Going back to Tennessee is a big deal for Gator basketballers Corey Brewer and Lee Humphrey and probably will be for Brandon Powell as well. It was a big deal when Billy Donovan arranged for Matt Bonner to play in New Hampshire and Brett Nelson to return to West Virginia.
Saturday night the Gators will play in Broward County, not far from where Taurean Green was runner-up for Mr. Basketball at Cardinal Gibbons High School. But for Green this homecoming is no big deal, and for good reason.
You may not be aware that Florida’s point guard played at four different high schools during his prep days, spending his sophomore and senior seasons in Ft. Lauderdale. Green started his high school career in the Orlando area and his junior season was spent at Pendleton Academy in Bradenton. As a result a return to South Florida is not that big a deal.
What is a big deal is the way Taurean has played in big games. While his shot deserted him and his tired legs late last season, he was a superb defender and ball-handler during the Gators run to the NCAA Championship. This year in Florida’s three toughest games (Kansas, FSU and Ohio State) Green has been sensational, averaging 23.3 points. He is averaging just 10.7 in Florida’s ten other contests.
And it’s not a new phenomenon. Green was the MVP of the season-opening “coaches versus Cancer” tournament last season. He followed that up with an MVP performance at the SEC Tournament five months later. His career high of 29 points came in the O’Dome last year against Kentucky.
Green Discusses Gators and More
Thursday Florida’s floor leader spoke with me and other media guys about this weekend’s game, the significance of the effort against Ohio State and more.
LV: Taurean, how big a deal is it for you to play back in the Lauderdale area?
TG: It’s nothing special for me. I know a lot of people down there and played two years of high school basketball down there so I’ll have a lot of friends out there supporting me. But other than that it’s just a regular game and we’re going to try to go out and get a win.
LV: Did the Christmas break come at a bad time considering this team had just played its best game of the season?
TG: No, I don’t think so. It was a good break, I think we deserved it. We came back in (Wednesday) and got a practice in and it seems like our conditioning didn’t drop off at all.
LV: After several performances where this team didn’t dominate the way many think you should, did the Gators send a message to the college basketball world with the Ohio State game?
TG: I think it just showed how good we can really be, you know playing at that level we did against Ohio State. We need to play that way every game and it shows how tough it is to beat us.
LV: What makes the biggest difference?
TG: Playing with intensity, passion and focus. When we do that and we’re executing our offense and our defense, we’re pretty tough to beat.
MG: Isn’t it unrealistic to think you can play at that level every game?
TG: No. If we can play like that against Ohio State, we should play like that against everybody.
LV: Does it start on defense?
TG: Definitely. That’s what we want to do, we want to play defense we want to be aggressive and we want to be disruptive. We need to get out in the passing lanes and get steals and create easy baskets in transition. If we don’t have anything in transition, then we set up our offense and move the ball around.
MG: You had one of those special games against Ohio State. Was there a time during warm-ups that you thought to yourself, ‘I got it today’?
TG: (Laughing) I actually dunked in warm-ups when the refs weren’t out there and my teammates were saying, ‘man, I saw you “T”’. I was just like, uh-oh, my legs are there tonight and I knew it was going to be a good day for us.
To me Taurean Green is still the most indispensable player on this basketball team. He’s now Florida’s leading scorer (13.6) as well as being tops on the team in assists with 53. Green, who shot just 37 percent from the field his first two seasons is scorching the nets at a 53 percent clip. From the three-point range he’s knocking down 46 percent, and he’s made his last 19 free throws too. Not bad for a guy many analysts said the Gators had to “settle” for three years ago.