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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DE Lynden Trail goes on a planking spree

Most of the stories one hears about athletes and their usage of social media are negative in nature. The headlines are usually outlandish things they have said, inappropriate pictures that have been taken and fights they have started with others.

However, services like Twitter and Facebook can also be used for other things. Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden sponsored a little league team because a fan asked him to. He has also taken groups of fans out to lunch and happy hour simply because he can. Other former Gators have raised money for charity (Buffalo Bills wide receiver David Nelson), given away free stuff to fans (Atlanta Hawks power forward Al Horford) and even had open discussions about Florida’s Ring of Honor qualifications (New Orleans Saints defensive end Alex Brown).

So when Florida Gators redshirt freshman defensive end Lynden Trail started tweeting pictures of himself planking on various surfaces and objects late Monday evening, Gator Nation undoubtedly noticed – and laughed.

“Planking,” for those of you uninitiated to the recently popular practice, is defined by Wikipedia as “an activity […] consisting of lying face down in an unusual or incongruous location. The hands must touch the sides of the body, and having a photograph of the participant taken and posted on the Internet is an integral part of the game.”

Trail, who himself was subject of what turned out to be false claims about his persona due to picture uncovered on the Internet during his recruitment, has been an active tweeter for quite some time. He took his game to another level on Monday with the planking pictures you can view by expanding the post.

All pictures above are courtesy of Trail’s Twitter account.

A married man, Trail is already more responsible than most college-aged students and, though the activity may not necessarily hit everyone’s funny bone, it is some good-natured, harmless offseason fun that is nice to see for a change.

He also offered up an open challenge to the rest of the University of Florida. “Planking just got real,” he wrote, “I challenge my fellow gators to participate lol.”

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Chandler Parsons – Path to the 2011 NBA Draft: Participating in combine workouts, interviews

Through the 2011 NBA Draft, Florida Gators forward and 2011 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Chandler Parsons will be keeping fans up-to-date on his Path to the Draft via a weekly blog entry exclusively here at OGGOA.

In Minneapolis, MN as one of a select group of 24 prospects invited to compete in a private group workout for all 30 NBA general managers, Parsons got in touch with us Monday to submit his second entry while relaxing after having conducted interviews with two more interested teams. He will be all over the country throughout the next month but will continue checking in with us each week.

I had already begun working out in Chicago the last time we spoke, but on Wednesday morning I checked into the Westin hotel right in downtown Chicago on Michigan Avenue. I was training there a couple days before it started, so I had been there before all the other players got there.

You get there and check in and you really don’t do much that first day. You get your check for the week, get into your room and get settled. The next morning [Thursday], I got up at 5:45 a.m. and had a drug test at 6 a.m. Then they ran us through all the testing: height, weight, wingspan, size of your hands, shoes off, shoes on, different tests for tuberculosis. They took five tubes of blood. They basically did every single medical test possible there. That was the first morning and then basically we ate breakfast and then headed to the gym for the first part of the combine.

They had it split up into guards, small forwards, power forwards and centers; obviously I was in the small forward group. There was a lot of shooting, dribble pull-ups and series of shots without defense – coming off pick-and-rolls, coming off the trail, coming off curl screens, just getting a lot of shots up with basically every GM and coach there – everyone from [Chicago Bulls team ambassador] Scottie Pippen to [New York Knicks head coach] Mike D’Antoni.

You shoot and then you actually compete, too. We played one-on-one, two-on-two off the dribble. It was about an hour workout, so it kind of zipped through. The second day [Friday] was similar but also included agility testing like the cone drill, three quarter court sprint, standing vert[ical jump], bench press.

I played well, shot the ball well. My agent said I basically did everything I could for my situation. We got a lot of good feedback from the individual team interviews that followed each day. Basically everyone said they were really impressed. I shot the ball really well, played tough. I interviewed with the [Los Angeles] Clippers, [Atlanta] Hawks, [Portland] Trailblazers, [San Antonio] Spurs, [Boston] Celtics, [Miami] Heat, [Minnesota] Timberwolves and Golden State Warriors. I had probably 10 interviews with me just sitting in the hotel room with them getting to know me. They get to see your personality, and I think that’s something I’ve been doing really good at…just being myself, having fun with it and being the outgoing guy that I am.

There were crazy questions. They asked me everything from my upbringing to the girls in Gainesville to… ‘Have you ever failed a drug test? Have you ever been arrested? Who’s the best player you’ve played against?’ They get pretty personal, too. They ask if you smoke and drink. If you think about it, they’re investing millions of dollars in you and it’s a business, so teams want to know everything about you before they draft you.

The last two days – Saturday and Sunday – I went to the hospital and took every single medical exam possible. Saturday I went in and took all these tests…MRIs, X-rays, you get tested for everything. And then Sunday, all the NBA trainers come in and talk to you about your results; that’s literally all day. There were no red flags for me; I’ve been really fortunate and blessed, never even rolled my ankle.

Last night we had a four-hour delay in the airport and then an hour delay on the actual plane on the runway due to all of the tornadoes in Minnesota. It was terrible. We got in here late last night, ate food and then hit the bed.

When I woke up [Monday] morning, I had to take a 240-question personality test and then also a speed test about how quick you react. There would be, for example, six pictures of a Christmas tree, a sun, a fork, a dog and a spoon, and you’d have to circle the two that are the most similar or which repeat in a pattern. That is timed. The first two groups also worked out, but I’m in group three so I don’t work out until [Tuesday].

A few of us also got to walk around downtown Minneapolis and grab dinner, and then we went back to the hotel for interviews. Tuesday I will come in, work out and then leave. Combining the interviews I’ve done before the combine, at the combine and today with the 12-15 city workouts I have scheduled, by the time it is all over I will have worked out with every team.

One team is going to draft me, but you never know down the line when I’m a free agent when I get to pick who I play for…as much as they’re interviewing me, on the flip side, I’m taking mental notes of who I liked, how it went. I look at it like this: The more teams you meet with and work out for, the better.

Go Gators,

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FOUR BITS: softball falls, Horford, Jenkins, USA

1 » No. 3 Florida Gators softball (47-9, 21-7 SEC) was shocked Thursday as they were upset 6-2 by the Auburn Tigers (39-16, 15-13 SEC) in the first round of the 2011 Southeastern Conference Tournament. The No. 2 seed going into the event, Florida fell behind 3-0 in the first inning before cutting the lead to 3-1 on a RBI single by senior catcher Tiffany DeFelice (1-2, RBI) in the bottom of the fourth. No. 7-seed Auburn responded immediately, scoring three runs in the next frame to jump ahead 6-1 and hold on for the victory. Senior right-handed pitcher Stephanie Brombacher (17-2) got the start but was pulled after giving up three runs (one earned) in the first inning. Freshman RHP Hannah Rogers came on for the final six innings and struck out three while similarly giving up three runs (one earned). UF committed three errors on the day.

2 » Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford, currently fighting to stay alive against the Chicago Bulls in the 2011 NBA Playoffs, was named to the All-NBA Third Team on Thursday. It is Horford’s first career All-NBA selection and the first ever for a former Gators basketball player.

3 » Former Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins has had a not guilty plea submitted by his attorney on his behalf for his most recent charge of misdemeanor possession of marijuana. Attorney Huntley Johnson, who spoke with The Gainesville Sun about the plea, also said that Jenkins will likely transfer to either North Alabama or Valdosta State to play football next season. A report Wednesday stated that Jenkins to North Alabama was a done deal; however, it appears that Jenkins is at least still considering his options.

4 » Seventeen of the top young basketball players in the nation were invited to attend the 2011 USA Basketball Men’s U19 World Championship training camp held June 17-24 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO. Two of those 17 players selected Thursday are Gators freshman center Patric Young and 2011 signee guard Brad Beal; each accepted his respective invitation. Twelve of the 17 invitees will be picked for the team. Young and Beal each have a great chance of being selected at the end of the camp. “I know Patric and Brad are both excited about this invitation,” Florida head coach Billy Donovan said in a team-released statement. “It’s a unique opportunity for a player, so it’s an honor for them to be a part of this group.” The 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship will be held June 30 to July 10 in Latvia. The United States is in Group D with China, Egypt and Serbia.

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FOUR BITS: Black, Horford, Brewer, SEC b-ball

1 » Florida Gators safety Ahmad Black wishes Brian Billick was still a head coach in the NFL. Why? Because Billick, unlike some other scouts and coaches, understands exactly what Black can bring to the table at the next level. Writing a column for WNST AM1570, Billick had this to say about him:

Many NFL scouts and talent evaluator will tell you that Ahmad Black is undersized and doesn’t have elite speed or quickness. […] But what I will tell you, is that despite his lack of size and speed, Black always seems to be around the football. On the field, he plays faster than his 40-time suggests by playing smart and instinctive. You will rarely find him out of position in zone schemes and he reads WRs well in man coverage. […] He displays a smooth and fluid backpedal with an efficient transition into his break on the ball. He is a reliable tackler, but gets in trouble when he leaves his feet in an effort to make a lunging hit. While Ahmad Black may not be physically intimidating, he shows up on the field and makes big plays against the best of competition. […] Black may not be the most gifted athlete, but he is an exceptional football player.

2 » Two former Gators will be squaring off on the hardwood for the third time already in March as the Chicago Bulls travel south to take on the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday at 8 p.m. Atlanta forward/center Al Horford relishes the occasions he gets to take on former teammate and now Chicago center Joakim Noah, something Horford told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Sunday. “It’s going to be a battle, but we’re looking forward to it,” he said. The paper also spoke to Hawks forward Marvin Williams, who said the team can tell that Horford is extra enthusiastic when he gets to face Noah.

3 » Former Florida F Corey Brewer made headlines after the NBA trade deadline came to a close. After being sent from the Minnesota Timberwolves to the New York Knicks, he was waived by the latter team and was quickly snatched up by the Dallas Mavericks as a defensive specialist who is athletic and can play significant minutes. However, as ESPN Dallas’ Jeff Caplan points out, Brewer has had some difficulties in his short tenure with the Mavericks. Caplan reports that Brewer has acquired 19 fouls in 62 minutes of game action (one per 3.26 minutes), much higher than his 2.5 fouls-per-game average with the Timberwolves. The likely reason? He is pressing as he tries to fit in to a new situation and do whatever he can to succeed.

“I felt good about [signing with Dallas], but at the same time I knew it was going to be tough,” Brewer told ESPN. “These guys were playing really good basketball before I got here, one of the best records in the league. I knew coach was comfortable with the guys he already has so I’m just trying to earn some minutes any way I can right now. […] I’m not discouraged. This is a different situation. These guys have been here. They’ve been playing well. I’m just trying to find my way and just trying to get in line, whatever I can do to help right now. I’m not trying to push the issue of ‘I want to play, I need to play.’”

4 » With the Sweet 16 of the 2011 NCAA Tournament finalized over the weekend, there has been plenty of talk about the Big East being overrated while the ACC has been somewhat disrespected – simply because of the number of teams who have advanced to this stage. Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive heard the rumblings and wanted to make sure his league was not overlooked either. Speaking with USA Today, Slive propped up the SEC’s accomplishments in the NCAAs. “For 22 straight years, we have had at least one of our teams make it to the Sweet 16,” noted Slive, “and for the sixth time in the last 10 years, we have had multiple teams in the Sweet 16. With two teams in the Sweet 16 again this year, the SEC’s success in basketball does not take a back seat to anyone.”

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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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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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