SIX BITS: Speights, Sloan, fouling, Riggs, Tyus

1 » Golden State Warriors forward/center Marreese Speights put together a career game Monday night as he added a highlight to his otherwise up-and-down NBA career. Speights came off the bench but played starter’s minutes for Golden State in its 123-80 drubbing of Philadelphia 76ers, scoring a career-high 32 points on 12-of-15 shooting with eight boards and three blocks against the team that selected him with the No. 16 overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft.

He played so well, in fact, that the Warriors home crowd actually chanted “M-V-P” for Speights though he has been mostly a role player for Golden State this season.

2 » No. 1 Florida Gators gymnastics (5-0, 3-0 SEC) held on to its top ranking on Monday coming out of a 197.175-195.45 road victory on Friday over the Kentucky Wildcats (4-4, 1-3 SEC). Leading the way for the Gators in the meet was sophomore Bridget Sloan, who registered her second and Florida’s fourth perfect score of the season with a 10.0 on the balance beam. The defending national title holder in the discipline, Sloan’s 10.0 made her just the second gymnast in program history to register a perfect mark on the beam and the first Gators gymnast to score 10.0s on two different events in a career. For her terrific performance, Sloan honored by the Southeastern Conference for the fourth-straight week with the SEC Gymnast of the Week award.

Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Speights, Sloan, fouling, Riggs, Tyus

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Marreese Speights set to re-sign with Grizzlies

Late Thursday night the Memphis Grizzlies and restricted free agent center Marreese Speights agreed in principle on a two-year deal that can be signed when NBA restrictions are lifted on July 11, according to multiple reports.

The two-year contract is said to be worth approximately $8 million with the second year of the deal being a player option that Speights can exercise following the upcoming season.

He began his career by spending three full seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers – the team that selected him with the 16th overall pick in the first round of the 2008 NBA Draft – but both sides were looking for a split following the 2010-11 season.

Coming off a serious MCL injury just one year earlier, Speights and then-new head coach Doug Collins clashed constantly two seasons ago as the player saw a career-low 11.5 minutes per contest on average and would often be a healthy scratch for games even after posting solid numbers just one night earlier.

“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,” he told OGGOA in May 2011. “It was hard for me to prepare myself…I might have a good game one game and then come back and play three minutes and then after that [I would not play] 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.”

Speights did exactly that last season after being traded by Philadelphia to Memphis as part of a three-way deal four games into the season. He started 54 of 60 games last year (he had only started four combined the three prior years), averaged 22.4 minutes per contest and notched a career-high 6.2 rebounds most of the time playing in place of injured C Zach Randolph.

Speights scored double-digit points 25 times in the regular season, posted a career-high 25 points in a career-high 49 minutes against the Los Angeles Lakers on March 13, and registered seven double-doubles including a career-best 18 boards on February 15.

He saw fewer minutes once Randolph returned but was still an effective player for the Grizzlies, which is why the team saw value in agreeing to re-sign him this season.

Photo Credit: Unknown

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Former Gators light up the NBA on Tuesday

Eight former Florida Gators basketballers competed in five of the seven NBA games played on Tuesday and most ended the night with praiseworthy performances.

Golden State Warriors power forward David Lee posted a team-high 29 points (on 13-of-20 shooting) with nine boards (four offensive) and three assists in a team-high 35 minutes as Golden State went on to upend Cleveland 105-95.

Similarly dominant, Denver Nuggets forward Corey Brewer played a team-high 34 minutes off the bench, scoring a team-best 22 points (on 8-of-14 shooting) with four rebounds, two steals and a block. Denver defeated Milwaukee 105-95.

The Miami Heat had two former Gators in action but guard Mike Miller, who dressed for the first time this year after being forced to miss the first 12 games of the season due to having offseason hernia surgery, was the most impressive. Miller went a perfect 6-for-6 from downtown for 18 points and added four rebounds in just 15 minutes.

Also coming off the bench for the Heat was PF Udonis Haslem, who registered four points and two boards. Like Haslem, San Antonio Spurs PF Matt Bonner was efficient with three points and six rebounds, but San Antonio Fell to Miami 120-98.

Still fighting through a hand ailment, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah had arguably his best game of the season, posting his third double-double of the year with 13 points (6-of-10 shooting) and 12 boards (six offensive) to go along with three dimes in 28 minutes. Chicago took down Phoenix 118-97.

Wrapping things up were former teammates going head-to-head as the Houston Rockets and surging rookie F Chandler Parsons defeated the Detroit Pistons and PF Vernon Macklin 97-80. Parsons once again earned the start and played 31 minutes (second-most on the team), scoring seven points and adding seven rebounds, four assists and two steals. Macklin only saw one minute of on-court action.

And though the game occurred one day earlier, former Florida C Marreese Speights, now with the Memphis Grizzlies, had his most impressive showing of the season on Monday. Speights started and saw 34 minutes of action, scoring 16 points and grabbing 12 boards (four offensive) for his first double-double this year. Memphis wound up beating down Chicago 102-86.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

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4 BITS: Tebow, Starks, Schottenheimer, Speights

1 » Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow set a number of football records on Sunday, but he also wound up making headlines in some off-the-field statistics, too. According to the Sports Business Journal, the Denver-Pittsburgh games registered a 25.9 overnight rating for CBS, which slates it as the largest-viewed AFC Wild Card game since 1988. Additionally, the final quarter-hour of the game (8-8:15 p.m.) pulled in a whopping 31.6 overnight rating. Tebow also made history on Twitter, setting a new sports tweets-per-second record with 9,420. CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell points out that Tebow’s tweets-per-second on Sunday shattered the previous sports record, which had the 2011 Women’s World Cup final game at 7,196 tweets/second. Other comparisons Rovell provided were Steve Jobs’s death (6,049 t/s), the Osama Bin Laden raid (5,106 t/s) and last year’s Super Bowl (4,064 t/s).

2 » Another happening from Sunday night’s game, albeit an unfortunate one, is that the injury to Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Max Starks knee appears to be a bad one. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Starks has an injury to his anterior cruciate ligament that is believed to be a tear. If he did indeed suffer a torn ACL, Starks will begin the 2012 season like he did this year – unemployed – and will have to try and work his way onto a NFL roster as he begins to heal. Starks was a free agent heading into the 2011 season but was signed by the Steelers as the team’s offensive line became decimated with injuries. Center Maurkice Pouncey, who was named to his second Pro Bowl this year and earned his first Associated Press All-Pro honor, missed Sunday’s game with a high-ankle sprain.

3 » Before NFL action began Sunday, a tweet from ESPN insider Adam Schefter got some Gators fans buzzing: “Brian Schottenheimer never withdrew his name from consideration for the Florida OC job.” Schottenheimer, the current offensive coordinator of the New York Jets, was previously thrown around as a name to consider for UF’s opening. However, the New York Daily News reported last week that he had withdrawn his name from consideration and was not a possibility for Florida. At the time there were no reports that the school had even reached out to him as a potential candidate. A former backup quarterback for Danny Wuerffel with the Gators under head coach Steve Spurrier, Schottenheimer has very little college coaching and recruiting experience (1999-2000). He has worked mostly as a NFL coach since 1997 and has been a quarterbacks coach since 2011, holding the role of offensive coordinator for New York since 2006.

4 » Maybe playing time really will do new Memphis Grizzlies center Marreese Speights well. Traded from the Philadelphia 76ers to Memphis on Jan. 4, Speights saw six minutes of action in his second game with his new team. However, the Grizzlies put Speights in for 29 minutes on Sunday and he responded with 17 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals. It remains to be seen how Speights will perform the rest of the season, but he said last year that consistent minutes are what he needs to take his game to the next level.

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Speights heading to Memphis in three-team swap

Former Florida Gators center Marreese Speights, who has spent his entire three-year NBA career with the Philadelphia 76ers after the team selected him early out of school with the No. 16 overall pick in the first round of the 2008 NBA Draft, will be playing his fourth year in a new city with a different team.

Speights was dealt Wednesday to the Memphis Grizzlies as part of a three-team trade with Philadelphia and New Orleans, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein, who first reported the transaction. As part of the trade, guard Xavier Henry will go from Memphis to New Orleans and two second-round picks are being sent to Philadelphia as compensation.

Speights played a career-low minutes (11.5) with the 76ers last year after averaging 16.2 per game in his first two seasons. He has not seen the court in four games this year.

Following his team’s 4-1 series loss to Miami in the first round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs, Speights sat down for an interview with OGGOA and discussed his lack of playing time, citing that the inconsistency never allowed him to get into a rhythm.

“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,” he said. “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.”

A 49.2 percent career shooter, Speights has averaged 7.2 points and 3.7 rebounds in 205 NBA games (four starts). He posted 14.5 points and 8.1 rebounds while shooting 62.4 percent in 24.3 minutes during his final year at Florida

Speights will join a Grizzlies team that reached the conference semifinals round of the playoffs last year as a No. 8 seed. Memphis defeated No. 1-seed San Antonio 4-1 in the first round before falling 4-3 to Oklahoma City in a seven-game series.

Considered one of the surprise teams in the Western Conference last season, the Grizzlies are primed to return to the playoffs in 2012. Speights will become the team’s primary reserve center playing behind rising star Marc Gasol but will also spend time backing up power forward Zach Randolph, who recently went down with a MCL tear.

Randolph’s previous backup, Darrell Arthur, is out for the season with a torn Achilles, and Randolph is expected to miss up to eight weeks himself, which provides Speights with a great opportunity for immediate playing time.

Photo Credits: Associated Press, Unknown

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NBA season begins with 10 Gators on rosters

The shortened 2011-12 NBA season is set to tip-off on Sunday with 10 former Florida Gators standouts on professional rosters. Some won National Championships while wearing the Orange & Blue, others went undrafted, but all want to prove that the Florida basketball program has and can produce legitimate NBA stars.

Al Horford, F/C, Atlanta Hawks
- 2010-11: Averaging career highs in points (15.3), field goal percentage (.557), assists (3.5) and minutes (35.1), Horford also contributed 9.3 rebounds and 1.0 block per game last year. He led his team to the second round of the playoffs for the third-straight season; nlike the previous two years, the Hawks were not swept but rather fell 4-2.
- 2011-12: The Godfather was named a captain in Atlanta one year ago and wound up earning his second-straight NBA All-Star nod as a reserve. The Hawks resigned him to a five-year, $60 million extension in Nov. 2010, and he enters this season as one of the team’s two best and most popular players.

Joakim Noah, C, Chicago Bulls
- 2010-11: Averaging a double-double with career highs in points (11.7), field goal percentage (.525), assists (2.2) and minutes (32.8), Noah was also good for 10.4 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.0 steal per game. He only played in 48 games due to having two surgeries for ligament damage in his hand and a right thumb injury but helped lead Chicago to the conference finals where the Bulls lost 4-1 in five games.
- 2011-12: Noah was rewarded by Chicago for his hard work with a five-year, $60 million extension last offseason. His defense and shot blocking makes him an elite big man in the league and he will be a key piece for the Bulls this season as they hope to earn a spot in the NBA Finals.

David Lee, F/C, Golden State Warriors
- 2010-11: Falling just short of a double-double average aver accomplishing that feat in consecutive seasons with the New York Knicks, Lee contributed 16.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.0 steal per game in 36.1 minutes on average last season. He shot 50.7 percent from the floor and 78.7 percent from the line in 73 games after missing nine due to an elbow injury that got infected.
- 2011-12: Lee agreed to a six-year, $80 million contract with Golden State after being traded from New York before last season and shined as a efficient big man in an up-tempo offense. His numbers fell because he was not relied upon as heavily with the Warriors, but he should have ample opportunities to showcase his talent.

Read the rest of OGGOA’s 2011-12 NBA Preview…after the break!
Continue Reading » NBA season begins with 10 Gators on rosters

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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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NBA season begins, Gators look to make impact

The 2010-11 NBA season tipped off Tuesday night with nine former Florida Gators standouts on professional rosters. Some won National Championships while wearing the Orange & Blue, others went undrafted, but all want to prove that the Florida basketball program has and can produce legitimate NBA stars.

Al Horford, F/C, Atlanta Hawks
- 2009-10: Averaging career highs in points (14.2), rebounds (9.9), field goal percentage (55.1), free throw percentage (78.9) and minutes (35.1), Horford also contributed 2.3 assists and 1.1 blocks per game last year. For the second-straight season he led his team to the second round of the NBA Playoffs where, like in 2008-09, they were swept.
- 2010-11: The Godfather was named a captain in Atlanta during the preseason and will be a restricted free agent when the year ends. The Hawks are believed to be making a concerted effort to resign the first-time NBA All-Star and No. 3 overall pick of the 2007 NBA Draft to a five-year deal worth $50-60 million.

Joakim Noah, F/C, Chicago Bulls
- 2009-10: Averaging a double-double with career highs in points (10.7), rebounds (11.0), blocks (1.6), assists (2.1), free throw percentage (74.4) and minutes (30.1), Noah was also good for 2.1 assists per game and shot 50.4 percent from the field. He missed 28 games with a plantar fasciitis injury but regained his form before the playoffs, which saw Chicago fall in the first round.
- 2010-11: Noah was rewarded by the Bulls for his hard work with a five-year, $60 million extension in the offseason. His defense and shot blocking makes him an elite big man in the league and, with Chicago adding All-Star forward Carlos Boozer to the frontcourt, some of the pressure he felt to do everything for the team defensively may be relived.

David Lee, F/C, Golden State Warriors
- 2009-10: Averaging a double-double for the second-straight season with the New York Knicks, Lee posted career-highs in points (20.2), assists (3.6), blocks (0.5) and free throw percentage (81.2) along with 11.7 rebounds while shooting 54.5 percent. A fan favorite who was a victim of circumstance due to the blockbuster free agents available this summer, Lee was moved to the Golden State Warriors in a sign-and-trade.
- 2010-11: Agreeing a six-year, $80 million contract with Golden State, Lee will once again play for an up-tempo offense in which he will be able to shine. Though he will not be relied upon as heavily with the Warriors as he was with the Knicks, Lee will have ample opportunities to showcase his talent on the left coast.

Profiles for six more former Gators basketball players…after the jump!
Continue Reading » NBA season begins, Gators look to make impact

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