Track the Floida Gators en route to Lexington

The Florida Gators are on their way to Lexington, KY, to face the Kentucky Wildcats in their first road game of the 2011 regular season. An ONLY GATORS Get Out Alive EXCLUSIVE, the following is the flight information for the Gators, who are flying over on an American Airlines Boeing 737-800 twin-jet. You can also track the flight live in the air!

ORIGIN: Gainesville Regional Airport (KGNV)
DESTINATION: Blue Grass Airport (KLEX)

DURATION: 1 hour 9 minutes

DEPARTURE: 3:35 p.m. EDT [scheduled 3:30 p.m. EDT]
ARRIVAL: 4:44 p.m. EDT [scheduled 4:55 p.m. EDT]

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9/21: Will Muschamp’s SEC teleconference

Updated at 1:00 p.m.

With the Florida Gators just days away from their fourth game of the season under head coach Will Muschamp on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. against the Kentucky Wildcats, he spoke with the media during the Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference to provide some insight about where his team is at going into into week three action.

GATORS’ PUNTING SUCCESS IS VERY STRAIGHTFORWARD

If you follow OGGOA on Twitter (and you should), then you may have seen a retweet we sent out Tuesday evening from a Kentucky sportswriter who believes Florida is skirting the rules on punt blocks. This was triggered by something Kentucky Wildcats head coach Joker Phillips said during a press conference on Tuesday about the Gators’ punt block team: “They’ve got big guys pulling this guy that way, and this guy that way and a little fast guy with world-class speed comes up the middle to block it. And you can’t get off the block,” he said. “We’ve got to punch them in the mouth when they try to grab you and get their hands off of you and come off and block the little guy that tries to split the gap.”

Asked about the play Tuesday, Muschamp responded with one of his (now standard) quips. “We just play hard. We play hard and coach hard,” he said. “I’m real pleased with what we do. They didn’t throw any flags on that play, did they? OK. We just ran a guy through a gap.”

Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley, whose team was victimized by the punt block on Saturday, brushed off the question, too. “If we do our job, we’re not even having this discussion,” he said.

Muschamp also expanded on why Florida has been so successful blocking punts over the last few years. “We have good players – that’s the first thing that jumps out at you. We’ve got some guys that got some special ability. There’s been a huge emphasis on special teams, obviously when Urban [Meyer] was here, and I’ve carried that over. Special teams are very important to me,” he said.

“I always talk to the players in terms of, if you want the opportunity to play in the National Football League, the old Bill Parcells line, ‘If you’re not a quarterback or an offensive lineman and you don’t play special teams, you’re a selfish football player.’ I live by that. Our guys understand our best payers will play on special teams – you look at what Chris Rainey and a lot of our starters do – we have good players.

“Second thing is we have good speed. You create space plays in special teams, you got to have guys who can run. And then the third thing, I think D.J. Durkin – our special teams coordinator – does an outstanding job. He puts his guys in the right spots, he does a great job with scheming guys to get good players free in certain situations whether it’s the returning game or specialist or whatever. He takes a combination of all those things, that’s why we are where we are.”

He even discussed how the Gators blocking a punt can significantly affect the outcome of that particular game. “The percentages of winning the game go through the roof. It’s such a deflating thing for the punt team,” he said. “I don’t think off the top of my head I’ve won many games if we’ve had a punt blocked. It’s hard to do. The change in momentum, obviously you can easily score off of it either by the scoop or the next offensive possession. The momentum of the game certainly can slip pretty quickly.”

Asked to clarify his comments at the end of the SEC teleconference on Wednesday, Phillips said he was not trying to insinuate that anything Florida was doing was against the rules. “There’s nothing illegal with that. Nothing,” he said. “Everybody does it. We try to do it also. There’s nothing illegal about it. I wasn’t saying there was anything illegal about it. I was saying they do a great job of it.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Muschamp said redshirt sophomore tight end Jordan Reed has a “lower body” injury that is not specifically a hamstring problem. It is the same injury that kept him out last week, but the team has an outside chance of seeing him return to the field. “We still got a shot. He’s been moving around a little bit. He’s a little gimpy here and there, but who knows, we got a lot of time until Saturday,” he said.

» Opening statement: “[I’m] very pleased to be 3-0 with a good conference win over Tennessee. Heading to Lexington this weekend is our first road game. We got 16 guys in our two-deep who have not been on the road yet or got on a plane. It’ll be interesting there. Kentucky is playing very well defensively; they’re giving up 13 points a game and leading the SEC in kickoff coverage and punting. They’re playing well so we’ve got our work cut out for us, especially with the newness of what we’re trying to do.”

» On linebackers junior Jon Bostic and redshirt sophomore Jelani Jenkins being so in sync: “Over a period of time as far as practice is concerned, they’ve played together last year, first of all. Number two, they’re very close off the field. Generally in my experience in coaching, guys that are close on and off the field generally have a bond. [...] As much as anything, they’re both highly intelligent young men, very driven. They’re good football players and very productive for us. Those guys have a good bond of the field and they see things the same on the field.”

» On if redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey is doing well off the field, too: “I can only judge from the time I’ve been here. He’s done everything we’ve asked and then some as far as being accountable on and off the field as a football player, a member of our football team and this university. He’s a guy that is early in the meetings, works extremely hard as far as workouts are concerned and practiced, [and] does everything that’s asked of him academically. He’s been a great example for the rest of our football team.”

» On if Rainey should be in the race for the Heisman Trophy: “I think you look at the first three ball games and his production and what he’s done for our football team – running, catching and all the special teams [like] the return and blocking kicks – you’re talking about value to a football team. It’s a long season. We need to continue to play consistently well at his position and what he’s doing for our team. There’s nothing that tells me he won’t from the standpoint of how he’s working in practice and how he’s approaching the game.”

» On the Gators’ depth at running back: “We’ve really consistently played that group of guys [Rainey, Jeff Demps, Mike Gillislee, Trey Burton and Hunter Joyer] and have been very productive at the position. A lot of that credit should go to Charlie [Weis]. Here’s a guy that’s identified, ‘OK these guys are playmakers. These guys can do good things for us. Let’s narrow their role down based on what they can do and their skill set.’ I think he’s done a really good job of identifying what they do well.”

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Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford: “It was a no-brainer for me to represent my country.”

Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford, having recently completed his fourth NBA season, is in his prime and playing the best basketball of his career.

Averaging career highs in points (15.3), field goal percentage (.557) and free throw percentage (.789) while also posting 9.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game in 2010-11, he was named a NBA All-Star for the second-straight season just months after Atlanta locked him up long-term with an impressive five-year, $60 million contract extension in November.

OGGOA caught up with the two-time National Champion, two-time NCAA Finals Most Valuable Player and member of the 2008 NBA All-Rookie Team while he was in Lexington, KY practicing with the Dominican Republic National Team. Horford, who is working out in facilities usually occupied by the Kentucky Wildcats due to his team being led by Kentucky head coach John Calipari, has found himself learning a new system in enemy territory. He spoke with us just after completing practice about a variety of topics including his new contract, reminiscing with the Oh Fours, representing his country and performing some Gator Chomps in the near future.

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Last time we spoke was a year and a half ago just before you played in your first All-Star game. You went back and posted some career highs this season. To what do you attribute your continued improvement?
AL HORFORD: “There’s really no secret behind that, it’s all about putting in the time in the summer. I always try to focus on something different in the offseason that I want to work on and improve. This past summer I got a chance to work with [veteran skills trainer] Rob McClanaghan, a great basketball trainer who works with a lot of other guys in the league including Derrick Rose. He helped me a lot with my game, but I think at the end of the day it is just all about taking the time and making a commitment to work and keep getting better in the offseason.”

AS: Is there any type of competition between you and Jo[akim Noah]? Obviously you were came out of the same school and were picked high in the 2007 NBA Draft, but you’re also playing the same position and competing in the Eastern Conference, too.
AH: “Nah, not really. Me and Joakim, when we talk, we rarely talk basketball. I’m sure he wants to do good and great for his team, and I do the same, but I think at the end of the day we’re not caught up on so much individual stuff. For us, it’s more about our teams and winning and stuff like that. Obviously he has the upper hand on me because of their team because of the playoffs. I know he was happy about that. We’re not competing individually, it’s [more like] how much we impact our individual teams.”

Read the rest of our exclusive interview with Al Horford after the jump!
Continue Reading » Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford: “It was a no-brainer for me to represent my country.”

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FOUR BITS: baseball deals, tennis, Ball, Mudd

1 » A trio of now former Florida Gators baseball players signed professional contracts this week. Seniors second baseman Josh Adams and right-handed pitcher Matt Campbell agreed to their deals, and junior left-handed pitcher Nick Maronde gave up his final year of eligibility by choosing to play professionally in 2011. Adams, the No. 403 overall pick in the 13th round by the Florida Marlins, will begin his career with the Class A Jamestown Jammers (New York-Penn League). The No. 751 overall pick in the 24th round, Matt Campbell signed with the Philadelphia Phillies and will report to the rookie league Gulf Coast League Phillies. Maronde was picked the highest out of all his teammates as the Los Angeles Angels selected him with the No. 104 overall pick in the third round of the 2011 MLB Draft. He will head over to the Pioneer League’s Orem Owlz and try to work his way up the ranks.

2 » The 2011 USTA Collegiate Team was announced on Thursday and two Gators made the cut. Juniors No. 4 Lauren Embree and No. 9 Allie Will were selected for the team, which is funded by the USTA and administered in conjunction with the ITA. Players will have the chance to train and develop as they compete on the USTA Pro Circuit. Joining the duo, on the men’s side, is junior Sekou Bangoura, Jr..

3 » Florida sophomore linebacker Neiron Ball, still recovering from an arteriovenous malformation found in his brain in Feb., is expected to sit out the 2011 season as he continues to recover. The Orlando Sentinel’s Rachel George spoke this week with Ball’s brother-in-law, who told her that the player underwent “radial surgery” that was performed with the hope “that the malformation withers up and dies over time.” Having not practiced since the spring and unable to work out with the team, Ball would not be in shape to play in 2011 even if completely cleared by doctors. His brother-in-law confirmed this to the Sentinel but also provided good news about his overall heath. “He’s healthy. He’s fine,” he said. “He’s probably going to miss next season. […] We’re all appreciative to Coach [Will] Muschamp, the doctors, the staff, everybody.”

4 » Former Florida All-American golfer Jessie Mudd has turned in his orange for white after being named assistant men’s golf coach for the Kentucky Wildcats on Thursday. Mudd helped propel the Gators to three top-10 NCAA finishes and won multiple awards including notably being named co-SEC Freshman of the Year.

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FOUR BITS: Jenkins, MLB, basketball, CWS

1 » Former Florida Gators cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who was kicked off the team by head coach Will Muschamp following multiple brushes with the law, has officially signed a scholarship with the North Alabama Lions, where he will play under head coach Terry Bowden. “I talked to everybody that I could possibly talk to at Florida, who had a relationship with him,” Bowden told ESPN.com. “From Urban Meyer to Will Muschamp to Jeremy Foley, they all said he is a guy who made a mistake. But it does not represent his character or his time at Florida. They all thought he deserved a second chance.” North Alabama actually represents Jenkins’s fourth chance.

2 » A pair of former Florida baseball players are in the process of being removed from the disabled list by their respective MLB teams. Oakland Athletics second baseman Mark Ellis (hamstring) came off the 15-day list Wednesday and will continue to serve as a utility player with the squad. Texas Rangers relief pitcher Darren O’Day (hip) has been out much longer after having surgery in late April. He was placed on the 60-day list and will likely rejoin Texas on Tuesday.

3 » With the NCAA recently coming down hard on the Kentucky Wildcats for celebrating head coach John Calipari’s “500th” victory, the Gators have decided to adjust their men’s basketball record books due to sanctions levied against the team for the actions of former head coach Norm Sloan. “According to the NCAA infractions report, Sloan paid child support to keep one of his players out of jail and paid transportation from Gainesville to Boston to allow one of his players to work as a counselor at a summer basketball basketball camp,” The Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway explains. The player in question is presumed to be Vernon Maxwell, who has his final two seasons with the team erased from the media guide. Florida has placed asterisks next to NCAA Tournament games and adjusted their books .

4 » Already 4-1 against the No. 6-ranked Vanderbilt Commodores this season (2-1 on the road, 2-0 at neutral sites), No. 2 Gators baseball will once again take on their Southeastern Conference East division rivals in the semifinals of the 2011 College World Series on Friday at 2 p.m. Florida (52-17) is one win away from advancing to the Championship Series, while Vanderbilt (54-11) would need to defeat UF twice in order to move forward. OGGOA will have complete coverage of the upcoming CWS game, including a full preview, throughout the day on Friday.

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FOUR BITS: Whitson, Calipari, Pittman, Schintzius

1 » The National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association on Monday announced that Florida Gators right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson has been named a first-team Freshman All-American. One of 16 standouts to earn the distinction, Whitson is also in line for the National Freshman Pitcher of the Year award, which will be announced Tuesday. With an 8-0 record, 2.45 ERA and 83 strikeouts on the season, he the only player on the first team representing the Southeastern Conference.

2 » Remember when the Kentucky Wildcats and head basketball coach John Calipari defeated Florida in Lexington, KY and the school held a mini 500th victory celebration? Well, according to the NCAA, that should never have happened, and the organization is now taking steps to ensure that Kentucky does what they can to make that information public. According to the Lexington Herald-Leader

Earlier this month, the chairman of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions sent University of Kentucky President Lee T. Todd Jr. a letter asking the school to publicly acknowledge it was wrong to recognize John Calipari’s 500th coaching victory this past season. Chairman Dennis E. Thomas, the commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, also told Todd that the wording of UK’s statement “must be approved by the office of the Committee on Infractions prior to its release.”

Because the NCAA forced Massachusetts and Memphis to vacate a total of 42 victories achieved under Calipari due to a variety of transgressions, the governing body insists that his victory total was only 458 on that day and now stands at 467 for his career. For more on the matter, click here.

3 » Speaking with The Gainesville Sun after a recent visit to Gainesville, FL for a football camp, Gators four-star 2012 wide receiver commit LaTroy Pittman (Citra, FL) discussed his experience. “It felt great just getting out there, getting a feel for Coach [Aubrey] Hill, how he coaches and how he sees me,” he said. “As far as hands-on and doing drills, that was the first time I really got to see how he would coach me.” Pittman, Florida’s first commit of the 2012 cycle, plans to return for Friday Night Lights.

4 » Surviving a serious leukemia scare last year, former Gators C Dwayne Schintzius made his first major public appearance during a Florida basketball game on Feb. 24 and was in great spirits. Last week he attended a fundraiser for the Tampa Bay Sports Commission with the belief that he would be supporting his father, Ken, who was going to be handed an award from the Hillsborough County Sherrif’s alumni association. Schintzius was instead surprised to learn that he was being honored with a special award for courage. “He wouldn’t have wanted to come to the dinner but after I told him the award was for me, he said he’d come,” Ken told Joe Henderson of The Tampa Tribune. “It worked. We got him. We played it right to the hilt.” Though he has been praised extensively for his strength in fighting his disease, Schintzius wanted the praise to go where it belongs. “People are giving me an award, I guess, for fighting for my life,” he said. “I don’t deserve the award. The people at Moffitt [Cancer Center] are the ones who are the true heroes. They saved my life.” Click here to read more about Schintzius’s battle and the events of the night.

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Men’s basketball says SEC-ya to divisions

Southeastern Conference men’s basketball coaches recommended to athletic directors and university presidents on Wednesday at the 2011 SEC Spring Meetings that the conference scrap the current East-West division model for their sport and institute a 12-team, single-league format going forward. Wednesday evening the athletic directors agreed, and the changes will take place beginning in the 2011-12 season.

“It’s done,” Florida Gators AD Jeremy Foley told ESPN’s Andy Katz after the meetings concluded for the day. “The presidents don’t have to sign off on this. This is an AD decision. We will be one league effective next year.”

Under the new alignment, the SEC Tournament will be seeded 1-12 based on conference record. No longer will the top two teams in each division (regardless of record) receive byes; the advantage will instead be given to the four best teams overall.

The SEC also plans to adjust the schedule, though it is unknown exactly what changes will be made. There are options for 16-game (currently used), 18-game and 22-game conference schedules on the table that will be discussed at a later date.

SEC teams currently take on opponents in their own division twice (home/away) and teams in the other division once (site determined by rotation). An 18-game schedule would have teams facing their traditional division rivals twice, two “other division” teams twice and four “other division” teams once, while a 22-game schedule would allow every team to square off twice during the regular season.

Because the schedule for the 2011-12 season is already set, no changes will be made until 2012-13 at the earliest. Tournament seedings will be handled by the new rules.

Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari said Tuesday that one of the main goals in making these adjustments is to help more SEC teams earn NCAA Tournament berths going forward. The conference believes that the new alignment will help it appear stronger as a whole nationally; no longer will there be one dominant division that makes the other look inferior by comparison.

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Gators baseball rebounds to rout Wildcats 19-3, captures share of SEC regular season title

One day after blowing an opportunity to control sole possession of the 2011 Southeastern Conference Championship, No. 4 Florida Gators baseball (41-15, 22-8 SEC) earned a share of the league title by toppling the Kentucky Wildcats (25-30, 8-22 SEC) 19-3 at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL on Saturday afternoon.

Alone atop the SEC standings on Friday, Florida allowed Kentucky to score early and often, eventually falling 14-1. No. 2 South Carolina and No. 3 Vanderbilt, both of which lost their series openers on Thursday, claimed victories Friday to reestablish a three-way tie for first-place in the conference. Both teams also won Saturday, giving the SEC a set of tri-champions for the 2011 regular season.

The Gators’ victory Saturday marked just the second time in program history that Florida has won back-to-back conference titles (1981-82). The program now has 12 overall league titles and three-consecutive East Division championships.

The Wildcats scored first Saturday, plating a run with three consecutive hits in the first inning. The Gators responded in the bottom of the second as their lead-off batter, sophomore designated hitter Brian Johnson, connected for a homer on a 1-2 count to tie the game. Florida jumped ahead for good in the third, rallying for a pair of runs to take a 3-1 lead. Senior second baseman Josh Adams scored sophomore catcher Mike Zunino via a ground out, and Johnson followed by knocking home junior right fielder Preston Tucker with a single up the middle.

With freshman right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson (7-0) holding Kentucky to its single run, the Gators exploded with seven scores in the bottom of the fourth. Men were on second and third with one out when Zunino singled to right to score the first run of the inning. Tucker followed with an RBI single to left, and Adams doubled down the left field line to score another baseman. Johnson’s (3-4, HR, 4 RBI, 2 R) two-RBI single to center brought Adams and Tucker home, and a two-run homer by sophomore first baseman Austin Maddox cleared the bases for Florida, which ended up leaving two on base before Kentucky could get out of the inning.

The Gators kept the pressure on in the fifth as Zunino opened the inning with a double to left; he scored two batters later when Adams singled to left. A wild pitch advanced Adams to second and Tucker to third, respectively, sending Maddox up to the plate to connect on a three-run homer, his second deep shot of the afternoon.

Whitson (5.0 IP, ER, 7 H, 4 K) was pulled for junior RHP Tommy Toledo to start the sixth. Florida ensured his victory would be realized by adding another pair of runs in the bottom of the inning. Zunino (4-4, RBI, 4 R, BB) singled with two outs to get on base, Tucker (5-6, 2 RBI, 5 R) doubled him home, and Adams (3-6, 4 RBI, 2 R) made sure Tucker crossed the plate with a single to center during his at bat.

The Gators added three more in the eighth; Maddox’s (3-6, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 2 R) ground out RBI scored freshman pinch runner Keenan Kish, junior pinch hitter Tyler Thompson’s two-out single to left scored Tucker, and redshirt sophomore pinch hitter Vickash Ramjit’s subsequent single scored junior pinch hitter Ben McMahan.

Florida, which allowed Kentucky to score two runs of errors in the top of the ninth before ending the game, also earned the No. 3 seed in the 2011 SEC Tournament with their victory. The Gators combined for 25 hits on the afternoon, their most against any opponent this season. Florida will face No. 6-seed Mississippi State in the first round of the tournament on Wednesday in the second match-up at their site.

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