Horford, Dominican Republic do not qualify

Three Florida Gators entered the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament on Monday hoping to earn the opportunity to compete in the 2012 London Olympics. By the time the event concluded on Sunday with the Dominican Republic falling 88-73 to Nigera for the third and final qualifying spot, none of the three saw their dreams realized.

Florida had the opportunity to see up to four players compete in the Olympics – center Joakim Noah (France), C Al Horford (Dominican Republic), point guard Nick Calathes (Greece) and redshirt senior guard Mike Rosario (Puerto Rico). Noah, whose team had already qualified for the games, was forced to withdraw from the event as he continues to nurse a severely sprained ankle suffered on May 4; the other three all lost their spots by falling in the tournament this week.

Greece’s run came to an end at the hands of Nigeria in an 80-79 stunner on Friday. Puerto Rico was also sent packing Friday as Lithuania took them down 76-72. The Dominican Republic had two chances to earn a berth but fell in both opportunities, losing 109-83 to Lithuania on Saturday and again to Nigeria on Sunday.

Horford dominated his team’s first two games of the tournament, registering 30 points (10-of-14) and 12 boards against Korea as well as 22 points (10-of-13) and nine rebounds against Russia. He was less overpowering in the final three games, scoring 14 points (5-of-17) and adding 15 rebounds in a victory over Macedonia, notching 12 points (4-of-14) and four boards in the loss to Lithuania, and leaving the court due to frustration with 15 seconds left after scoring just 12 points against Nigeria.

Center Azania Stewart of the Great Britain women’s basketball team will be the only Gators representative competing in the sport during the Olympics.

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FOUR BITS: Milton-Jones, James, Walker, MLB

1 » Former Florida Gators forward DeLisha Milton-Jones – a two-time WNBA champion, two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time WNBA All-Star – became just the ninth player in league history to eclipse 5,000 career points after scoring seven in the Los Angeles Sparks 91-75 loss to Tulsa on Tuesday. Currently participating in her 14th WNBA season, Milton-Jones has spent most of her career with Los Angeles after coming out of Florida in 1999. She is a member of the UF Athletic Hall of Fame and was also named the SEC Player of the Year in 1997.

2 » It was a tough decision for him to make but former Gators running back/returner Brandon James eventually decided to hang up his cleats a few months ago and become a high school football coach. James got the opportunity to serve as an assistant coach for St. Joseph’s High School in St. Augustine, FL when his former youth baseball coach Bernie Packo hired him to join his new staff on April 4. However, following an unforeseen change of events, Packo was fired just 22 days later and James was promoted to head coach by the school administration last Thursday. In an exclusive interview with me published as a feature story on InsidetheGators.com (which you can read for FREE by clicking here), James discussed his decision to turn in his helmet for a whistle and give back to the community that once did so much for him.

3 » The No. 6 player in the country according to Rivals.com and the top remaining target on Florida head coach Billy Donovan’s radar as it pertains to the 2013 recruiting class, five-star power forward Chris Walker had some positive things to say about the Gators when interviewed Tuesday about his recruitment. Walker told Rivals ($) that his top five as of right now is Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio State and Louisville but that one team stands out at this point in time. “I guess you could say that [the Gators] are in the driver’s seat,” he said when asked if UF leads for his services. “I’m still open of course and maybe a few visits could change my mind.” Though he listed a top five, Walker is believed by many to eventually choose Florida and Kansas as his final two schools.

4 » A pair of Gators juniors – left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson and shortstop Nolan Fontana – officially signed their MLB rookie contracts on Tuesday, forgoing their final season of collegiate eligibility to turn pro. The final selection in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft by the Boston Red Sox (No. 31 overall), Johnson signed a deal Tuesday worth more than $1.5 million. Fontana, the first pick in the second round of the draft (No. 61 overall), signed his contract with the Houston Astros and reportedly received a little more than his slot value of $875,000. Houston decided that he will report directly to Lexington (Class A), skipping all three short-season leagues that many rookies play in before joining the minors. WEEI Sportsradio out of Boston, MA also reports that Florida junior right-hander and third-round selection Austin Maddox is set to sign with the Red Sox for $350,000, which is $50,000 under his slot allotment of $400,000. It is unknown as of press time where Johnson and Maddox will begin their careers.

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FOUR BITS: Rainey, Butler, Tebow, Hernandez

1 » Now a rookie with the Pittsburgh Steelers, running back Chris Rainey expressed on Tuesday how smooth the transition has been already to the NFL – and it is not because he has two former Florida Gators teammates and friends on the squad in center Maurkice Pouncey and left tackle Marcus Gilbert. “Well, this isn’t a new offense,” Rainey told WPXI in Pittsburgh, PA. “I’ve been in this offense at Florida because Charlie Weis and Coach [Todd] Haley coached together. It’s the same offense so it’s easy to me. It’s definitely an advantage. I can just go in here, see what it is and be like: I know this. I don’t even have to study. I’m right there. I’m ahead of everybody.” He is similarly not concerned about the speed of the NFL because of his five years in the Southeastern Conference. “I don’t think there’s a transition because I came from the SEC, so it’s basically the same thing the work wise,” Rainey told the station. “The hard work and all that kind of stuff [is the same]. Offense and everything [is the same], so I’m just out there doing my job.”

2 » Florida announced Wednesday that head women’s basketball coach Amanda Butler had her contract extended through the 2016-17 season after five years at the helm of the Gators. “I like the direction our program is headed,” athletic director Jeremy Foley said in a school release. “We know Amanda will be our coach for a long time. We’re excited about the future of the Gator women’s basketball program.” Butler is 98-67 in her five years at Florida, where she played as a guard from 1990-94 and served as an assistant coach from 1994-97.

3 » Panini America announced on May 31 that, as part of the company’s 2012 Prestige Football series, they will be including a 15-card insert devoted to now-New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow. The cards will be released on June 20 and numbered to a maximum of 1,500; there will also be 15 special versions of the 15th card (featuring him in a Jets uniform) that are autographed by Tebow. Below are small previews put together by OGGOA of the fronts of the 15 cards (each back includes a paragraph on Tebow):

4 » New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was scheduled to attend one of his teammates’ and fellow Connecticuter’s youth football clinic on Sunday but was delayed and showed up late for the event. When he did arrive, however, Hernandez was peppered with questions by the kids in attendance (the first of which was about the Gators); he also signed “roughly 100 autographs and [took] nearly as many pictures,” according to the New Britain Herald, before ending his appearance. In unrelated team news, recently signed wide receiver Jabar Gaffney may not wind up on New England’s final roster if he cannot beat out fellow veterans Deion Branch and Donte’ Stallworth. The three are all competing likely for a pair of roster spots, which is strange for each of the players consider all three joined the league together when selected in the 2002 NFL Draft by different teams.

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FOUR BITS: transfer, Noah, baseball, Brantley

1 » The Florida Gators announced Wednesday that 6’6” center Vicky McIntyre has decided to transfer to the University of Florida and will be eligible to play in 2013-14 after sitting out a year per NCAA transfer rules. McIntyre, who has played at Oklahoma State the last two season and will have two years of eligibility remaining after a year off, decided to transfer after two coaches she was extremely close to perished in a plane crash in Nov. Once she steps on the court for practice, McIntyre will be the tallest player to play for Florida women’s basketball in the program’s 40-year history. “We get a kid with her size and length but now combine that with the experience she gained in [a] Big 12 program, plus the work ethic, attitude and excitement about being a Gator,” head coach Amanda Butler said. “That’s a winning combination.” McIntyre averaged 11.2 points and 5.5 rebounds during her freshman season and hopes to regain that form.

2 » Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah was forced to miss the final two games of his team’s first-round playoff series after severely spraining his left ankle during Game 3 and is becoming increasingly frustrated with how often he has been injured over the last two seasons. Noah said on Monday that he plans to strengthen his ankles in the offseason and do whatever he can to ensure he is in tip-top shape heading into next season. “I’m just frustrated because I really feel like I really worked hard on trying to keep my body right,” he told ESPNChicago.com. “I feel like the ankle injury was unfortunate. I think just going full speed onto somebody’s ankle and landing on somebody’s foot – that could have happened to anybody. It’s frustrating but nobody died. You learn from it and move on.” Despite his most recent setback, Noah still plans to participate in the 2012 London Olympics as part of the French National Team. “I’m gunning for it. I’m hoping that I’ll be healthy and be able to play,” he said.

3 » ESPN’s Keith Law released his first mockup for the 2012 MLB Draft on Tuesday and slotted Gators junior catcher Mike Zunino as the No. 5 overall selection in the first round by Kansas City. Zunino is widely believed to be a top-five prospect and the highest-ranked college baseball player. Law has also listed juniors left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson (No. 28), shortstop Nolan Fontana (No. 44) and lefty reliever Steven Rodriguez (No. 71) on his general list of top-100 players. Senior right fielder Preston Tucker, and junior righties Hudson Randall and Austin Maddox are also “potential top 200 picks,” according to ESPN’s Jason A. Churchill.

4 » The United States Social Security Administration this week released the country’s most popular baby names for the past year (2011) and noted that the name with the biggest jump in popularity for males is Brantley. From the press release: “For the boys, there could be some controversy over Brantley – depending on whether you are a fan of college football or country music. Arguments could be made that the popularity of the name comes from John Brantley, the quarterback for perennial powerhouse The University of Florida, or from Brantley Gilbert, the singer with the number one country hit ‘Country Must Be Country Wide.’ If you like both football and country music, you’re a winner either way!” Yes, that is from a real government press release.

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TWO BITS: Tebow and Meyer, coach leaves UF

1 » New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow was featured as part of yet another Saturday Night Live skit on Saturday as New York Giants QB Eli Manning hosted the long-running television program. In the skit, Taran Killam (dressed as Tebow) performs his signature “Tebowing” move as a celebration while EA Sports is taking motion capture footage for the latest Madden video game.

2 » Tebow and former Florida Gators head football coach Urban Meyer took part in the 2012 Chik-fil-A Leadercast last week. An event that was viewed by more than 125,000 people across the United States via simulcast, the Leadercast included a number of high-profile guests with Tebow and Meyer standing as two of the signature participants. Both men were interviewed by CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien, who got some interesting notes from the duo. “I just know that I really care about what I do. I’m very passionate about it, I love what I do, and I’m willing to put it all on the line. And I think when you’re willing to do those things…people can respect you for it,” said Tebow about being a leader. “What’s so frustrating for me is you have all these athletes, celebrities and entertainers that say, ‘I’m not a role model.’ Yes you are, you’re just not a very good one.” (Tebow apparently received a solid round of applause for that line.)

Meyer indicated that things were not always smooth when it came to his early relationship with Tebow but that his respect for the player’s intensity, integrity and leadership helped them get along just fine. “When I first met Tim, I didn’t like Tim,” Meyer said, according to The Christian Post. “I admired him, but I didn’t like him…Tim has a unique ability to force you to look inward, to evaluate yourself. Because everything you see Tim do, it’s hard to believe.” Tebow also discussed how he has been able to block out so many distractions and focus on football. “Don’t worry about what you can’t control,” he said. “There’s a lot of things we can’t control. We can’t control what people write about us, what they say about us, but we can control a few things: our attitude, our effort, our focus and how we go about treating our teammates.”

Extra BIT » Florida Gators assistant women’s basketball coach Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick will be moving on from the program as it was announced Monday that she will be the new head coach at North Carolina-Asheville. Kirkpatrick, who has served as a Florida assistant for six seasons, is a local product; UF notes that her family lives 40 minutes away from UNC-Asheville. “I’ve never coached a game without Brenda as my assistant,” Gators head coach Amanda Butler said in a school release. “She’s outstanding and is so ready for this opportunity. I’m so proud of her that it’s hard to linger on the negative of her leaving for too long. She’s not only fulfilling part of her dream of being a head coach, but she gets to do it in her own backyard. That’s super cool.”

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FOUR BITS: Alajajian, Spurrier, Tebow, Stewart

1 » Though junior Buck linebacker Ronald Powell’s injury was more serious and detrimental to the Florida Gators considering he is an entrenched starter on defense, the unit also lost another player to surgery recently. Florida announced Wednesday that senior defensive tackle Nick Alajajian had successful surgery on his right wrist on Tuesday. Alajajian, who moved over to defense after spending three years with the Gators as an offensive lineman, is expected to be healthy enough to return for fall camp.

2 » South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier opened up to ESPN.com recently about a number of topics including his team’s game against Georgia being moved back four weeks (“I sort of always liked playing them that second game because you could always count on them having two or three key players suspended.”), Nick Saban (“If he wants to be the greatest coach or one of the greatest coaches in college football, to me, he has to go somewhere besides Alabama and win, because they’ve always won there at Alabama.”) and how his career might come to an end (“When I leave, they’re not going to pay me $4 million because I had another five years on the deal and got fired. I ain’t going to be one of those guys.). But he also spoke about Florida and a conversation he had with head coach Will Muschamp upon him taking over the Gators in 2011.

“I told Will that he had one of the hardest jobs in America because of what’s happened down there prior to him coming. I don’t know that they have that much greater a team than most others in the SEC now. They’re pretty good. But it’s a tough job because of what Urban [Meyer] has done and prior history. Those fans are expecting 10 to 12 wins every year. Our fans are going to expect nine to 11, which is fair, and that’s good. I hope our players expect it, too.”

3 » Unlike a number of current and former Denver Broncos expressing their support and faith in quarterback Tim Tebow following his trade to the New York Jets, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (who had some of his best games with Tebow behind center) told 790 The Zone out of Atlanta, GA that he is not said to see him go elsewhere. “I ain’t going to say I was sad because the only thing they remember is that pass,” he said. “You gotta go back and look at the rest of the games. I wasn’t getting no balls and you had to make some of these plays where some players were open and he is not making the throws, but I don’t want to talk bad about Tim, but hey I am happy we got Peyton.” Thomas went on to praise Tebow for being a tireless worker and said there was no real tension in the locker room; he added that his former teammate has to learn how to read defenses better and recognize open receivers.

4 » Florida center and London, England native Azania Stewart was one of 20 players invited in April to a women’s basketball camp hosted by Great Britain that will help determine the 12 players that will represent the union in the 2012 London Olympics. Stewart has plenty of European basketball experience and that should give her chances of making the team a boost. Should she do so, Stewart would be the third Gators women’s basketball player in school history to represent her country in the Olympics following in the footsteps of Tammy Jackson (1992) and DeLisha Milton-Jones (2000, 2008).

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FOUR BITS: women’s bball, baseball, lax, NBA

1 » No. 9-seed Florida Gators women’s basketball (20-13) saw their season come to an end Tuesday night at the hands of the No. 1-seed Baylor Bears (36-0) and star center Brittney Griner. Florida fell 76-57 to Baylor in the second round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament as Griner posted 25 points (on 8-of-14 shooting), nine rebounds, four assists and six blocks. She was just one of five Bears’ starters to score in double figures on the evening. The Gators were led by three seniors including C Azania Stewart, who scored 14 points and grabbed four boards. Classmates and guards Deana Allen and Lanita Bartley also scored in the double digits, adding 13 and 10 points, respectively. In addition to being knocked out of the tournament and having their season come to an end at the hands of the top team in the country, Florida was hit hard emotionally by Tuesday’s loss. Five seniors – Stewart, Allen, Bartley and redshirts G Jordan Jones and forward Ndidi Madu – played their final games in a Gators uniform.

2 » No. 1 Florida baseball (20-1) extended their school-record winning streak to 18 games with a 5-3 win over the Samford Bulldogs (13-8) on Tuesday night at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Freshman right-handed pitcher Johnny Magliozzi (2-0) got the start and picked up the victory while tossing a career-high six strikeouts and allowing just one earned run on three hits in 4.0 innings. After giving up a run in the first inning, Magliozzi got some support as the Gators rallied to tie the game. Florida hit around for two more runs in the bottom of the second and – after Samford got within a single run of tying the game in the top of the seventh – added another in the next frame to solidify their lead. Junior catcher Mike Zunino (2/4, 2 RBI) drove home senior center fielder Daniel Pigott (1/3, 2 R) twice in the contest. Freshmen first baseman Taylor Gushue (1/4) and third baseman Josh Tobias (2/3, R) each batted runners in as well. Junior RHP Austin Maddox (S 7) came in for the final frame, striking out one of three batters he faced and clinching the victory.

3 » No. 5 Gators lacrosse (9-2) routed a fellow top-ranked opponent on Tuesday, defeating the No. 10 Dartmouth Big Green (5-1) in a 20-4 blowout at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville. Florida scored a school-record 17 first-half goals and registered eight-straight goals to end the contest including only three in the second period. UF’s 20 goals against Dartmouth were the most the team has ever scored against a ranked opponent in school history. Junior attacker Kitty Cullen led the Gators with a career-high eight points including five goals and three assists (she also added a career-high three ground balls to her total). Juniors As Ashley Bruns and Gabi Wiegand each had four goals, and midfielder Brittany Dashiell added three more.

4 » In his first mockup for the 2012 NBA Draft, ESPN Insider’s Chad Ford has Gators freshman G Bradley Beal slotted as the No. 4 overall pick heading to Portland. Though Ford notes that Beal “hasn’t had a dominant freshman season,” he believes that “his scoring ability in the backcourt” is something that is undeniable to NBA scouts. Ford is bullish on Beal’s potential in the pros and has been for quite some time, noting often that he expects him to go anywhere from fourth to sixth in the upcoming draft should he decide to leave school early. He also has sophomore center Patric Young listed as No 22 overall to Memphis even though he recently noted that he plans to return to school for his junior season. An extra year in college for Young could very well vault him into the lottery in 2013 should he improve his offense and all-around consistency.

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FOUR BITS: women’s bball, baseball, softball, gym

1 » Having returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009, nine-seed Florida Gators women’s basketball (20-12) picked up a hard-fought 70-65 victory over the eight-seed Ohio State Buckeyes (25-7) in first-round action on Sunday. Florida led early and maintained their advantage throughout the contest, eventually pulling away in the final few minutes for the win. Junior forward Jennifer George led the way for the Gators with 16 points (she also added six rebounds), but senior guard Lanita Bartley was the player of the game with 15 points, four boards, three assists and two steals. Florida will now face top-ranked Baylor (35-0) and player of the year Brittney Griner on Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. live on ESPN2.

2 » No. 1 Gators baseball (19-1, 3-0 SEC) extended their winning streak to a school-record 17 games, sweeping their series against the Vanderbilt Commodores (7-13, 0-3 SEC) with another pair of wins on Saturday and Sunday. Florida outscored Vanderbilt 23-5 over the weekend, beginning with a 10-2 victory in their Southeastern Conference opener on Friday at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. The Gators pulled out a 5-1 win on Saturday on the heels of one of junior left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson’s best outings. Johnson improved to 3-0 while recording a career-high nine strikeouts in 6.0 innings and giving up just two singles. UF was up 1-0 through 4.5 innings but scored four runs in the bottom of the fifth including two RBIs apiece from senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1/3, HR, R, BB) and senior center fielder Daniel Pigott (1/5, R). Florida captured Sunday’s contest with an 8-2 victory behind another solid outing from sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford (2-1, 5.0 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 6 K). The Gators offense was fueled by a trio of solo homers from Tucker (1/3, RBI, 2 R, BB), freshman designated hitter Taylor Gushue (1/4, 2 RBI, R) and freshman second baseman Casey TurgeonSEC Player of the Week award in his career on Monday.

3 » No. 4 Florida softball (26-2, 7-1 SEC) also swept a conference opponent over the weekend, taking down the South Carolina Gamecocks (19-12, 2-6 SEC) by a combined score of 17-3 over three days at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in Gainesville. Sophomore RHP Hannah Rogers and freshman RHP/first baseman Lauren Haeger dominated the weekend for the Gators. Rogers (14-1, S 2) earned two victories and a save, while Haeger (8-1) picked up a win and also went 5/8 over the three-game stretch with a homer, six RBIs and a run scored.

4 » No. 6 Florida lacrosse (8-2) defeated the William & Mary Tribe (2-6) 21-8 on the road Saturday. Junior midfielder Brittany Dashiell led Florida with five goals, and UF added four more each from junior attackers Kitty Cullen and Gabi Wiegand and freshman M Shannon Gilroy.

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