FOUR BITS: Jenkins, Charity Challenge, band

1 » St. Louis Rams second-round draft choice, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, remained unsigned as of Wednesday, and Yahoo! Sports’ Jason Cole explained that there is “one major hurdle to clear” before the process can be completed. “The Rams…[are] asking for safeguards in Jenkins’s rookie contract,” Cole reports. “According to two sources close to the situation, the Rams have proposed a deal to Jenkins’s agent Malik Shareef that features the signing bonus being split into four equal parts over the course of the contract – protection against Jenkins not panning out with the club.” He goes on to note that Shareef has declined the deal ($5 million total, $2 million signing bonus) because “according to sources, Shareef is concerned about how he will be viewed by other potential clients (and how he’ll be criticized by other agents) for taking such a deal.” Sources close to the team also told Cole that the Rams will give Jenkins interest in the held over money and that St. Louis eventually expects to consummate the deal.

2 » A Florida Gators spokesman on Thursday confirmed to OGGOA that the team will no longer be holding the annual Gator Charity Challenge (which was put on four-straight years including last year on July 29) but plans to replace it with another event in the future. “Although the Florida football program will not host the Charity Challenge event this fall, the program remains committed to charity work and serving the community through the efforts of the Goodwill Gators initiative,” Florida explained. “The Goodwill Gators program is active year-round and allows UF student-athletes to build a strong relationship with the Gainesville community. The football staff is also looking into alternative events for future years in place of the Charity Challenge. Student-athletes on the football team volunteered a total of 475 hours of community service during the 2011-12 year, working with 8 schools, 12 non-profit organizations and 3 civic organizations. Since the new coaching staff took over in January of 2011, the football program has tallied 778 hours of community service to date working with 37 unique entities, including 14 schools, 18 non-profit organizations and 5 civic organizations. Every football student-athlete volunteered during the 2011-12 year, highlighted by the St. Augustine Thanksgiving Food Distribution in which the entire team participated.”

3 » The University of Florida Fightin’ Gator Marching Band is scheduled to leave Monday to represent the United States at the 2012 London Olympics. According to UF’s itinerary for the event, the band (more than 230 members strong) will spend a full week in London, hold three performances (including one just before the Opening Ceremony) and take in plenty of sights and sounds. “The Gators have been raising funds and working intensely to make this dream a reality for six months, and for many it is the pinnacle of their performance career to date,” said Jay Watkins, associate director of bands. “The band is deeply honored by the unique invitations they have received.”

4 » Four-star defensive tackle and Gators 2012 commit Dante Phillips (Venice, FL) has found a new home after the admissions board at UF denied his enrollment this summer. Phillips on Wednesday announced that he signed his scholarship papers to play for Tennessee, meaning he will be going head-to-head with Florida each season.

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FOUR BITS: Georgetown, Tucker, Wambach

1 » Making an appearance on 1010 XL radio on Tuesday, executive director of sports and entertainment for the City of Jacksonville Alan Verlander confirmed that tickets for the Navy/Marines Corps Classic will be bundled with the Jacksonville Jaguars-Indianapolis Colts game and will begin at $1,000. That package would include two tickets to watch the Florida Gators take on the Georgetown Hoyas on an aircraft carrier and two more to see Jacksonville-Indianapolis on that Thursday. Verlander also noted on the program that a well-known artist will hold a concert before the Florida-Georgetown game. A press release is supposed to be available Thursday with tickets going on sale Monday. OGGOA reached out to Verlander late Tuesday and is currently awaiting his reply.

2 » The University of Florida has chosen former Gators outfielder Preston Tucker to represent the school when the men’s athletic program accepts the 2012 Capital One Cup at the ESPYs in Los Angeles, CA on Wednesday. It is the second-straight year that Florida’s men’s program has won the award; forward Chandler Parsons was in L.A. to accept the award one year ago.

3 » Former Florida striker and current U.S. Women’s National Team star Abby Wambach is a part of the latest edition of ESPN Magazine – “The Body Issue.” In it, Wambach and a number of other big-name athletes bare all in carefully chosen poses that show plenty of skin but hide their private parts. Check out the picture of Wambach in the magazine, an extensive interview with her about the process and a video of her discussing the experience (below).

4 » The Gators announced the hirings of two more coaches over the last few days as Janice Olivencia was added to the women’s golf team as an assistant on Friday and Nic Peterson was named an assistant track coach (jumps) on Monday. Olivencia, who played for Texas, served as an assistant for South Florida last season after spending seven years playing professionally. UF notes that “she was the first Puerto Rican woman to have ever qualified to play on the Ladies European Tour.” Peterson comes to Florida after a successful career as an assistant at Texas Christian by way of Nebraska, where he competed and served as a volunteer coach.

Extra BIT » Though she did not confirm it directly, new FOX sports reporter/host Erin Andrews did not dismiss the fact that she interviewed for a hosting gig on X Factor, a story first reported by SPORTSbyBROOKS and more recently by Entertainment Weekly. EW (and E! Online) noted on Monday that Andrews has some stiff competition for the gig going up against names like Stacy Kiebler, Mario Lopez and Rocsi Diaz (among others). “Sources emphasize that prospective hosts are still being interviewed and actual testing for the gig is not expected for several more weeks,” EW reports.

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FOURth of July BITS: Noah, Bullard, Delić

1 » As first reported by L’Equipe in France, Chicago Bulls and former Florida Gators center Joakim Noah is officially out of the 2012 London Olympics because his severely sprained left ankle (which he injured back on March 4) is not yet recovered. The injury, which occurred during Game 3 of the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs, was supposed to keep Noah out 1-2 months but is apparently still affecting him two full months later. “I’m absolutely not ready, not ready to return, not ready to jump,” Noah told L’Equipe (originally in French). “And even less to play. I need more time and work. I’m not in form for someone who wants to compete in the Olympics. And given the problems that I have with my ankles, not going to the Games seemed to be the most reasonable decision.” L’Equipe also reports that Noah originally forfeited his spot on the team on June 23 but that head coach Patrick Beesley initially refused his decision and wanted to give him two additional weeks to rehab and recover.

2 » Tuesday came and went and nothing further was learned about the status of five-star incoming defensive end Jonathan Bullard (Shelby, NC) in regards to the NCAA Clearinghouse and the University of Florida. The deadline to enroll in Summer B classes was 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, which means that if Bullard was not cleared by that time then he will not be able to become a student – or officially join the football team – until the fall. According to The Gainesville Sun, Bullard is expected to be eventually cleared by both parties and should be able to start practicing with the team on Aug. 22, when the fall semester starts. He would miss Summer B practices and the first two weeks of preseason camp, according to the paper. Bullard is expected to see the field for the Gators this season and may very well earn major playing time at defensive end. Missing so much practice as a freshman may put him severely behind the proverbial eight ball and could impact how Florida lines up the front four early in the season.

3 » New Gators head men’s tennis coach Bryan Shelton hired Amer Delić as his new assistant, Florida announced on Monday. A former Illinois standout who won the NCAA Singles Championship in 2003, Derlic is Bosnian in descent and has previously represented his country in the Davis Cup. He posted a 33-56 career singles record and 21-34 career doubles record, participated in eight Grand Slam events (never lasting past the third round) and won eight total singles titles over his career in Challengers (six) and Futures (two) events. “When I came down to Gainesville and sat down for an interview with [Coach Shelton], discussing the opportunities and possibilities with this team and with the support from the University of Florida and the athletic department, I knew that this was the right fit for me,” Delic said in a statement. “Especially growing up in Jacksonville, I absolutely know what it means to be a part of the Gator Nation.”

4 » Happy Fourth of July everyone!

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

…from the Declaration of Independence

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Phillips denied, Fowler accepted, Bullard in limbo

Four-star incoming defensive tackle Dante Phillips (Venice, FL), a prominent member of the Florida Gators 2012 signing class, has been denied admission to the University of Florida and will no longer join the team.

The Gainesville Sun’s Robbie Andreu, who first reported the story Monday after speaking with Phillips’s stepfather Damon Wilson, notes that the decision is being appealed but Phillips does not expect to win and is now looking to play elsewhere.

“We were kind of blindsided,” Wilson told the Sun. “He did everything he needed to do to be cleared by the [NCAA] Clearinghouse, but now he’s been told he doesn’t have a scholarship to Florida. He’s been cleared by the NCAA. He’s academically eligible. But the admissions office says he can’t enroll at Florida.”

InsidetheGators.com’s Bryan Holt spoke with Phillips, who said both Miami and Ole Miss believe they can get him admitted since he has been cleared by the NCAA but did not meet UF’s admission standards.

Phillips, who committed to the Gators back on Oct. 25, 2010, was ranked as the No. 120 player in the nation and No. 9 at his position by Rivals as well as the No. 110 player in the country and No. 12 at his position by ESPNU.

UPDATED (5 p.m.): Unfortunately for Florida, he is not the only 2012 commitment whose academic standing is currently in question. Five-stars Buck linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr. (St. Petersburg, FL) and defensive end Jonathan Bullard (Shelby, NC) – two of the team’s three top-ranked recruits in the last cycle – are also having admissions issues though one of those was officially resolved on Monday.

Fowler was told that he would be admitted to UF as soon as official word came down from the NCAA that he had qualified. He had achieved the grades he needed to and learned Monday via a phone call from head coach Will Muschamp that he is good to go, according to Holt. Fowler will be on campus to enroll Tuesday.

Bullard’s situation remains in question and his status is not public at this time.

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Florida Gators win men’s 2012 Capital One Cup

The Florida Gators men’s athletic program was officially announced Wednesday as the winner of the Capital One Cup for the second-straight year by the organization. Florida on the men’s side and Stanford on the women’s side are the only programs to win the award in its short two-year history.

“We are honored to win our second consecutive Capital One Cup trophy,” athletic director Jeremy Foley said. “Our student athletes, coaches and support teams strive for overall excellence and it’s a tribute to their efforts that the men’s program captured the Capital One Cup and our women’s program earned a top-10 finish. Thank you to Capital One and its affiliated companies for their support of intercollegiate athletics.”

Awarded annually to each of the top men’s and women’s Division I college athletic programs in the country, the winner of the Capital One Cup is determined by a scoring system in which points are awarded sport-by-sport depending how respective teams finish in NCAA Championships and the final official coaches’ polls.

Florida (104 points) won by a 14-point margin over Arizona (90) and finished 26 points above the next team from the Southeastern Conference, LSU (78).

The Gators once again failed to place in the top 10 in any of the program’s fall sports but rounded up the honors in the winter and spring as solid finishes by baseball (sixth), basketball (ninth), indoor track & field (first), outdoor track & field (first), and swimming & diving (eighth) led UF to their second-straight Cup.

The Florida women’s athletic program finished second in the SEC to LSU but ninth overall in their respective standings, 87.5 points behind the winner, Stanford (152.5).

The men’s victory earns the University of Florida a total of $200,000 to go toward student-athlete graduate-level scholarships. The Gators will be presented with the Capital One Cup at the 2012 ESPY Awards on July 11 at 9 p.m.

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SIX BITS: Beal, Olympics, Cup awards, Crawford

1 » Could Florida Gators freshman guard Bradley Beal be the decided target of the Washington Wizards with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft on June 28? That appears to be the case after Washington completed a trade on Wednesday that sent a small forward Rashard Lewis and a second-round pick to New Orleans for SF Trevor Ariza and power forward/center Emeka Okafor. By adding two talented, starting-caliber frontcourt players, the chances that the Wizards would select a forward like Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Kansas’ Thomas Robinson (if he was even available) have been reduced significantly, meaning Beal could very well be the top player on their board with the draft just over a week away.

2 » Speaking of Beal, ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla wrote Wednesday about what weakness Beal needs to improve on ($) in order to have a productive NBA career.

Beal’s screen-and-roll ability in Billy Donovan‘s screen-and-roll-oriented offense was average at best. Often when challenged by the screener’s defender (usually a big man), Beal was not able to take him on and beat him off the dribble. Ultimately, Beal shot just 35 percent in the screen-and-roll, and his overall points produced for himself or his teammates was a paltry 0.7 points per possession.

Part of the reason Beal struggled in the screen-and-roll is that he is a straight-line driver. I don’t doubt that he has been working hard on his ballhandling creativity. If he is going to be more than a one-dimensional jump-shooter, he’ll be handling the ball a lot, especially because the NBA’s 24-second shot clock demands it.

3 » The 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for track & field begin Friday in Eugene, OR with 17 total current and former Gators hoping to earn the opportunity to compete in the2012 London Olympics. Among those participating in the trials over the next 11 days are 10 current Florida student-athletes including: senior/junior Dwight Barbiasz (high jump), junior Omar Craddock (triple jump), junior/senior Jeff Demps (100-meter dash), freshman Marquis Dendy (long jump), freshman Dedric Dukes (200-meter dash), sophomore Ebony Eutsey (400-meter dash), sophomore Eddie Lovett (110-meter hurdles), sophomore Cory McGee (1,500-meter run), junior Tony McQuay (400-meter dash) and junior Jeremy Postin (hammer throw). Former Gators set to compete include: Hazel Clark (800-meter dash), Will Claye (long jump, triple jump), Kerron Clement (400-meter hurdles), Gray Horn (decathlon), Calvin Smith (400-meter dash), Wes Stockbarger (discus throw) and Christian Taylor (triple jump).

4 » The University of Florida athletic program finished No. 2 in the nation in the 2011-12 Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup. Twelve Florida programs finished among the top 10 of their respective sport nationally including women’s tennis (No. 1), men’s indoor track & field (No. 1), men’s outdoor track & field (No. 1), gymnastics (No. 2), lacrosse (No. 3), men’s basketball (No. 5), volleyball (No. 5), baseball (No. 7), men’s swimming & diving (No. 8), women’s indoor track & field (No. 9), men’s tennis (No. 9) and women’s swimming and diving (No. 10). It is the fourth-straight year that the Gators have finished in the top four of the Cup’s final rankings and second time in the last three years (2009-10). Florida has never won the Cup but has finished in the top 10 in each of the 29 years it has been awarded. Stanford won for the 18th time, outscoring UF 1448.25-1314.00 in the final standings. Only 20 sports count for each school toward their final total, but the Cardinal have 35 to choose from while the Gators currently support 21 total sports.

5 » With just a handful of game remaining in the 2012 College World Series, which Florida was eliminated from on Monday, the end of the athletic season is nearly here which means the final standings for the 2012 Capital One Cup will be official shortly. As of press time, the Gators lead the men’s standings with 89 points (baseball has not been counted yet). The only way that Florida can lose their top spot is if Arkansas (currently ranked 17th with 39 points) wins the entire CWS (adding 60 points to their total) and UF is ranked eighth or worse when the final poll. In that scenario, the Gators would finish second by one point (99-98).

6 » The USA Baseball Collegiate National Team announced Monday that Florida sophomore right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford has been selected to play for the squad this summer. Crawford is one of six Southeastern Conference players to earn placement on the team, which consists of freshmen and sophomores from some of the nation’s top programs. He finished the 2012 season with a final record of 6-2 along with a 3.13 ERA and the team’s first solo no-hitter for in 21 years.

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Florida C Mike Zunino wins Dick Howser Trophy

Florida Gators junior catcher Mike Zunino became the first player in team history to be presented with the Dick Howser Trophy after being announced as the recipient of the 2012 award by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association on Friday.

“It’s a great honor to be recognized as the top player in college baseball,” Zunino said. “I just want to thank the Dick Howser committee, the college baseball writers, the University of Florida, Coach [Kevin] O’Sullivan for giving me the opportunity to play here, my fiancé Alyssa, my dad and mom. Thanks for everything. I’m so grateful that I had this opportunity, and it is something I am always going to remember.”

The Dick Howser Trophy, which was created in 1987 and is presented annually to the national college baseball player of the year, is considered by many to be the “Heisman Trophy” of collegiate baseball. It had not been won by a Southeastern Conference player since Vanderbilt pitcher David Price took home the honor in 2007.

Zunino, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft by the Seattle Mariners and highest-drafted player in team history, is batting .322 on the year and leads the Gators with 19 homers and 64 RBIs. He has also registered 53 runs, 28 walks, stolen nine bases in 10 attempts, and is fielding his position at a .994 clip.

“This is an unbelievable honor [for him to be] named the best player in the country,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s the first winner at the University of Florida, and we’re awfully proud as a university and a program. We can sit here all day and talk about Mike’s stats and how he has performed on the field – that’s obviously evident. Mike has been a tremendous player for us since day one. [...] There’s so much more that he gives to our program – the leadership, the day-to-day work ethic – it’s just off the charts.”

The 2011 SEC Player of the Year, Zunino did not capture the award this season (that honor went to LSU’s Raph Rhymes) but was named to the All-SEC First Team for the second consecutive year. He is also a back-to-back finalist for the Johnny Bench Award (college baseball’s top catcher) as well as a finalist this season for the Golden Spikes Award (best amateur baseball player).

Photo Credits: The News-Press, John Korduner

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Gators basketball adds transfer Finney-Smith

For the second time in as many months Florida Gators basketball has boosted its frontcourt for the 2013-14 season after learning Thursday that Virginia Tech Hokies forward Dorian Finney-Smith has decided to transfer to the University of Florida, according to ESPN‘s Dave Telep and CBS Sports‘s Jeff Goodman.

A four-star prospect, the No. 8 forward and the No. 31 overall player in the country as ranked by Rivals.com when he committed to Virginia Tech in 2011, Finney-Smith (6’8” 192 lbs.) was an ACC All-Freshman Team member who averaged 6.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.9 assists while starting 30 of 33 games last season.

Like former South Carolina power forward Damontre Harris, who decided to transfer to Florida on May 26, Finney-Smith will be forced to sit out the 2012-13 season per NCAA transfer rules but will fill a major position of need for the Gators when his redshirt season is up. Both players will be able to practice with the team next year, providing senior F Erik Murphy and juniors center Patric Young and F Will Yeguete with talented opponents to go up against each day.

The duo brings much-needed size to Florida’s frontcourt, especially considering the Gators have not received any commitments taller than 6’6” as part of the 2012 (now completed) or 2013 (in progress) classes. UF notoriously missed out on a pledge from five-star PF Anthony Bennett (Henderson, NV) in May.

As OGGOA first reported when Harris made his decision, Florida never stopped pursuing Finney-Smith and had a plan in place scholarship-wise should he join the Gators as all 13 athletic scholarships are currently filled by roster players or incoming signees.

Finney-Smith chose UF over a list of possible destinations including Memphis, Louisville and Iowa State. He visited the other three schools but did not travel to Gainesville, FL as he was already familiar with the campus and head coach Billy Donovan.

OGGOA has reached out to a source close to the program and is awaiting confirmation.

Photo Credit: Daily Press

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