Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford: “It was a no-brainer for me to represent my country.”

Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford, having recently completed his fourth NBA season, is in his prime and playing the best basketball of his career.

Averaging career highs in points (15.3), field goal percentage (.557) and free throw percentage (.789) while also posting 9.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game in 2010-11, he was named a NBA All-Star for the second-straight season just months after Atlanta locked him up long-term with an impressive five-year, $60 million contract extension in November.

OGGOA caught up with the two-time National Champion, two-time NCAA Finals Most Valuable Player and member of the 2008 NBA All-Rookie Team while he was in Lexington, KY practicing with the Dominican Republic National Team. Horford, who is working out in facilities usually occupied by the Kentucky Wildcats due to his team being led by Kentucky head coach John Calipari, has found himself learning a new system in enemy territory. He spoke with us just after completing practice about a variety of topics including his new contract, reminiscing with the Oh Fours, representing his country and performing some Gator Chomps in the near future.

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Last time we spoke was a year and a half ago just before you played in your first All-Star game. You went back and posted some career highs this season. To what do you attribute your continued improvement?
AL HORFORD: “There’s really no secret behind that, it’s all about putting in the time in the summer. I always try to focus on something different in the offseason that I want to work on and improve. This past summer I got a chance to work with [veteran skills trainer] Rob McClanaghan, a great basketball trainer who works with a lot of other guys in the league including Derrick Rose. He helped me a lot with my game, but I think at the end of the day it is just all about taking the time and making a commitment to work and keep getting better in the offseason.”

AS: Is there any type of competition between you and Jo[akim Noah]? Obviously you were came out of the same school and were picked high in the 2007 NBA Draft, but you’re also playing the same position and competing in the Eastern Conference, too.
AH: “Nah, not really. Me and Joakim, when we talk, we rarely talk basketball. I’m sure he wants to do good and great for his team, and I do the same, but I think at the end of the day we’re not caught up on so much individual stuff. For us, it’s more about our teams and winning and stuff like that. Obviously he has the upper hand on me because of their team because of the playoffs. I know he was happy about that. We’re not competing individually, it’s [more like] how much we impact our individual teams.”

Read the rest of our exclusive interview with Al Horford after the jump!
Continue Reading » Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford: “It was a no-brainer for me to represent my country.”

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TWO BITS: Noah returning, Horford interviewed

1 » Out of action for more than two months, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah is set to return Wednesday now that his torn thumb ligament has healed. Averaging 14.0 points and 11.7 rebounds this season – both career-highs – Noah has been out of action since Dec. 15. He had a pin placed in his thumb and had it fit for a cast; both have been removed and Noah is ready to provide a spark for Central Division-leading Chicago.

2 » Coming off his second consecutive NBA All-Star nomination, Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford sat down for an extensive and wide-ranging interview with SI.com’s Zach Lowe. Horford, who is in the middle of the best season of his career, discusses his team’s playoff projections, his unique jump shot and whether or not he plans to add a three-point game to his repertoire.

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Gators in the NBA through 2011 All-Star break

With the 2010-11 NBA season still in full swing, a number of Florida Gators have been making strong impressions on the league with a few having a significant impact on their team’s game-to-game performance. OGGOA has checked and re-checked the box scores for the first half of the season to bring you a summary of what these Gators accomplished thus far. Figures below are per-game averages:

F/C AL HORFORD`, Atlanta Hawks: 16.0 points [56.8% shooting – team-best], 9.8 rebounds [team-high], 3.6 assists, 0.85 blocks, 1.06 steals, 82% FT …in 35.4 minutes with 51-of-55 starts [51 games played*]

C JOAKIM NOAH, Chicago Bulls: 14.0 points [51.4% shooting], 11.7 rebounds [team-high], 2.7 assists, 1.63 blocks [team-high], 1.17 steals, 73% FT …in 36.8 minutes with 24-of-54 starts [24 games played*]

F/C DAVID LEE, Golden State Warriors: 15.9 points [49.2% shooting], 9.4 rebounds [team-high], 3.4 assists, 0.37 blocks, 0.89 steals, 77% FT …in 36.2 minutes with 46-of-55 starts [46 games played*]

G/F COREY BREWER, Minnesota Timberwolves: 8.6 points [38.4% shooting, 26.3% downtown], 2.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.25 blocks, 1.59 steals [team-high], 71% FT …in 24.1 minutes with 22-of-56 starts [56 games played]

F/C MATT BONNER, San Antonio Spurs: 7.3 points [48.4% shooting, 50% downtown (team-best > 5 mpg.)], 3.4 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.38 blocks, 0.30 steals, 73% FT …in 22.0 minutes with 0-of-56 starts [40 games played*]

G/F MIKE MILLER, Miami Heat: 5.9 points [41.1% shooting, 38.7% downtown], 5.0 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.32 steals, 78% FT …in 19.3 minutes with two-of-56 starts [22 games played*]

C MARREESE SPEIGHTS, Philadelphia 76ers: 5.4 points [50.8% shooting], 3.4 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.22 blocks, 0.11 steals, 75% FT …in 11.6 minutes with 1-of-56 starts [45 games played*]

PF UDONIS HASLEM, Miami Heat: 8.0 points [51.2% shooting], 8.2 rebounds [team-high], 0.5 assists, 0.23 blocks, 0.54 steals, 80% FT …in 26.5 minutes with 0-of-56 starts [13 games played*]

PG JASON WILLIAMS, Memphis Grizzlies: 1.9 points [35% shooting, 32% downtown], 1.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.42 steals …in 10.2 minutes [19 games played, two teams~]

PG ORIEN GREENE, New Jersey Nets: 1.0 points [50% shooting], 0.3 assists, 0.33 steals …in 1.7 minutes [three games played~]

NOTES
` Horford was named to his second-straight NBA All-Star Game this season.
* Horford missed four games with a back injury.
* Noah missed 30 games with an injured thumb (torn ligament).
* Lee missed nine games with an infected elbow.
* Bonner missed 16 games with an injured knee (marrow edema).
* Miller missed 34 games with a broken thumb.
* Speights did not play in 11 games (coach’s decision).
* Haslem has missed 43 games with an injured foot, is thought to be out for the entire season but has an outside chance of returning.
~ Williams was traded from the Orlando Magic to Memphis and has yet to step on the court for the Grizzlies.
~ Green was recently called up by New Jersey from the NBDL.

Photo Credit: Atlanta Hawks

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FOUR BITS: Webb in CFL, Gaffney, Miller, Horford

1 » Former Florida Gators cornerback Dee Webb, who spent a portion of 2010 with the Jacksonville Sharks of the revamped AFL, has signed with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL for the 2011 season. A former draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Webb tried out for the Miami Dolphins last year but did not make the cut. He will be playing in the CFL for a second time after previously trying out for Toronto (in 2007) and joining the Calgary Stampeders (in 2009).

2 » Though Denver Broncos wide receiver Jabar Gaffney is getting up there in age (he turns 31 next season), it appears that he will remain an integral part of the team’s receiving corps in 2011. With two starters recovering from surgeries, The Denver Post expects Gaffney to have the opportunity to capitalize on their absences. Posting career-highs in receptions (65) and yards (875) in 2010, Gaffney thrived under quarterbacks Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow and is not costing the team much money with a $2.4 million salary set for next season.

3 » Miami Heat forward Mike Miller, who left Tuesday’s game against the Indiana Pacers after getting hit in the head, stayed overnight for concussion tests and will miss at least one game. It is the second time in as many games Miller sustained a blow to the head, though the first did not appear to cause any damage necessitating further tests.

4 » Just over two weeks ago, the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks clashed in a heated contest that ended with a 111-102 victory for Atlanta. During the game, a fight broke out between the teams. Forward/center Amare Stoudemire of the Knicks took exception after Hawks F/C Al Horford was “particularly vocal and demonstrative,” according to ESPN. Now Stoudemire is looking forward to going up against his NBA All-Star teammate in a rematch between New York and Atlanta on Wednesday. “It’s going to be a very, very intense game after what happened in Atlanta,” he said. “[Horford] don’t want to see me. I watched him play in Florida, and I’ve seen him play a few years in Atlanta. We’ve got two different games, and we’ll see how it plays out.” Horford responded Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t understand what he means by that, ‘He don’t want to see me,’” he said. “Like we’re supposed to be scared of [Stoudemire]. Ain’t nobody scared of him. We’re all grown men, so it’s all good.”

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FOUR BITS: Howard, Horford, Beal, Moses

1 » Quarterback Tim Tebow and head coach Urban Meyer may no longer be with the Florida Gators or speaking with high school coaches daily, but they both went the extra mile to throw their support behind one recently. Former Nease High School head coach Craig Howard, who is perhaps most famous for coaching Tebow before he attended Florida, was hired for the same role by the Southern Oregon Raiders this week. “Urban Meyer helped me get the job, and Tim Tebow did, too,” Howard told The Florida Times-Union. “I really appreciate their support. You really find out who your friends are in situations like this. There were around 130 applicants for the job.”

2 » Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford made a gutsy play to win his team a game about a week ago. Unfortunately for the two-time NBA All-Star, he has missed every contest since with an injured back. “It’s not really getting any better,” Horford told the media when asked how his sore back was feeling. Though there is no structural damage to the area, the fact that he has missed a full week of action may put his ability to play in the All-Star Game on Feb. 20 in Los Angeles, CA in jeopardy.

3 » Named a 2011 McDonald’s All-American on Thursday, Gators five-star guard signee Brad Beal (and his Chaminadale Prep High School team) will be playing live on ESPNU on Saturday at 5 p.m. Averaging 32.4 points per game for his undefeated squad, Beal is the third-straight McDonald’s All-American recruited by head coach Billy Donovan and will be the fourth player with such a distinction on the team for the 2011-12 season (G Kenny Boynton, center Patric Young, transfer G Mike Rosario).

4 » American Cheerleader Magazine is currently holding voting for their 2010 Cheerleader of the Year, and none other than the University of Florida’s Tarin Moses, 19, is one of six nominees for the title. Featured on the cover of the August 2010 issue of the magazine, Moses hopes to bring home the honor. “Cheerleading has made me the person I am today; it has the power to mold a person into an amazing role model,” she told the magazine. “It would make me the happiest person in the world to give other cheerleaders the inspiration to follow their dreams.” You can read Moses’ bio and vote for her by clicking here.

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FOUR BITS: Tebow, Dunlap, Jenkins, Horford

1 » Just because Denver Broncos rookie quarterback Tim Tebow earned the starting nod for the team’s final three games last season does not mean he is guaranteed to retain that job next year, new team president John Elway said this past week. “Kyle [Orton] is definitely in the equation,” he said. “It’s not a foregone conclusion that we’re going to trade Kyle Orton. At all. We still have to evaluate that. A lot of people think it’s an automatic, but it’s not.” With player trades not able to be completed until a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is signed, Orton would not be traded any time soon no matter what Elway and new head coach John Fox decide is best for the team.

2 » ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Saturday that Cincinnati Bengals rookie defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who concluded the 2010 season with an impressive 9.5 sacks (a franchise rookie record), has left agent Todd France and signed with Drew Rosenhaus. He currently has three years remaining on a four-year, $3.01 million contract with Cincinnati that included a $1.22 million signing bonus, $1.779 million in guaranteed cash and an additional $649,000 available through incentives.

3 » Receiving a commitment from four-star QB Jacoby Brissett (West Palm Beach, FL) on Friday, the Florida Gators were only awaiting word from one more potential signee. That wait is now over as four-star junior college defensive tackle John Jenkins (Perkinston, MS) officially committed to the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday. Florida has now finished the 2011 recruiting cycle with 19 commitments . Their class (not yet updated to include Brissett) is ranked No. 14 by Rivals, No. 18 by Scout and No. 12 by ESPNU.

4 » Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford was provided an opportunity to live up to his NBA All-Star billing as he was tested with the game on the line Friday. With nearly no time remaining and his team down one, Horford drove the lane and was met by Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin, who impeded his track to the rim with a flagrant foul. Landing on and injuring his back, Horford was slow to get up but eventually reached the line and hit both free throws to propel Atlanta to a 101-100 victory.

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Horford earns second-straight NBA All-Star nod

Former Florida Gators forward/center Al Horford of the Atlanta Hawks has been named a reserve for the Eastern Conference in the 2011 NBA All-Star Game.

His second-straight All-Star selection, Horford also played in the 2010 game along with then-New York Knicks F/C David Lee. He scored eight points on 4-for-5 shooting and accounted for four rebounds in 12 minutes of action in the game.

“It’s a real honor to be nominated to that game,” he told OGGOA in an exclusive interview last year. “The coaches really have a lot of weight into that decision, and I felt really special that they picked me over a lot of other guys.”

Horford continues to improve each year and is currently riding career-highs in points (16.1), rebounds (9.9), assists (3.6) field goal percentage (56.7) and free throw percentage (81.3). He has 24 double-doubles on the season and is fifth in his conference in field goal percentage.

The No. 3 overall selection in the 2007 NBA Draft, he was named a team captain this season and signed a five-year, $60 million contract extension in November 2010.

Al Horford for ONLY GATORS Get Out Alive

Photo Credit: Unknown

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Top 10 for 2010: Off the Field Stories of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators accomplished on the field in 2010 (check out our post tomorrow), the Gator Nation was making plenty of news off of it as well. From former players signing huge contracts to current team members being a part of some of the biggest news stories in sports this year, Florida was spread all over the sports landscape in 2010. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 10 Off the Field Stories of the Year.

10 » FIVE BECOME A PART OF THE GATOR NATION IN THE SKY
It would be difficult to recount everything that Gator Nation has gone through in 2010 without remembering those close to the University of Florida who left us for a better place in the past year. Young and old, these Gators departed too soon and suddenly in all but one case. Lamar Abel (21), a walk-on defensive lineman, suffered cardiac arrest while volunteering at a roadside cleanup event with his fraternity in Gainesville, FL. Former safety John Curtis (24) committed suicide in Bellvue, WA. Hall of fame safety Jarvis Williams (45) passed away after an acute asthma attack. Former Gators basketball player and friend to the program Augie Greiner (76) died in his home. And long-time donor and Bull Gator George Steinbrenner (80), most famously known as the owner of the New York Yankees, passed away in a Tampa, FL, hospital. OGGOA once again sends our deepest condolences to the families and friends of these men.

9 » ERIN ANDREWS GETS JUSTICE, STARS ON TV, RE-SIGNS WITH ESPN

Former Florida dazzler and ESPN reporter Erin Andrews had a much better go of it in 2010. Though her stalker plead guilty to his charges in court in December 2009, she spent a good portion of 2010 making sure he was brought to justice (27-month prison term) while also spreading word across the country that violence against women from sexual predators cannot and should not be tolerated. Simultaneously, Andrews participated in ABC’s Dancing with the Stars and even dropped a few Gator Chomps along the way. She ended up finishing third in the competition but parlayed her talent on the sidelines into an enhanced gig with the Worldwide Leader in Sports. Andrews signed a new two-year deal with ESPN, which included a role hosting the first hour of College GameDay live on ESPNU, appearances on ABC’s Good Morning America and more of a presence on the family of networks. She also spoke with OGGOA on two occasions, first in a wide-ranging interview that received significant publicity and later to share her thoughts on the resignation of head coach Urban Meyer.

Continue Reading » Top 10 for 2010: Off the Field Stories of the Year

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