Brad Wilkerson becomes first Florida Gators player inducted into College Baseball Hall of Fame

A three-time All-American and the 1998 National Player of the Year, Brad Wilkerson was inducted into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame, becoming the first Florida Gators player to receive the prestigious honor.

A unanimous first-team All-American as a junior in 1998, Wilkerson’s abilities at the plate and on the mound were some of the main reasons why Florida won two Southeastern Conference Championships in three years and advanced to the College World Series in both 1996 and 1998. His grand slam home run to defeat Florida State in the CWS is one of the standout plays in Gators baseball history, and he became the first player in NCAA history to hit 20 homers, steal 20 bases and earn 10 wins as a pitcher (which he accomplished in 1998).

Wilkerson is first in school history to this day in career batting average (.381), slugging percentage (.714), on-base percentage (.531) and walks (224); he is second in home runs (55), runs batted in (214), runs (239) and total bases (499). He is also listed as part of the top-10 in seven other categories including notables like pitching wins (third with 26), strikeouts as a pitcher (fifth with 292) and hits (sixth with 266).

Following his time at Florida, Wilkerson was selected with the No. 33 overall pick by the Montreal Expos in the 1998 MLB Draft and following three years in the minor leagues spent eight playing in the majors. He earned Rookie of the Year honors from Sporting News, hit 32 home runs in 2004, smacked the last home run in Expos team history, jacked the first grand slam in Washington Nationals team history, hit for the natural cycle (in four plate appearances) and hit three home runs in a single game (2007).

Wilkerson also played for the Texas Rangers (2006-07) and spent time as a member of both the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays in 2008. He signed a minor league contract with Boston in 2009 but quickly decided to retire before attempting a comeback in 2010 with Philadelphia that only lasted one month.

Wilkerson is a member of the seventh class of the National College Baseball Hall of Fame, which began honoring players in 2006, and was inducted in a ceremony that took place Saturday in Lubbock, TX. He is one of four members of the 2012 class, which also includes Nomar Garciaparra, Lou Brock and Frank Sancet (coach).

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FOUR BITS: Milton-Jones, James, Walker, MLB

1 » Former Florida Gators forward DeLisha Milton-Jones – a two-time WNBA champion, two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time WNBA All-Star – became just the ninth player in league history to eclipse 5,000 career points after scoring seven in the Los Angeles Sparks 91-75 loss to Tulsa on Tuesday. Currently participating in her 14th WNBA season, Milton-Jones has spent most of her career with Los Angeles after coming out of Florida in 1999. She is a member of the UF Athletic Hall of Fame and was also named the SEC Player of the Year in 1997.

2 » It was a tough decision for him to make but former Gators running back/returner Brandon James eventually decided to hang up his cleats a few months ago and become a high school football coach. James got the opportunity to serve as an assistant coach for St. Joseph’s High School in St. Augustine, FL when his former youth baseball coach Bernie Packo hired him to join his new staff on April 4. However, following an unforeseen change of events, Packo was fired just 22 days later and James was promoted to head coach by the school administration last Thursday. In an exclusive interview with me published as a feature story on InsidetheGators.com (which you can read for FREE by clicking here), James discussed his decision to turn in his helmet for a whistle and give back to the community that once did so much for him.

3 » The No. 6 player in the country according to Rivals.com and the top remaining target on Florida head coach Billy Donovan’s radar as it pertains to the 2013 recruiting class, five-star power forward Chris Walker had some positive things to say about the Gators when interviewed Tuesday about his recruitment. Walker told Rivals ($) that his top five as of right now is Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio State and Louisville but that one team stands out at this point in time. “I guess you could say that [the Gators] are in the driver’s seat,” he said when asked if UF leads for his services. “I’m still open of course and maybe a few visits could change my mind.” Though he listed a top five, Walker is believed by many to eventually choose Florida and Kansas as his final two schools.

4 » A pair of Gators juniors – left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson and shortstop Nolan Fontana – officially signed their MLB rookie contracts on Tuesday, forgoing their final season of collegiate eligibility to turn pro. The final selection in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft by the Boston Red Sox (No. 31 overall), Johnson signed a deal Tuesday worth more than $1.5 million. Fontana, the first pick in the second round of the draft (No. 61 overall), signed his contract with the Houston Astros and reportedly received a little more than his slot value of $875,000. Houston decided that he will report directly to Lexington (Class A), skipping all three short-season leagues that many rookies play in before joining the minors. WEEI Sportsradio out of Boston, MA also reports that Florida junior right-hander and third-round selection Austin Maddox is set to sign with the Red Sox for $350,000, which is $50,000 under his slot allotment of $400,000. It is unknown as of press time where Johnson and Maddox will begin their careers.

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FOUR BITS: Machen, Taylor, Tebow, Beal

1 » University of Florida President Bernie Machen announced Friday that he will conclude his tenure sometime in 2013 after nearly a decade at the helm of the most prestigious institution of higher learning in the state. Machen, 68, made his announcement at the UF Board of Trustees meeting, and the school sent an e-mail to students, alumni and faculty almost simultaneously. “This decision reflects our joint feeling that there’s a time for everything in life and it’s now our time to pursue the next chapter,” said Machen while also referring to his wife Chris, according to The Gainesville Sun. “Of course, it will be pursued here in Gainesville and it will be pursued at the University of Florida.” The Sun notes that his most recent contract extension, signed last year, “establishes a post-presidency role for Machen at the university.” The school expects that it will have a decision on Machen’s replacement in the next six months; a smooth transition will take place with Machen handing over the reins and responsibilities at a time both parties deem to be the most convenient and effective. Read the school’s official announcement on Machen’s decision.

2 » The Jacksonville Jaguars announced Thursday that recently retired running back Fred Taylor would be inducted into the Pride of the Jaguars this season. Taylor, who will join offensive tackle Tony Boselli as the second member of the Pride, is arguably the most talented and popular player in team history. He finished his career in Jacksonville (spanning 11 years) with 11,271 yards (4.6 yards per carry average) and 62 rushing touchdowns along with 2,361 receiving yards and eight reception scores. Taylor is not a member of the Florida GatorsRing of Honor as he is not yet eligible but could become eligible should he be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is, however, a member of the Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame and UF Athletic Hall of Fame.

3 » It has been obvious from day one of the trade that New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan believes in quarterback Tim Tebow. Though he may have his reservations about him as a signal caller, Ryan continues to be impressed with Tebow’s character and football-playing abilities. He also seems to be infatuated with his strength. “Let me give you a little story about Tim,” Ryan said on Thursday, according to Pro Football Talk. “I saw this in the weight room. A player had challenged him, holding these big huge sledgehammers. They held them doing this big iron cross kind of deal. The big lineman went first. [Tebow] said you want to go first or second. The big lineman said he’d go first. He went for about a 1:04, shaking. Tim went for 1:18. This guy is crazy with how strong he is and the kind of focus [he has]. I see that from him. He’s super competitive.” Ryan also said that he understands Tebow likes to use his athleticism in the pocket and is perfectly with that in the correct situations. “He’s done some things in some previous practices, where it’s like, wow, that’s a football player,” he said. “The defense will start chirping about him, ‘Come on. Throw the ball, stand back and throw the ball.’ Why? If he sees two-man [deep defense], he’s running with it. Someone better go out there and make a tackle. I think everyone sees Tim for what he is. He’s a super competitive guy and a good teammate. I’ve noticed he’s always building guys up. By the way, he’s a talented kid, or young man.”

4 » At the 2012 NBA Combine as a partial participant, Gators freshman guard Bradley Beal has been getting plenty of work done off the court. According to the Chicago Tribune (the combine is taking place in Chicago, IL), Beal “had interviews with Detroit, Denver and Sacramento on Wednesday,” several more planned for Thursday and individual workouts scheduled with Charlotte (No. 2 overall pick) and Washington (No. 3 overall pick) in the near future.

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Gator Bites for Wednesday, May 23

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.

» Former Florida Gators forward Chandler Parsons of the Houston Rockets was named to the NBA’s All-Rookie second team on Tuesday, falling just seven points short of earning a first-team nod. Parsons averaged 9.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.2 steals while starting 57 of 63 games for Houston in his rookie season.

» Hoping to achieve a similar feat in his rookie season, Florida freshman guard Bradley Beal is currently getting ready to work out for teams as he prepares for the 2012 NBA Draft. He will have some help towards that goal thanks to the league, which invited him to be one of 60 players who will compete at the 2012 NBA Combine in Chicago, IL. Gators senior point guard Erving Walker was not included on the list.

» Florida head coach Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease made it a point to note that they plan to bring on a quarterback commitment each and every year. To that end a pair of three-star 2013 signal callers, Ryan Buchanan (Jackson, MS) and Tim Boyle (Middleton, CT), will be visiting Gainesville, FL over the weekend. Though UF has struck out with some big name quarterbacks this recruiting cycle and has four signal callers that will be on the roster for at least the next two years, the coaches have not changed their minds about brining another one into the fold. “It’s a very difficult position to evaluate and then take the right guy,” Muschamp said at a Gator Gathering on Tuesday, according to InsidetheGators.com. “Guys that worry about depth charts, we don’t want them. You hit it with them one time, if they ask you to go over it a second time. If they ask a third time, you need to move on.” If the Gators have their way, either Buchanan or Boyle will put an end to their search for a 2013 quarterback.

» Speaking of recruiting, things are getting interesting (or aggravating, if you prefer) for Florida basketball as the team looks to add at least one more player before heading into the 2012-13 season. South Carolina transfer power forward Damontre Harris, a former four-star recruit who averaged 6.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks while playing 25.9 minutes per game last season, was supposed to make his decision between UF, Kansas or staying at USC last week but has yet to make a call. The Gators are also under consideration by Virginia Tech transfer F Dorian Finney-Smith, another former four-star recruit who averaged 6.3 points and 7.0 rebounds while shooting 36.6 percent from three last season. Finney-Smith has only “narrowed” his list to Florida, Georgetown, Iowa State, Louisville, Marquette, Ohio State and Texas. He will take visits and speak to coaches before making his decision.

» Joining the undecided party is 2012 four-star PF Montrezl Harrell (Tarboro, VA). Formerly a VT signee, Harrell decided to pursue other opportunities after the team fired head coach Seth Greenberg and is heavily considering playing for UF, which is one of a handful of schools on his short list (Alabama, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, South Carolina are the others). The Gators may have an inside track on Harrell due to head coach Billy Donovan being the head coach for the USA Basketball U18 National Team during training camp from June 5-12 in Colorado Springs, CO. Harrell will be playing on the team and have the opportunity to see first-hand what it would be like to practice and play for Donovan. Some are of the opinion that Louisville, a team he did not list when mentioning his top five, has an opportunity to be his eventual destination.

Continue Reading » Gator Bites for Wednesday, May 23

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Gator Bites for Thursday, May 10

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.

» Defensive lineman Brad Culpepper on Wednesday became the second former Florida Gators player in the last three weeks to join lawsuit against the NFL. Culpepper is the lead plaintiff one of two concussion lawsuits (Brad Culpepper et al v. NFL) filed by the Locks Law Firm against the NFL. “The lawsuits are identical to the other suits filed by Gene Locks, asserting counts of fraud, conspiracy to defraud, fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, negligence, loss of consortium and seeking declaratory relief and medical monitoring,” according to Paul Anderson. Former Florida offensive tackle Lomas Brown is part of a separate suit against the NFL that cites the recent bounty scandal as evidence that the league did not properly protect its players from concussions.

» Former Gators running back Emmitt Smith admitted this week that, while he appears to be in perfect health now, he is worried that all of the hits he took over his football-playing career may come back to haunt him both physically and mentally in the future. “The evidence is starting to pile up. You are talking to a guy who carried the ball more than anybody in NFL history. So why wouldn’t I worry? I pray about it,” he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He also spoke about the tragic death of Junior Seau and reuniting with some of his former Dallas Cowboys teammates.

» Former Florida linebacker Dustin Doe has been re-signed by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL after appearing in just three games for the team last season. Doe registered two tackles each on defense and special teams in 2011 but spent the majority of the season on the practice squad. He is hoping to become a permanent member of the active roster this season as he attempts to continue his career.

» Speaking of players looking for new homes, it appears as if defensive tackle Marcus Thomas will be donning a different uniform in 2012. After spending the first six years of his career with the Denver Broncos, Thomas will be moving on to what he hopes are greener pastures, according to The Denver Post, which reports that it is unlikely Denver re-signs him this season. A selection in the fourth round of the 2007 NFL Draft, Thomas has been a productive member of the Broncos throughout his career. However, Denver only wants to bring him back on a one-year deal while Thomas is looking for a multi-year agreement. The Post notes that at least two other teams are interested in Thomas’s services but will likely wait until after June 1 to sign him to a contract.

Continue Reading » Gator Bites for Thursday, May 10

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FOUR BITS: Hodge, Tebow, Young, Wilkerson

1 » Former Florida Gators guard Walter Hodge was named Most Valuable Player of the Polish Basketball League (English translation) on Friday. Hodge, who plays for Zastalu Zielona Gora in the nation’s top basketball league, received nine-of-14 MVP votes from the PBL’s coaches.

2 » New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez told the New York Post on Thursday that everything is going swimmingly so far with QB Tim Tebow in the team’s offseason program. “He’s been as advertised, as good of a guy, if not better, than anybody said,” he explained. “So, he’s been a great addition so far. I’m thrilled to work with him. From a competitor standpoint, he’s great. He’s what you want in an offseason program – working hard, competing with the guy in the weight room. [...] It’s been a good transition and Tim’s been great.” It will be interesting to see if Sanchez holds those same opinions once Tebow starts competing with him for the starting job.

3 » Florida sophomore center Patric Young has been participating in some tough offseason workouts with his teammates and has been making the details known on Twitter recently. On Friday he posted a video of a four-minute portion of the workouts complete with Young lifting a keg, flipping a tire and pushing a pick-up truck.

4 » The Southeastern Conference announced this week that it has created a SEC Baseball Legends program for the sport after already having one in existence for football and basketball. In conjunction with the announcement, the league will honor one player from each member institution at the upcoming SEC Tournament from May 22-27. Former Gators first baseman/outfielder/pitcher Brad Wilkerson will be Florida’s first inductee (and deservingly so). The Gators have also decided to honor Wilkerson’s multiple inductions this year (he will join the National College Baseball Hall of Fame in June) during Friday’s game against Georgia at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. The contest begins at 7 p.m. and airs live on Comcast Sports South.

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Brad Wilkerson becomes first Florida Gators player named to College Baseball Hall of Fame

A three-time All-American and the 1998 National Player of the Year, Brad Wilkerson was announced Friday as the first player in Florida Gators history to be named to the National College Baseball Hall of Fame.

A unanimous first-team All-American as a junior in 1998, Wilkerson’s abilities at the plate and on the mound were some of the main reasons why Florida won two Southeastern Conference Championships in three years and advanced to the College World Series in both 1996 and 1998. His grand slam home run to defeat Florida State in the CWS is one of the standout plays in Gators baseball history, and he became the first player in NCAA history to hit 20 homers, steal 20 bases and earn 10 wins as a pitcher (which he accomplished in 1998).

Wilkerson remains first in school history in career batting average (.381), slugging percentage (.714), on-base percentage (.531) and walks (224) and is second in four more categories including home runs (55), runs batted in (214), runs (239) and total bases (499). He is also listed as part of the top-10 in seven other categories including notables like pitching wins (third with 26), strikeouts as a pitcher (fifth with 292) and hits (sixth with 266).

Following his time at Florida, Wilkerson (the No. 33 overall pick by the Montreal Expos in the 1998 MLB Draft) spent three years in the minor leagues and eight in the majors. Some career highlights include earning Rookie of the Year honors from Sporting News, hitting 32 home runs in 2004, smacking the last home run in Expos team history, jacking the first grand slam in Washington Nationals team history, hitting for the natural cycle (in four plate appearances) and hitting three home runs in a single game (2007).

Wilkerson will be officially inducted into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame, which began honoring players in 2006, in a ceremony set to take place in Lubbock, TX from June 29-30. He is one of four members of a 2012 class that also includes Nomar Garciaparra, Lou Brock and Frank Sancet (coach).

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SIX BITS: Wuerffel, Tebow, Pouncey, women

1 » Former Florida Gators quarterback Danny Wuerffel has been added to the ballot for induction as part of the 2012 class for the College Football Hall of Fame. Wuerffel is one of 76 players on the candidate list, which also includes eight former coaches. Should he be nominated for induction, he would be the seventh Florida player and 10th representative of the Gators (three coaches) to be placed in the hall of fame. The National Football Foundation will announce the 2012 class on May 15 and induct it at an awards dinner on Dec. 4, 2012.

2 » Speaking at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine last Friday, Denver Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway had some positive comments to throw the way of Tim Tebow, who will enter the team’s training camp as the starting quarterback. “Hopefully, he can be the franchise guy for a long time, but those are things we don’t know at this time,” Elway said, according to NFL.com. “He made tremendous strides last year, and that’s without an offseason. He’s our starter going into training camp, and we have great expectations for him.” Denver will bring in two more quarterbacks to compete with Tebow but how they acquire them should give some insight into their thoughts on Tebow. If the Broncos draft a signal caller high or sign a high-profile free agent like Matt Flynn, it could be an indication they have not bought in, whereas should they sign a lower-tier free agent and draft a quarterback in the later rounds, it could speak to the opposite. Elway is confident in Tebow’s intangibles but plans to work with him on his footwork and ability to read coverages in the offseason.

3 » Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey missed another critical playoff game this year with a high-ankle sprain after reaggravating the injury he suffered one year ago that caused him to out of the 2010-11 Super Bowl. He had surgery on the injury after the season and is expected to make a full recovery going forward. “The reports we got and the last time we saw him, he was progressing just fine,” team general manager Kevin Colbert said, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “High-ankle sprains, they’re a different injury and then when you re-injure it sometimes you’ve got to do some procedures to shore that joint up.” Pouncey is no longer wearing a cast on his foot/ankle but is in a boot for the time being. He and his brother were at the NFL Combine this past week to support running back Chris Rainey, their close friend and former teammate.

4 » No. 4 Florida lacrosse (4-1) extended their winning streak to four games with consecutive victories over Siena (23-5 on Friday) and Detroit (22-3 on Sunday). Junior attacker Ashley Bruns scored a school-record eight goals against Siena, helping the Gators post their highest total in program history. One of the eight was Bruns’s 100th career goal, making her the second player in school history to reach that mark. Bruns scored four more on Sunday (12 for the weekend), leading the way for Florida in both contests and helping earn her the ALC Offensive Player of the Week award on Monday. Junior attackers Kitty Cullen (seven goals, three assists) and Gabi Wiegand (six goals, three assists) joined her in the scoring party.

5 » No. 1 Gators gymnastics (9-1, 5-1 SEC) tore through the league this year and took down the No. 3 Georgia Gym Dogs (5-3, 4-2 SEC) in exciting fashion at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL on Friday. Florida, which defeated Georgia 197.525-196.825, had two gymnasts win a total of five events. Freshman Kytra Hunter, named SEC Gymnast of the Week on Monday, took the vault (9.95), floor exercise (9.95) and all-around (39.675), while junior Marissa King won the uneven bars (9.925) and balance beam (9.95). UF swept UGA in the meet and is set to take on Nebraska and Utah over the next three weeks before participating in postseason action.

6 » After earning a season-highlight win on Senior Day in the O’Dome, Gators women’s basketball (18-11, 8-8 SEC) concluded the 2012 regular season by falling 75-59 at the No. 9 Tennessee Lady Vols (21-8, 12-4 SEC) due in part to 20 costly turnovers. Though Florida was unable to continue their magic against Tennessee, eight-seeded UF will hope to make a splash in the 2012 SEC Tournament, which begins for them against Auburn on Thursday at 1 p.m. The Gators also got some good news on Tuesday when it was announced that junior forward Jennifer George (first-team All-SEC) and senior guard Deana Allen (SEC Co-6th Woman of the Year) earned awards from the conference’s coaches.

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