2014 SEC Spring Meetings: Schedules, network

The 2014 Southeastern Conference Spring Meetings got underway on Tuesday in Destin, Florida, with Florida Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley, head football coach Will Muschamp and head basketball coach Billy Donovan all in attendance.

In addition to participating in league meetings, school representatives make themselves available to discuss a number of hot topics concerning the SEC and college sports nationwide. Below are some highlights from the first day of the SEC Spring Meetings.

NO MORE FCS OPPONENTS?

Strength of schedule has been a key issue for members of the power five conferences now that the College Football Playoff has been put into place. With the SEC deciding to stick at eight league games and mandate at least one opponent from those four other conferences beginning in 2017, SEC schools are looking for ways to make their schedules even stronger going forward.

Muschamp on Tuesday said seemingly matter-of-factly that Florida is “probably going to move forward without playing FCS opponents.” As it turns out, the Gators do not currently have one on deck past 2014. Foley appreciated Muschamp’s sentiment, which falls in line with a recent Big Ten mandate, but does not necessarily think it is feasible. “In a perfect world, you play all [FBS] schools,” he told the Orlando Sentinel’s Edgar Thompson, “but you also have to have 12 opponents.”

Alabama head football coach Nick Saban agreed with both Muschamp and Foley, noting that he would ideally like to schedule all non-conference games against big-five league teams before conceding that it is much easier said than done. “We can’t just call people up and say, ‘We want to have a game.’ It’s not like setting up a golf game,” he said.

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Damontre Harris leaves Florida Gators for good

Center Damontre Harris, who sat out two seasons with the Florida Gators due to NCAA transfer rules and team discipline, will leave the program without stepping on the court and playing a single game.

Harris’s departure was first reported by CBSSports.com’s Jon Rothstein but confirmed minutes later by Florida on Wednesday.

A source close to the team told OnlyGators.com last month that Harris gave tremendous effort in practice during the spring semester and was impressing on the court. However, a second source noted last week that Harris reverted to old form when the offseason began, indicating that his time at UF would likely to come to an end before the 2014-15 campaign as he was already missing team activities.

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Will Muschamp calls Florida basketball a “great example” for Gators football in 2014

For the first time in 73 collegiate campaigns, dating all the way back to the 1940-41 season, the Florida Gators saw their football team (eight) lose more games than their basketball team (three) in a single athletic calendar.

Granted, Florida football had its worst year since 1979 while Gators basketball posted one of the sport’s five best seasons in school history, but the fact is nevertheless a disturbing one for those that hold the outdated belief that UF is a “football school.”

So it should come as no surprise that Florida head football coach Will Muschamp, with plenty of time to watch the school’s other sports considering the Gators did not compete in the postseason and had spring practice start later than normal, believes his team can learn from what head basketball coach Billy Donovan accomplished with his squad.

“I’ve used their team, their unselfish team a lot [as an example] with our guys,” Muschamp said on Thursday during a Gator Gathering speech in front of the Broward County Gator Club in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

“I asked our players one time, I said, ‘How many lottery picks are on this basketball team?’ Our guys, they know, they said, ‘Probably none.’ I said, ‘How many first-round picks are there?’ [They answered], ‘I don’t know right now.’

“Well, they had a team that offensively played together. They had a defensive team that helped and played together. They were willing to make the extra pass offensively. They played with great effort and great passion.”

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FOUR BITS: Beal, Noah, Horschel, Donovan

1 » Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal opened some eyes on Tuesday, both early in the day and later in the evening when his team took down the Chicago Bulls 101-99 behind a great performance from the 20-year-old. Beal on Monday tweeted that he was visiting Giordano’s, a popular Chicago-style deep dish pizza restaurant in the Windy City. The Washington Post asked him about the experience. “I can’t eat that fat pie piece, whatever it’s called,” he said. “Deep dish pizza, I can’t eat that. I got the regular thin one. I didn’t eat a lot because I heard it’ll just sit there and you’ll be in the bathroom for hours.” It was probably a good thing Beal chose the New York-style slices because he went off that next day against the Bulls, scoring a game-high 26 points on 4-of-7 shooting from three with seven boards, two assists, two steals and a block in 42 minutes. Beal led the Wizards to tie the game late in the fourth quarter, scoring six-straight points and nine of his team’s last 11 to knot the contest at 91-91 with 52 seconds remaining.

2 » Chicago center Joakim Noah, fresh off his NBA Defensive Player of the Year honor also played well Tuesday, notching a double-double of 20 points and 12 rebounds while also registering three dimes in 46 minutes. Noah was 8-of-14 from the floor and 4-for-4 from the line but did commit five turnovers and five fouls in the contest. In other Noah news, it was revealed by TMZ.com Wednesday that he and the footwear company Le Coq Sportif, of which he was an endorser after signing a six-year, $6 million contract, are in the midst of a lawsuit. Noah claims he is owed $1.65 million from the company, which “shut down its U.S. offices, fired the guy who signed Noah and started looking for ways to back out of the deal.” Furthermore, he “held up his end of the bargain and wore Le Coq shoes in every NBA game he played even though he claims they were ‘not well designed and likely contributed to [my] development of plantar faciitis,’” an injury that bothered him for each of the last two seasons. Noah now wears adidas.

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FOUR BITS: Noah, Donovan, Calathes, Parsons

1 » According to CSNChicago.com, a press conference scheduled by the Chicago Bulls for 4 p.m. on Monday will be to officially announce that former Florida Gators center Joakim Noah will be named the 2013-14 NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Noah, who was an unlikely MVP candidate this season, would become the first Chicago player to win the award since Michael Jordan (1987-88) and first-ever former Florida player to capture the honor. He would be just the second Gators player to win an NBA year-end award, joining guard Mike Miller, who was named Rookie of the Year in 2000-01 and Sixth Man of the Year in 2005-06.

2 » Already considered a hot name for the New York Knicks job, Florida head coach Billy Donovan is now apparently up for another NBA gig with the Minnesota Timberwolves. “Been discussing [Tom] Izzo/[Fred] Hoiberg for some time as candidates to replace [Rick] Adelman, but here’s a new name I’m told interests Wolves: Billy Donovan,” tweeted ESPN.com reporter Marc Stein on Monday. “Wolves [are] vowing [a] comprehensive search to find coach who can help them persuade Kevin Love to stay. Donovan, I’m told, has emerged as new target.” The New York and Minnesota jobs both opened up on Monday when Mike Woodson was fired by new Knicks team president Phil Jackson and Adelman announced his retirement. Donovan would seem to be a better fit in New York than Minnesota but neither is a likely destination for him at this time. The Timberwolves are 71-93 over the last two seasons, will be looking for their sixth coach in a span of 10 seasons and may very well be losing their star player to free agency after the conclusion of the 2014-15 campaign.

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15 Gator Bites for Tuesday, April 15

From time to time, OnlyGators.com 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. When stories like these fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» Houston Rockets forward Chandler Parsons was involved in a card accident before his team’s game on Monday – don’t worry, he’s OK – when a woman ran a red light and hit his sports utility vehicle. What happened next? “She said she ran a red light and it was her fault,” Parsons told the Houston Chronicle. “She had a little car so it kind of messed up the front bumper of my car. She was OK. Asked me to sign her insurance card.” Parsons led Houston with 21 points in 40 minutes on Monday. He entered the game recovering from a hip injury he suffered last week.

» According to Jimmy Kempski of Philly.com, the Philadelphia Eagles have a high level of interest in Gators outside linebacker Ronald Powell. Kempski notes that Philadelphia has a history of selecting high-upside players that were ranked among the top players in the country coming out of high school seeing as the Eagles used a seventh-round selection on running back Bryce Brown in 2012.

» The final USA Today Coaches Top 25 poll came out following the 2014 NCAA Tournament, and the individual ballots of all 32 coaches that voted were released as well. Five coaches – Tim Cluess (Iona), Matt Driscoll (North Florida), Tim Floyd (UTEP), Shaka Smart (VCU) and Don Verlin (Idaho) – voted Florida into the No. 2 spot over Kentucky, while four other coaches picked UF at No. 4 behind Wisconsin. One coach – Mike McConathy of Northwestern State – ranked the Gators fifth in the final poll.

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Freshman PF Chris Walker announces return to Florida Gators for sophomore season

Freshman power forward Chris Walker announced Wednesday that he intends to skip the 2014 NBA Draft, continue playing college basketball and return to the Florida Gators as a sophomore for the 2014-15 season.

“This year has been a great one, and I’m happy to say I will be joining the gatornation again for one more year!” he wrote Wednesday afternoon on Twitter.

Walker, an athletic frontcourt player who joined the team in mid-December after being declared academically ineligible for the fall semester, did not play his first game until Feb. 4 while serving an NCAA suspension for accepting impermissible benefits.

He averaged 4.8 minutes over the 18 games he did play, amassing a grand total of 34 points, 24 rebounds and eight blocks on the season.

As he neither went through the offseason strength and conditioning program nor spent the summer and fall practicing with the team, Walker was far behind when he eventually became eligible for the Gators.

His length and athleticism were apparent in his rebounding and shot blocking, but he often rushed shots when getting post touches and was considered a liability on defense.

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The Silver Lining: 2013-14 Florida Gators were tough to beat but easily defined

Some may say they can’t or won’t, but you can be sure Florida’s players and coaches will tune in to the national championship game on Monday.

And when they turn on the television or stream the game from another device, the Gators will be sitting in Gainesville, FL watching a team they beat three times, an eight-seed that entered the tournament unranked in the Associated Press top 25 poll, compete against a seven-seed that bookended UF’s school-record 30-game winning streak with a pair of losses and was one of just two opponents to hand them a defeat this season.

Florida was supposed to earn itself a storybook ending to a near-perfect season by getting revenge on UConn and moving on to either do the same against Wisconsin or defeat Kentucky for the fourth time in one season.

Not anymore.

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