I know, Mark [Sanchez] is still going to be our guy,” he said. The decision to play Tebow at so many positions could prove to be either a positive or major negative for the Jets. Though Tebow is willing and able to take hits, he has done so under certain circumstances knowing they were coming. Potentially putting him on special teams or having him run a route for a pass will open up New York’s backup quarterback to a bevy of additional opportunities for injury that most players at his position do not experience.

2 » Though some of his teammates may not have been 100 percent behind him, one Denver Broncos player who continues to have Tebow’s back is linebacker Von Miller. One of Tebow’s staunchest supporters, Miller told NFL Network that he expects his friend to win the starting job in New York. “I think it’s a mistake if you think he’s just going to come in and be a Wildcat quarterback,” he said. “I think that he’s going to compete for the starting position. The Tim Tebow that I know, he’s going to come in every day, he’s going to work hard, he’s going to be consistent. And who knows? He might end up the No. 1 quarterback for the Jets at the end of the season.” He also said that he is “unhappy” Denver got rid of Tebow just because they signed Peyton Manning as a free agent. “I think he’s a better quarterback than people give him credit for,” Miller added.

Continue Reading » FOUR Tebow BITS: Jets, Miller, video, ratings

FOUR BITS: Pitino, Brown, SEC awards, Tebow

1 » Former Florida Gators basketball assistant Richard Pitino was named the new head coach for the Florida International Golden Panthers on Monday, signing a five-year, $1.25 million contract. At 29 years old, Pitino becomes one of the youngest head coaches in the country but properly noted that does not mean he is incapable of being successful in his new job. “People say I’m young, but I tell them I may be young, but I’m not inexperienced,” he said. “It may not always be pretty. It may not always be easy. But we’re going to get it done.” Pitino last worked under head coach Billy Donovan two seasons ago, leaving Florida before the 2011-12 campaign to work for his father in Louisville. “It is great to have Richard back in the state of Florida,” Donovan said in a school release. “FIU has hired a tireless worker and an excellent recruiter to build their program. I’m excited for Richard and I’m excited for FIU.” Pitino is the seventh assistant to work under Donovan and eventually be named a head coach joining Anthony Grant (Alabama), Donnie Jones (Central Florida), John Pelphrey (formerly at Arkansas), Lewis Preston (Kennesaw State), Larry Shyatt (Wyoming) and Shaka Smart (VCU).

Pitino on Donovan:: “Working for Billy Donovan was one of the greatest things I could have done. I was an assistant under my father and I really didn’t want to leave home, but Billy reached out to him. When I worked for Billy I learned so much because he wasn’t my father. They have a lot of similarities, but they are really not [the same]. They have completely different approaches on how to do things. For me to work for Billy, who has three Final Fours, and my dad, who has six Final Fours, that’s a combined nine Final Fours and three NCAA Championships. For me to be able to learn under those two guys, I’m the luckiest man in the world.”

2 » One of four players to file a lawsuit against the NFL this week, former Gators offensive tackle Lomas Brown claims – citing the recent bounty scandal surrounding New Orleans – that the league did not properly protect its players from concussions. According to the Associated Press, Brown and the three other players “do not claim in their lawsuit to be victims of [Gregg] Williams’s bounty system but cite it as the latest example of a culture that has left former players with debilitating conditions.”

3 » A pair of current Florida student-athletes – juniors tennis player Lauren Embree and left-handed pitcher/first baseman Brian Johnson – picked up SEC Player of the Week awards from the conference on Monday. The Gators baseball program also got another piece of good news as they regained their No. 1 national ranking in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Top 25 Poll while receiving nine-of-31 first-place votes.

4 » The Tim Tebow news cycle has not slowed down now that he is no longer in Denver. The latest New York Jets quarterback received a big donation for his charity over the weekend as a married couple pledged $100,000 just to spend a day with him. The auction took place at the Tim Tebow Foundation Celebrity Golf Classic, and Tebow himself was extremely touched at both the bid and donation. “It was very humbling, and you don’t necessarily feel worthy,” he said. “That day I feel like I’ve got to do a few extra things to be special, you know? I’ve got to try to be a little bit better.” Tebow was also the subject of a recent look-a-like contest held by the Double-A Jacksonville Sun. The winner was a Jacksonville, FL high school student named Jacob Carter who said that his grandmother suggested he participate in the event.

Gator Bites for Monday, April 16

From time to time, OGGOA will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share – too much to fit into one of our truncated BITS segments. In these instances, or when stories fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah continues to play a major role for his team, posting a line of 20 points and 17 rebounds (13 offensive) on Sunday night to help lead Chicago past Detroit in overtime. Noah now has 21 double-doubles on the season though that was his first in the month of April.

» Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford told OGGOA on Friday that it is “realistic” to believe that he will be able to return to his team for the playoffs after tearing his pectoral early in the season. Horford, who has missed almost the entire shortened season, said he doubts he will be at 100 percent when the playoffs begin because he will not have the proper time to practice and condition. However, he hopes to be able to contribute in some way and help his team win.

» Unlike Horford, Golden State Warriors F/C David Lee will not see a basketball court again this year. Lee, whose Warriors are out of the playoffs and vying for a better draft slot, will be benched for the remainder of the season after injuring his groin last week. He was already dealing with a hip injury and will be rested mostly for precautionary reasons. Lee averaged nearly a double-double this season, posting totals of 20.1 points and 9.6 boards per game.

» Julie Quittner of Gainesville Television Network sent over a copy of her interview with former Florida Gators running back Chris Rainey that aired on Friday. In the piece, Quittner asks Rainey directly about the allegations made recently in a Sporting News column about former Florida head coach Urban Meyer. Below are a few standout questions/answers from the interview:

Did you see the incident when Billy Gonzales was apparently choked by Percy Harvin at practice and apparently he wasn’t disciplined for it? Is that a situation where maybe guys like that got away with certain things?
Rainey: “I heard that story from players; I ain’t never saw it and just like I said, players like that…certain players even the coaches are scared of and there are certain players that the players were scared of but you can’t just answer a question like that because they’re good in sports and you just can’t do nothing about it.

What do you mean by scared?
Rainey: “Scared, like a player if you’re scared of another player…just like that. Coaches can be scared of players.”

What do you have to say to the fact that [safety Bryan Thomas] said at one point that the program got “out of control”?
Rainey: “It wasn’t ever ‘out of control’ they just were scared of certain players and when the younger guys can’t do nothing but watch and see, you’re scared for your life too, so you just got to be quiet because if you say the wrong thing, you might get beat up from him or get in trouble by a coach.”

Do you remember incidents here that happened with [those elite players] specifically that you can remember them getting special treatment or something being covered up for them?
Rainey: “I don’t remember everything being covered up, but I just know a lot of stuff that happened through my college career…like you see people doing bad stuff off the field, fights, getting in trouble in school, whatever it is but if they made it to the NFL, they made it. It’s too late now.”

Continue Reading » Gator Bites for Monday, April 16

Florida student dies after jumping from stadium

University of Florida student Michael Richard Edmonds, Jr. is believed by police to have jumped to his death Sunday evening after climbing a stairwell on the west side of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and leaping off.

A member of Florida’s cycling club while studying journalism at UF, Edmonds was able to gain access to the stadium due to the school’s policy of leaving it open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Four separate gates are open during weekdays but only Gate 2 is made available for entry on weekends.

“At this point, we don’t have anything to suggest foul play,” University Police Department Major Brad Barber told The Gainesville Sun. “If in fact it is determined that this is a suicide, the tragedy speaks for itself.”

According to the paper, Edmonds was arrested for driving under the influence on Saturday but was released after posting bond. He was also recently in the news in late February for getting hit by an automobile while riding his bike on Williston Road. Edmonds had “serious injuries” at the time but was in “fair condition” while in the hospital.

OGGOA sends our deepest condolences to the Edmonds family.

Looking out for friends and loved ones is an important part of preventing unnecessary suicide. Should you know anyone in need of assistance or feel that you yourself need someone to speak with, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline any time of the day at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.

Suicide is believed to be the second leading cause of death among college aged students. The University of Florida’s Counseling and Wellness Center (352-392-1575) and Alachua County Crisis Center (352-264-6789) are both available to help you should you live in and around Gainesville, FL.

Gators center Dwayne Schintzius dead at 43

Former Florida Gators center Dwayne Schintzius has passed away after an extensive battle with a rare form of leukemia. He was 43 years old.

The Tampa Tribune reported Sunday evening that Schintzius passed away from respiratory failure while surrounded by family Sunday afternoon at the Moffitt Cancer Center.

He received a bone marrow transplant on Jan. 12, 2010 from his brother Travis, and his father told the Tribune on March 3 that doctors were “very optimistic” he would make a full recovery after declaring him “leukemia-free.” Schintzius declared himself cancer-free in July of that year and said that his extensive fight for survival gave him a new perspective on life.

“There was a time when I just fell on my bed and cried and said, ‘Why me? What have I done to deserve leukemia?’” he said at the time. “But then it became, ‘OK, time to stop feeling sorry for yourself. I’ve got work to do. I’ve got to beat this.’ And that’s what I emphasized to all the doctors. ‘OK, what are you going to hit me with next? Let’s go.’ I wanted to give everything I had.

“You’ve got to enjoy every day you’re on this planet. I never knew there were so many people who cared about me. I’d tell anybody to tell people you love them and make up with the ones who you feel have done you wrong. Relationships keep you going. They kept me going. I never felt alone.”

He had a second bone marrow transplant this year but complications following the procedure coupled with the chronic myelomonocytic leukemia he had been suffering from eventually led to his death.

Schintzius, the sixth all-time leading scorer (1,624 points) in Florida history and the Gators’ career blocks leader, made his first appearance at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in 21 years on Feb. 24, 2011 as Florida defeated Georgia 71-62.

“Wasn’t sure if I felt right about it or [if] people would want me back. I do like coming back and I want to come back again,” he said during his visit, referencing some of his off-the-court issues including allegedly hitting a student with a tennis racket and quitting on the team well before his senior season was over. “I’m very proud to be a Gator. I feel like I helped start something. I don’t want to call it ‘The House That Dwayne Built,’ because that’s not true. I helped to build it. Makes me feel good where the program has come.”

Schintzius remains the only player in SEC history to register more than 1,000 points, 800 blocks, 250 assists and 250 blocks. He also helped lead UF to the team’s first three NCAA Tournament appearances. Upon leaving the Gators, he was drafted with the No. 24 overall pick of the 1990 NBA Draft by the San Antonio Spurs and spent nine years with six different teams in the league.

Many sports fans recognize Schintzius from appearances he made on both the big and small screens. He was a Russian center for the New York Knicks in the movie “Eddie” and played himself on an episode of “Arli$$” on HBO.

Schintzius is the second former Gators student-athlete to pass away this week. Former Florida running back Tony Waters was shot and killed on Friday morning.

OGGOA sends our deepest condolences to the Schintzius family.

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