FOUR BITS: Zunino, APR, Fowler, Marotti

1 » One of the most accomplished players in the history of Florida Gators baseball, catcher Mike Zunino has been called up to the major leagues and will suit up for the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, Zunino is hitting just .238 with 11 home runs for the Tacoma Rainiers, Seattle’s Triple-A affiliate. Chances are Zunino’s call up is as a temporary replacement for rookie C Jesus Sucre, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list by the Mariners on Saturday. Unless Zunino starts dominating immediately on the major league level (or even if he does), he will likely be sent back down so the year he is eligible for arbitration is not bumped up a season. “So far the transition has been pretty good,” Zunino told the Seattle Post-Inteligencer as part of a recent feature story. “For me it’s one of those things where it’s all about how you prepare mentally and physically, and taking care of yourself. Ultimately that gives you the best chance to succeed.”

2 » The NCAA released the official Academic Progress Rates for the 2011-12 athletic season with all the numbers coming in positive for the Gators. Florida’s football team finished with an APR of 968, tied with Georgia for fourth-best in the Southeastern Conference behind Missouri, Alabama and Vanderbilt. UF basketball scored a 989, checking in one spot back of UGA.

3 » The Gainesville Sun’s Robbie Andreu penned an interesting feature over the weekend on Gators sophomore Buck linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr. and how his decision to play for Florida has affected his father, a long-time die-hard Florida State fan. “We gave [all the FSU shirts and hats] away,” Fowler said. “Everything FSU is gone. Strictly Gator. All Gator stuff now. It was a little hard for [my dad] at first, but he started wearing some of the Florida stuff to go to the barber shop and everyone would say, ‘You’re wearing orange and blue now.’ Everything FSU is gone. We turned him around. He’s actually glad now that I made the decision to come here. I think in the end, this was the best decision for me. I’m just very happy now.” The feature also looks at Fowler’s successful freshman season, how he is preparing for his second year, and his admiration for his new “big brother,” redshirt junior Buck LB Ronald Powell.

4 » Speaking of features, CBS Sports columnist Bruce Feldman wrote one Tuesday on Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer from the perspective of the team’s assistant athletic director for football sports performance, Micky Marotti. In the piece, Mariotti kind of brags that Meyer was able to nab defensive end Noah Spence, who he notes was the No. 1 player at that position end on Gators head coach Will Muschamp’s recruiting board. He also explains how Meyer has changed from his time at Florida. “He’s a lot less likely to fly off the handle,” Marotti said. “I think he’s at a point, where you try to teach and educate and cultivate your players, but ultimately it’s their decision to make the right or wrong decision out there in the world. He’s done a tremendous, Emmy award-winning job coaching our coaches in philosophy, methodology and recruiting. I see it all. He’s really into teaching.”

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SIX BITS: Masters, Zunino, baseball, Elam, Horford

1 » A pair of Florida Gators will be competing at the 2013 Masters this week at Augusta National Golf Club, one of whom is a current University of Florida student and a member of the school’s golf team. Senior T.J. Vogel, a 22-year old amateur, will be playing in his first ever major and has decided to properly take in the moment. Over the weekend, he and his caddie arranged his schedule so he could “bump” into Tiger Woods during an early-morning tee time. “I basically ran into him and we talked for a few minutes,” he said according to the Orlando Sentinel. Vogel has been playing at Augusta as much as possible in preparation for the Masters and will get his big opportunity starting on Thursday. He will be joined in Augusta by former Gators golfer Brian Gay, who has played as a professional since 1994 and has four PGA Tour wins but has never finished better than 20th in a major (2008 PGA Championship).

2 » Former Florida catcher Mike Zunino, the highest-drafted baseball player in school history (No. 3 in the 2012 MLB Draft), is breaking out in a major way while playing minor league baseball for the Seattle Mariners. Currently assigned to the Tacoma Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League (Triple-A), Zunino is simply crushing the ball. On Tuesday night, Zunino smacked a grand slam and has now hit a homer in three-straight games. He has hit four home runs in five games and boasts a MiLB-high 16 RBI while batting .429 and slugging an absurd 1.238 with an on-base percentage of 1.696.

Read four more Florida Gators news BITS…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Masters, Zunino, baseball, Elam, Horford

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FOUR BITS: Mitts, Florida basketball, Zunino

1 » Former Florida Gators defender Heather Mitts, who announced her retirement from soccer in May before the 2012 London Olympics, participated in the games, won a gold medal and has now completed the victory tour with the U.S. Women’s National Team. On Wednesday, Mitts officially ended her career by sending out a long message on her Facebook page. Below is a truncated version of Mitts’s message, which can be read in full by clicking here.

The time has come for me to move onto a new stage of my career. I truly appreciate the women who paved the way, to my friends and dear teammates that I will never forget.

I will miss the little things… the travel by plane, train and mini van, the locker room moments, keeping my teammates on their toes and nothing will ever compare to putting on that US jersey. It’s been an amazing journey with some obstacles but in the very end I feel so fortunate that we were able to close on a golden note. […]

A special thanks to Ohio ODP, my numerous club teams, St. Ursula Academy and the University of Florida. To Becky Burleigh, Vic Campbell & Mark Kirkorian for preparing me to reach the next level & James Galanis for helping me reach my full potential. […]

Its amazing how 28 years of playing a sport I love and always will, can fly by. From my first cap til now, the growth of the sport has been profound. […] I leave with so much gratitude to US Soccer for allowing us the right to play for our country. Lastly the fans. Your constant love and support for the sport and this team is among the best in the world. I look forward to joining you to cheer on this amazing team.

2 » According to The Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway, Florida basketball “saw a modest gain in home attendance” during the 2012-13 season, averaging 10,667 fans in paid attendance as compared to 10,434 from a year ago. The Gators sold out six games (all Southeastern Conference contests) but still finished sixth in the league in attendance behind Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama and Missouri. All five schools have larger arenas and greater seating capacities than Florida.

3 » The esteemed Ken Pomeroy, who runs KenPom.com and churns out advanced analysis of college basketball, released his “All-kenpom” team for the SEC. Interestingly enough, the team was comprised of all five Gators starters – junior center Patric Young (his Player of the Year), senior forward Erik Murphy, senior guard Kenny Boynton, redshirt senior G Mike Rosario and junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin. He also discusses how Florida’s “lack of success in close games” is over-criticized and provides his projections for the 2013 SEC Tournament.

4 » According to CBSSports.com baseball insider Jon Heyman, the Seattle Mariners are thrilled with how 2013 MLB Draft No. 3 overall pick catcher Mike Zunino is playing but are not prepared to call him up to the major leagues just yet. Seattle will enter the season with Jesus Montero and Kelly Shoppach as catchers despite Zunino hitting .360 in Single-A and Double-A minor league ball last season. In spring training action, Zunino is just 4/19 (.211) with a homer. His time will most certainly come with the Mariners, but it does not appear as if it will be this season.

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FOUR BITS: SEC titles, Harvin, Tebow, Zunino

1 » Florida Gators swimmers brought home four league titles on Thursday during the third night of the 2013 SEC Swimming & Diving Championships, which are being held for the first time in College Station, TX. Junior Elizabeth Beisel started off the title wins by capturing the SEC Championship in the women’s 400-meter individual medley for the third-straight year. She broke the four-minute mark at 3:59.53, which is also a personal record and the best time in the nation this season. Also winning a title for the women’s team was freshman Natalie Hinds, who swam the 100-meter butterfly in 51.70 (also the top time in the country this season) to win her first SEC Championship. Junior Marcin Cieslak matched Beisel with his third-straight SEC title in a single event by winning the men’s 100-meter butterfly in 46.02, a season-best mark. Duplicating Hinds’s accomplishment for the men was freshman Pawel Werner, who swam the men’s 200-meter freestyle in 1:33.82 to win the SEC Championship.

At the close of action on Thursday, Florida (748.0 points) led 16-time defending champion Auburn (630.5) by 117.5 points. The Gators men’s team has won the most SEC team championships in league history (33) but has not brought home the top spot since 1993. On the women’s side, Florida (676.0) trails Georgia (790.0) by 114 points. UF’s women’s team has also won the most SEC team titles in league history (17) but has not come in first since 2009; UGA is looking to win its fourth-straight championship. Two days of competition remain with the event concluding Saturday night.

2 » Tracked down by a St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter at his home in Fleming Island, FL, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin refused comment about his situation with the team. “I’ve got nothing to say about any of that,” he said. At the 2013 NFL Combine on Thursday, Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman reiterated that he has no plans to get rid of Harvin and expects him to be in training camp on time. “We have no intent to trade Percy Harvin,” he said. “Anything related to his contract … will all be kept internally.” This story continues to be interesting.

3 » The New York Jets contingent spoke with the media on Thursday and of course one of the highlights of their media availabilities was everyone tip-toeing around the subject of quarterback Tim Tebow. Head coach Rex Ryan noted that Tebow is “under contract to be a New York Jet, so we’ll see how things go in the offseason. But Tim is under contract.” New general manager John Idzik, who inherited Tebow on his roster, praised the player’s work ethic but did not speak in specifics about whether or not he would be with the team to compete going forward. “My view on Tim Tebow is he is a highly competitive athlete. Everywhere he’s been, he’s been a highly competitive athlete,” he said. “And what we do, we’re going to provide as much competition as we can on a daily basis, at every position, quarterback included, and we’ll see how that rolls out. I would think Tim would be game for that. He’s a competitor.”

4 » New Seattle Mariners catcher Mike Zunino, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, has been competing with his future teammates in Peoria, AZ over the last few days and is looking every bit the player the Mariners hoped. Larry Stone of The Seattle Times caught up with Zunino this week and wrote that the player is quickly winning over other players and manager Eric Wedge. “He’s a complete player, very comfortable in his own skin for a young man,” Wedge said. “You can tell already he has a great respect for the game. You can tell already he’s a student of the game. I’m very impressed with the way he handles himself catching bullpens, just handling a pitching staff early on. Fundamentally, he’s been very impressive both from the offensive and defensive side.” To his credit, Zunino says he is in no rush to get to the majors. But if he continues to play the way he has over his last two college seasons, he will be there soon enough. “I’m going to do the best I can, put my work in every day, and try to be the best player I can be, and the best teammate I can be,” he said. “Eventually, wherever the chips may fall, that’s when I’ll make that next jump.”

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FOUR BITS: Harris, Beisel, Zunino, Parsons, Hill

1 » Florida Gators junior center Damontre Harris was arrested early Wednesday morning after he failed to appear at an arraignment scheduled for Aug. 16, 2012. Harris, who was cited by a member of the University Police Department on July 16 for driving without a valid in-state license, was supposed to take care of the necessary paperwork and pay the fines associated with his infraction but never did as instructed. He was served a delinquency notice after failing to pay his original fine within 30 days and assessed an additional $32 in fines between Aug. 21 and Sept. 28.

2 » Florida announced Wednesday that junior swimmer Elizabeth Beisel (swimming) and former catcher Mike Zunino (baseball) have been named winners of the 2012 Ben Hill Griffin Award. The honor, given to the top male and female student-athletes each season, “is based primarily on athletic achievement” with “academic achievement and extra-curricular involvement” also a consideration, according to UF. Zunino, who received the award for the second-straight year, won every major collegiate baseball award at the conclusion of the 2012 season. Beisel, the 2012 SEC Female Swimmer of the Year, also earned an individual national title in the 200-meter backstroke.

3 » NBA Hall of Fame C Hakeem Olajuwon taped an Egraph message to current Houston Rockets forward Chandler Parsons recently. Listen to it here.

4 » Stemming from the NCAA’s investigation of the Miami Hurricanes and his time as wide receivers coach with the team, former Gators assistant Aubrey Hill has been hit with an ethical-conduct charge (NCAA Rule 10.1). According to the Associated Press, which obtained information regarding the notice of allegations sent to Miami, Hill and at least one other assistant “provided meals, transportation and lodging to either recruits, current players, or both in either 2008 or 2009. Both were interviewed by the NCAA during the course of its probe and allegedly denied providing those extra benefits, statements the NCAA said were contradicted in each case by what players told them separately.” Though forthcoming punishments have not yet been levied against Hill, it can be expected that he will be out of coaching for the foreseeable future. He resigned from his post with Florida before the beginning of the 2012 season.

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2013 Florida Gators baseball primer: Rebuilding

By Andrew Olson – OGGOA Contributor

Florida Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan has his work cut out for him in his sixth season in Gainesville, FL. Ranked No. 13, No. 17 and No. 24 in the various preseason top 25 polls, the Gators are looking up at anywhere from four to six Southeastern Conference foes listed ahead of them.

Right now, the core of the team that achieved three consecutive College World Series appearances is focused on MLB spring training instead of its spring semester at Florida. There are a few returning faces spread out across the diamond, but the Gators will have to find at least multiple new starting pitchers, a new closer and a new way to produce runs without relying so much on the long ball.

O’Sullivan has proven he knows how to identify some of the best young talent in the country. On a Florida team loaded with freshmen and sophomores, he has to develop that talent fast to fill the void left by the nine Gators selected in the 2012 MLB Draft.

Florida opens its 2013 campaign on Friday when it starts a three-game home series against Duke at McKethan Stadium.

Continue Reading » 2013 Florida Gators baseball primer: Rebuilding

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FOUR BITS: Speights, Floyd, Zunino, Fason

1 » The Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday traded reserve center Marreese Speights to the Cleveland Cavaliers after signing him to a two-year, $8 million contract in the offseason. Speights, who was originally acquired via trade by Memphis one year ago, played a big role for the Grizzlies last season as a fill-in for injured starter Zach Randolph. With Randolph healthy and Speights seeing limited minutes, including him in a package made sense for Memphis. He is averaging 6.6 points and 4.7 rebounds in 14.5 minutes per game this season.

2 » Former Florida Gators defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd published a second “thank you” letter to fans, following up the first placement in The Independent Florida Alligator with a second in The Gainesville Sun. Below is the text of Floyd’s second letter:

Dear Gator Fans:

When I came down here from Philadelphia three years ago, you rolled out the red carpet for me and welcomed me warmly. My three years in Gainesville have been the best years of my life. As much as I would like to remain here for another year and win and SEC Championship, the opportunity for me to enter the NFL draft now was one I could not turn down. I am very excited about the opportunity to represent the University of Florida in the National Football League with my Gator brethren. I promise to come back from time to time to visit old friends and root the Gators on to another National Championship. Thanks to all of the Gator fans who have supported me and the team the last few years. You are the best!

Sincerely,

Sharrif Floyd
Gator for Life

Check out two VIDEO BITS…after the break!
Continue Reading » FOUR BITS: Speights, Floyd, Zunino, Fason

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SIX BITS: Johnson, Zunino, O&B, All-Star, Draft

1 » Former Florida Gators quarterback Doug Johnson may be charged with felony battery after a sworn complaint was filed with the Gainesville Police Department in November alleging that he took part in a beating of a man after the Florida-LSU football game. According to The Gainesville Sun, “The case is now in the hands of the State Attorney’s Office, which will determine whether to file charges.” The victim told the paper that he was attacked minutes after a confrontation allegedly with Johnson and two other men. He claims to have been punched and kicked in the face repeatedly, actions which caused injuries including “a broken nose and numerous facial fractures.”

2 » Former Gators catcher Mike Zunino is one of 18 minor league players within the organization that have been invited to participate in spring training with the Seattle Mariners. He will report to Peoria, AZ on Feb. 12 and will have an opportunity to earn a roster spot just eight months after being selected No. 3 overall in the 2012 MLB Draft.

3 » The school announced Tuesday that the 2013 Orange & Blue Debut spring game will take place on Saturday, April 6 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. That day will certainly be a busy one on campus as track & field hosts the Pepsi Florida Relays, lacrosse will go head-to-head Johns Hopkins, softball takes on Mississippi State, and gymnastics hosts the 2012 NCAA Regionals.

4 » Joining the eight Florida seniors already announced for all-star bowl games is defensive tackle Omar Hunter, who was added to the 2013 Raycom College All-Star Classic this week. The game is set to be played on Saturday, Jan. 19 at 4 p.m. and will air live on CBS Sports Network. Wide receivers Frankie Hammond, Jr. and Omarius Hines both competed in the 2013 Casino Del Sol College All-Star Game last weekend with neither player posting any significant statistics. Check out the six other players participating in games over the next two weekends.

5 » The 2013 NBA All-Star team will be announced on Thursday. As of the final official release of fan voting totals on Jan. 3, only Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah (seventh – Eastern Conference frontcourt) and Houston Rockets forward Chandler Parsons (15th – Western Conference frontcourt) were on the lists, meaning neither are likely to make their respective team based on the fan vote, which closed on Monday. Reserve spots, on the other hand, are chosen by league coaches, which means Noah, Parsons, Atlanta Hawks F Al Horford and Golden State Warriors F David Lee all have a chance to be selected. Noah and Lee are probably the most likely to be chosen, especially considering Lee is currently 10th in the NBA in points (19.9), fifth in rebounds (10.9) and first in 20-10 games with 16 so far this season.

6 » Gators junior DT Sharrif Floyd continues to be a near-unanimous first-round selection in mocks that have recently been created for the 2013 NFL Draft. Of the five first-edition mock drafts released by NFL.com this week, Floyd is listed in four at No. 14 by Josh Norris, No. 23 by Gil Brant, No. 24 by Daniel Jeremiah and No. 28 by Bucky Brooks. Junior safety Matt Elam is listed on three of those five mocks at No. 17 by Brooks, No. 30 by Norris and No. 31 by Charles Davies. Davies did not list Floyd in his first round; neither Brant nor Jeremiah had Elam in theirs.

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