FOUR BITS: lacrosse, Noah, Horford, Brewer

1 » Florida Gators lacrosse continues to make history as, in just the third season of the program’s existence, it was announced Sunday that the team received the No. 1 overall seed in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Florida, which won the ALC regular season title for the second-straight year and captured the first ALC Tournament Championship in team history on Saturday, is on a 13-match winning streak heading into the tournament. The Gators will receive a tremendous homefield advantage in the first two rounds (should they advance) before being forced to travel to Stony Brook, NY for the Final Four. Florida is looking to become the fastest program in the sport’s history to go from inception to national title but has a long road ahead of them beginning on Saturday, May 12 at 1 p.m. against Albany at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

2 » Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah was knocked out of Game 3 of his team’s first-round series against Philadelphia after severely spraining his ankle midway through the contest. Noah did his best to continue playing but was badly limping and eventually headed back to the locker room where he was told he would be unable to return to the court. He sat on the bench in a suit and air cast during Game 4 on Sunday and is also expected to miss Game 5 (as well as the remainder of the series should it advance past that point). Noah’s injury is a tough blow for a Chicago team already without point guard Derrick Rose. The top seed in the Eastern Conference, the Bulls may wind up eliminated in the first round while playing without their two biggest stars.

3 » The polar opposite of Noah, Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford came off a major injury and returned to action this weekend just as his former teammate appears to be going on the shelf for the rest of the season. Horford, who tore his right pectoral on Jan. 11 and has not played since, was an active participant in Atlanta’s Game 4 on Sunday. He posted 12 points and grabbed five rebounds in 20 minutes of action, not showing much rust despite missing almost the entire season. Horford may only see one more game in 2012 as the Hawks are set to face an elimination Game 5 on Tuesday.

4 » Denver Nuggets F Corey Brewer may have been trending on Twitter during his game Sunday while fans were joking about his hairline, but Brewer is taking his team’s first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers very seriously. According to the Denver Post, Brewer has been “finding fuel” to play hard by thinking about his father who passed away during the season. “He always used to smile when I’d do something good,” he said. “Every time he’d see me, he was always happy. Everybody says we have the same smile. He had it rough. He didn’t have legs. He was blind. But every time I’d see him, he was smiling. He can’t walk, he can’t see and he’s happy every day – so I got to be happy.” Head coach George Karl called Brewer his team’s “energizer, offensively and defensively” and has praised his ability to make an impact especially on the defensive end of the court. Like Noah and Horford, Brewer’s team is also facing an elimination Game 5 on Tuesday.

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FOUR BITS: Noah, Leak, Tebow, Meyer

1 » Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah, acting team leader with point guard Derrick Rose sidelined for the remainder of the season, looked very much like his young teammate during Game 2 on Tuesday when he performed a quick crossover and broke the ankles (figuratively) of Philadelphia’s Thaddeus Young.

2 » Former Florida Gators quarterback Chris Leak, the new starter for the AFL’s Orlando Predators, has also decided to continue his career as an analyst and sports commentator by accepting a new gig. Leak will join Chris Childers as a co-host for College Sports Coast-to-Coast on SiriusXM’s College Sports Nation, the company announced via press release on Tuesday. The show airs weeknights from 7-10 p.m. and Leak will appear on the program multiple nights each week. “SiriusXM College Sports Nation offers college sports fans outstanding coverage of their favorite conferences, schools and players all year long and I’m excited to be a part of it,” Leak said in the release. “I still get amped up every spring, like I did when I was at UF, knowing a new college football season isn’t far off. I look forward to talking directly with the fans about the BCS, this year’s national title contenders and the teams and players that you’re going to want to keep an eye on from now through the upcoming season.”

3 » New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan told ESPNNewYork.com’s Rich Cimini on Tuesday while at a charity event that he is thrilled about having QB Tim Tebow on the team and thinks he brings a lot to the table. “It’s exciting to have a young guy that has experience in the playoffs and is learning the system,” he said. “I think he’s an excellent backup quarterback. I think he’s an outstanding football player. We’ll see what we can come up with.” Ryan expanded on his “football player” comments as well. “Everybody recognizes the competitiveness. The guy’s a winner, no question. People get tired of me saying it, but how do you not describe this guy as a football player? That’s what he is. He’s got size, he’s got strength, he’s got speed and he can throw the football.”

4 » With former Florida head coach Urban Meyer going to Ohio State, there should be no doubt that plenty of comparisons and parallels will be made throughout his tenure with his new employer. One thing that will not be the same is that Meyer plans to use a no-huddle offense at OSU, something that he sent former Gators offensive coordinator Dan Mullen to Missouri to learn but never implemented at Florida. “The minute you go no-huddle, you lose the intangibles and the immeasurable leadership of guys like Tebow and Mike Pouncey,” he told ESPN.com’s Mark Schlabach. Meyer, during his year off from coaching, travelled across the country and picked up plenty from all the other head coaches he visited while working for ESPN. The no-huddle, up-tempo offense he is installing may be similar to another school that has recently gained prominence. “All you’ve got to do is look at Oregon,” he said. “We’re committed to it. We’re going to pop a huddle once in a while, but we’re committed to it.”

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Florida Gators in the 2012 NBA Playoffs

With the regular season wrapping up last week and the 2012 NBA Playoffs already in full swing, seven (six healthy) Florida Gators are currently representing their squads as they compete for the opportunity to appear in the NBA Finals.

EASTERN CONFERENCE:

(1) Chicago Bulls
No. 13 C Joakim Noah
Season: 5th
Averages: 30.4 mins., 10.2 pts., 9.8 rebs., 2.5 asst., 1.4 blk., .508 FG%, .748 FT%

(2) Miami Heat
No. 13 SG Mike Miller
Season: 12th
Averages: 19.3 mins., 6.1 pts., 3.3 rebs., 1.1 asst., .435 FG%, .453 3P%, .400 FT%

No. 40 PF Udonis Haslem
Season: 9th
Averages: 24.8 mins., 6.0 pts., 7.3 rebs., 0.7 asst., 0.4 blk., .423 FG%, .814 FT%

* Atlanta’s Al Horford has missed most of the season with a torn pectoral. Though he was expected to be back for the first round of the playoffs, he has been pushed back to at least the second round should his team make it to that point with a first-round victory. He is not currently listed as active for the playoffs.

WESTERN CONFERENCE:

(1) San Antonio Spurs
No. 15 F Matt Bonner
Season: 8th
Averages: 20.4 mins., 6.6 pts., 3.2 rebs., 0.9 asst., .440 FG%, .420 3P%, .762 FT%

(4) Memphis Grizzlies
No. 5 C Marreese Speights
Season: 4th
Averages: 22.4 mins., 8.8 pts., 6.2 rebs., 0.8 asst., 0.5 blk., .453 FG%, .771 FT%

(6) Denver Nuggets
No. 13 SF Corey Brewer
Season: 5th
Averages: 21.8 mins., 8.9 pts., 2.5 rebs., 1.2 stl., 434 FG%, .260 3P%, .692 FT%

Playoff teams without Gators on their rosters: (3) Indiana, (4) Boston, (6) Orlando, (7) New York, (8) Philadelphia, (2) Oklahoma City, (3) Los Angeles Lakers, (5) Los Angeles Clippers, (7) Dallas, (8) Utah

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TWO BITS: Pierce “Tebowing,” tennis in NCAAs

1 » Near the end of the Boston Celtics’s Game 2 victory over the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs on Tuesday, forward Paul Pierce made a free throw late in the first quarter and celebrated by “Tebowing” on his way back to his team’s bench. Up seven with 1:15 left in the game, it was probably a bit early for Pierce to perform the move though Boston wound up beating Atlanta and tying the series 1-1.

2 » Florida Gators women’s and men’s tennis each learned of their seedings for their respective 2012 NCAA Tournaments on Tuesday. The No. 2 women’s team, making its 30th tournament appearance and looking for its sixth national title, received the second seed in their bracket and will play hosts to some first- and second-round matches May 11-12. Florida captured the tournament championship last season in thrilling fashion and is ready to defend its title. The No. 11 men’s team, competing in its 21st NCAA Tournament but still trying to win its first national crown, earned the 12th seed and will also host first- and second-round action May 12-13.

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FOUR BITS: baseball, Leak, Parsons, Horford

1 » No. 2 Florida Gators baseball (32-10) got back to its winning ways on Wednesday, taking down the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (24-18) in the team’s second meeting of the season. Florida won 10-1 behind plenty of hitting and a reassuring start from sophomore right-hander Karsten Whitson (3-0, 4.0 IP, 4 H, K). The Gators only hit two homers in the game – a two-run shot by senior right fielder Preston Tucker (2/4, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R, BB) in the bottom of the sixth and a solo shot by freshman pinch hitter Brandon Sedell (the first of his young career) – but still managed to manufacture seven more runs. Junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (0/1, 2 RBI, R, BB) and freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon (3/4, RBI, 2 R) also had big nights at the plate. Florida will conclude its nine-game homestand (4-2) with a weekend series against Arkansas.

2 » Two days after announcing his signing, the AFL’s Orlando Predators finally obtained quarterback Chris Leak in a trade with the Jacksonville Sharks. Leak, who went 21-of-31 for 196 yards with five touchdowns and an interception in the season opener for Jacksonville, was moved to a reserve role the next week in practice and refused to continue playing for the team. The Predators tried to sign him on Monday and make him the “face of the franchise,” but he was still under contract to the Sharks, which refused to cut him outright. Instead Jacksonville and Orlando (with the managing partner of each team brothers with the other) swapped Leak for offensive lineman/fullback Ailao Eliapo to complete the transaction.

3 » A second-round pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, former Gators forward Chandler Parsons knew he could impact the Houston Rockets as a rookie but not even he could be sure how much he would be able to do for the team this season. Parsons’s rookie campaign was so impressive that he has landed at No. 7 on Grantland.com’s final list of “best rookies of the NBA season.” Writes Sebastian Pruiti:

Chandler Parsons is another player who was drafted late but who was productive as soon as he stepped on an NBA court. He was best when defending isolation possessions. According to Synergy Sports, Parsons held opponents to 26 percent shooting and a PPP of 0.648 in one-on-one situations, placing him in the top 20 percent of all NBA players. The key to Parsons’s defensive game is his length. His long arms allow him to back off quicker offensive players and contain their dribble penetration while still being able to contest their shots.

Parsons also has the potential to be a very versatile offensive player. I say potential because he struggles in some situations, especially as the ball handler in pick-and-roll plays. Parsons just doesn’t have a feel for the pick-and-roll game yet, and he commits turnovers 25 percent of the time in these situations. As he becomes more comfortable as a ball handler and learns to read defenses, he should improve.

4 » Despite telling OGGOA last week that it was “realistic” he would be able to return for the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs and mentioning the same thing to media in his local market, Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford will indeed miss his team’s series against Boston as he continues to recover from a torn pectoral that has sidelined him basically the entire season. Horford told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he hopes to play in his team’s second round series should they make it that far.

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Al Horford cleared for contact, hopes to return

On the shelf since early January after tearing his left pectoral muscle, Atlanta Hawks forward/center Al Horford said Friday that it is “realistic” to believe that he would be able to return to the team before the NBA Playoffs begin in May.

“I’m feeling better and better each week, which is very positive,” he told OGGOA in an exclusive interview on Friday. “I’m spending all my time in rehab doing a lot of stretches to get my range of motion better. It’s realistic that I could be back for the playoffs.

“It’s all about for me getting back that conditioning and the basketball part of it and getting comfortable playing again. That’s the biggest thing. In a normal season you would have time to prepare, start practicing and get ready for a game. When I go and play, I’m actually going to have to go in and actually play. I’m not going to have any time to practice or anything. I’m remaining positive and hoping that I can come back for the playoffs.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Tuesday that Horford has now taken a major step toward that goal after being cleared by the team’s medical staff to participate in contract drills.

The torn pectoral is the first major injury that Horford has suffered in his career. Despite being unable to help his team in games or during practice, he told OGGOA that he has found a way to turn a big negative into something of a positive for him going forward.

“I definitely think about that a lot,” he said. “I just have taken this time and looked at it in a positive way. My whole thing is that I want to be able to come back from this better than I was before. I feel like I’m able to appreciate the game a little more.

“Being off of the court, my whole thing was to really focus in on myself and get better and grow as a player. That’s where I’ve put my energy and my efforts towards, and that’s why I feel pretty good where I’m at now. I can honestly tell you that I never felt depressed or down for not being with the team or not playing. I feel like I just put all this into perspective and tried to make a positive from it and just improve as a player.”

Currently the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference, Atlanta is set to face No. 4 seed Boston in first-round action. Both teams have five games left to play in the regular season so their seedings and opponents could change in the next nine days.

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TWO BITS: Hamilton’s commitment, Tebow out

1 » One of two schools vying for the services of five-star defensive end Darius Hamilton (Ramsey, NJ), the Florida Gators were thought to be behind the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in contention for his commitment. The New Jersey boy was expected to stay in-state and play for Rutgers but his thoughts may be in the process of changing when it was reported Thursday morning that the Scarlet Knights’ head coach, Greg Schiano, is on his way to take the same job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Hamilton has said that Florida and Rutgers were his final two and planned to make an announcement sometime before National Signing Day on Feb. 1. He was supposed to meet with Schiano on Wednesday, but it is unknown if that visit took place.

Should the Gators miss out on Hamilton and/or five-star athlete Josh Harvey-Clemons (Valdosta, GA), Florida could offer a scholarship to three-star DE Junior Gnonkonde (Lakeland, GA). According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, UF has been calling about the former Georgia Tech commitment but will only have room for him in their class if they miss out on one or both of Hamilton and Harvey-Clemons.

2 » Originally scheduled to participate in the 2012 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has been forced to withdraw from the event due to the multiple injuries he suffered against the New England Patriots in the second round of the NFL Playoffs. Though Tebow does not need surgery and is expected to make a full recovery, he will not be able to participate in the event from Feb. 9-12. An avid golfer, Tebow was undoubtedly looking forward to the event, and the tournament’s directors were certainly hoping he would be able to play as well.

Extra BIT » No. 5 Florida lacrosse will begin its 2012 campaign with an exhibition match Thursday against England at 6:30 p.m. The Gators are looking to build on consecutive impressive years and hope to win their first national championship in the program’s third season of existence.

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SIX BITS: Tebow, Beal, Patriots, Mincey, Matthews

1 » A source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Wednesday that Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow “tore cartilage on his first rib where it attaches to the sternum, bruised his lung and had fluid buildup in his pleural cavity” at the beginning of the third quarter of Saturday’s game against New England. If you were watching the game, you may remember Tebow being hit hard and backup Brady Quinn warming up on the sidelines. Tebow stayed in the game even though his team wound up being routed 45-10. “Because of the severe pain, Tebow had trouble sleeping over the weekend, then had an MRI on his chest Monday to determine the extent of the damage,” Schefter reports. “He has been undergoing rehab throughout the week.”

UPDATE: The Denver Post confirmed Tebow’s chest injuries but added that he also hurt his “right, non-throwing shoulder” during the game. Additionally, the injuries are bad enough where “Tebow in all likelihood would not have been able to play in the AFC championship game this week” if the Broncos had won last Saturday. The Post goes on to say that should Tebow be selected as a Pro Bowl alternate, “he is not likely to be able to play” in that game either even though no surgery is required and he is expected to be 100 percent for the start of conditioning workouts in April.

2 » Despite a request from CBS inviting Tebow to join the network’s NFL Today program on Sunday to preview and discuss the conference championship round of the NFL Playoffs, he has instead to spend some time away from football and not appear on the show, telling the Denver Post’s Mike Klis on Tuesday, “I’m not doing it.”

3 » In a new feature from ESPN, Dana O’Neil takes a look at Florida Gators freshman guard Bradley Beal and his siblings, which includes two other former scholarship athletes – one a tight end at Northern Illinois and the other an offensive lineman at Alabama State. Beal lucked out when it came his turn to be recruited as his parents “Bobby and Besta learned from their own mistakes with their older boys” and were more prepared for the circus, “shepherd[ing] him through the heady experience by keeping him humble, reminding him that being a good teammate was as important as being a good player,” O’Neil writes. His selflessness is one thing that Florida head coach Billy Donvoan has praised him about since day one. Having apparently worked through some early struggles, Beal is focused on helping the Gators and doesn’t need his mom or his coach criticizing him to know what he does wrong on the court, even though he’ll happily listen and accept their advice. “I’m my own biggest critic, but now I try to go back to my room and contemplate my mistakes,” he said. “I watch film and try to learn from them. I’m trying to understand I need to embrace the adversity.”

4 » While Tebow was defeated on Saturday, the three former Gators playing for the New England Patriots will be advancing to the next round of the playoffs. Tight end Aaron Hernandez, one of the Patriots’ biggest contributors all game, appeared to suffer a concussion during the contest but told reporters Wednesday that he is good to go for Sunday’s game. “I feel great,” he said, “Ready to play.” Knowing head coach Bill Belichick, Hernandez (even if cleared to play Wednesday) will be listed as questionable all week heading into the game. Linebacker Brandon Spikes had some kind words for New England fans, praising the home crowd for being loud during Saturday’s game. However, according to Patriots.com writer Erik Scalavino, he laughed and said it was still nothing like playing in The Swamp.

5 » Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Gene Smith made it clear when speaking Tuesday night that signing the team’s free agents – including veteran defensive end Jeremy Mincey – will be his first priority in the offseason. Mincey had a career year in 2011, starting all 16 games for Jacksonville and totaling 57 tackles, eight sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception. In somewhat related news, former UF head coach Ron Zook is interviewing for the special teams coach job with the Jaguars. Mincey replied to OGGOA‘s tweet about Zook interviewing, throwing his support behind his former coach and saying, “I hope he gets it.”

6 » Nease High School – where Tebow got his start as a youngster in Jacksonville, FL – has hired none other than former Florida quarterback Shane Matthews as the team’s new head coach. A former assistant at Gainesville High School, Matthews has never been a high school head coach before but told The St. Augustine Record that he is excited about the opportunity. “I felt Nease had a lot to offer,” Matthews said. “It’s just something that I’ve always wanted to do, but it had to be the right fit and I feel like this is.” He plans to run a balanced but fun offense and said that his former head coach Steve Spurrier’s teachings will undoubtedly be an influence in everything he does.

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