TWO BITS: Pierce “Tebowing,” tennis in NCAAs

1 » Near the end of the Boston Celtics’s Game 2 victory over the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs on Tuesday, forward Paul Pierce made a free throw late in the first quarter and celebrated by “Tebowing” on his way back to his team’s bench. Up seven with 1:15 left in the game, it was probably a bit early for Pierce to perform the move though Boston wound up beating Atlanta and tying the series 1-1.

2 » Florida Gators women’s and men’s tennis each learned of their seedings for their respective 2012 NCAA Tournaments on Tuesday. The No. 2 women’s team, making its 30th tournament appearance and looking for its sixth national title, received the second seed in their bracket and will play hosts to some first- and second-round matches May 11-12. Florida captured the tournament championship last season in thrilling fashion and is ready to defend its title. The No. 11 men’s team, competing in its 21st NCAA Tournament but still trying to win its first national crown, earned the 12th seed and will also host first- and second-round action May 12-13.

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FOUR BITS: baseball, Leak, Parsons, Horford

1 » No. 2 Florida Gators baseball (32-10) got back to its winning ways on Wednesday, taking down the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (24-18) in the team’s second meeting of the season. Florida won 10-1 behind plenty of hitting and a reassuring start from sophomore right-hander Karsten Whitson (3-0, 4.0 IP, 4 H, K). The Gators only hit two homers in the game – a two-run shot by senior right fielder Preston Tucker (2/4, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R, BB) in the bottom of the sixth and a solo shot by freshman pinch hitter Brandon Sedell (the first of his young career) – but still managed to manufacture seven more runs. Junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (0/1, 2 RBI, R, BB) and freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon (3/4, RBI, 2 R) also had big nights at the plate. Florida will conclude its nine-game homestand (4-2) with a weekend series against Arkansas.

2 » Two days after announcing his signing, the AFL’s Orlando Predators finally obtained quarterback Chris Leak in a trade with the Jacksonville Sharks. Leak, who went 21-of-31 for 196 yards with five touchdowns and an interception in the season opener for Jacksonville, was moved to a reserve role the next week in practice and refused to continue playing for the team. The Predators tried to sign him on Monday and make him the “face of the franchise,” but he was still under contract to the Sharks, which refused to cut him outright. Instead Jacksonville and Orlando (with the managing partner of each team brothers with the other) swapped Leak for offensive lineman/fullback Ailao Eliapo to complete the transaction.

3 » A second-round pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, former Gators forward Chandler Parsons knew he could impact the Houston Rockets as a rookie but not even he could be sure how much he would be able to do for the team this season. Parsons’s rookie campaign was so impressive that he has landed at No. 7 on Grantland.com’s final list of “best rookies of the NBA season.” Writes Sebastian Pruiti:

Chandler Parsons is another player who was drafted late but who was productive as soon as he stepped on an NBA court. He was best when defending isolation possessions. According to Synergy Sports, Parsons held opponents to 26 percent shooting and a PPP of 0.648 in one-on-one situations, placing him in the top 20 percent of all NBA players. The key to Parsons’s defensive game is his length. His long arms allow him to back off quicker offensive players and contain their dribble penetration while still being able to contest their shots.

Parsons also has the potential to be a very versatile offensive player. I say potential because he struggles in some situations, especially as the ball handler in pick-and-roll plays. Parsons just doesn’t have a feel for the pick-and-roll game yet, and he commits turnovers 25 percent of the time in these situations. As he becomes more comfortable as a ball handler and learns to read defenses, he should improve.

4 » Despite telling OGGOA last week that it was “realistic” he would be able to return for the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs and mentioning the same thing to media in his local market, Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford will indeed miss his team’s series against Boston as he continues to recover from a torn pectoral that has sidelined him basically the entire season. Horford told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he hopes to play in his team’s second round series should they make it that far.

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Former Gators offer advice as Beal preps for draft

In just over two months Florida Gators freshman guard Bradley Beal will take the stage in New York, NY, shake commissioner David Stern’s hand and put on a hat representing the team that selected him early in the 2012 NBA Draft.

But before that day arrives, Beal must first hire an agent, attend league-affiliated events and take part in private workouts and interviews with interested teams. OGGOA spoke with three former Florida players the day Beal announced his decision to go pro and each was quick to offer plenty of advice for him as he takes the next step in his career.

Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft and second highest-drafted UF player in school history (Neal Walk, No. 2), actually spoke with Beal while he was in the process of making his decision and said that no matter what he decided to do he had to concentrate each day on doing whatever it takes to improve as a player both on and off the court.

“I had a chance to speak with him right after the season,” Horford said. “He is very, very talented, so my advice to him was just to focus on working on his game and to make sure he got stronger. The most important thing is just to keep working and keep getting better because he has a lot of potential. He showed some positive things throughout the season, but he has a lot more to offer in the long run if he can get there.”

Horford did not attempt to influence Beal’s final decision one way or another and pointed out that the sharpshooter’s game may even be at a higher level than even his was after his sophomore season.

“He was asking me what I thought about his situation as far as him having to make a decision about whether to stay or go. I went through that experience. For me it worked out that I stuck around another year and I was able to get better,” he explained.

“He’s very talented, so I think that he was way ahead of what everybody would expect from a freshman. He’s a guard, and I told him that if it is something you want to do to then go for it. He could have stayed in school and worked on his game, but he’s talented enough to go to the NBA. With hard work and everything, he will be a good player in this league.”

Continue Reading » Former Gators offer advice as Beal preps for draft

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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.

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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

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SIX BITS: Noah, baseball, Demps, Speights, Brewer

1 » Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah registered his first career triple-double (13 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists) on Wednesday in just three quarters of action (and 30 total minutes) against Milwaukee. Noah’s 10 dimes were a career-high and he became the first Chicago center to achieve a triple-double since Artis Gilmore did so in 1977. After a slow start to the year, Noah is averaging almost a double-double per game this season with 9.4 points and 9.8 boards.

2 » No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (4-1) shut out the No. 19 Central Florida Knights (3-0) on Wednesday for the first time since 1977, outscoring their visitors 8-0 as sophomore right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford (1-1) picked up his first victory of the season. Crawford (2 H, 3 BB, 4 K) pitched 4.1 no-hit innings before being pulled after five scoreless frames. Sophomore left-hander Daniel Gibson (2.0 IP, H), freshman LHP Bobby Poyner (1.0 IP, H) and freshman RHP Ryan Harris (1.0 IP, 2 H, BB, 2 K) finished out the game on the hill. Florida scored in each of the first three innings and five of the eight frames they went to the plate. Senior center fielder Daniel Pigott hit a solo shot in the first and finished 2/3 with two RBIs, two runs and a pair of walks. The Gators rallied for three runs in the bottom of the third, and senior right fielder Preston Tucker (2/4, RBI, BB) led off a two-run fifth with a solo homer of his own. Tucker’s dinger tied him with former UF All-American Brad Wilkerson (1996-98) for the school’s career RBI record of 214. Florida added another in the seventh and cruised to victory. UF will not get much rest as a series against William & Mary begins on Friday at 7 p.m. with game two and three set for Saturday at 4 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m., respectively.

3 » Deciding to run track instead of compete for a spot on a NFL roster may be a tough choice for some, but former running back Jeff Demps knows what he is doing. In a feature on Yahoo! Sports’ ThePostGame, Demps and head track coach Mike Holloway discuss his future in the sport. “At the bottom of my heart, I just love running,” Demps said. “He can become one of the best,” Holloway added. “Jeff believes that or we wouldn’t be doing this.” Holloway, who will also be an assistant coach on the U.S. Men’s National Team in the 2012 London Olympics, believes that Demps can go all the way in the sport. “He has that potential down the road. There’s no doubt about that,” Holloway said of Demps potentially medaling at the Olympics. “It’s just a matter of us getting the proper training model and getting the proper steps taken to keep him healthy.”

4 » Atlanta Hawks forward Al Horford was named the 2012 Sportsperson of the Year by the Atlanta Sports Council on Monday for making a positive impact on sports in the local community. “Playing for the Atlanta Hawks is an honor and has afforded me the opportunity to make an impact on organizations and causes in the Atlanta community that I am extremely passionate about,” Horford said in a statement. “I am committed to these efforts and the individuals that they serve, and I thank the Atlanta Sports Council for recognizing my involvement and dedication.” Horford played in the first 11 games of the 2011-12 season before suffering a torn labrum, which will keep him out of action until the end of April at the earliest.

5 » Memphis Grizzlies F/C Marreese Speights has been on quite a tear recently and is fitting in nicely with his new team. Starting in 26 of the 28 games he has played for Memphis this season, Speights is playing a career-high 23.0 minutes and averaging career-highs in points (8.6), rebounds (6.5) and free throw percentage (.816). He has scored double-digit points in five-straight games and had back-to-back double-doubles on Feb. 15 (20 points, 18 boards) and Feb. 17 (12 points, 10 boards). “It’s been one of the best moves of my life,” he said of getting traded to Memphis, according to the Philadelphia Enquirer. “It’s been great. We have a good team and we’re winning. They gave me a chance to come over here and play and show the things that I can do.”

6 » In a similar boat as Speights, it seems all Denver Nuggets F Corey Brewer needed was a change of scenery. Since returning to Denver after taking a sabbatical due to the death of his father, Brewer has scored double-digit points in five of seven games (he posted nine points in the other two). He’s been a bright spot for the Nuggets this season and may have finally found a comfortable home after moving from Minnesota to New York and then to Dallas one year ago. He is averaging 9.4 points (a career-high for minutes played) and shooting a career-best 36.0 percent from beyond the arc while grabbing 3.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.

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SIX BITS: Young, Orr, Horford, Spikes, Donovan

1 » Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan continues to insist he is not too worried about sophomore center Patric Young’s ankle, noting Monday that team doctors have determined he is not in jeopardy of aggravating or worsening the injury though he will “deal with periodically some discomfort and he’s going to have to work his way through that.” “He’s fine right now,” Donovan said. “I don’t expect him to miss practice. He’s not complaining of anything. It could flare up. Patric’s never really I think ever had a sprained ankle. He’s never really dealt with this before so it’s all new to him.” Young himself said that doctors have told him the tendinitis has to do with the lining of his joints and that he does not have any tears or sprains. “It was just from overuse or something like that. It’s just a nagging thing, like a lot of pain whenever I try to just move or walk, lateral movements really affect it,” he said. “I still can’t really jump too well off my right foot and not too well off of two feet. When it comes time for the game, I’m normally ready and it doesn’t really bother me. After a certain level, I have to pass the threshold of pain and then I don’t feel it anymore.” It is unknown whether or not Donovan intends to start Young for the first time in three games on Thursday at Ole Miss.

2 » Gators redshirt freshman defensive tackle Leon Orr, who received a written arrest on Jan. 10 and was given a notice to appear in court for misdemeanor possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, has agreed to deferred prosecution with the State Attorney’s Office, according to Florida Today. As a result of the agreement, Orr will pay $50 in court costs and either an additional $150 fine or perform 12.5 hours of community service. Orr was the fifth player to be charged with possession of marijuana since head coach Will Muschamp took over in Jan. 2011. “At the end of the day a mistake was made, and I’ve learned from it,” he tweeted on Jan. 19. Orr played in all 13 games in 2011, registering 10 tackles, a sack and a pass defense.

3 » There is not much to talk about in regards to Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford now that he is out at least until the end of April with a torn labrum. However, ESPN’s Marc Stein dropped an interesting note about Horford in his Friday column, explaining that he is “a likely down-the-road top contender to succeed” Los Angeles Lakers’ point guard Derek Fisher as president of the players’ union two years from now when the latter’s contract expires. Known for his personable yet serious character, Horford is already heavily involved with the league serving as one of the NBA’s biggest international ambassadors. A shift into a role like this would seem natural to many who know him, and Horford himself even tweeted “Maybe…” when a fan asked if he was up for the gig on Jan. 22.

4 » Media shy New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes got on the phone with WEEI radio in Boston, MA following his team’s victory in the AFC Championship game on Sunday. Spikes told the hosts that the win was “a dream come true, a childhood dream” and he was “just trying to take it all in right now and enjoy it tonight with my teammates and family.” Missing the majority of the season with a knee injury, Spikes was proud that his late-game interception was able to impact the team. “I don’t want to let nobody down. I want to take my responsibilities and just make a play, and I’ve done that,” he said. There are plenty of Spikes fans in the Patriots organization including owner Robert Kraft, who took the phone and discussed Spikes during the segment (which can be heard in full here). “Do you know how lucky we are to have Brandon Spikes on the team? He’s the man; he’s the man. He told me we were going to win that game and when he made that interception that was so cool,” Kraft beamed. “He told me he was going to do it for Myra [Kraft’s deceased wife]. […] I love having this man on our team.”

5 » Donovan has been quite pleased with guards junior Kenny Boynton and freshman Bradley Beal all year long, even as the youngster was going through a tough slump toward the end of the non-conference slate. In regards to Boynton, Donovan has seen the notiable improvement in his shot and knows that it will continue to progress and not regress as the season goes on. He’s also pleased that Boynton is driving to the basket, taking pull-up jumpers and getting to the free throw line on a more consistent basis. With Beal, Donovan is happy to see that he has continued his quick maturing process. “When you’re a talented offensive player and when you’re on the court, a lot of times your scoring has a direct [correlation on] the outcome of the game when you’re in high school and your team needs you to score,” he explained. “Sometimes your identity gets wrapped up in scoring. He’s starting to figure out right now that there’s so much more he can do.”

6 » The University of Florida and Gator Boosters, Inc. announced Monday that outfielder Kelsey Bruder (softball) and catcher Mike Zunino (baseball) have been named the 2011 Ben Hill Griffin Award winners. The honor, which is given to “the top male and female student-athletes…is based primarily on athletic achievement” but academics and extra-curricular activities are also considered. Bruder and Zunino were each named SEC Player of the Year in 2011 and led their teams to the 2011 NCAA College World Series in their respective sports. It was the first time in school history that Florida had SEC Players of the Year in softball and baseball simultaneously.

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Hawks’ Horford to miss 3-4 months with torn pec

Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford is expected to miss three-to-four months of action with a torn left pectoral muscle, the team announced Thursday.

Horford, named to back-to-back NBA All-Star games as a reserve, was averaging 12.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game before being injured against Indiana in the first quarter on Wednesday.

A career 12.8-point, 9.5-rebound per game player, Horford was named a team captain for Atlanta last year after signing a five-year, $60 million extension in Nov. 2010. He is one of the Hawks’ two best and most popular players.

Atlanta noted that injuries of this sort typically require surgery, but Horford will be going for a second opinion before making a final decision about what road to take. The three-to-four-month window will likely keep him out at least through the regular season and makes him questionable to return for the playoffs should the Hawks make it that far.

“We are very disappointed for Al and our team and we wish him the best as he moves forward in the rehabilitation process,” said executive vice president and general manager Rick Sund. “He has contributed greatly to our success since his arrival in Atlanta, and that’s evident by his selection to the NBA’s All-League [third-]team last season.”

Photo Credit: Atlanta Hawks

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