C Speights: “If I can get in there, I’ll produce.”

Suffering an early exit from the 2011 NBA Playoffs, former Florida Gators center Marreese Speights and the Philadelphia 76ers are now thinking about next year after being defeated 4-1 by the No. 2-seed Miami Heat.

A reserve on the Florida basketball team that won the 2007 NCAA National Championship, Speights started one season for the Gators (his sophomore year) before declaring for the NBA Draft and eventually being selected by the 76ers with the No. 16 overall pick in the first round. He sat down with OGGOA to discuss his college experience, the tough decision he faced after his second season with the team and what team he thinks will end up taking home the NBA title this year when all is said and done.

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Your first year at Florida was obviously an adjustment as there were still a bunch of the upperclassmen holding starting roles. How was it walking into a team with established guys like Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Chris Richard already getting major minutes?
MARREESE SPEIGHTS: “It was a learning experience because the guys in front of me had already won a championship before I got there. It was a learning experience for me. A year to get better and a year to learn college basketball.”

AS: That team went on to win the National Championship for the second-straight time that year. What was it like playing on such a big stage so early in your career?
MS: “It was a great feeling. It is an opportunity nobody really has. A lot of people don’t really have that opportunity, so it was a great accomplishment for me.”

AS: Before the next season began, head coach Billy Donovan left for the NBA to lead the Orlando Magic only to change his mind and come back a few days later. How hard was that situation to deal with as a player?
MS: “It was hard because at one point we didn’t have no coach. It was a few guys with no coach, and everybody was wondering what was going to happen. But he came back and everything was good.”

AS: Were any of the players worried that he might leave again?
MS: “You could tell he really liked Florida a lot, that’s why he came back. We knew that when he came back he was going to be here for a while. It wasn’t going to be one year; it was going to be long-term.”

AS: The next year you became a starter and took advantage of it. I know Coach Donovan expected that, even as well as you played, you would be back at least one more season. When you first declared for the draft, were you doing it just to check your stock or was it always your plan to leave?
MS: “I was doing it just to check my stock. I really wanted to come back, but I heard the good news and I thought I should take the opportunity while it was there. I had to. It was real hard to tell him that I was going to the draft because I knew if I came back the team would have gotten even better. I had the opportunity, so I had to take it.”

AS: The decision obviously worked out as you were taken in the middle of the first round by Philadelphia. What was that transition to the NBA like? You played a lot of minutes right from the start in your rookie season.
MS: “The transition was kind of cool. I had to get used to travelling, playing against players [I] watched growing up and stuff. But it was a good step.”

AS: You started your second NBA season with a bang but then went down with a MCL injury. How difficult was that for you to deal with?
MS: “It was kind of hard because it kept me out for a long time. It was something I wasn’t used to, so I started working harder to get back there.”

AS: This year your minutes were pretty inconsistent. Some games you played over 20 minutes and others you were only on the court for a few if at all. How tough is that to deal with as a player?
MS: “The first season, I knew I was going to come in and play consistent [minutes]. This year, it was so inconsistent that I never knew how to prepare for the game because I never knew if I was going to get in or not. It was hard for me to prepare myself this year. I might have a good game one game and then come back and play three minutes and then after that DNPs [“do not play” – a designation given by the coach] for three games and then come back and play 15 minutes. It was the whole year – inconsistent. I feel like if I can get in there, I’ll produce. That’s how I’ve been my whole career.”

AS: You played against every team remaining in the playoffs this year. Which has the best chance to win the whole thing?
MS: “Miami. They are really coming together and they’re going to win it. On the court, you can tell how good they really [are], even things you can’t see on TV. It’s just some of the things they do and stuff. The connection they’ve got so early.”

AS: Philadelphia is known as a very critical sports city. What has it been like playing there with the fans?
MS: “It’s a hard place to play at because, if you don’t give them what they want, they’re going to boo you. It’s kind of hard but, this year we were winning, so we got a lot of support. The fans show a lot of support.”

AS: How have your relationships with some of your former teammates and coaches changed and/or developed since you left?
MS: “I talk to Coach [Donovan] all the time. It’s a pretty good relationship. Vernon Macklin, me and him were practically teammates at Hargrave [Military Academy], so we’re really close. I’ve known him for like 5-6 years. I talk to all of them but mostly him. I talked to him [Wednesday] for like 20 minutes about preparing for the [draft] process.”

AS: Looking back on your career at Florida, aside from winning the title as a freshman, what is the one moment you will always remember – either on or off the court?
MS: “Other than the championship, I got a couple. There was a home game my freshman year when we played Alabama. I came down and scored like eight-straight points and we won that game [4-for-4 for eight points in five minutes in the first half]. Then the first-round tournament game against Jackson State. I had a good game there, too [7-for-10 for 16 points with six boards in 10 minutes].

» OGGOA INTERVIEWS:
LB Mike Peterson | PG Taurean Green | QB Tim Tebow | QB Danny Wuerffel | ESPN’s Erin Andrews | ESPN’s Erin Andrews II | DE Alex Brown | WR Percy Harvin | F/C Al Horford | WR David Nelson | QB Shane Matthews | TE Cornelius Ingram | DE Jermaine Cunningham | S Major Wright | LB Earl Everett | DE Justin Trattou | DT Terron Sanders | F/C Chris Richard | DE Lynden Trail

Photo Credits: Associated Press, Unknown

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Former Gators PG Jason Williams retires

Former Florida Gators point guard Jason Williams announced his retirement from the NBA Monday night in an official press release from the Memphis Grizzlies.

The 12-year veteran missed the final 17 games of the regular season with an injured back and was left off the team’s playoff roster.

Selected No. 7 overall in the first round of the 1998 NBA Draft by the Sacramento Kings, Williams played for four teams in his professional career.

After spending three years with Sacramento, Williams was traded to the then-Vancouver Grizzlies (which relocated to Memphis), where he played from 2001-05. He was again traded to the Miami Heat and won a NBA Championship in 2005-06, his first season with the team. Williams played there for three years before signing a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Clippers; however, instead of playing for the team, he decided to retire.

Coming out of retirement after a full year away from the game, he played 98 games in an Orlando Magic uniform before being cut in January; the Grizzlies signed him just over a week later. He ends his career as Memphis’ all-time assists leader (2,069).

Known by the nickname “White Chocolate,” Williams finished with career totals of 8,266 points, 4,611 assists, 1,810 rebounds and 933 steals. He averaged 10.5 points, 5.9 assists and 2.3 rebounds for his career while shooting 39.8 percent from the field, 32.7 percent from three-point range and 81.3 percent from the free throw line.

Before making his career as an NBA point guard, Williams played one season (1997-98) for the University of Florida and averaged 17.1 points and 6.7 assists per game. Already having received three suspensions, he was permanently dismissed from the program due to drug use after the season and immediately declared for the draft .

While with the Gators, Williams recorded a school single-game record 17 assists. Upon entering the NBA as a rookie, his No. 55 jersey was top-five in the league in sales. Williams was disciplined numerous times throughout his professional career.

Photo Credit: Unknown

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FOUR BITS: Miller, Pouncey, Black, Beal, Burton

1 » Upon joining the Miami Heat, star forward LeBron James decided to take slightly less than the maximum contract available to him, in part, in order for the team to sign former Florida Gators F Mike Miller. With the NBA’s trade deadline rapidly approaching and Miami in desperate need of help at point guard and center, Miller has become expendable to the Heat, which is shopping him throughout the league.

“According to multiple league executives, the Heat have floated Mike Miller in several different trade scenarios,” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reports. “Miller is the Heat’s most tradable asset, even though he’s in the first season of a five-year, $29 million contract he signed last summer and is averaging just 5.9 points on 41 percent shooting as he recovers from a hand injury that cost him the first two months of the season. “

2 » Looking at offensive line prospects before the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine truly gets underway, NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks had this to say about Florida center/guard Mike Pouncey, whom he ranks No. 1 at his position.

1. Mike Pouncey, Florida: He possesses outstanding athleticism and movement skills, and his instincts shine while he controls the offense from the pivot. He’s started 13 games at center and 28 at guard. That flexibility makes him a valuable commodity. Pouncey is an athletic blocker at the point of attack with the strength and power to move defenders off the ball. He has the quickness to cut off linebackers and safeties on the second level. As a pass blocker, he has the body control and strength to anchor against power rushers. He holds his ground against bull rushes, and has the balance to react quickly to counters without losing control. Given his versatility and talent, Pouncey can solidify his status as the top interior blocker with a strong performance at the combine.

3 » NFL.com sat down with former Gators safety Ahmad Black, who spoke with them for a minute in a video interview about a number of topics. Click here to watch. “I go hard. I play like it’s my last play. I respect the game of football, so I’ll give it my all,” he said.

4 » Chosen to participate in the 2011 Nike Hoop Summit on April 9, Florida’s five-star shooting guard commit Brad Beal (St. Louis, MO) sat down for a wide-ranging interview with USA Basketball. In it he discusses representing his country, playing international basketball picking the University of Florida and much more.

Extra BIT » Considering a lot of people seem to have gotten a kick out of the story, OGGOA figured we’d throw up a quick BIT about Gators freshman quarterback Trey Burton having a steer named after him. Austin Dailey, 18, the owner the steer, will be attending UF in the fall. You can read the story here.

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FOUR BITS: Webb in CFL, Gaffney, Miller, Horford

1 » Former Florida Gators cornerback Dee Webb, who spent a portion of 2010 with the Jacksonville Sharks of the revamped AFL, has signed with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL for the 2011 season. A former draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Webb tried out for the Miami Dolphins last year but did not make the cut. He will be playing in the CFL for a second time after previously trying out for Toronto (in 2007) and joining the Calgary Stampeders (in 2009).

2 » Though Denver Broncos wide receiver Jabar Gaffney is getting up there in age (he turns 31 next season), it appears that he will remain an integral part of the team’s receiving corps in 2011. With two starters recovering from surgeries, The Denver Post expects Gaffney to have the opportunity to capitalize on their absences. Posting career-highs in receptions (65) and yards (875) in 2010, Gaffney thrived under quarterbacks Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow and is not costing the team much money with a $2.4 million salary set for next season.

3 » Miami Heat forward Mike Miller, who left Tuesday’s game against the Indiana Pacers after getting hit in the head, stayed overnight for concussion tests and will miss at least one game. It is the second time in as many games Miller sustained a blow to the head, though the first did not appear to cause any damage necessitating further tests.

4 » Just over two weeks ago, the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks clashed in a heated contest that ended with a 111-102 victory for Atlanta. During the game, a fight broke out between the teams. Forward/center Amare Stoudemire of the Knicks took exception after Hawks F/C Al Horford was “particularly vocal and demonstrative,” according to ESPN. Now Stoudemire is looking forward to going up against his NBA All-Star teammate in a rematch between New York and Atlanta on Wednesday. “It’s going to be a very, very intense game after what happened in Atlanta,” he said. “[Horford] don’t want to see me. I watched him play in Florida, and I’ve seen him play a few years in Atlanta. We’ve got two different games, and we’ll see how it plays out.” Horford responded Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t understand what he means by that, ‘He don’t want to see me,’” he said. “Like we’re supposed to be scared of [Stoudemire]. Ain’t nobody scared of him. We’re all grown men, so it’s all good.”

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2/1: Donovan on Florida’s fight and survival

No. 23 Florida Gators (17-5, 6-2 SEC) head basketball coach Billy Donovan likes to talk – and we like to listen – which is why we have compiled some of the most important news, notes and quotes following his press availability after Tuesday’s hard-fought 65-61 overtime win against the No. 24 Vanderbilt Commodores (15-6, 3-4 SEC).

12 13 ROUNDS

If you thought Florida looked punch-drunk following their double overtime defeat of Georgia on Jan. 25, Donovan believes that was nothing compared to the physical effort the team had to put forth to defeat Vanderbilt in overtime on Tuesday.

“That was by far the most physical game we have played all year long. In a lot of ways, I felt terrible for the officials because it was a very, very difficult game to officiate,” he said. “The game was as well officiated as it could have been with all the contact. It was a hard game.”

Many fans on both sides might disagree with Donovan’s praise of the officiating, noting that the Gators were abused most of the game and the Commodores were dealt a blow by not having a foul called on sophomore guard Kenny Boynton on a three-pointer from G John Jenkins near the end of the contest. Commenting on the missed foul, Donovan said it was just part of the game.

“Yeah, you know what, and it was probably about 25 fouls by us and them throughout the game. I didn’t get a clear look on it. I don’t know if he did or didn’t,” he said. “To me, if that foul would have been called, that would have been very, very disappointing with all the contact that was going on.”

How much contact was there? “It reminded me of the Miami Heat and the New York Knicks back in the day with [Jeff] Van Gundy and Pat Riley and Alonzo Mourning and fist fights,” Donovan quipped.

SURVIVING A “LATE COLLAPSE”

Florida once again squandered an opportunity to win a close game in regulation, something Donovan chalks up to the game of basketball in general and not the Gators’ ability to handle a lead late in a game.

“I don’t look at it as a late collapse. There [are] good teams out there with good players,” he said. “We got a pretty resilient group. They try to battle back and they fight.”

With that being said, Donovan points out that Florida has improved in these types of situations compared to how they would have handled them the last two seasons.

“Two years ago, in a game like this, I think we would have had a hard time winning the game. We’re getting better in these kinds of games,” he said.

“I think our guys have grown up, in particular our older guys. They don’t have it figured out. They probably think they do, but I can tell you right now they don’t. We’ve gotten better responding to the things that you need to respond to [in order] to put yourself in a position to win the game.”

QUOTES (After the break…)
Continue Reading » 2/1: Donovan on Florida’s fight and survival

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FOUR BITS: Pouncey, Miller, visits, MJD, Chickillo

1 » A victory by the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday over the New York Jets in the AFC Championship ensured that, for the ninth consecutive season, a former Florida Gators player will be going to the Super Bowl. Rookie center Maurkice Pouncey, who has started every game of the 2010-11 season for Pittsburgh but left Sunday’s game in the first quarter with a high-ankle sprain (left), could also become the 14th former Gators star to win a ring. “I know in my heart that I’m playing in that game,” Pouncey said according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I had the same injury before on my other ankle and I know how to attack it. I know how to approach things.” Should the Steelers be victorious in Super Bowl XLV, it would be the third-straight year a Florida player has won a ring (Pittsburgh-Starks, New Orleans-McCray). Editor’s note: Steelers left tackle Max Starks would also receive a ring, though he has missed most of the season after injuring his neck earlier in the year.

2 » Getting off to a slow start this year after returning from a serious thumb injury he suffered during preseason training camp, Miami Heat guard Mike Miller went nuts on Saturday with two of his team’s best players on the sideline. Playing a season-high 33 minutes, Miller went 12-of-20 (and 6-of-11 from downtown) for 32 points, seven rebounds and three assists and set a franchise record with 22 points in the second quarter alone. He was 5-for-18 before Saturday’s game and had only scored 15 points on the season. “It’s not like I forgot how [to shoot],” Miller said. “It’s just a matter of getting out there and doing it. It was a matter of time.”

3 » UF received official visits from four-star cornerback Marcus Roberson (Fort Lauderdale, FL) and three-star offensive tackle Jacob Fisher (Traverse City, MI) over the weekend, both of whom were hosted by players and took in Florida’s big basketball win over Arkansas with offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. Roberson, currently committed to Texas Tech (where his uncle Otis Mounds is the CB coach), may be up for grabs depending how he feels his visit went. Fisher, on the other hand, has his recruitment completely open and is strongly looking around. A former Michigan commit, he decided to weigh his options after head coach Rich Rodriguez was fired.

4 » When Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler left the NFC Championship game on Sunday with a knee injury, many current and former NFL players took to Twitter in order to bash him. An interesting – and to Gators fans “offensive” – tweet came through from the account of Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who likened Cutler’s sitting on the sidelines to Florida head coach Urban Meyer resigning. “Hey I think the Urban Meyer rule is effect right now. When the going gets tough… QUIT,” Jones-Drew wrote. “All I’m saying is that he can finish the game on a hurt knee. I played the whole season on one…” Editor’s note: Jones-Drew missed the final two games of the 2010 season (while Jacksonville was still in playoff contention) with a knee injury.

Extra BIT » Though the new coaching staff, including head coach Will Muschamp made a strong case to get him to switch, four-star defensive end Anthony Chickillo decided to reaffirm his commitment to the Miami Hurricanes over the weekend.

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Top 10 for 2010: Off the Field Stories of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators accomplished on the field in 2010 (check out our post tomorrow), the Gator Nation was making plenty of news off of it as well. From former players signing huge contracts to current team members being a part of some of the biggest news stories in sports this year, Florida was spread all over the sports landscape in 2010. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 10 Off the Field Stories of the Year.

10 » FIVE BECOME A PART OF THE GATOR NATION IN THE SKY
It would be difficult to recount everything that Gator Nation has gone through in 2010 without remembering those close to the University of Florida who left us for a better place in the past year. Young and old, these Gators departed too soon and suddenly in all but one case. Lamar Abel (21), a walk-on defensive lineman, suffered cardiac arrest while volunteering at a roadside cleanup event with his fraternity in Gainesville, FL. Former safety John Curtis (24) committed suicide in Bellvue, WA. Hall of fame safety Jarvis Williams (45) passed away after an acute asthma attack. Former Gators basketball player and friend to the program Augie Greiner (76) died in his home. And long-time donor and Bull Gator George Steinbrenner (80), most famously known as the owner of the New York Yankees, passed away in a Tampa, FL, hospital. OGGOA once again sends our deepest condolences to the families and friends of these men.

9 » ERIN ANDREWS GETS JUSTICE, STARS ON TV, RE-SIGNS WITH ESPN

Former Florida dazzler and ESPN reporter Erin Andrews had a much better go of it in 2010. Though her stalker plead guilty to his charges in court in December 2009, she spent a good portion of 2010 making sure he was brought to justice (27-month prison term) while also spreading word across the country that violence against women from sexual predators cannot and should not be tolerated. Simultaneously, Andrews participated in ABC’s Dancing with the Stars and even dropped a few Gator Chomps along the way. She ended up finishing third in the competition but parlayed her talent on the sidelines into an enhanced gig with the Worldwide Leader in Sports. Andrews signed a new two-year deal with ESPN, which included a role hosting the first hour of College GameDay live on ESPNU, appearances on ABC’s Good Morning America and more of a presence on the family of networks. She also spoke with OGGOA on two occasions, first in a wide-ranging interview that received significant publicity and later to share her thoughts on the resignation of head coach Urban Meyer.

Continue Reading » Top 10 for 2010: Off the Field Stories of the Year

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TWO BITS: Noah out 10 weeks, Greene’s mistakes

1 » It looks like the Chicago Bulls fright over center Joakim Noah‘s thumb was justified. One day after sources told ESPNChicago.com that Noah could miss at least eight weeks with a possible torn ligament in his right thumb, their suspicions became reality. After starting and posting a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds in Chicago’s 110-93 victory over Toronto on Wednesday, Noah was notified that he will miss up to 10 weeks as he will undergo surgery Thursday to repair a torn ulna collateral ligament in the thumb. Noah, who signed a five-year, $60 million contract extension before the season started, is averaging 14.2 points and 11.7 rebounds per game this season. “I’ve had the exact same surgery before on my left hand. It sucks,” Noah said. “It’s not what I want, but you can’t … I’ve [played] through it for a couple weeks now and I got to get back to playing at a high level.” He has been playing with the injured finger since Nov. 27.

In related news… Miami Heat power forward Udonis Haslem will likely miss the entire season after tearing a ligament in his left foot back in Nov. The team recently received a salary exception for his contract this season. Teammate guard/forward Mike Miller is slowly on his way back to the Heat after breaking his thumb during practice in Oct.

2 » Former Florida Gators point guard and Gainesville, FL, native Orien Greene bleeped-up one too many times for the NBA. A staunch defender who is currently averaging 23 points (on 52 percent shooting, 48 percent from downtown), five rebounds and five assists per game for the Utah Flash of the NBA D-League, he is someone who should be playing on a prime time stage if not for a number of character flaws that have arisen over the years. Will a team give him chance? Can someone who has realized their mistakes get yet another shot at redemption? Perhaps in time. For now, Greene can only hope. “Lord willing, lord willing, somebody’s going to call me and I can get back in,” he told ESPN’s Henry Abbott, who wrote this feature story on a once very promising young basketball player.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

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