Udonis Haslem sets career rebounding record

Former Florida Gators power forward Udonis Haslem, a 10-year NBA veteran who has spent his entire career with the Miami Heat, set the franchise’s career rebounding record on Wednesday, surpassing Alonzo Mourning and becoming the first undrafted free agent in league history to hold a team’s career mark in rebounds.

Haslem, who had 4,806 boards entering the game, broke the record with 2:37 left in the first quarter when he brought down his second rebound of the contest, surpassing Mourning’s 4,807.

After spending four years at Florida playing under head coach Billy Donovan, Haslem went undrafted in the 2002 NBA Draft over concerns about his size and ability. Though he got a chance to compete with Atlanta in the preseason, Haslem was eventually cut and ballooned to 300 lbs. while playing professionally in France.

He lost more than 50 lbs. during his time in France and was signed by Miami as an undrafted free agent in 2003.

Haslem wound up starting his first career NBA game and wound up being named to the All-Rookie Second Team in his first season. He nearly left the Heat in 2010 after the team signed a bevy of talented free agents and did not have the money to match contract offers laid out to him by Dallas and Denver. In the end, he decided to accept $14 million less over five years to re-sign with Miami and continue playing in his hometown alongside one of his best friends in Dwyane Wade.

Now a two-time NBA champion, Haslem was able to celebrate his second title alongside former Gators teammate Mike Miller. He will remain with the team through his player-option year of 2014-15.

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Tim Tebow wins ESPY award for Best Moment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FOUR BITS: Harvin, Thompson, Haslem, Miller

1 » The situation between former Florida Gators wide receiver Percy Harvin and the Minnesota Vikings continues to get more muddled by the day. After missing practice one day last week and officially requesting a trade, Harvin was believed to be seeking a new contract that paid him closer to what he deserves for his on-field production. However, he came out publicly and said that his contract was not the issue, which brought up his playing time (Harvin was on the field for just 58.4 percent of his team’s offensive touchdowns in 2011) and production (he was not a member of the Vikings’ standard red zone package) into focus. Just one day after skipping practice, Harvin returned to the field and said he will also be a full participant in training camp, leading some to believe that he may have worked out at least some of his issues with the coaching staff. However, head coach Leslie Frazier told ESPN 1500 in Minnesota that he cannot guarantee Harvin will get more touches this season though the team will try to get him on the field more often. “[His] snaps may go up…touches, I don’t know about that,” he said. “We want to keep him on the field more, but his style – he’s a reckless guy and doesn’t hold anything back. [He] always goes 100 miles an hour. So you have to be careful about not overusing him.” General manager Rick Spielman told the same station he expressed to Harvin that he will not be traded, making his request moot considering the team can theorhetically control him contract-wise for three more years by using the franchise tag in 2014. “I know Coach Frazier really met and sat and talked a lot with Percy. I dealt more with the business side of it and dealt with his agent, Joel Segal,” Spielman said. “As far as I know, the last dialogue I had, we’re expecting Percy to be at training camp and ready to go.”

2 » Once again “turning heads” in offseason activities is WR Deonte Thompson, who has been showing the Baltimore Ravens that they made a smart decision in signing him as an undrafted free agent. According to the team’s website, Thompson “blew by Baltimore secondary [and] busted out a leaping celebration for emphasis” when scoring a touchdown last Wednesday and has been a constant bright spot for the organization during minicamp. “It’s competitive. I know I have to bring my ‘A’ game every day because they’re bringing theirs,” said Thompson of his position mates. “I’ve got some wheels. I think they haven’t seen my knack for big plays. I feel like every time I touch the ball there’s a possibility of something big happening,” he added about his talents and chances of making the final roster. “I know it’s possible. I know the best player is going to play here. I just have to keep doing what I’m doing and I’ll have a chance.”

3 » Former Florida power forward Udonis Haslem had plenty of praise for Miami Heat teammate guard Mike Miller and the way he performed in Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals, scoring 23 points in 23 minutes on 7-of-8 shooting from downtown. “It’s hard to explain. He’s been in a tremendous amount of pain, but he comes out every night and lays it on the line. That’s all we can ask for,” he said, according to the Sun-Sentinel. “He picked a hell of a time to come through for us.” Haslem captured his second NBA title (he won his first with Miami in 2006) but, like Miller (who won his first this year), was in more of a supporting role this time around. Nevertheless, the duo of former Gators played an integral part in bringing a championship home to South Florida.

4 » Philadelphia Eagles WR Riley Cooper spent last Thursday volunteering with the United Way during the organization’s annual Day of Action. According to Lipsticking.com, Cooper joined “a core group of college-educated, civic-minded NFL players committed to helping United Way recruit one million volunteer readers, tutors and mentors” and worked toward that goal by spending time with the foundation and some of its members in Washington, D.C. The website also notes that Cooper “mentored three boys and helped increase their GPAs from 2.0 to As & Bs” while also completing other charity work (both team-sponsored and not) as a student at the University of Florida.

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FOUR BITS: Tebow, Miller, Graham, Beal

1 » Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow has been added to the Gator Boosters, Inc. board of directors, according to the University of Florida. Tebow, on the board for a one-year stint, joins some notable Gators including Alex Brown, Lomas Brown, and his own father Bob Tebow on the 60-member board presided over President Bill Heavener and soon President-Elect Rex Farrior III. As explained on their website, Gator Boosters is dedicated to “educate our student-athletes” through scholarship funding and “constantly building, or improving our athletic facilities for Gator student-athltes to be given the opportunity to compete in the finest facilities.”

2 » Former Florida guard Mike Miller spoke with ESPN Radio‘s Ric Bucher immediately following his fantastic performance in Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals on Thursday. You can listen to the interview by clicking here.

3 » Former Gators running back Earnest Graham has spent his entire NFL career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after being signed as an undrafted free agent out of Florida in 2004. But with just six weeks until training camp, Graham remains unsigned and told the News-Press that he is mentally prepared for retirement should a team not pick him up soon. “Right now, honestly, I’m going to focus on being a free agent, but I definitely understand that it is likely that I may have already played my last game,” he said. Unfortunately for Graham, he did not even get to complete the 2011 season as he tore his Achilles and only wound up seeing action in seven games. Though that is not the way he wants to go out, Graham said he has his health back and would be able to perform like he has been the last few years if given an opportunity. “I feel fine,” he said. “I’m running around well. If training camp started today, I’d be able to do it.” Graham has run for 2,047 yards and 15 touchdowns while also catching 129 passes for 904 yards and one additional score over his eight-year playing career. His standout season came in 2007 when he rushed for career-highs of 898 yards and 10 touchdowns and caught 49 passes for 324 yards as the starting tailback for Tampa Bay.

4 » Gators freshman G Bradley Beal appeared on ROME on CBS Sports Network on Thursday to discuss the upcoming 2012 NBA Draft and his decision to leave Florida.

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FOUR BITS: Miller, Haslem win; Swamp; Young

1 » Former Florida Gators guard Mike Miller and power forward Udonis Haslem celebrated mightily Thursday evening as their team, the Miami Heat, captured the 2012 NBA Championship with a 4-1 series victory over Oklahoma City. The title is Miller’s first but Haslem’s second as he was also a member of the Miami team that won the 2006 championship. It is the second-straight year that a former Florida player will receive an NBA ring as G Corey Brewer captured one during his short stay with Dallas in 2011. Haslem averaged approximately three points and five rebounds in 18 minutes per game in the Finals, while Miller saw much less court time in the series but had a fantastic Game 5 with 23 points on 7-of-8 shooting from downtown.

2 » Following up on a BIT from early Thursday, which noted that Florida has the eighth-most players selected in the NBA Draft since 2002 and one-fifth of all Southeastern Conference players selected, is this chart from the Wall Street Journal, which notes that the Gators 10 NBA players played the sixth-most total minutes of any school in the league this year. Florida’s players totaled 12,652 NBA minutes this year, slightly less than Arizona’s representatives but far fewer than Duke (21,609), UCLA (18,029), Kentucky (17,159) and North Carolina (16,904).

3 » Pictures of Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium being under construction have made their rounds on Twitter over the last few days, most of which consisted of an empty playing surface that consisted of dirt and machinery. The Gators officially announced the construction project on Thursday, noting that a new playing surface will be installed consisting of Celebration Bermuda grass rather than Tifway 419 Bermuda, which is what was in The Swamp previously. “Every seven to 10 years you need to completely renovate a grass field,” said Chip Howard, Florida’s senior associate athletics director of internal affairs. “Over the years of resodding and painting, the ground gets contaminated and the crown of the field gets thrown off a little bit just because of overuse.” To that end, UF has removed the turf and 6-8 inches of topsoil but will instal the new grass in July so it is ready in time for the beginning of the football season.

4 » All Gators fans are understandably excited about the inaugural Navy/Marines Corps Classic featuring Florida basketball facing Georgetown on Nov. 9 in Jacksonville, FL. But junior center Patric Young, a Jacksonville native, is perhaps even more pumped for the game. “It’s very exciting and pretty cool,” Young told The Florida Times-Union. “Hopefully, they’ll make special jerseys for the game. I know they did in last year’s game. It’s an honor and a great opportunity that only select teams get to have. [...] It definitely adds to my excitement that the game is in my hometown. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of people while I’m there and having all my family there.” He is also excited about the potential opportunity to play in front of President Barack Obama should he choose to attend the game. “Normally, it doesn’t matter who is in the crowd,” Young said, “but when you are talking about the most powerful man in the free world, you think about that.”

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FOUR BITS: Miller, Capital One Cup, Black, Tebow

1 » Former Florida Gators guard/forward Mike Miller has denied a Monday ESPN report that said he plans to retire following the 2012 NBA Playoffs. “I’ll re-evaluate my health after the season. But I don’t have anything set up. I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said, according to the Palm Beach Post. Miller has been the depiction of the walking wounded especially over the last two seasons. He had hernia surgery in the offseason which many believe stemmed from a serious back problem that continues to bother him. Miller had surgeries to correct problems with his wrist and thumb last summer and often has to lie down when not on the court to keep his back from tightening up. Despite his health issues, Miller has $18.6 million remaining on his contract over the next three seasons (the third year is a player option) and would be hard pressed to give that up; however, the newly established amnesty clause could be used on Miller to rid his team of his contract and likely send him into retirement.

2 » The latest standings have been released for the 2012 Capital One Cup and Florida (89 points) currently has an 11-point lead in the men’s category coming in that many points ahead of LSU with one sport left to play. The Gators are currently participating in the 2012 College World Series (LSU is not) along with sixth-placed UCLA (64) points, 17th-placed Arkansas (39 points), 25th-placed Arizona (30 points) and 28th-placed Florida State (29) points. Schools earn points for top ten finishes in NCAA Championships and final official coaches’ polls with baseball being one of the largest scoring categories. In other words, Florida has not clinched victory and must at least finish quite high in the CWS to bring home the cup for the second-straight year (UF won the first-ever cup in 2011).

3 » Coming off an injury- and opportunity-shortened 2011 season, Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Ahmad Black is ready to prove Raheem Morris right in believing in him and going so far as to select him with a fifth-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft (even if Morris is no longer his head coach). “It’s a great opportunity,” he said. “We have a new coaching staff, so to get in here and learn the defense a little bit quicker and better – by the time the season comes around it [will be] a plus for us.” Black told the Pewter Report that he has been installed as the back-up free safety behind 16-year veteran Ronde Barber and should see plenty of playing time as he will likely be on the field both for dime packages and when Barber needs to take a spell. “When we go to dime, Ronde goes to the dime [cornerback] role and I go to free safety. I’ll do whatever [I can] for my team and do what’s best us,” he said.

4 » Prior to his team’s first mandatory minicamp practice on Tuesday, New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan said matter-of-factly that quarterback Tim Tebow will solely be “running with the twos” while Mark Sanchez takes all of the snaps as starting signal caller. Though fans and media may be trying to create a quarterback controversy in New York, it appears as if the organization itself has remained steadfast in keeping Sanchez as the entrenched starter…for now.

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SIX BITS: Calathes, Hernandez, Noah, Tyus, Beal

1 » Following up on a story from May in which the Dallas Mavericks head of international scouting said that point guard Nick Calathes will have an opportunity to play in the NBA this season is word that he may actually get that chance. According to ESPNDallas.com’s Tim MacMahon, Calathes “had discussions with the Mavericks [last] week indicating that he wants to play in the NBA” but continues “to be heavily recruited by European teams” now that his three-year contract with Panathinaikos has officially expired. MacMahon notes that should Dallas bring Calathes in for summer league action, he would be signed to a nonguaranteed contract.

2 » Now that the New England Patriots have locked up 2010 first-round pick tight end Rob Gronkowski long term with a six-year, $53 million contract extension, the focus has turned to what the team will do with fellow 2010 draft picks second-round linebacker Brandon Spikes and fourth-round TE Aaron Hernandez. As noted by the Boston Herald, New England signing Gronkowski to the richest contract for a tight end in NFL history could pose problems for Hernandez’s future. Hernandez remains under contract with the team through the 2013 season and is set to earn less than $1 million in salary each season. Should the team decide to give him a franchise tender, it would only cost them around $6 million, making there no immediate need for the Patriots to extend Hernandez as they would be able to avoid tying up a ton of money into one position. A No. 1 tight end in most NFL offenses, Hernandez is basically No. 2 at that position for New England despite also seeing time in the backfield and out near the sideline as a wide receiver. He most likely feels that he deserves money equal to or surpassing Gronkowski, which means his long-term future may have him wearing a different uniform.

3 » Only two of the seven former Florida Gators that participated in first-round action in the 2012 NBA Playoffs remain in contention for a title. Miami Heat power forward Udonis Haslem and guard/forward Mike Miller both advanced to the NBA Finals over the weekend; Haslem is looking for his second ring while Miller is still pursuing his first.

4 » Speaking of the playoffs, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah (who severely sprained his ankle during the first round) has yet to recover from his injury. “I’ve tried to play a little basketball, but it’s still a little sore,” he told French-language website Catch and Shoot. “My left leg is not at its best. I can’t push off it; I can’t run well. I’m not ready at all.” Noah has been saying all offseason – since the Bulls were eliminated – that his No. 1 priority is healing and improving the strength of his ankles and lower body so he can compete with the French National Team in the 2012 London Olympics. There is a way to go until the games begin, but Noah obviously has plenty of progress that he must make before being able to participate.

5 » Former Gators forward Alex Tyus, who has spent his first season out of college playing professionally for Maccabi Ashdod in Israel, learned recently that the country has granted him temporary citizenship, which will allow him to train and likely compete with the Israeli National Team in the 2013 European Qualification games. Tyus averaged 12.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game in his rookie season and helped lead Ashdod to their league finals (where the team fell 83-63 to Maccabi Tel Aviv). He and his wife converted to Judaism prior to leaving for Israel last summer.

6 » According to his agent Mark Bartelstein, who spoke with CBS Sports’ Jeff Goodman over the weekend, Florida freshman guard Bradley Beal has already scheduled three more workouts over the next seven days. Beal is set to work out for Washington (No. 3 overall) on Thursday, Cleveland (No. 4 and No. 24 overall) on Saturday and Charlotte (No. 2 overall) a week from Monday. The 2012 NBA Draft is set for June 28 giving Beal just over two weeks from press time to win over coaches and front office executives.

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SIX BITS: tennis, softball, Hill, Thompson, NBA

1 » No. 12 Florida Gators men’s tennis (16-9) continued its hot play in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, completing a 4-0 sweep of the No. 24 Harvard Crimson (23-3) to advance to the round of 16. Florida clinched the doubles point and received singles victories from No. 53 senior Nassim Slilam (6-2, 6-3), No. 66 sophomore Spencer Newman (6-4, 6-2) and sophomore Florent Diep (6-1, 6-4) to grab the victory and move on to the round of 16 for the third-straight season. UF will resume play on Friday against No. 5 Ohio State at noon.

2 » Gators softball, one day after falling hard in a bid for a conference tournament title, learned Sunday that they have earned the No. 5 overall seed in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Florida (46-11) will open the tournament as hosts of the Gainesville Regional, which will also feature Florida Gulf Coast, Central Florida and South Florida. UF is 2-2 this season against the field with victories over FGCU (5-0) and USF (3-2) and losses to UCF (2-0) and USF (4-1). The Gators will play their first game on May 18 at 6 p.m. against FGCU. Should Florida be the victor of their regional, they will take on the winner of the Los Angeles Regional featuring No. 12 UCLA, Florida State, San Diego State and Hofstra. UF would likely host the Super Regional in that scenario.

3 » Five-star point guard Kasey Hill, a 2013 Gators’ commitment and the No. 8 player in the country according to Rivals, received high praise from ESPN’s Dave Telep on Thursday. Telep, who has attended five AAU events since March, said Hill stood out as the top performer at the adidas VIP Run and thinks he is one of two players who could be considered the best point guard in the class of 2013. “The most improved player I’ve seen? That would be point guard Kasey Hill,” he wrote. “He’s refined his approach to the point guard slot and in my mind, become an elite player and impact recruit. There’s a difference between being highly rated and being an impact signee. He’s the best point guard Billy Donovan has ever recruited.”

4 » Two NFL writers had some high praise for former Florida wide receiver Deonte Thompson based on how he performed in Baltimore Ravens minicamp on Sunday. FOX Sports’ Aaron Wilson said Thompson “had a good day…speed is eye-catching, caught the ball fairly well, too,” while CBS Sports’ Jason Butt noted that Thompson “looked fluid and sharp, and showcased stellar straight-line speed and quick cuts.” Thompson is one of two former UF players (quarterback John Brantley) who signed an undrafted free agent deal with Baltimore this offseason.

5 » Denver Nuggets forward Corey Brewer became the third former Gators basketball player (and member of the Oh Fours) to be eliminated from the 2012 NBA Playoffs this week after Denver fell 96-87 to the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday. Brewer, after having some highlight moments during the series, had a rough outing in Game 7. He scored just four points on 2-of-9 shooting (0-for-3 from downtown) with two rebounds and one steal in 13 minutes. Also out of the postseason is center Marreese Speights and the Memphis Grizzlies. Speights also had an admirable series but did not get the opporutnity to contribute much in Memphis’ 82-72 Game 7 loss, scoring just two points on 1-of-2 shooting with two rebounds and a steal in 11 minutes.

6 » Only three former Florida players remain in the playoffs: F Matt Bonner of the San Antonio Spurs and both power forward Udonis Haslem and guard Mike Miller of the Miami Heat. Bonner is averaging 4.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in 16.0 minutes per game this postseason while Haslem is posting averages of 3.8 points and 6.4 boards in 19.0 minutes and Miller is registering 7.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 23.2 minutes.

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