Friday Final: Gators soccer star Heather Mitts returns to Gainesville with SEC Network

Former Florida Gators soccer star Heather Mitts, a three-time Olympic gold medalist with the U.S. Women’s National Team and 2013 inductee into the UF Athletic Hall of Fame, recently traded in her cleats for a microphone.

A major part of the Gators’ 1998 NCAA Championship-winning soccer team, Mitts went on to have a 12-year professional career before officially retiring in March 2013. She has since decided to embark on a career in sports broadcasting, which she actually began years ago as a part-time soccer analyst for FOX Sports and ESPN.

Now a sideline reporter (football) and analyst (soccer) for the SEC Network, Mitts will be returning to Gainesville, Florida, on Saturday as part of the broadcast team that will cover Florida’s football game against Eastern Michigan, the first-ever Gators contest that will be aired live on the network.

OnlyGators.com sat down with Mitts for 20 minutes on Thursday. She spoke at length about playing most of her professional career with a Florida teammate and close friend in Abby Wambach, moving into a broadcasting role, her love for the Gators and her admiration for UF head coach Becky Burleigh.

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: How tough of a decision was it for you to ultimately retire from the game you love and hang up your cleats for good?
HEATHER MITTS: “You know what? It wasn’t actually that hard because I just felt like I had a lot of injuries towards the end of my career and I was able to do something that I loved for, gosh, as any years as it was. Since college, I literally thought I was going to play one or two years post-college, and I was able to go to three Olympics and one World Cup. To be able to kind of retire on a high note as well, with the Gold medal, being 35 years old with all the injuries that I had, it was just kind of like the right time for me to walk away. I felt really content with my decision.”

Continue Reading » Friday Final: Gators soccer star Heather Mitts returns to Gainesville with SEC Network

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FOUR BITS: Beal, Tebow, Tymrak, Easley

1 » Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal scored a career-high 34 points on 13-of-23 shooting on Sunday night during a 106-105 overtime loss to Oklahoma City. Beal played a team-high 42 minutes in the contest, draining 6-of-8 threes and grabbing six rebounds to boot. Beal has scored 63 points in his last two games after posting 29 against Brooklyn on Friday including two while posterizing Paul Pierce.

2 » It was reported over the weekend by SportsBusiness Journal that former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow had dumped William Morris Agency, which was handling his entertainment industry interests, and turned over all of his representation responsibilities to Creative Arts Agency. He was already being represented by CAA’s Jimmy Sexton for his football playing career but has now also hired CAA’s broadcast agent Nick Khan, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport. Khan has a long client list and represents a number of well-known ESPN personalities. Tebow is reportedly interested in contributing to college football broadcasts, likely as an in-studio analyst. ESPN, which has been in the Tebow business for years, sounds like the obvious choice, especially considering it will be running the SEC Network, which launches in August 2014.

Continue Reading » FOUR BITS: Beal, Tebow, Tymrak, Easley

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SIX BITS: USA, Tebow, Spikes, Pouncey, Sturgis

1 » Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal and Houston Rockets forward Chandler Parsons are two of 27 players that have accepted invitations to participate in the 2013 USA Basketball Men’s National Team Mini-Camp from July 22-25 in Las Vegas, NV. Though Parsons does not have much experience competing internationally, Beal was involved with USA Basketball as a high schooler and has represented his country before. Both men will have the opportunity to impress head coach Mike Krzyzewski during the mini-camp in hopes of earning placement on the 2013-16 U.S. Men’s National Team that will participate in international competitions, qualifiers and eventually the 2016 Rio Olympics. Eight of the players that participated in USA Basketball’s mini-camp in 2009 went on to make the 2009-12 team and eventually win gold in the 2012 London Olympics.

2 » Quarterback Tim Tebow is not the only member of the New England Patriots making waves in minicamp. Linebacker Brandon Spikes, who missed all of the team’s organized team activities while training on his own in Florida, arrived on Monday and began working with his New England teammates on Tuesday. “Honestly, I just felt like I was trying to put myself in the best position to compete for a spot on the team and also help this team win a championship,” Spikes told the Boston Globe. “I mean, you guys know me. I frequently do things a little bit different from everybody else. I don’t think they’re bad, or a shocker. Honestly, if everybody in the world was a conformist, it would be a boring place.” Spikes offered a “no comment” when asked about being in the last year of his rookie contract and also addressed the team bringing in Tebow.

“I was happy for him [when I heard he’d been signed],” Spikes said. “He got to get his job back and come out here and compete. So that’s good to see him smile, you know that big smile I’m used to seeing for the last few years down in Florida. … He’s a hard worker, a competitor, and he loves the game and you need guys like that.”

Check out four more BITS of Florida Gators news…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: USA, Tebow, Spikes, Pouncey, Sturgis

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SIX BITS: Brantley, Donovan, Moss, Tebow, Rainey

1 » Former Florida Gators quarterback John Brantley was cut by the Baltimore Ravens on Wednesday after being signed by the team as an undrafted free agent in April. It was unlikely that Brantley would have made the team to begin with though he likely would have remained in training camp longer had Baltimore not needed to sign a free agent tight end as an injury replacement. He could rejoin the Ravens at any time, be added to their practice squad after the preseason or be picked up by another team. Former Florida wide receiver Deonte Thompson, also signed as an undrafted free agent, remains with Baltimore despite recently “displaying shaky hands,” according to Carroll County Times reporter Aaron Wilson.

2 » One of the hot conversation pieces ongoing as some of the NBA’s brightest stars compete in the 2012 London Olympics is if the league’s owners will get their wish that all Olympic basketball competitors will have to be 23 years of age or younger starting in 2016. CBSSports.com’s Jeff Goodman took a look at what a U23 team might look like in 2016; he believes that Gators guard Bradley Beal would be featured on the squad and that Florida head coach Billy Donovan could be one of two choices to replace Coach Mike Krzyewski, citing his success with the U18 team this summer.

3 » Former Florida forward Adrian Moss informed OGGOA on Wednesday that he has signed a one-year contract with EESM Le Portel of the French Pro B league. Moss averaged 15.4 points on 53.3 percent shooting (35.6 percent from downtown) and grabbed 6.1 rebounds per game last year in Spain. He has also previously played professional basketball in Israel and Germany.

4 » New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow may have had a rough start to training camp with his new team, but ESPN’s Ron Jaworski remarked on SportsCenter early this week that he saw improvement from the player in one very important area. “The one thing I’ve noticed about Tim Tebow – and it’s a small sampling thus far – is his [throwing] stroke is much better,” he said. “It’s cleaner. It’s not as elongated. He’s not dropping the football [down to his hip]. That means the ball will come out quicker.” Jaworski did see some room for improvement, however. “I’d still like to see Tebow drive off his back leg a little more,” he added. “Sometimes he has that dead leg and he loses energy at the end of the throw on the deeper throws. It’s fine in the short to intermediate area. But downfield those throws, when they hang in the air, will get knocked down or batted down by the very athletic secondary players in this league.”

5 » Though Pittsburgh Steelers running back Chris Rainey is already coming on strong with his new team, some of his teammates and coaches are noticing that he needs to be pushed hard during practice. According to Scout.com, Rainey has been ragged on by everyone including good friend center Maurkice Pouncey. “He probably needs it. Heck yeah,” he said. “Oh, [the coaches] love him. They really, really love him. I hope it stays that way. I hope he stays here with me as long as he can.” The ribbing Rainey is taking may be good-natured, but head coach Mike Tomlin has reportedly been using a version of the unfortunate text message that got Rainey arrested as part of that motivation. “OK, 22, time to die!” he apparently yelled during the first full-contact practice. “I hear it every day, about five times a day,” Rainey said. “It’s all good. I made a bad mistake in the past but I moved on. It’s funny now. I’m glad I’m here.”

6 » Three members of the Gators lacrosse team were awarded training team spots with the U.S. National Team over the weekend. Seniors midfielder Brittany Dashiell and goalkeeper Mikey Meagher, along with assistant coach (and MF) Caitlyn McFadden, will join the 36-player pool that will eventually be whittled down to 18 (in February 2013) before the United States defends its title at the 2013 FIL World Cup. McFadden was a member of Team USA in 2009 and helped bring home the championship.

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FOUR BITS: Beal, Mitts, Howard, U.S. Open

1 » Preparing for the 2012 NBA Draft, Florida Gators freshman guard Bradley Beal is up in Chicago, IL training with former college coach Josh Oppenheimer, the same trainer that Houston Rockets forward Chandler Parsons used one year ago. Beal, who like Parsons also signed with agent Mark Bartelstein of Prioirty Sports, told SLAMonline that he is working on his game in hopes of impressing scouts and being selected as high as possible. “I’m looking to really focus on creating my own shot offensively,” he said. “Just beating guys off of the dribble then finishing with a floater or pull-up in the lane. [I] just have to continue having high IQ for the game, focus in on ball handling and work on creating more space off the dribble.” Ironically enough, Parsons will be in New York, NY on Wednesday representing Houston on stage at the 2012 NBA Draft Lottery. The Rockets only have a 1.81 percent change of receiving a top-three pick (lowest amongst the 13 teams) so it is quite likely that Beal winds up elsewhere.

2 » Former Gators soccer star and current U.S. Women’s National Team defender Heather Mitts (34) told NBC on Sunday that the 2012 London Olympics this summer (her third appearance on the Olympic team) will be the end of the road for her as a soccer player. “Feeling the way I feel, it’s kind of weird to say that, but it’s always been my plan to hopefully play in one last Olympics and step away from the game kind of on my own terms,” she said. “I do love the game, and I am going to miss it, but I also have other things that I want to do. I just feel like I want to go out at the right time.” Mitts seems to excel Olympic years with her best performances coming in 2004 and 2008. Though she started all eight of the United States’ Olympic matches in 2008, she did not play in the 2011 Women’s World Cup and may not step on the pitch this time around either. “Ideally I want for our team to go over there and win gold,” Mitts said. “It would be great to play, but if I don’t play, I’ve been through that once before to be there and be supportive.” Despite her decision to hang up her cleats, Mitts says she is “probably the fittest I’ve ever been,” is completely healthy and still loves playing. “I feel so sharp and strong,” she added. Mitts has made 123 career appearances in the red, white and blue. Check out NBC‘s video interview with Mitts from this week.

3 » In an interview with his new team’s website, Seattle Seahawks rookie defensive tackle Jaye Howard expressed his excitement about finally being in the NFL and playing alongside some guys he grew up watching. “It’s been an unreal experience,” he said. “Walking into the same locker room and seeing Marshawn Lynch – a player that I look up to – and now I’m actually in the same locker room. It’s a great feeling. So I’m just embracing this moment right now.” There were also positive comments directed at Howard from head coach Pete Carroll and defensive line coach Todd Wash. “Jaye Howard showed up. He did some good things. He showed up on pass rush a couple of times. I know Todd mentioned that he was surprised at his quickness. That’s a really good sign,” Carroll said. Wash added, “Jaye is an explosive player. He’s learning that this level is a little bit different once our veterans got here. But we’re very excited about his progress. He’s eager to learn. He wants to know exactly what he can do better. He does a great job in the classroom, too. So we’re really pleased with what we’ve got so far.”

4 » According to The Florida Times-Union, seven former and current Florida golfers “will play in a 36-hole U.S. Open sectional qualifier Monday at Black Diamond Ranch Quarry Course in Lecanto.” Among those players competing will be junior T.J. Vogel, freshman J.D. Tomlinson, redshirt senior Zach Lee and former players Tyson Alexander, Andres Echavarria, Brett Stegmaier and Bank Vongvanij. With the Gators competing for the 2012 NCAA Championship this week, Vogel, Tomlinson and Lee could have a tight window to get into town for the qualifier depending how well Florida does at the event.

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SIX BITS: Noah, baseball, Demps, Speights, Brewer

1 » Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah registered his first career triple-double (13 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists) on Wednesday in just three quarters of action (and 30 total minutes) against Milwaukee. Noah’s 10 dimes were a career-high and he became the first Chicago center to achieve a triple-double since Artis Gilmore did so in 1977. After a slow start to the year, Noah is averaging almost a double-double per game this season with 9.4 points and 9.8 boards.

2 » No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (4-1) shut out the No. 19 Central Florida Knights (3-0) on Wednesday for the first time since 1977, outscoring their visitors 8-0 as sophomore right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford (1-1) picked up his first victory of the season. Crawford (2 H, 3 BB, 4 K) pitched 4.1 no-hit innings before being pulled after five scoreless frames. Sophomore left-hander Daniel Gibson (2.0 IP, H), freshman LHP Bobby Poyner (1.0 IP, H) and freshman RHP Ryan Harris (1.0 IP, 2 H, BB, 2 K) finished out the game on the hill. Florida scored in each of the first three innings and five of the eight frames they went to the plate. Senior center fielder Daniel Pigott hit a solo shot in the first and finished 2/3 with two RBIs, two runs and a pair of walks. The Gators rallied for three runs in the bottom of the third, and senior right fielder Preston Tucker (2/4, RBI, BB) led off a two-run fifth with a solo homer of his own. Tucker’s dinger tied him with former UF All-American Brad Wilkerson (1996-98) for the school’s career RBI record of 214. Florida added another in the seventh and cruised to victory. UF will not get much rest as a series against William & Mary begins on Friday at 7 p.m. with game two and three set for Saturday at 4 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m., respectively.

3 » Deciding to run track instead of compete for a spot on a NFL roster may be a tough choice for some, but former running back Jeff Demps knows what he is doing. In a feature on Yahoo! Sports’ ThePostGame, Demps and head track coach Mike Holloway discuss his future in the sport. “At the bottom of my heart, I just love running,” Demps said. “He can become one of the best,” Holloway added. “Jeff believes that or we wouldn’t be doing this.” Holloway, who will also be an assistant coach on the U.S. Men’s National Team in the 2012 London Olympics, believes that Demps can go all the way in the sport. “He has that potential down the road. There’s no doubt about that,” Holloway said of Demps potentially medaling at the Olympics. “It’s just a matter of us getting the proper training model and getting the proper steps taken to keep him healthy.”

4 » Atlanta Hawks forward Al Horford was named the 2012 Sportsperson of the Year by the Atlanta Sports Council on Monday for making a positive impact on sports in the local community. “Playing for the Atlanta Hawks is an honor and has afforded me the opportunity to make an impact on organizations and causes in the Atlanta community that I am extremely passionate about,” Horford said in a statement. “I am committed to these efforts and the individuals that they serve, and I thank the Atlanta Sports Council for recognizing my involvement and dedication.” Horford played in the first 11 games of the 2011-12 season before suffering a torn labrum, which will keep him out of action until the end of April at the earliest.

5 » Memphis Grizzlies F/C Marreese Speights has been on quite a tear recently and is fitting in nicely with his new team. Starting in 26 of the 28 games he has played for Memphis this season, Speights is playing a career-high 23.0 minutes and averaging career-highs in points (8.6), rebounds (6.5) and free throw percentage (.816). He has scored double-digit points in five-straight games and had back-to-back double-doubles on Feb. 15 (20 points, 18 boards) and Feb. 17 (12 points, 10 boards). “It’s been one of the best moves of my life,” he said of getting traded to Memphis, according to the Philadelphia Enquirer. “It’s been great. We have a good team and we’re winning. They gave me a chance to come over here and play and show the things that I can do.”

6 » In a similar boat as Speights, it seems all Denver Nuggets F Corey Brewer needed was a change of scenery. Since returning to Denver after taking a sabbatical due to the death of his father, Brewer has scored double-digit points in five of seven games (he posted nine points in the other two). He’s been a bright spot for the Nuggets this season and may have finally found a comfortable home after moving from Minnesota to New York and then to Dallas one year ago. He is averaging 9.4 points (a career-high for minutes played) and shooting a career-best 36.0 percent from beyond the arc while grabbing 3.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.

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Gator Bites for Thursday, January 12th

From time to time, OGGOA will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share – too much to fit into one of our truncated BITS segments. In these instances, or when stories fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» In a poll conducted by ESPN and calculated monthly, Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow topped the December list as the United States’ favorite athlete. Tebow is “just the sixth different athlete to finish No. 1 in the monthly rankings since 2007” and, in the 18 years of the poll, only 11 different athletes have ever held that distinction.

» In addition to the Top 10 list OGGOA posted Wednesday from CBS’s the Late Show with David Letterman, Tebow was also brought up on TBS’s Conan. Host Conan O’Brien, claiming he was absent the budget to air actual game footage, had his staff put together a recreation of his game-winning play from Sunday…with peanuts replacing the players.

Continue Reading » Gator Bites for Thursday, January 12th

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FOUR BITS: Dwyer, Holloway, baseball, watch list

1 » The second day of the 2011 Southeastern Conference Swimming Championships, held at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL, was just as exciting for the No. 5 Florida Gators men’s team as Wednesday’s opening day. Senior Conor Dwyer, who set two SEC records in one race (800-yard freestyle relay) a day ago, broke yet another on Thursday by swimming the 500-yard freestyle in 4:11.36. The No. 8 women also had some celebrating to do as junior Sarah Bateman set the school record in the 50-yard freestyle. The men’s team jumped up to second place overall after day two (70 points behind leader Auburn), while the women’s team took a hold of first place with a new total of 291 points (five above Georgia).

2 » Florida head swimming coach Gregg Troy was named the head coach of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Men’s Swimming Team on Dec. 8. Joining him as a Team USA coach in England for the 2012 London Olympics is Gators head track & field coach Mike Holloway, who was picked as an assistant coach for sprinters and hurdlers on Thursday. “It’s an incredible honor to be chosen by my peers to coach on the United States Olympic staff,” Holloway said, according to the University of Florida. “It’s something that I am very proud of, and I look forward to serving my country.”

3 » No. 1 Florida baseball will begin the 2011 season over the weekend with a trio of home games against the South Florida Bulls. The Gators have announced starters for the series but will be without last year’s ace, junior left-handed pitcher Alex Panteliodis (11-3, 3.51 ERA), as the team is being cautious with his return from offseason hip surgery. Sophomore LHP Brian Johnson (6-4, 4.03 ERA) will start the season on the hill. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (8-4, 3.24 ERA) takes over Saturday, and freshman RHP Karsten Whitson, the No. 9 pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, will start his career in the orange and blue on the mound Sunday.

4 » Johnson and junior first baseman Preston Tucker received nominations to the Golden Spikes Award preseason watch list on Thursday. The award, presented to the top amateur player in the country, is sponsored by Major League Baseball but has never been presented to a Florida player in its 33-year history. Both Johnson and Tucker are preseason All-Americans according to Baseball America.

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