SIX BITS: soccer-NCAA, volleyball-SEC, Whitson

1 » Opening up the 2010 NCAA Tournament at James G. Pressly Stadium in Gainesville, FL, on Friday, No. 5 Florida Gators soccer (19-2-2, 9-1-1 SEC) scorched the Mercer Bears (10-9-1, 7-3 A-Sun) 3-0. Redshirt sophomore midfielder McKenzie Barney (15’, 73’) and junior MF/forward Tahnai Annis (48’) scored Florida’s three goals as the Gators out-shot the Bears 16-7. Unfortunately…

2 » Florida was not so fortunate in second-round action, taking the Duke Blue Devils (11-7-4, 7-3 ACC) into penalty kicks after the teams were held scoreless through regulation and two overtimes. In PKs, the Gators (19-2-3, 9-1-1 Sec) fell to the Blue Devils 4-2. Duke made all of its attempts while Florida only received goals from Barney and redshirt senior goalkeeper Katie Fraine with Annis’ saved and junior F Lindsay Thompson’s attempt going wide. The Gators end the 2010 season having won both the Southeastern Conference Championship and regular season title.

3 » In better news for the University of Florida, the No. 1 Florida volleyball team (24-1, 17-0 SEC) clinched at least a share of the 2010 SEC regular season title on Sunday by defeating the Alabama Crimson Tide (10-17, 2-15 SEC) 3-0 (25-17, 25-10, 25-17) on Senior Day at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Junior right-side/setter Kelly Murphy was impressive once again, leading the Gators with 10 kills and no errors along with 15 assists and seven digs. She notched her 12th-straight double-double and has been having an impressive season. Florida’s seniors also got in on the action with OH Callie Rivers, middle-back Lauren Bledsoe and libero Erin Fleming combining for 18 kills, 15 digs and six blocks on Sunday. UF has three more regular season matches – all on the road – before the 2010 SEC Tournament begins.

Three more BITS including an interesting piece on a Florida baseball commit…
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: soccer-NCAA, volleyball-SEC, Whitson

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TWO BITS: Noah featured in major publiations

1 » Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah, featured both in the latest issue of ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated is just beginning his fourth NBA season. Signing a five-year, $60 million extension over the summer, the former Florida Gators star and two-time national champion finally feels at peace in the NBA and is making a case to be known as one of the best centers in the league. ESPN The Magazine‘s feature story focuses on Noah’s living arrangements, comfort in Chicago and acceptance by the fans, while Sports Illustrated‘s article concentrates on Noah’s ascension within the NBA, struggles since joining the league and turn from draft-day pariah to fan favorite.

Below is a video ESPN.com shot to accompany the Noah story as published online.

2 » With Noah and former Florida teammate, Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford, signing nearly identical five-year, $60 million extensions, comparisons between the two players continue to be made in the NBA just like they were in college. Horford, who was taken No. 3 in the 2007 NBA Draft compared to Noah who was drafted in the No. 7 slot, was considered by many to be the better pro prospect coming out of college. However, when looking closely at their numbers and production since joining the league, many executives might take Noah over Horford if given the opportunity.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

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11/2: Donovan, players on second exhibition

Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan likes to talk – and we like to listen – which is why we have compiled some of the most important news, notes and quotes from his latest media availability in the following post. Additional material from Florida’s starting five can also be found below.

TYUS’ COMMITMENT NEVER IN DOUBT

Though senior forward Alex Tyus nearly transferred after his sophomore season and tested NBA Draft waters last year before ultimately deciding to return to the team, Donovan never questioned his commitment to the University of Florida at any time.

“After his sophomore year a lot of it had to do with the position and where he was having to play. I don’t think it was necessarily any ill feelings towards Florida or myself,” Donovan said. “It was probably this thing that was ingrained into him early on in his career by a lot of different people that he had to play this position in order to become this kind of player. It was really the furthest thing from the truth, and it really was not reality.

“I’ve never really questioned his commitment. Alex is a great kid, he wants to win, I think he has a good relationship with his teammates. It was probably a product of him being younger and getting advice and opinions from some people that maybe really didn’t understand what the reality was of some of the situations.”

MACKLIN NEEDS TO STEP UP AS A LEADER

With so many freshmen set to play significant minutes coming off the bench this season, Donovan has been impressed with the leadership shown by two of the team’s seniors – Tyus and Chandler Parsons. However, when it comes to redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin, Donovan sees room for improvement and attributes the gap to Macklin never being in a similar situation before.

“Vernon in particular has got do a better job leading this time of year for us. He’s got to understand the big picture in terms of what we’re trying to do. Vernon has got to prove that he can lead under duress, under adversity, under difficult circumstances,” he said. “I’ve tried to create some adversity in practices for him and for our team to see how they will respond. I don’t think Vernon has responded like I would like to see him respond. He’s done a great job up to this point. He’s played well and he’s worked hard. He himself has got to be able to handle and be a calming force in a lot of ways for our team. There’s no doubt in my mind that he can do that.”

Macklin understands what Donovan is looking for and hopes to satisfy his coach’s request. “I’m a vocal person, I just got to not let little things get to me and not have them affect the way I still be vocal in practice,” he said. “If something is not going my way, I still got to be a vocal person.”

WILBEKIN INJURY UPDATE

Freshman point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who had been impressing Donovan daily in practice, strained his neck in the Gators’ first exhibition game and has not practiced since. He will sit out Florida’s exhibition finale against Georgetown College. “We’re hoping to have him back maybe by the weekend,” Donovan said. “[That’s] maybe a little bit on the positive side, maybe [he’ll practice] a little bit later than that.”

QUOTES (After the break…)
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Horford, Hawks agree on 5-year, $60M extension

Less than one month after former Florida Gators teammate center Joakim Noah agreed in principal to a five-year, $60 million contract extension with the Chicago Bulls, forward/center Al Horford has decided to accept a similar deal with the Atlanta Hawks.

Atlanta had been feverishly working over the last two months to sign the back-to-back national champion and No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft to an extension.

“From the moment he arrived in Atlanta, Al has been a large part of our success,” executive vice president Rick Sund said in an official release from the team. “The winning tradition he brought to the franchise as a rookie out of Florida has extended to three consecutive playoff seasons in a Hawks uniform. In addition, he was deservedly recognized as an All-Star last year, and we certainly look forward to his continued development as we move forward.”

Last season, Horford was selected to his first NBA All-Star team after averaging career-highs in points (14.2), rebounds (9.9), field goal percentage (55.1%), free throw percentage (75.3%) and minutes (35.1) while starting all of the Hawks’ games.

“It happened like I’ve been predicting – down to the wire,” Horford told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday. “When we finally kind of agreed on everything, I was super excited. It’s great to be able to get it done and have peace of mind. It makes me able to come out and just focus on basketball, which is my priority to begin with. So I’m happy about that part.”

He was named a team captain this offseason and has incentives in his new contact, according to ESPN, that could add an additional $8 million to the deal. ESPN also reports that Horford will earn a flat $12 million annually, higher than Noah’s $10 million.

Photo Credit: Atlanta Hawks

OGGOA Related: Bulls, Noah agree to five-year, $60M extension

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SIX BITS: 12-0, Murphy, Tebow, Crowder, Harvey

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators volleyball (19-1, 12-0 SEC) kept its host streak alive Wednesday with a 3-0 (25-20, 25-17, 25-13) sweep of the South Carolina Gamecocks (5-17, 2-10 SEC) at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL. Senior outside hitter Callie Rivers dominated the contest with a match-high 11 kills and a career-high-tying four service aces. She also contributed five digs and a .524 hitting efficiency for a total of 15 points. Junior right-side/setter Kelly Murphy backed up Rivers with her seventh-straight double-double to the tune of 11 kills and12 assists. Having completed a five-game homestand, Florida will hit the road for two three-game stretches over their final eight games of the regular season, which concludes on Nov. 26.

2 » Leaving during the third quarter with an injury as the Oakland Raiders dominated the Denver Broncos last week, it has been determined that former Gators wide receiver Louis Murphy suffered a bruised lung and will miss several weeks of action. The Raiders’ No. 1 receiver, Murphy got off to a fast start this season but has floundered in recent weeks while dealing with injuries and constant quarterback changes.

Four more BITS on Tebow, Crowder, Harvey and how you can own a Gators ring…
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: 12-0, Murphy, Tebow, Crowder, Harvey

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Growth, maturity make Parsons a Donovan favorite

When senior forward Chandler Parsons joined the Florida Gators in 2007, he became a part of a program that was expected to maintain prominence following back-to-back National Championships. Instead, he was the sixth man for a team that was in the midst of rebuilding itself after losing its six best players to the NBA Draft and graduation.

Like most freshmen, he entered college cocky and sure of himself, confident that he could dominate on the court the same way he did against his less talented high school competition. Coming to the realization that he was a small fish in a big pond – rather than the other way around – was something that took two years for Parsons to understand.

“I came in here with the wrong mindset, thinking I was going to be the man and I could just come out here and do what I did in high school against college guys,” Parsons said Tuesday. “That was proven wrong and, after the first two years, I really had a heart-to-heart with coach [Billy] Donovan. He really pushed me, and I realized that I’m going to have to buy into this system for me to be successful here and for us to win. That’s what’s most important.”

Donovan saw his struggles coming from a mile away. The team’s leading scorer off the bench as a freshman, Parsons expected his talent to carry him through his sophomore year and the rest of his college career.

“He was never in the right place mentally,” Donovan said of Parsons’ mindset after his first two years. “I saw it coming his freshman year and tried to talk to him about it. He was never in the right place mentally going into his sophomore year. He just wasn’t prepared to really deal with it. He dealt with it after his sophomore year and then I think he really started to become better.”

With a new mindset to go along with his physical gifts and abilities, Parsons has become one of Donovan’s favorite players, someone who listened to his instructions and proved that he could do exactly what his coach wanted.

“He has grown as a person, as a player, as much as any player I’ve ever coached,” Donovan said. “From where he was at to where he is now, a lot of it for Chandler was this image and this unrealistic perception of who he thought he was. The crossroads came for him where, after his freshman year, he really thought it was going to be pretty easy to play 18 minutes, ‘I’ve got a year under my belt. I’ve got this all figured out. I’m going to do this. I’m going to do that.’ And all of a sudden he got really, really humbled. He didn’t have a great sophomore year, he was really up-and-down. He was not a guy that we could really, really rely on.
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NBA season begins, Gators look to make impact

The 2010-11 NBA season tipped off Tuesday night with nine former Florida Gators standouts on professional rosters. Some won National Championships while wearing the Orange & Blue, others went undrafted, but all want to prove that the Florida basketball program has and can produce legitimate NBA stars.

Al Horford, F/C, Atlanta Hawks
2009-10: Averaging career highs in points (14.2), rebounds (9.9), field goal percentage (55.1), free throw percentage (78.9) and minutes (35.1), Horford also contributed 2.3 assists and 1.1 blocks per game last year. For the second-straight season he led his team to the second round of the NBA Playoffs where, like in 2008-09, they were swept.
2010-11: The Godfather was named a captain in Atlanta during the preseason and will be a restricted free agent when the year ends. The Hawks are believed to be making a concerted effort to resign the first-time NBA All-Star and No. 3 overall pick of the 2007 NBA Draft to a five-year deal worth $50-60 million.

Joakim Noah, F/C, Chicago Bulls
2009-10: Averaging a double-double with career highs in points (10.7), rebounds (11.0), blocks (1.6), assists (2.1), free throw percentage (74.4) and minutes (30.1), Noah was also good for 2.1 assists per game and shot 50.4 percent from the field. He missed 28 games with a plantar fasciitis injury but regained his form before the playoffs, which saw Chicago fall in the first round.
2010-11: Noah was rewarded by the Bulls for his hard work with a five-year, $60 million extension in the offseason. His defense and shot blocking makes him an elite big man in the league and, with Chicago adding All-Star forward Carlos Boozer to the frontcourt, some of the pressure he felt to do everything for the team defensively may be relived.

David Lee, F/C, Golden State Warriors
2009-10: Averaging a double-double for the second-straight season with the New York Knicks, Lee posted career-highs in points (20.2), assists (3.6), blocks (0.5) and free throw percentage (81.2) along with 11.7 rebounds while shooting 54.5 percent. A fan favorite who was a victim of circumstance due to the blockbuster free agents available this summer, Lee was moved to the Golden State Warriors in a sign-and-trade.
2010-11: Agreeing a six-year, $80 million contract with Golden State, Lee will once again play for an up-tempo offense in which he will be able to shine. Though he will not be relied upon as heavily with the Warriors as he was with the Knicks, Lee will have ample opportunities to showcase his talent on the left coast.

Profiles for six more former Gators basketball players…after the jump!
Continue Reading » NBA season begins, Gators look to make impact

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FOUR BITS: ESPN coverage of Florida basketball

1 » With Florida Gators basketball’s 2010-11 season set to begin Thursday in the form of an exhibition match against Florida Tech, ESPN heaped some praise on the program Tuesday. First up was Andy Katz, who sees a team that is ready to return to a championship level of play after a few years of mediocrity.

“It definitely feels like the last three years, that I’ve been another player, not been able to do anything great with my teammates for the fans and the University of Florida to remember me,” senior forward Alex Tyus told Katz during a recent interview. “If we have a great year this year, hopefully they’ll remember the guys who came in after Al and Jo and left with their piece of the pie.”

Fellow senior forward Chandler Parsons recounts what happened that first season after the Gators’ best six players left. “It was as tough a time as I’ve ever been through,” he said. “We got kicked out of here [the Florida practice facility] and practiced in high school gyms two or three times a day when we were getting ready for the NIT and then after the season was over. But that’s what coach [Billy] Donovan does — he pushes you and puts your back against the wall to get the most out of you.”

Katz touches on a number of other topics in his article including junior point guard Erving Walker noticing a lack of leadership upon arriving in Gainesville, FL, sophomore guard Kenny Boynton setting his sights on the Final Four and freshman power forward Patric Young never wavering on his commitment.

2 » Also spotlighting Florida on Tuesday is ESPN Insider’s Chad Ford, who has named Young as the No. 2 overall 2011 NBA Draft prospect in the Southeastern Conference. Ford believes Young “looks like a 27-year-old NBA player in his prime” and calls him “an absolute physical specimen that has drawn comparisons to a young Dwight Howard.” Saying Young is “already an elite defender and rebounder,” Ford spoke with a NBA general manager who said “He’s one kid who could step in right now and play for an NBA team because of his defensive ability. Where he goes offensively really determines his ceiling, but his floor is already very high.”

3 » To Young’s credit, he told The Florida Times-Union in April that he plans to play for the Gators for either three of four years while earning his degree. “I’ve always wanted to play in the NBA, but I have a backup plan and that’s to have an education,” he said. “That ranks second, right behind my faith, in terms of importance. I eventually want to do something else in basketball, whether it’s to be an announcer, work for a team or have a business involved in the sport.”

4 » Former Ohio State walk-on Mark Titus, now a writer for ESPN Insider, has tabbed UF to win the SEC this year. He also took a humorous look at how Florida and its Gator Chomp still haunts his dreams. “I had nightmares about the Gator Chomp for weeks after losing the 2007 National Championship to Florida. But even though I hate it so much, there really is nothing like it in college basketball. […] Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go battle the recurring night terrors of Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer opening and closing their arm-jaws amidst a wave of confetti. Thanks, Florida.”

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