SIX BITS: Young, Noah, Miles, Tyus, Hernandez

1 » Former Florida Gators center Patric Young is playing his first NBA preseason with the New Orleans Pelicans and is already dropping some highlights. On Monday, New Orleans fell 93-87 to Atlanta, but not before Young could deliver this put-back dunk (skip to 1:35). Young finished the contest with four points and four boards in 11:20. Against Miami in his team’s preseason opener, Young made his only field goal, scoringtwo points to go along with eight rebounds, a block and two turnovers in 21 minutes.

2 » Also on Monday, Chicago Bulls C Joakim Noah got into a heated exchange with Washington’s Paul Pierce during their teams’ preseason game. Noah was relatively calm about the situation until Pierce stuck his pointer finger into Noah’s forehead. Coming back from knee surgery, Noah looked even less fluid than normal during the game and is expected to skip Tuesday’s contest as a precaution.

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SIX BITS: Speights, Sloan, fouling, Riggs, Tyus

1 » Golden State Warriors forward/center Marreese Speights put together a career game Monday night as he added a highlight to his otherwise up-and-down NBA career. Speights came off the bench but played starter’s minutes for Golden State in its 123-80 drubbing of Philadelphia 76ers, scoring a career-high 32 points on 12-of-15 shooting with eight boards and three blocks against the team that selected him with the No. 16 overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft.

He played so well, in fact, that the Warriors home crowd actually chanted “M-V-P” for Speights though he has been mostly a role player for Golden State this season.

2 » No. 1 Florida Gators gymnastics (5-0, 3-0 SEC) held on to its top ranking on Monday coming out of a 197.175-195.45 road victory on Friday over the Kentucky Wildcats (4-4, 1-3 SEC). Leading the way for the Gators in the meet was sophomore Bridget Sloan, who registered her second and Florida’s fourth perfect score of the season with a 10.0 on the balance beam. The defending national title holder in the discipline, Sloan’s 10.0 made her just the second gymnast in program history to register a perfect mark on the beam and the first Gators gymnast to score 10.0s on two different events in a career. For her terrific performance, Sloan honored by the Southeastern Conference for the fourth-straight week with the SEC Gymnast of the Week award.

Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Speights, Sloan, fouling, Riggs, Tyus

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SIX BITS: Tebow, Harvin, Mincey, Moss, Roberson

1 » ABC is making the most of its subsidiary’s employment of former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow, according to The Hollywood Reporter, by having the Heisman Trophy winner sit in Friday as a guest co-host on Good Morning America. Tebow, who signed with ESPN in December to cover college football and be the face of the SEC Network (set to launch as its own channel in August), will join the Time Square-based show to discuss the forthcoming Super Bowl XLVIII between the Seattle Seahawks and his former team, the Denver Broncos.

2 » The highest-profile former Florida player actually participating in Sunday’s big game is Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin, who has a penchant for stepping up when championships are on the line. Harvin was cleared to return to practice last Wednesday and will be full-go for the Super Bowl with head coach Pete Carroll saying the playmaker has looked “great” in practice. Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey called Harvin “a dangerous man” on Sunday, “one of the most explosive guys coming off the ball” and someone who can “change the game.” Harvin on Tuesday declared himself “ready to go.” “This is what I live for,” he said. “I’m used to playing in big games since I was younger, whether it was in Pop Warner or the two with the Gators.” As a freshman, Harvin picked up 82 total yards and a touchdown in Florida’s 41-14 2007 BCS National Championship win over Ohio State. Two years later in the 2009 BCS National Championship, Harvin exploded for 171 yards and a touchdown in UF’s 24-14 victory against Oklahoma.

Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Tebow, Harvin, Mincey, Moss, Roberson

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FOUR BITS: NBA free agents, USA, Tyus, Parsons

1 » Center Marreese Speights is not the only former Florida Gators player making news at the start of free agency for the 2013-14 NBA season. According to Yahoo! Sports‘ Adrian Wojnarowski, the Golden State Warriors have put power forward David Lee on the trading block. Though Lee had a fantastic season for Golden State, averaging 18.5 points and 11.2 rebounds per game on his way to the second All-Star nod of his career, he has three years and $44 million left on a maximum contract he signed two years ago. Joining Speights on the market early Monday morning was F Corey Brewer, who averaged 12.1 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 24.4 minutes per game during the 2012-13 season with the Denver Nuggets. The Houston Chronicle reported Monday that the Houston Rockets will be meeting with Brewer soon in Los Angeles, CA. Also likely on the move this offseason is point guard Nick Calathes, who has yet to play in the NBA but still has his rights held by the Dallas Mavericks, which drafted him with a second-round pick in 2009. Dallas recently signed an Israeli player at Calathes’s position, making “it very likely” that his rights will be traded, according to ESPNDallas.com’s Tim MacMahon.

2 » USA Basketball started competing in the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship over the weekend, finishing 3-0 in the preliminary round with three blowout victories. The Americans, led by Gators head coach Billy Donovan, defeated Ivory Coast 88-29 on Thursday, China 113-57 on Friday and Russia 115-47 on Saturday. Donovan is now 8-0 all-time in international competitions with last week’s 61-point average margin of victory leading the United States to a win in Group D and a spot in the second group stage. Florida rising sophomore guard Michael Frazier II struggled with his shooting a bit during the three games. In 17:49 against Ivory Coast, Frazier went 1-for-8 (0-for-4 from three) for two points with five rebounds. In 19:24 against China, he had his best game by going 5-of-13 (4-of-11 from downtown) for 15 points. Facing Russia, Frazier finished 5-for-12 (2-for-8 from long range) with 12 points, three boards and two assists.

3 » Former Gators F Alex Tyus on Monday inked a three-year, $1.1 million deal with Maccabi Tel Aviv and will return to Israel (where he is a member of the national team) after a one-season stint in Russia with Pallacanestro Cantu. He averaged 8.1 points and 3.7 rebounds during the 2012-13 campaign but fared better in the Israeli League as he posted averages of 12.6 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks during the 2011-12 season. Tyus, who converted to Judaism in 2011 before signing with Maccabi Ashdod out of college, could remain with Maccabi Tel Aviv through the 2015-16 season as the third year of the contract is a club option.

4 » The Rockets are believed to be the front runners to land C Dwight Howard, the top free agent available during the 2013 offseason, and Houston is using former Florida F Chandler Parsons as a big part of its pitch. According to the Houston Chronicle, Parsons “speaks often with Howard” and discusses not just the Rockets’ success on the court but also the chemistry in the locker room. “We have great guys,” Parsons told the paper. “We don’t have any egos. We don’t’ have any cocky, arrogant guys. We have guys with the same mindset and same attitude. We genuinely all like each other and enjoy playing together. All of us text back and forth pretty much every day. Whether it’s us joking around or us talking about what we’re doing to get better or trying to get together in the same city for group workouts, we’re always looking for ways to get better and stay in touch and keep that relationship most teams don’t have. We’re all friends. We’re all thinking about each other.”

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Erving Walker set to begin career in Italy

Societa Veroli Basket announced over the weekend that it has signed former Florida Gators point guard Erving Walker to play for the team this season. Known more commonly as Prima Veroli, the team plays in Legadue Basket (Lega2 Basket), which is the second-highest division of professional basketball in Italy.

In the release (translated), Prima Veroli says the head coach “has decided to again focus on a rookie for the direction of the team” and that acquiring Walker “scored a major hit against the competition of different teams that were [in] on the American talent.”

The team added that working with Walker’s Italian agent Matteo Comellini on a contract was a breeze (it has already been signed) and that it hopes Walker is in uniform by Aug. 20 after he completes the necessary visa paperwork.

Walker, who played more minutes than anyone in the history of Florida basketball, set the program’s career assist mark (547) before graduating and left the team ranked second in three-pointers made (285) and fourth on the all-time scoring list (1,777 points).

It is the second-straight year that a former Gators player has signed to play overseas after forward Alex Tyus played professionally for Maccabi Ashdod of Israel’s second league during the 2011-12 season. He averaged 12 points and 8.5 rebounds over the course of the season and was named the league’s Sixth Man of the Year.

Tyus will join Walker in Italy this season after signing a two-year, $525,000 deal to play for Pallacanestro Cantu of the Euroleague, which is known as the highest tier of international club basketball in Europe. He also received his Israeli passport and has begun training with Israel’s national team.

Houston Rockets F Chandler Parsons, after being selected in the second round of the 2011 NBA Draft, also played for Cholet Basket of the French Pro A League last season during the NBA lockout.

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SIX BITS: Parsons, Tebow, Wambach, Debose

1 » A report early Friday morning from ESPN’s Marc Stein and Chad Ford notes that former Florida Gators forward Chandler Parsons, a second-round draft pick of the Houston Rockets last year who had a stellar rookie season with the franchise, may wind up playing for the Orlando Magic in 2012 if his current franchise is successful in completing a trade for All-Star center Dwight Howard. Sources told Stein and Ford that Houston recently “sweetened” its offer to Orlando and that Parsons is one of four current players the Rockets would send to the Magic as part of an enormous package. Though nothing is imminent whatsoever, Houston has been in hot pursuit of Howard as of late. The Rockets traded for numerous first-round draft selections that they used in June (all of which would go to the Magic in the deal) and are trying to clear tons of cap space in order to give Howard a maximum contract and absorb expensive contracts as part of the trade. Should Parsons wind up getting traded, he would be able to play professionally in front of his family as he grew up in nearby Casselbery, FL.

2 » Coming off of a successful rookie season with Maccabi Ashdod of the Israeli league in which he averaged 12 points and 8.5 rebounds per game and was named the league’s Sixth Man of the Year, former Gators F Alex Tyus has signed a two-year deal to play for Pallacanestro Cantu in Italy, according to Sportando. Tyus, who recently received his Israeli citizenship and passport, will also play for the Israeli National Team while he is over in Europe. His contract with Cantu is worth $525,000 over the two seasons.

3 » Florida basketball is set to compete in the 2012 Orange Bowl Basketball Classic this season and will take part in the event for the 12th time in the last 13 years and 14th time in team history. It was revealed on Tuesday via a press release that UF will take on the Air Force Falcons in the event, marking the first time since 2008 that they will play a “lower-tier” program in the event (the Gators have faced Richmond, Kansas State and Texas A&M in Sunrise, FL over the last three seasons). The two-game tournament will be held on Dec. 29 at the BankAtlantic Center with Florida State and Tulsa going head-to-head in the first game of the doubleheader.

Read three more BITS on Lochte, Tebow, Wambach and Debose…after the break!
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SIX BITS: Calathes, Hernandez, Noah, Tyus, Beal

1 » Following up on a story from May in which the Dallas Mavericks head of international scouting said that point guard Nick Calathes will have an opportunity to play in the NBA this season is word that he may actually get that chance. According to ESPNDallas.com’s Tim MacMahon, Calathes “had discussions with the Mavericks [last] week indicating that he wants to play in the NBA” but continues “to be heavily recruited by European teams” now that his three-year contract with Panathinaikos has officially expired. MacMahon notes that should Dallas bring Calathes in for summer league action, he would be signed to a nonguaranteed contract.

2 » Now that the New England Patriots have locked up 2010 first-round pick tight end Rob Gronkowski long term with a six-year, $53 million contract extension, the focus has turned to what the team will do with fellow 2010 draft picks second-round linebacker Brandon Spikes and fourth-round TE Aaron Hernandez. As noted by the Boston Herald, New England signing Gronkowski to the richest contract for a tight end in NFL history could pose problems for Hernandez’s future. Hernandez remains under contract with the team through the 2013 season and is set to earn less than $1 million in salary each season. Should the team decide to give him a franchise tender, it would only cost them around $6 million, making there no immediate need for the Patriots to extend Hernandez as they would be able to avoid tying up a ton of money into one position. A No. 1 tight end in most NFL offenses, Hernandez is basically No. 2 at that position for New England despite also seeing time in the backfield and out near the sideline as a wide receiver. He most likely feels that he deserves money equal to or surpassing Gronkowski, which means his long-term future may have him wearing a different uniform.

3 » Only two of the seven former Florida Gators that participated in first-round action in the 2012 NBA Playoffs remain in contention for a title. Miami Heat power forward Udonis Haslem and guard/forward Mike Miller both advanced to the NBA Finals over the weekend; Haslem is looking for his second ring while Miller is still pursuing his first.

4 » Speaking of the playoffs, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah (who severely sprained his ankle during the first round) has yet to recover from his injury. “I’ve tried to play a little basketball, but it’s still a little sore,” he told French-language website Catch and Shoot. “My left leg is not at its best. I can’t push off it; I can’t run well. I’m not ready at all.” Noah has been saying all offseason – since the Bulls were eliminated – that his No. 1 priority is healing and improving the strength of his ankles and lower body so he can compete with the French National Team in the 2012 London Olympics. There is a way to go until the games begin, but Noah obviously has plenty of progress that he must make before being able to participate.

5 » Former Gators forward Alex Tyus, who has spent his first season out of college playing professionally for Maccabi Ashdod in Israel, learned recently that the country has granted him temporary citizenship, which will allow him to train and likely compete with the Israeli National Team in the 2013 European Qualification games. Tyus averaged 12.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game in his rookie season and helped lead Ashdod to their league finals (where the team fell 83-63 to Maccabi Tel Aviv). He and his wife converted to Judaism prior to leaving for Israel last summer.

6 » According to his agent Mark Bartelstein, who spoke with CBS Sports’ Jeff Goodman over the weekend, Florida freshman guard Bradley Beal has already scheduled three more workouts over the next seven days. Beal is set to work out for Washington (No. 3 overall) on Thursday, Cleveland (No. 4 and No. 24 overall) on Saturday and Charlotte (No. 2 overall) a week from Monday. The 2012 NBA Draft is set for June 28 giving Beal just over two weeks from press time to win over coaches and front office executives.

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Gators looking for first road win at Gamecocks

The No. 19 Florida Gators head square off Saturday on the road against the South Carolina Gamecocks, playing in a true road game for the fifth time this season while still looking to pull out their first victory in such contests. Head coach Billy Donovan, senior point guard Erving Walker and sophomore center Patric Young met with the media on Friday to discuss some of their recent struggles and the upcoming contest before practicing and jumping on the plane to Columbia, SC.

STILL TRYING TO CURE FLORIDA’S ROAD WOES

Donovan knows what ails the Gators on the road but getting the team to correct those issues is another story. As is obvious to many fans who have watched Florida complete in true road contests, the Gators are struggling with their energy and intensity but also in three other areas: turnovers, shooting efficiency and defending field goals.

“The only thing that I can talk about is coaching our team and what we do, so I never want to take away anything from our opponent,” he said. “We played against obviously a very good Syracuse team, a very good Ohio State team, Rutgers is a very good team, Tennessee is a very good team. We’ve had four road games against four really good teams. And I don’t think South Carolina at home is any exception; I think they’re a good basketball team. As it relates to winning on the road, our guys got to learn. We have a lot of guys in situations for the first time going through something like this.

“There’s a learning process. As much as I want that to be expedited and sped up and have it all figured out, there are certain things they’ve got to get better at. When you go on the road and you do play against good teams, if you do turn it over, if you do shoot a real low percentage, if you do give up a high percentage, that’s a problem. If you look at our stat sheet on the road, teams have shot a very high percentage [.466] against us, we’ve turned the basketball over [17.3 per game], we have not shot a high percentage [.429]. […] That’s not a formula on the road to really be able to win.”

If you compare those numbers to what Florida puts up in other games, the differences are apparent. The Gators shoot 48.9 percent on home/neutral courts, only give up 9.6 turnovers per contest and defend at a 40.0 percent clip.

There is one thing Florida does quite well away from home that Donovan is noticing.

“There is a level of persevering that goes on [while] on the road. There is a level of fortitude and an ability to handle the adversity when a team goes on a run, how you respond. The one positive that we have had on the road is we have had some level of resiliency where we have gotten down and we have fought back,” he said.

“Our resiliency and our fight is there; they have done that. Sometimes when you have a 40-minute game with turnovers, not a great shooting percentage, giving up things defensively that need to be taken away, sometimes that’s not the best formula to really put yourself in a true position to win. […] It’s not like our team has been blown out by 25 points on the road and we’re just ways away from being competitive. We’ve been competitive; it’s just how do we find a way to get the result we want?”

PRACTICES A “LOSE-LOSE SITUATION”

Following Florida’s loss to Tennessee, Donovan swore that he would be increasing the intensity of practices in order for his team to understand how vital defense and a focused mentality are in every single game. The Gators responded, playing much better against Georgia on Tuesday, and say they are just as focused for their fifth true road game of the season on Saturday.

Walker, the only senior and the single player on the team who has spent four years under Donovan, knew that Florida was in for some trouble after dropping the contest in Knoxville, TN. “I know when [those hard practices] are coming,” he joked. “Being around him for a couple years now, I’m pretty much used to it.”

He said that “Coach D has been pretty much handing it to us in practice, but we accept the result” even though the tough practices will not be stopping if the Gators pull out a victory. “It might make it worse now because he’ll think that works, so he’ll keep doing it,” he joked. “We have a lose-lose situation.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Donovan on if Young is more careless than some other players in practice (in regards to hurting teammates): “I give our team a lot of credit. I think probably Vernon Macklin, Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons being older, veteran guys, they probably did a good job of moving away from him in a lot of situations. [Laughing] The one thing that I really admire about Cody Larson is every single day he gets beaten up physically. Every day he goes in there. Will Yeguete, he gets beaten up. I think they do that because they understand that’s going to make our team better, that’s going to make Patric better.”

» Young on if he is worried that he’s knocking around his teammates: “I feel kind of bad at first, but once I see they’re OK, it’s just part of the game.”

» Donovan on keeping in touch with former players in the NBA and how proud he is of them: “[Thursday] I talked to [Joakim] Noah and [Al] Horford. Obviously I felt bad for Al and his injury, being out for as long as he is. I had a good talk with Jo; he’s having some issues with his hand. I talk to those guys, I wouldn’t say on a regular basis, but I do reach out to them and do communicate with them. For someone like Chandler, I’m really proud of him because of where he was as a freshman and sophomore and what he went through here and then at the level he’s at now. Hopefully here at Florida, the experience that he had here as a player, prepared him for that next step in his life as a player. It’s encouraging to see a guy that got taken in the second round has started some games and done well. Same thing with Vernon.

“As much as I want the process – and believe me I’m constantly force-feeding these guys because as you look at their perspective in life, I only have them for a short period of time. For Vernon it was three years. Chandler was four. Joakim, Al, Corey it was three. What you’re trying to do is try to, in a lot of ways, create an epiphany for them, where there’s things they see in life that maybe alters or changes the way they view things when you see their view of things is not going to help them down the road. I’m just happy that the guys that have been fortunate enough to play at that level, that those guys through the experience here have been prepared to take on the next step in their life. Not only winning games, I think that is also a large part of my job here as a coach, to try and help those guys in that area.”

» Walker on if he is thinking about how the end of his career is approaching: “It hit me. I understand that. Right now I’m just focusing on the season and trying to enjoy each game as it goes.”

» Walker on being in the top-10 all-time in scoring at UF: “That’s not really a big deal. Just being here for four years kind of helps you out in that category.”

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