A few thoughts to jump start your Saturday morning.
ONLY TWO MORE HOME GAMES FOR A REMARKABLE SENIOR CLASS
Remember the spring of 2010? With only Patric Young and Casey Prather signed back in November, there were plenty of predictions of a bleak future for Florida basketball when the season ended with a loss to BYU in Oklahoma City. In April, Billy Donovan added Will Yeguete to the fold but skeptics argued that if Yeguete were so good, then why didn’t Florida offer him months earlier and sign him in November? And then there was no point guard. The Gators had wasted a ton of recruiting capital on Brandon Knight (Duke) and Ray McCallum (Detroit). MoMo Jones (signed with Arizona), Chris Denson (Auburn) and Matt Carlino (UCLA) all were courted by the Gators in the month of April but all three wound up somewhere else.
Meanwhile, on the Nike AAU circuit, Scottie Wilbekin was doing a scorched earth on every guard that got in his way. He was just 16 and would have to skip his senior year at The Rock to come to Florida, but Wilbekin talked it over with his parents and elected to become the last resort point guard for a class that Gator fans everywhere lamented as the worst of the Donovan era.
Well, here we are four years later and it’s really been a horrible four years, hasn’t it? These seniors have worked their way up through the ranks to become starters on the #1 team in the nation. They’ve made it to the Elite Eight game in the NCAA Tournament three times and they’ve won three SEC championships in four years including this year when they have a chance to go 18-0 in SEC play. No team in SEC history has ever done that. They’ve also got a chance to win a national title. Don’t be shocked if they pull that off.
Today Florida’s seniors will take the court against LSU and next Saturday they’ll do Senior Day with Kentucky in town. Four years has gone by quickly and this has been one remarkable senior class.
WHEN WAIT ‘TIL NEXT YEAR FINALLY ARRIVED
Although I have no way to verify it, legend has it that the last words ever spoken by both my grandfather and father were, “Wait ‘til next year!” That was the rallying cry of Gators far and near until 1989 when the basketball team became the first to break through with an SEC title. It’s ironic that Norm Sloan was the coach of that Florida basketball team. He had the Gators so close to an SEC championship in the mid-1960s but when his alma mater North Carolina State offered him the head coaching job to succeed Press Maravich, who left along with son Pete for LSU, Sloan perceived he was being shown the door. Years later, Sloan told me he really didn’t want to leave Florida because he thought the Gators would be extraordinary in 1967 (they went 21-4, the first 20-win season in school history), but the combination of his alma mater and what he perceived as a lack of encouragement to stay sent him packing to Raleigh. He got the SEC title the second go-round in 1989 with Dwayne Schintzius at center, Dwayne Davis and Livingston Chatman at the forwards and Renaldo Garcia and Clifford Lett at the guards. The night the Gators won the SEC title with a win over LSU, more than 3,000 fans waited at the airport for the Florida plane to arrive and University Avenue was a zoo.
IT’S MARCH AND THAT MEANS SPRING FOOTBALL IS IN THE AIR
Perhaps the most highly anticipated spring practice since Tim Tebow’s final season in 2009 will begin for the Gators in less than three weeks with as many or more questions than there are answers. That’s what happens when you suffer through your first losing season since 1979 and that means the first order of business for Will Muschamp will be to lay the groundwork for the restoration of confidence in the Florida football program. Since November, Muschamp has said all the right things, done all the right things by hiring Kurt Roper and Mike Summers, and he’s gone lights out on the recruiting trail. It’s fairly obvious that Muschamp is doing everything he can get the Florida football program back on the championship track but it all starts with restoring the confidence. That goes for both players and the fan base. That was not a confident team that took the field the last few weeks of the season and while players say they never wavered in their support of Muschamp, they have to regain the confidence that they are going to win every time they take the field. Confidence is contagious. If the fan base senses that Muschamp has a confident team that believes once again, it will have a ripple effect throughout the Gator Nation.
#1 FLORIDA 2, #4 OREGON 1 (SOFTBALL, 8 INNINGS)
The #1 Gators knocked off #4 Oregon in eight innings Friday in the Diamond 9 Citrus Classic at Disney’s Wide World of Sports when Kelsey Stewart scored on a wild pitch in the top of the eighth. Hannah Rogers gave up only six hits and struck out eight as the Gators improved to 17-0 on the season. Lauren Haeger provided Florida’s only other run with a fourth inning home run, her sixth of the season. The Gators will face Fordham and Ohio State Saturday and wrap up the tournament Sunday with games against Maryland and Radford. The Gators will return to Gainesville Tuesday to face Boston College in the first of a six-game home stand.
GYMNASTS FALL AT ALABAMA
The Gators ran into uncharacteristic problems on the beam Friday night in Tuscaloosa. Ranked #1 nationally in the beam (49.314 average) and coming off a season best 49.550 (second best score in the country), the Gators managed only a 49.150 while Alabama came in at 49.425. That .275 difference proved to be Alabama’s winning margin as the Crimson Tide knocked off the Gators, 197.675-197.400. It was Florida’s first loss in a dual meet all season. Florida’s string of five straight weeks with at least one perfect 10 came to an end. Bridget Sloan did win the all-around with a 39.500 even though she turned in an uncharacteristically low 9.70 on the balance beam.
THIS NEEDS TO HAPPEN
The Southeastern Conference will follow the lead of the Big 12 and experiment with eight-man officiating crews (norm is seven) in the spring. The Big 12 tried it on an experimental basis last year and made the decision to add the extra official. The SEC needs to do it and so does the rest of college football. With the extra official we might not have so many replays because we’ll have an extra set of eyes and legs on the field. I’ve also been a long time proponent of going to four officials in basketball. I’ve heard some of the folks who grade officials say that three is plenty, but I see too many bad calls made by officials who aren’t in the right position to see a play clearly. Having a fourth official on the floor might help solve that problem too.
MUSIC FOR TODAY
When Rick Wakefield joined Yes in 1971, the music truly got interesting. Wakefield replaced Terry Kaye when the band came out with the album “Fragile” which blew everyone away with the first cut, “Roundabout.” Both the album and the song were instant hits. “Roundabout” features marvelous guitar work by Steve Howe and Wakeman’s outstanding keyboards to go with the vocals by Jon Anderson. I heard it live in the 1970s and then an acoustic version on television a few years later. I found this live video of the band doing “Roundabout” in 1972, a version that is pretty close to the one that I have remembered all these years.