FOUR BITS: ESPYS, Murphy, Williams-Mills

1 » The Florida Gators will have the opportunity to win an award at the ESPYS for the third-straight year as two former student-athletes have been nominated in separate categories. U.S. Women’s National Team striker Abby Wambach is up for Best Record-Breaking Performance after setting the career international goal-scoring record in June. She will have to beat out quarterback Drew Brees (broke Johnny Unitas’s touchdown record), wide receiver Calvin Johnson (broke Jerry Rice’s season yardage record) and swimmer Michael Phelps (most decorated Olympian of all-time). Swimmer Ryan Lochte hopes to win Best Male U.S. Olympian but will have to earn votes over Phelps and decathlete Ashton Eaton. Wambach won an ESPY for Best Play in 2011 with QB Tim Tebow bringing home the award for Best Moment in 2012. The 2013 ESPYS will be held on Wednesday, July 17 at 9 p.m. and air live on ESPN.

2 » Holding up a No. 31 jersey at his team’s introductory press conference on Monday, new Chicago Bulls forward Erik Murphy is excited to get started and will begin working out with Chicago this week ahead of NBA Summer League action. The Bulls will compete in summer league games from July 12-22 at the Thomas & Mack Center and COX Pavilion in Las Vegas, NV. Chicago general manager Gar Forman said Monday that he is excited to see what Murphy, the No. 49 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, brings to the table. “We really haven’t had a guy that’s a stretch four,” he said. “We think as he continues to progress, it will give us an ability to space the floor.” The Bulls also released this one-on-one interview [Video] with Murphy from Monday.

3 » Former Gators sprinter Novlene Williams-Mills, who raced for Jamaica in the 2012 London Olympics and brought home bronze in the 4×400 Meter Relay, was diagnosed with breast cancer about a month before the games but never told anyone except for her husband, family and friends. In a feature by Laura Williamson of the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail, Williams-Mills discusses the trying time, her mindset during the Olympics, deciding to have a double mastectomy and how she is doing now (hint: very well). Just one week ago, she won her seventh Jamaican national championship, finishing first in the women’s 400 meters and advancing to the 2013 IAAF World Outdoor Championships in Moscow, Russia, from Aug. 10-18. Williams-Mills will look to win her sixth World Championship medal to go along with her three Olympic bronzes.

4 » Three Florida swimmers will represent their country as USA Swimming competes at the 2013 FINA World Championships in Barcelona, Spain, from July 19-Aug. 4. Over the last week, rising senior Elizabeth Beisel (200 Meter Individual Medley, 400 Meter I.M.), Conor Dwyer (200 Meter Freestyle, 200 Meter I.M.) and Ryan Lochte (200 Meter Freestyle, 200 Meter Backstroke, 100 Meter Butterfly, 200 Meter I.M., 4×100 Meter Freestyle Relay) advanced in their respective events during the 2013 Phillips 66 National Championships in Indianapolis, IN. Lochte, the current world record holder in the 200 Meter I.M. (a mark he set in 1:54.00 at the World Championships two years ago), won national titles in three of his events and was the only one of the Gators’ competitors to finish first in any race; Beisel finished second in both of her events.

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Tim Tebow wins ESPY award for Best Moment

Former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow may no longer be a member of the Denver Broncos but one of his last plays with the team earned him and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas an ESPY award on Wednesday in Los Angeles, CA.

Playing in the Wildcard Round of the 2012 NFL Playoffs, Denver and the Pittsburgh Steelers were tied at 23 heading into overtime with the Broncos receiving the ball. On the very first play from scrimmage, Tebow hit Thomas across the middle with a dart that the receiver would take the rest of the way for a game-winning 80-yard touchdown pass.

The ESPY for Best Moment is the third in Tebow’s young career but his first as a professional football player. He previously won Best Male College Athlete as a member of the Gators football team in both 2008 and 2009.

Florida was well-represented at the award show on Wednesday with three other nominees – U.S. Women’s National Team striker Abby Wambach for Best Female Athlete, junior catcher Mike Zunino for Best Male College Athlete and jumper Christian Taylor for Best Track & Field Athlete – though none of the three brought home the award in their respective category. Gators senior right fielder Preston Tucker was also in attendance to officially accept the 2012 Capital One Cup and guard Mike Miller found his way onstage to accept the award for Best Team.

A number of former Florida student-athletes congratulated Tebow for his award on Twitter after it was announced.

Jack Youngblood (@theblood85): Congrats @TimTebow on your @ESPYS award! Here’s to more “moments” like that one-JY

Marcus Gilbert (@MarcusGilbert88): Congrats to my boy @TimTebow even thought he won it against my #Steelers smh! Payback week 2 lol

Andre Caldwell (@Acaldwell17): How can you not like @TimTebow and the way he carry is his self.. It was a pleasure to play with Timmy

Brandon Spikes (@BrandonSpikes55): Tim Tebow is such a great player !!! #GrinchSmile

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FOUR BITS: ESPYs, Ball, mission, Crippen

1 » Four total Florida Gators were nominated for ESPYs this year: U.S. Women’s National Team striker Abby Wambach (Best Female Athlete), then-Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow (Best Moment), catcher Mike Zunino (Best Male College Athlete) and jumper Christian Taylor (Best Track & Field Athlete). Florida will also receive the 2012 Capital One Cup at the event, making July 11 at 9 p.m. a potentially very rewarding evening for the Gators.

2 » GatorZone.com senior writer Scott Carter recently spoke with Florida redshirt sophomore linebacker Neiron Ball, who conveyed that he feels “great,” hasn’t “felt this good in a long time” and is ready to rejoin the Gators football team after being rushed to the hospital last February and diagnosed with an arteriovenous malformation (tangling of blood vessels) in his brain. Doctors were able to correct the issue and Ball was allowed to go home a few days later but was ruled out for the season even after he was deemed to be stable a few weeks later. “I was devastated,” he said. “It was the worst pain I ever felt. I wouldn’t even call it a headache. It felt like somebody was squeezing my brain. I knew it was very serious. At that point, I really thought I wasn’t going to make it because I was in terrible pain.” The good news is, now that Ball is recovered, the AVM has no chance of coming back. “If something comes up again, it’s another injury,” Florida associate director of sports and health and head athletics trainer for football Anthony Pass said. “There is no chronic nature to this. If he gets a concussion, it’s a concussion, it’s not because he had an AVM. He is healthy and he is ready to roll. If he gets injured somehow again and it’s a head injury, it’s another injury. It’s football, so the risk of injury is always there, but he is healthy to play football.”

3 » Six current Gators student-athletes – junior center Patric Young, junior forward Will Yeguete, junior running back Trey Burton, sophomore tight end Clay Burton, sophomore hurdler Katrina DeKrey and junior thrower Ashley Miller – are currently on a week-long mission trip to Africa sponsored by the organization Athletes In Action. The four Florida players you are likely most familiar with created the following video update:

4 » Gators senior Teresa Crippen is currently in Omaha, NE with many of her Florida teammates competing at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trails. Unfortunately for Crippen, she had had to scratch out of most of the early events (she qualified to compete in the preliminaries of seven total) due to a reoccurring illness. She was able to compete in the 200 Meter Freestyle on Wednesday and posted a 2:00.73, which almost qualified her for the semifinals. Crippen is expected to be able to swim in the remainder of her events so a spot participating in the 2012 London Olympics is not completely out of her reach yet.

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Top 11 for 2011: On the Field Moments of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators were in the news off the field in 2011 (check out Friday’s post), the Gator Nation was making plenty of headlines on it as well. From breathtaking moments, game-changing and game-winning plays to winning championships and setting world records, Florida accomplished some unique athletic feats in 2011. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 11 On the Field Moments of the Year.

11 » JOHNSON, BRANTLEY, KITCHENS SUFFER SCARY INJURIES
Plenty of Florida student-athletes suffered injuries in 2011 but three in particular caused fans to gasp and remain worried about the future of said player. Participating in the semifinals of the 2011 SEC Tournament, Gators baseball wound up dropping a close game 4-3 to Georgia, a loss that forced an elimination game which Florida would later win. However, UF sophomore right-handed pitcher Brian Johnson was taken off a stretcher in the top of the first inning after giving up two earned runs and accidentally being beaned in the back of the head with the baseball by sophomore catcher Mike Zunino. Trying to pick off a runner stealing second, Zunino got his leg tangled with the batter, tripped and flung the ball into the head of a crouching Johnson. He was quickly stabilized, brought to the hospital and deemed responsive though he had a massive headache and was diagnosed with a minor three concussion (no skull fractures or bleeding). Johnson missed the entire Gainesville Regional but returned to action in the Super Regional after being sidelined for more than two weeks.

Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley was in the middle of playing the best game of his collegiate career (despite throwing a costly pick-six) when he went down with an ugly lower leg injury at the end of the first half against Alabama. Brantley had thrown a pretty 65-yard touchdown pass to redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose on the first play of the game and was in the middle of driving Florida in for another score before being sacked twice and having his lower leg contorted the second time. Brantley was nearly immediately ruled out of the team’s next game against powerhouse LSU with a high-ankle sprain, and UF was forced to start a true freshman who had not even taken a snap in the team’s first five games in consecutive road contests against LSU and Auburn. Needless to say, the Gators lost both of those contests.

Brantley was never the same after the injury. He nearly helped Florida beat Georgia but was pretty much immobilized in the pocket and threw three interceptions in the team’s first five possessions against Florida State before being knocked out of the game with a head injury that was equally painful to watch. However, that was not the Gators’ only major injury in that game. Perhaps the scariest incident of the year came on kickoff coverage when sophomore linebacker Darrin Kitchens was hit hard from his blindside and laid motionless on the field while trainers attended to him. To this day Kitchens does not remember anything about being hit. Lucky for him, he was cleared that evening with “just” a concussion, released from the hospital and allowed to return to practice with the team just before Christmas. He is expected to play in the 2012 Gator Bowl.

10 » LACROSSE WINS FIRST CONFERENCE TITLE, REACHES ELITE EIGHT

The Florida lacrosse program has been making history since the day it signed the nation’s No. 1 ranked recruiting class prior to the team’s inaugural season in 2010. The Gators were a young but talented group and won over the school even if falling short of some of their goals one year ago. Florida took the next step in 2011, ending the regular season with an 11-0 record at home and on a 13-game winning streak. The Gators capped their stellar regular season by defeating Northwestern for the 2011 ALC Championship just 419 days after the team played its first game in school history. Florida would fall to Northwestern just over three weeks later in the finals of the 2011 ALC Tournament, splitting the season’s conference title down the middle, but took home a number of awards from the league. Sophomore midfielder Kitty Cullen won Player of the Year honors while head coach Amanda O’Leary was named Coach of the Year in just her second season. Two more players were All-ALC first team selections and three others earned spots on the second team. The ladies made it all the way to the Elite Eight of the 2011 NCAA Tournament as well before being taken down 13-9 by Duke, their only loss at home on the season. The Gators were the first program in the history of the sport to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament in only their second year of existence and defeated some of the top teams in the country on the way to an unforgettable season that sets Florida up as a favorite heading into 2012.

Continue Reading » Top 11 for 2011: On the Field Moments of the Year

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Abby Wambach named AP Athlete of the Year

Former Florida Gators striker Abby Wambach, who captained and led the U.S. Women’s National Team to exhilarating victories and a second-place finish in the 2011 Women’s World Cup over the summer in Germany, has been named the 2011 Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press.

Wambach dominated the balloting, receiving 65 of 214 first-place votes, and became the first individual soccer player in the country’s history to win the award.

She scored four goals for the United States in the World Cup, leading the Americans to the final match where they eventually lost to Japan on penalty kicks. Wambach received the Silver Ball and Bronze Boot awards by FIFA for her efforts during the event.

In addition to her soccer awards, she was also named Sportswoman of the Year by the Women’s Sports Foundation in October and was announced in September as one of eight former letter winners who will be inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame as part of the 2012 class. She was also a late entry and eventual winner of the ESPY award for Best Play in July.

Wambach’s heroic efforts over the summer included a game-tying goal two minutes into injury time during extra time against Brazil in the quarterfinals, what became a game-winning goal against France in the semifinals, and a near game-winning goal 14 minutes into extra time against Japan in the finals.

Photo Credit: Martin Meissner/Associated Press

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Abby Wambach wins ESPY award for Best Play

Just days after it occurred on the pitch, the game-tying header scored by former Florida Gators striker Abby Wambach in the 122nd minute of the U.S. Women’s National Team’s 2011 Women’s World Cup quarterfinal match against Brazil on Sunday won the ESPY for Best Play as announced during the award ceremony Wednesday evening.

Down 2-1 and facing the earliest elimination from World Cup play in United States history, Wambach converted a beautiful cross from Megan Rapinoe to tie the game and force a penalty kick shootout, which the Americans eventually won 5-3.

With the ESPYS set to air three days later, ESPN‘s producers decided to add the connection between Rapinoe and Wambach to the Best Play category as what they termed an “extra time” nomination on Wednesday. Even with only a short window for fans to vote (it is the only award that can be voted on until the night of the show), Wambach and the USA brought home one of the most prestigious awards from the event.

Defeating France 3-1 on Wednesday, the U.S. advanced to the World Cup finals for the first time since 1999. The Americans will face Japan on Sunday at 2 p.m. live on ESPN.

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FOUR BITS: Beal, Donovan, Kruger at Florida

1 » Named the 2010-11 Gatorade National Player of the Year for men’s basketball on April 4, Florida Gators five-star freshman guard Brad Beal accepted his award on Tuesday in Los Angeles, CA. Beal will be recognized at the 2011 ESPYS Wednesday evening, as will former Florida forward Chandler Parsons, who will be accepting the 2010-11 Capitol One Cup for the University of Florida’s men’s athletic program.

2 » ESPN senior college basketball writer Andy Katz mentioned the Gators and head coach Billy Donovan on his blog Tuesday as he discussed how the team will be backcourt heavy for 2011-12. Donovan told Katz that he is excited about the depth on the perimeter (something Florida has lacked for the last few years) but that he will not task all of his guards with scoring the way they might want to. “We want everyone to understand a good shot,” he said. “I’m excited with the challenges of dealing with the guards.” One of those challenges will be reigning in senior point guard Erving Walker, who Katz says Donovan has challenged to “lead the SEC in assists since there will be more than enough offense on the wings this season.”

3 » Excited that former Gators head coach Lon Kruger has been hired to head up their local Oklahoma Sooners, The Oklahoman printed a pair of stories about Kruger’s time at Florida on Wednesday. The first was focused on his decision to send the 1994 UF basketball team to Australia for two weeks of exhibition games before the season began and how that resulted in solid team chemistry. “We didn’t have any superstars or McDonald’s All-Americans,” former guard Craig Brown told the paper. “We were just a bunch of guys committed to playing tough, hard defense. We believed in the coaching staff. After we got back (from Australia), we knew we had a chance to have a special season.”

4 » The second piece centered on Kruger’s penchant for making student-athletes enjoy playing for him while resurrecting a program recovering from two years of NCAA probation. “When Coach Kruger arrived the program was in disarray,” said former student manager Jeff Guin. “It wasn’t just wins and losses. It was NCAA issues. Few people came to games. No one really cared.” Also included in the latter piece is an interesting statement from Gators basketball historian Bill Koss. “(Rick) Pitino told Billy, ‘Absolutely do not take that job. It’s a football school,’” Koss told the paper. “Billy has told me several times he would not have taken the job if Lon hadn’t accomplished what he accomplished.”

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Gator Bites for Thursday, July 15th

From time to time, OGGOA will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share with our readers. In those instances, we present a special post: Gator Bites. Enjoy.

» Former Florida Gators forward/center David Lee of the Golden State Warriors has been invited to try out for the USA Basketball Men’s National Team and will be trying to prove his worth during a training camp next week in Las Vegas, NV.

» Twilight actress Ashley Greene is a huge Gators fan, even recently discussing the team on Jimmy Kimmel Live! (watch video). Here is a picture of her Wednesday night with Denver Broncos rookie quarterback Tim Tebow at the ESPYs in Los Angeles, CA. Looks like a happy (and beautiful) young lady.

» Speaking of the ESPYs and Tebow, host Seth Meyers of Saturday Night Live joked about the Heisman Trophy winner during a small portion of his opening monologue. “Tim Tebow is here. Tim’s jersey is already one of the top selling jerseys in the NFL. I heard that and thought: ‘Jesus…who does this guy know? … Oh right, Jesus.’ Just kidding, Tim. And I hope this goes without saying but…just kidding, Jesus.”

» One more… Playing a slight joke on Tebow on the ride back to the hotel Wednesday night after the ESPYs was ESPN‘s NFL insider Chris Mortensen. Sitting next to him on the hotel shuttle, Mortensen told him, “You’re gonna make a heckuva H-back.” Tebow “had a good laugh.” Also confirmed in attendance were Minnesota Timberwolves forward Corey Brewer and sideline reporters Erin Andrews and Jenn Brown.

» Ranking his top six basketball players of the 2011 recruiting class, FOX Sports’ Jeff Goodman has Florida five-star commit Brad Beal (St. Louis, MO) taking the last spot. “[He] reminds me so much of Ray Allen. He’s silky smooth and can really shoot the ball from deep. Beal is also a winner,” Goodman notes.

» Three former Gators golfers – Camilo Villegas, Brian Gay and Mark Calcavecchia – are participating in The Open Championship at St. Andrews this weekend. In opening round action, the three men are T17 (-4), T46 (-2) and T73 (E), respectively.

» Sophomore jumper Christian Taylor, who had a great track & field season with Florida, won his second gold medal at the North American, Central American and Caribbean Under-23 Championships at Ansin Sports Complex in Miramar, FL, on Sunday. Winning the men’s triple jump to go along with his men’s long jump crown over the weekend, he is also a three-time NCAA Champion.

» The University of Florida‘s Stephen C. O’Connell Center has been named the host of the 2013 NCAA Gymnastics Southeast Regional.

» If you love recruiting and would like a quick update as to where the Gators are right now in putting together their 2011 class, check out this piece by ESPN recruiting analyst Jamie Newberg. Most if not all of this has already been written about here on OGGOA, but Newberg’s article is a nice recap and does provide some interesting tidbits.

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