12/9: Donovan on PGs, Walker, Harris, Kansas

No. 19 Florida Gators (6-2) head basketball coach Billy Donovan met with the media on Monday, one day before his team hosts the No. 13 Kansas Jayhawks (6-2) at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL as part of the Big 12-SEC Challenge. Florida and Kansas will square off on Tuesday at 7 p.m. live on ESPN.

POINT GUARDS WILL PLAY

As was reported by OnlyGators.com last week and confirmed by the Gators on Saturday, senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin (ankle) has been cleared to play against the Jayhawks. Donovan said on Monday that the player has been “fine” and practicing the last few days without incident. Even though Wilbekin was initially “diagnosed” with a high-ankle sprain, Donovan admitted that the player could have practiced the next day but was held out as a precaution.

Freshman point guard Kasey Hill, who OnlyGators.com also reported would probably see some action as a reserve in his first game back from a high-ankle sprain, has also been cleared by play. Donovan went a bit more in-depth about Hill’s status.

“It’s really hard for me to say how much he will play, will not play. [Sunday] was the first day he’s done some things as it relates to contact. There is some tentativeness there. He’s not in great pain. I think he’s still probably recovering,” he said. “This is the first time he’ll be out there. We’ve been doing individual workouts and those kinds of things with him. For what his role would be in [Tuesday’s] game would be too hard to say, but I would say he’ll be available to be put into the game. …

“There’s really no limitations on Kasey’s playing time from the doctors … but because he’s been out and he’s been out of practice so long – that’s been nearly three weeks right now – I just don’t know what I’m going to get for him. We’ll give him an opportunity. He’ll have another day of practice under his belt. Hopefully he’ll get back to feeling a little bit more comfortable. He feels pretty good right now, and as long as that continues, we’ll use him as we need him.”

COMING SOON: CHRIS WALKER

As OnlyGators.com, citing two sources, reported on Dec. 4, five-star incoming freshman forward Chris Walker has completed his academic requirements and is scheduled to join the Florida basketball program for the first time on Saturday. A third source confirmed Monday that Walker has been told to report to the team Saturday.

Donovan confirmed OnlyGators.com‘s report that Walker’s academic coursework is complete and he is simply awaiting clearance from both by the University of Florida and the NCAA Clearinghouse.

“He’s got to go through an admissions process like any other student here for the second semester,” he said. “Now it’s kind of our of our hands and we’re just waiting to hear back of what the ruling will be in terms of him being a qualifier, being able to start school.”

OnlyGators.com learned last week that Donovan has already been told Walker will be academically cleared and able to practice, hence Saturday being set as his reporting date. Donovan admitted as much, correctly noting that Walker cannot join the team until final exams end for the fall 2013 semester. The last exams will be distributed on Friday.

Continue Reading » 12/9: Donovan on PGs, Walker, Harris, Kansas

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SIX BITS: gymnastics, Floyd, Kansas, Parsons

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators gymnastics did not conclude its incredible weekend on Saturday after it won the 2013 NCAA Championship, the first NCAA title in program history. Instead, Florida was right back at it on Sunday as its gymnasts competed in individual events with the hopes of bringing additional championships back to Gainesville, FL. Freshman Bridget Sloan, who captured the 2013 NCAA Championship in the all-around on Friday, doubled up with a title in the balance beam (9.900) on Sunday. She actually would have won three individual championships had it not been for junior teammate Alaina Johnson, who edged Sloan 9.9125 to 9.900 in the uneven parallel bars to win a title of her own.

2 » Florida’s national championship-winning gymnastics team will be honored at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center during a special celebration on Monday at 7 p.m. Gates open at 6 p.m. and access to the event is free. The celebration will be the first held inside the O’Dome for a Gators championship-winning program since basketball won its second of back-to-back titles in 2007. GatorVision.tv will have a live stream of the event for fans outside of Gainesville. OGGOA will tweet a link at 7 p.m.

The Florida school website on Monday posted a terrific feature on head coach Rhonda Faehn, who has been nothing short of spectacular since joining the program in 2002. Though the national title had been elusive for Faehn, she knew that the Gators could be one of the top programs in the country when she took the job. “It was a gold mine just waiting for success,” she told senior writer Scott Carter about Florida. “I felt there was so much potential. Who wouldn’t want to go there? It was undiscovered almost and people needed to see how amazing it was. That’s what I felt for years when I was coaching at other places, that Florida was just incredible.” Added athletic director Jeremy Foley about Fahen: “She built our program. When we hired her, the goal was we wanted to be like Alabama, we wanted to be like Georgia, we wanted to be like Utah, we didn’t understand why we couldn’t be like them. We wanted to be a factor. Look at what she has done. I feel great for her, her staff, and obviously these kids.”

Check out four more Florida Gators news BITS…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: gymnastics, Floyd, Kansas, Parsons

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FOUR BITS: Harvin, Wambach, Martin, Lochte

1 » Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin on Saturday noted via his Twitter account that he would be having “minor surgery.” Most assumed the surgery Harvin mentioned was for his injured ankle, which sidelined him for the remainder of the season. However, Tom Pelissero of 1500 ESPN radio reported Sunday that Harvin actually went in for an emergency appendectomy. He is expected to be back to normal health in 2-3 weeks and will spend the entire offseason rehabbing his ankle and trying to get back on the field in the summer.

2 » The U.S. Women’s National Team concluded its 2012 campaign and its Fan Tribute tour across the United States with a 4-1 win over China in Boca Raton, FL on Saturday night. Former Florida Gators striker Abby Wambach scored twice in the friendly, increasing her international goal total to 152 and pulling within six of Mia Hamm, who holds the record with 158 career international goals. Florida head soccer coach Becky Burleigh was in attendance at the match, cheering on Wambach and former Gators defender Heather Mitts, who plans to retire. USA outscored China 10-1 in the three-game friendly series and concluded the 2012 campaign with a 28-1-3 record. Wambach ended 2012 with 27 goals (second-most in her career) and was the only member of the USWNT to start and play in all 32 games.

3 » Former Florida defensive end Chris Martin, who transferred in from USC but only spent his redshirt season at UF before forcibly transferring again to another school, spent the 2011 season playing for City College of San Francisco, the fourth institution he has attended since the beginning of his college career. The former five-star recruit, now a JUCO transfer, committed to the Kansas Jayhawks and head coach Charlie Weis on Saturday, according to JayhawkSlant.com ($). Martin is familiar with Weis from his days with the Gators and also has a relationship with strength and conditioning coach Scott Holsopple, a former Florida assistant who Weis hired when he left following the 2011 season.

4 » Former Florida swimmer Ryan Lochte, who set a pair of world record times at the 2012 FINA World Swimming Championships this past week, also concluded the event with six gold medals and eight total medals, setting a record at a short-course championship event. Lochte took gold and set world records in the 100 Meter and 200 Meter Individual Medley and finished first as part of four-man American teams in the 4×100 Meter Freestyle, 4×200 Meter Freestyle and 4×100 Meter Medley Relays. He also captured silver in the 200 Meter Backstroke and bronze in the 100 Meter Butterfly. Lochte was fully or partially responsible for eight of the 27 medals won by the United States at the event. Fellow former Gators swimmer Conor Dwyer joined Lochte with a gold in the 4x200M Freestyle Relay and picked up an individual bronze in the 200M Freestyle. Jemma Lowe, swimming for Great Britain, won a pair of bronze medals in the 100 Meter and 200 Meter Butterfly. Lochte was the only swimmer to set a world record at the event.

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Assistant Norm Roberts leaves Florida for Kansas

For the second time in the last four months a prominent Florida Gators assistant coach has left the school to take a job with the Kansas Jayhawks. Just like offensive coordinator Charlie Weis moved on from the football team at the end of their regular season in December to become head coach at Kansas, assistant Norm Roberts has left the Florida basketball team following their successful postseason to accept the top assistant job under KU head coach Bill Self, according to InsidetheGators.com.

One of three new assistants to join head coach Billy Donovan‘s staff for the 2011-12 season, Roberts will leave the Gators after spending just one year with the team. Like the others, his reasons for moving on from Florida are well-intentioned.

Roberts and Self have a relationship that dates back to 1995 when Self first hired him as an assistant at Oral Roberts. The two spent a total of nine seasons together with Self as the head coach and Roberts as his assistant at Oral Roberts (1995-97), Tulsa (1997-2000), Illinois (2000-03) and Kansas (2003-04) before Roberts left to take over the St. John’s program as head coach from 2004-10.

His last year at St. John’s came just as his son Niko Roberts was deciding where to play basketball at the collegiate level. He will be entering his junior year as a walk-on with the Jayhawks next season and will now have his father as an assistant coach.

A spot opened up on the Kansas bench for Roberts as former KU No. 1 overall pick Danny Manning, an assistant with the Jayhawks since 2006-07, was officially announced as Tulsa’s new head coach on Wednesday.

“I’m thrilled,” Self told the Lawrence Journal-World on Monday. “We were together for nine years. My family helped raise his kids. His family has helped raise mine. We’re close. Certainly we hate to see Danny go, but Norm coming back will be a big bonus to our program.”

Donovan now must hire his fifth new prominent staff member in the last two seasons. He replaced three assistant coaches and a strength and conditioning coach last year and will now have to find a suitable candidate to fill Roberts’s shoes going forward.

Florida has since confirmed Roberts’s departure from the program.

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Verducci out, Davis in as Florida OL coach

When former offensive coordinator Charlie Weis left the Florida Gators to take the head coaching job with the Kansas Jayhawks, it was assumed that offensive line coach Frank Verducci, who worked with Weis at Notre Dame, would soon follow.

Verducci instead stayed put in Gainesville, FL for the time being has now moved on “to pursue other interests,” according to a Florida release, as the Gators announced Monday that the Utah UtesTim Davis will take over for him in 2012.

The Gainesville Sun reports that Verducci was fired after pursuing jobs in the NFL (including one with the Kansas City Chiefs). A source close to the team tells OGGOA that head coach Will Muschamp was not properly informed about the job search.

A veteran coach with more than two decades in the business, Davis has worked on the offensive line with Walla Walla (1988), Idaho State (1989), Utah (1990-96, 2011), USC (2002-04), the Miami Dolphins (2005-06) and Minnesota (2009-10).

He was also a volunteer, student assistant and graduate assistant at Utah, Wisconsin and Arizona for seven years (1981-87) and served double duty as offensive coordinator at Walla Walla and tight ends coach at Utah (1994-96).

Following his time as assistant offensive line coach under Nick Saban at Miami, Davis spent a year as Saban’s director of player personnel with Alabama (2008). He added the role of running game coordinator when he took the Minnesota job in 2009.

Davis and Muschamp are connected through Saban, both having served on the Dolphins’ coaching staff during the 2005 season. Muschamp spent just one year in the NFL before returning to college the following season.

“He was a guy that brought energy and passion to the job every day,” Muschamp said of Davis’s attitude while with Miami. “He is going to bring toughness. I thought he did a great job with our offensive line [with the Dolphins]. Everywhere he has been and he’s coached they have been able to run the football and create the play-actions of it, be able to spread the field, understand the protections and do what you’ve got to do to be able to keep the quarterback upright.

“You look at some of the guys he has worked for and you talk about Barry Alvarez, you talk about Nick Saban, you talk about Pete Carroll. You talk about those guys and what they have accomplished. He knows what it takes to be successful.”

Davis actually pursued the offensive line coach job with Florida when Muschamp took over in 2011, but Weis’s relationship with Verducci obviously took precedent.

“It wasn’t available then,” Davis said. “I told [Muschamp], ‘Well, I’m going to be persistent. I’m going to keep trying.’ I always wanted to work and coach in the SEC, especially with guys I know and have coached with.”

Though Davis has been a part of three BCS bowl teams and two national championships as a member of USC’s coaching staff, he has never coached alongside new Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease.

He did, however, work on staffs with current Florida running backs coach Brian White and tight ends coach Derek Lewis. Davis spent his four-year tenure at Wisconsin with White, three years of which White also served as offensive coordinator. Lewis, an assistant with Minnesota from 2007-10, worked with Davis for two years.

“It was easy [to make the move] because of Will and Dan and Brian and D-Lew,” he said. “You don’t make a decision like this – leaving your home state and everybody you know – without having somebody you know. That’s one of the things in coaching you can’t do. You have to be able to connect yourself with the guys you work with.

“The SEC is the premiere conference in the country, and you get a chance to work with guys you’ve worked with who are very successful, very motivated, they want to be the best. You’re working in a great environment and a great program like Florida. It’s everything that you dream about.”

Photo Credit: Mike Terry, Deseret News

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Gator Bites for Thursday, January 12th

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.

» In a poll conducted by ESPN and calculated monthly, Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow topped the December list as the United States’ favorite athlete. Tebow is “just the sixth different athlete to finish No. 1 in the monthly rankings since 2007” and, in the 18 years of the poll, only 11 different athletes have ever held that distinction.

» In addition to the Top 10 list OGGOA posted Wednesday from CBS’s the Late Show with David Letterman, Tebow was also brought up on TBS’s Conan. Host Conan O’Brien, claiming he was absent the budget to air actual game footage, had his staff put together a recreation of his game-winning play from Sunday…with peanuts replacing the players.

Continue Reading » Gator Bites for Thursday, January 12th

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FOUR BITS: Tebow 3:16, top 25s, Azzanni, Weis

1 » One of the most famous moments in professional wrestling history actually occurred outside of the ring as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was being coronated King of the Ring in 1996. As he was being interviewed, Austin caught a glimpse of a John 3:16 sign in the crowd and spouted, “You talk about your Psalms, talk about John 3:16, Austin 3:16 says I just whopped your ass!” The “Austin 3:16” phrase immediately became a hit in what is now known as WWE and spawned signs from fans, T-shirt sales and plenty of other merchandise. With Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow throwing for exactly 316 yards and averaging 31.6 yards per completion on Sunday against Pittsburgh (the final quarter-hour rating of the game was also a 31.6 overnight), Austin was asked by TMZ if he minded that it was being used with Tebow nowadays. “Austin 3:16 still rules,” he told the website. “If Tebow can throw for 316 yards again this weekend then hell, he can have the numbers and I’ll have no problem with it. A guy named John was using it before me so if Tebow can do it again, more power to him! I wish him all the luck in the world. […] I’m not a Denver fan but Tim’s a great role model for kids.”

2 » In the final USA Today Coaches Top 25 poll of the 2011-12 season, the Florida Gators earned a single vote, meaning the team was listed at No. 25 by one participating coach. The final rankings had Alabama as the unanimous No. 1 (59 first-place votes), four Southeastern Conference teams in the top eight and eight SEC teams receiving at least one vote. Missouri and Texas A&M, the two teams joining the conference next year, each received votes though neither finished in the top 25. The Associated Press Top 25 had Alabama as the overwhelming No. 1 (55 of 60 first-place votes) with LSU in second (one first-place vote) and Oklahoma State in third (four first-place votes). Four SEC teams were ranked in the top nine and six received votes with Auburn the only one unranked. Missouri got 23 votes in the AP poll, but Texas A&M did not receive any.

3 » Former Gators wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni, who was on the staff for just the final year under head coach Urban Meyer, has spent the past season as offensive coordinator and WR coach at Western Kentucky. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Azzanni is a top candidate to take over as WR coach for Wisconsin if head coach Bret Bielema has his way. “One of the [offensive coordinator] candidates knows Azzanni and would be fine with him as receivers coach,” the paper reports. “The other candidate doesn’t know Azzanni personally but would likely be on board with the hire.”

4 » Speaking of former Florida coaches, ex-offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, who has taken over as head coach with the Kansas Jayhawks, has pulled two more Gators onto his staff. Weis announced Monday that he has hired former Florida graduate assistant Adam Sitter as director of high school relations and former Gators defensive quality control coach Scott Vestal as assistant director of football operations. He also plucked former Gators assistant strength and conditioning coordinator Scott Holsopple, who was named director of strength and conditioning with the Jayhawks last week.

Extra BIT » The artist who wrote and sang “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion),” a song that became popular in 1985, rewrote the single in Oct. 2011 due to being inspired by Tebow and what he was doing with the Broncos. John Parr told FOX31 Denver on Monday that he chose to do so in order to “honor…the way he lives his life as being a great example.” Though a studio version of the song has been available for a while, it is new to OGGOA, so feel free to listen to it below. (Thanks to reader Ajay for the heads-up.)

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FOUR BITS: Bell, Sturgis, Harvin, Fedora

1 » Minutes after the Kansas Jayhawks announced that they had hired Florida Gators offensive coordinator Charlie Weis as their next head coach, fans and media members began pointing to Jacksonville Dolphins head coach Kerwin Bell as a frontrunner to replace Weis at Florida. Bell spoke with The Gainesville Sun Thursday evening about the possibility. “Naturally, the University of Florida is my alma mater,” he told the paper. “It’s something I’ve always said I’d like to do. I love being a head coach. It would have to be the right place [for me to leave Jacksonville], and Florida is the right place. Will Muschamp has a personality that seems like a guy who would be great to work with. I definitely would be interested in listening. It would be great to come back.”

2 » Gators redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturgis was a finalist but did not win the Lou Groza Award on Thursday. However, he was named a 2011 Walter Camp All-American and was placed on the second team, following in the footsteps of former Florida punter Chas Henry who was selected for the first team one year ago.

3 » Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin had one of the best games of his NFL career last Sunday, posting a career-high 156 yards with two touchdowns against the Denver Broncos. Harvin almost didn’t play in the game, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, after suffering “migraine-like symptoms” just one day earlier. “The symptoms were similar to Harvin’s past struggles with migraines, according to the unnamed person, including bloodshot eyes and vomiting,” the paper reported. Harvin had been without migraines all year after believing doctors found a way of preventing them in the offseason. If he did indeed suffer a migraine, Harvin may go through even more tests this offseason to try and find another solution.

4 » Former Florida offensive coordinator Larry Fedora (2002-04) was introduced as the new head football coach of the North Carolina Tar Heels on Friday. After leaving the Gators alongside then-head coach Ron Zook, Fedora worked as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State from 2005-07 before taking the top job at Southern Mississippi in 2008. During his introductory press conference with UNC, Fedora singled out Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley and thanked him for all of his help getting to this point in his career. Foley told UF senior writer Scott Carter shortly after how much he appreciated Fedora’s ability and work ethic. “I’ve always felt very highly about Larry Fedora and have followed his career closely. He did an outstanding job for us as an assistant at Florida and has had success at every stop since,” Foley said. “He is a good football coach, but even a better person and family man and I fully expect his success to continue.”

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