Taurean Green sits on a bench outside the University of Florida basketball practice facility dribbling an orange and blue basketball like it is an extension of his hand. It is something that he does so much and so often that it’s like blinking an eye, something he does involuntarily as he talks.
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He’s back in Gainesville for a day or two before he heads down to Orlando to spend a few days with his mom and his dad, Big Sid. Orlando may be where his parents live, but there is an unseen umbilical cord that will always tie him to Gainesville.
“So many memories in this place that I can’t even begin to talk about them,” says Green, who will spend the rest of the summer preparing for his first NBA training camp with the Portland Trailblazers. “Every time I think about all that happened here the last three years it’s a rush … really too much to comprehend and describe. The best three years of my life for sure. Definitely the best three years ever.
“I could probably go on and have a great NBA career and do a lot of things in life but I don’t think anything will ever be better than the last three years. Three SEC tournament championships, two national championships … living three years with my best friends in the world … a team that is more like a bunch of brothers than anything else … coaches who are always gonna be a part of my life. Everything … just too much to even describe what it’s all about and what it means.”
When he talks about the last three years, there is an almost reverent sound to Taurean Green’s voice. You could say the word special but that just doesn’t come close to the feeling you get when he talks about being a Gator during the best three-year run in Florida history. It’s just starting to sink in what was accomplished during his time on campus in Gainesville.
“People say that maybe we’re one of the best teams of all time,” he said. “When you first hear that you think wow, but then when it really sinks in and you really understand what you did, and you know how hard we worked as a team and how we felt about each other as friends and teammates … it makes you understand that this isn’t something that just gets done. I mean, you really start to feel that this was part of history … that we made some history.”
In his three years at Florida, the Gators went 92-19. As a freshman, Florida won 24 games and won the first SEC Tournament championship in school history. The Gators went back-to-back as national champs the last two years with Green starting at the point, becoming the first team since Duke (1991-92) to win consecutively. The Gators are the first SEC team to go two in a row since Kentucky did it back in the late 1940s.
The Gators are the first team in NCAA history to go back-to-back with the same starting lineup, a line up that included three of the first nine players taken in the recent NBA Draft — Green’s roomies the last three years, Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah. Sixth man Chris Richard was also drafted in the second round along with Green. The fifth starter, Lee Humphrey, is deciding whether to give it a shot at an NBA camp in the fall or take guaranteed money to go play in Europe.
The NBA Draft alone validated the Gators as one of the great teams of all time — the talent level proves it — and while the critics are quick to point out that the Florida team had three high NBA draft choices to ride to championships, it needs to be pointed out that the one player that never fouled out and never got injured in the last two years is Taurean Green.
Al Horford missed games with a high ankle sprain in 2007. Corey Brewer missed games in the 2006 title season with an ankle sprain and in 2007 he had mononucleosis. Noah had a bronchial infection that caused him to miss games in 2007 and he played the season with a rotator cuff injury that sometimes limited his minutes and effectiveness. Humphrey missed games in 2006 when he injured his shoulder after wrecking his bicycle.
Only Green stayed healthy throughout. He was the glue that held the team together yet he defers the credit to his teammates.
“I had a job to do and I did it but would I have been as good without my teammates?” he asked rhetorically. “Could I have been as effective without them? I think I did my part, but they made it a lot easier for me.”
Horford, Brewer and Noah usually got more publicity, in part because they all three gave up lucrative NBA contracts after their sophomore years to come back for one more year and a chance to repeat. Whenever the national media talked about the Gators, it was always about how Florida’s “big three” turned their backs on millions to spend one more year in Gainesville.
Had Green chosen to go out as a sophomore, it’s doubtful he would have been drafted. There was never a question whether or not he would come back for his junior year. There were some raised eyebrows when he chose to leave early with his roommates after this season but he was drafted by the Trailblazers in the second round and he was given a guaranteed contract. Second rounders rarely get guaranteed money. A guaranteed contract is usually a sign that the NBA team expects the player to make the roster.
“They tell me that they like what I can do,” Green said. “I had a good camp before the summer league. In the summer league, we lost our first three games and I did some good things and some bad things. It was an adjustment.
“Once I got accustomed to the speed of the game — with the 24 second clock everything is accelerated, everything is faster — I played pretty well. I had two good games the last two games and they said they liked what they saw. They signed Steve Blake and they’ve told me to watch him and learn from him. They keep telling me to work hard, listen and learn and if I do that, they expect me to play.”
The Trailblazers are in a rebuilding mode. They will be the youngest team in the NBA next year and the foundation will be Greg Oden, who left Ohio State after his freshman year to become the first player taken in the draft. Oden was on the losing end of two games to the Gators in 2007. The second loss was in the NCAA championship game.
“Weird,” is how Green describes being a teammate of the player that was public enemy number one for the Gators in the NCAA championship game. “We beat him twice last year and got him in the NCAA championship so it’s really weird that we’re teammates now. He’s a good guy though and it’s going to be fun playing with him.”
For the past three years, fun, basketball, his three roomies and his teammates have all been a constant mingling, almost as if one inseparable, almost never-ending event. Now, the game will be as much business as it is a game and he knows he won’t have nearly as much fun.
He’s already having to adjust to life without two self-described slobs (Noah and Brewer) living with two neat freaks (Horford and Green). The late night mandatory push-ups and sit-ups, the required chin-ups before dinner every night, the conversations about girls, life, basketball, more girls, more life and more basketball will be intermittent now, reserved for the get-togethers when their schedules allow. There was the food fight — “that will live forever in history” — that lasted for hours and left their apartment so trashed that Noah says there is still food stuck to the walls and floor. There were the dinners at their favorite Japanese restaurant and the two championship runs.
All those things made for three whirlwind years that will never be duplicated.
“It’s different now,” he said. “We did all these things together all the time. I don’t think you could find four guys from four different backgrounds and put them together and everything just clicked from the beginning. From the first day we were together, we just fit. I guess that’s the best way to say it. We just fit and it was fun.”
It was fun because they were all on the same page from the beginning. It was fun because all four of them parked their egos on another planet and spent three years at Florida pushing each other, helping their teammates and devoting themselves to the common goals of team chemistry and winning.
The winning, Green says, was a by-product of the chemistry.
“It wasn’t just Jo, Al, Corey and me,” he said. “It was all of us. We were friends. We were brothers. We would do anything for each other. We’ll always do anything for each other. You know what’s cool about it? We’ll always be that way. Any one of these guys on this team, they could call anyone of us and say ‘I need you’ and all of us would be there.
“That’s the part you remember the most … that it really was all of us together. I think that’s why we were a great team. We had some great players but it didn’t matter who got the pub, who got the interviews on TV and all that stuff. It didn’t matter what they were saying about anyone else or any other team. We were like one. All of us together … I don’t know if anyone will ever match that. I mean, I expect Coach Donovan to win more national championships. He’s a great coach and he’ll get the talent together and they’ll win more. Believe me, he’ll win more championships, but I don’t know if he’ll ever have a team like our team. I think that’s the part I’m probably going to miss the most … being a part of a team like this. It just doesn’t happen too often. It might be a long time before you get a team like the one we had the last two years. That’s always going to be a part of me. Always. What a team. What a great team.”