FOUR BITS: lacrosse, Noah, Horford, Brewer

1 » Florida Gators lacrosse continues to make history as, in just the third season of the program’s existence, it was announced Sunday that the team received the No. 1 overall seed in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Florida, which won the ALC regular season title for the second-straight year and captured the first ALC Tournament Championship in team history on Saturday, is on a 13-match winning streak heading into the tournament. The Gators will receive a tremendous homefield advantage in the first two rounds (should they advance) before being forced to travel to Stony Brook, NY for the Final Four. Florida is looking to become the fastest program in the sport’s history to go from inception to national title but has a long road ahead of them beginning on Saturday, May 12 at 1 p.m. against Albany at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

2 » Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah was knocked out of Game 3 of his team’s first-round series against Philadelphia after severely spraining his ankle midway through the contest. Noah did his best to continue playing but was badly limping and eventually headed back to the locker room where he was told he would be unable to return to the court. He sat on the bench in a suit and air cast during Game 4 on Sunday and is also expected to miss Game 5 (as well as the remainder of the series should it advance past that point). Noah’s injury is a tough blow for a Chicago team already without point guard Derrick Rose. The top seed in the Eastern Conference, the Bulls may wind up eliminated in the first round while playing without their two biggest stars.

3 » The polar opposite of Noah, Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford came off a major injury and returned to action this weekend just as his former teammate appears to be going on the shelf for the rest of the season. Horford, who tore his right pectoral on Jan. 11 and has not played since, was an active participant in Atlanta’s Game 4 on Sunday. He posted 12 points and grabbed five rebounds in 20 minutes of action, not showing much rust despite missing almost the entire season. Horford may only see one more game in 2012 as the Hawks are set to face an elimination Game 5 on Tuesday.

4 » Denver Nuggets F Corey Brewer may have been trending on Twitter during his game Sunday while fans were joking about his hairline, but Brewer is taking his team’s first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers very seriously. According to the Denver Post, Brewer has been “finding fuel” to play hard by thinking about his father who passed away during the season. “He always used to smile when I’d do something good,” he said. “Every time he’d see me, he was always happy. Everybody says we have the same smile. He had it rough. He didn’t have legs. He was blind. But every time I’d see him, he was smiling. He can’t walk, he can’t see and he’s happy every day – so I got to be happy.” Head coach George Karl called Brewer his team’s “energizer, offensively and defensively” and has praised his ability to make an impact especially on the defensive end of the court. Like Noah and Horford, Brewer’s team is also facing an elimination Game 5 on Tuesday.

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Florida Gators in the 2012 NBA Playoffs

With the regular season wrapping up last week and the 2012 NBA Playoffs already in full swing, seven (six healthy) Florida Gators are currently representing their squads as they compete for the opportunity to appear in the NBA Finals.

EASTERN CONFERENCE:

(1) Chicago Bulls
No. 13 C Joakim Noah
Season: 5th
Averages: 30.4 mins., 10.2 pts., 9.8 rebs., 2.5 asst., 1.4 blk., .508 FG%, .748 FT%

(2) Miami Heat
No. 13 SG Mike Miller
Season: 12th
Averages: 19.3 mins., 6.1 pts., 3.3 rebs., 1.1 asst., .435 FG%, .453 3P%, .400 FT%

No. 40 PF Udonis Haslem
Season: 9th
Averages: 24.8 mins., 6.0 pts., 7.3 rebs., 0.7 asst., 0.4 blk., .423 FG%, .814 FT%

* Atlanta’s Al Horford has missed most of the season with a torn pectoral. Though he was expected to be back for the first round of the playoffs, he has been pushed back to at least the second round should his team make it to that point with a first-round victory. He is not currently listed as active for the playoffs.

WESTERN CONFERENCE:

(1) San Antonio Spurs
No. 15 F Matt Bonner
Season: 8th
Averages: 20.4 mins., 6.6 pts., 3.2 rebs., 0.9 asst., .440 FG%, .420 3P%, .762 FT%

(4) Memphis Grizzlies
No. 5 C Marreese Speights
Season: 4th
Averages: 22.4 mins., 8.8 pts., 6.2 rebs., 0.8 asst., 0.5 blk., .453 FG%, .771 FT%

(6) Denver Nuggets
No. 13 SF Corey Brewer
Season: 5th
Averages: 21.8 mins., 8.9 pts., 2.5 rebs., 1.2 stl., 434 FG%, .260 3P%, .692 FT%

Playoff teams without Gators on their rosters: (3) Indiana, (4) Boston, (6) Orlando, (7) New York, (8) Philadelphia, (2) Oklahoma City, (3) Los Angeles Lakers, (5) Los Angeles Clippers, (7) Dallas, (8) Utah

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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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