ORLANDO– Quietly in locker room four in the bowels of the Amway Center, a student manager sits at his locker, with a soft, shy smile. Well, part of that statement technically isn’t true. Jacob Kurtz was a student manager, before trying out for a vacant walk-on spot and making the team. Then he shined primarily in garbage time in his sophomore year, winning the hearts of fans before really coming on in his junior year. Now he’s coming home to play for Florida in its second round matchup against the Albany Great Danes.
“Not everyday you get to play here in the Amway Center,” Kurtz said. “And playing the tournament is really cool.”
He grew up 15 minutes away from the arena and has been an Orlando Magic fan since birth, his parents are coming back into town Thursday just in time for the game.
Kurtz’s junior season started out with him playing significant minutes. He exceeded 18 in five of Florida’s first seven games. He says that he did what he had to do and he seemed ok with being plugged back into his current, normal role –he hasn’t played more than six minutes in a game since January 14th.
“At the beginning of the year we were shorthanded whether it be injury, suspension, whatever, so everyone had to step up,” he said. “Had the opportunity to play a little bit but now we’re back healthy and we’re playing pretty well.”
Now that he’s not a major staple in the boxscore he’s content to watch his teammates play well on the floor while he contributes when he can, where he can and pushes them in practice, especially the four seniors.
“You know everyone here’s a great guy,” he said. “Everyone loves each other. Love all our seniors so we just want to play for each other, just want to take it game by game.”
Florida is on a 26-game winning streak…The Gators are making their 17th NCAA tournament appearance all-time, the 14th under head coach Billy Donovan…2014’s Florida team joins UF’s 2007 team as the only UF teams to sweep both SEC titles…This is Florida’s third 30 win season…With a win over Albany, UF’s current senior class will have 117 wins in their career, tying 2009’s senior class (Walter Hodge) for the most of any senior class in school history…Albany earned its first Division 1 program win in the NCAA tournament in its 71-64 win over Mount St. Mary’s in Tuesdays First Four game, making its overall program record 1-3 in the Division 1 tournament…They shot 57.4% from the field against Mount St. Mary’s, the second highest total for them this season….Head coach Will Brown has faced teams in Florida three times in his career, he’s 0-3 including an 83-64 loss in Gainesville in 2009…Albany is on a four game winning streak, the longest of the season.
On the shadow of being No. 1:
Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin:
We try not to think about that. Coach D does a good job reminding us that no matter what the rankings are every year, there’s upsets. So it really doesn’t matter once the ball goes up. Anything can happen, anybody can beat anybody, so we’ve got to be on our toes no matter what.”
On the chances Albany can upset UF:
Florida forward Casey Prather:
I mean, they definitely can beat us. They’re a good team. We’ve just got to be ready, do a good job with scouting and preparation. But like Scottie said, anybody can beat us in this tournament, so we got to be ready from the get‑go.”
On teammate Will Yeguete:
Florida center Patric Young:
I’m sure he’s been sad or depressed by why is this happening to me, this isn’t fair, but through it all, he’s persevered, and I really respect that, and look where he is now, he’s playing some of the best ball that he ever has. He’s really contributing to our team.”
On playing so close to home:
Florida forward Will Yeguete:
I think that’s going to be really fun to play in front of our fans and especially in Orlando here. But it’s going on us to make sure we’re ready to go tomorrow and play with our energy and just be ready to go from the get‑go.”
On almost coaching the Orlando Magic longterm:
Florida head coach Billy Donovan:
I mean, for me obviously it seems like a long time ago. I’ve got great respect for the Magic and for this organization, for the people running it. I’m excited to be at Florida.”
On being the first 16 seed to beat a one:
Albany guard Peter Hooley:
We’ve been playing great basketball the last three weeks especially, we’ve been a resilient group. Every time our back is against the wall we’ve managed to keep fighting and staying together and coming out with some good results. We know that all of us are going to be prepared well and we’re going to be staying together and really believe that anything can happen, so why not us?”
On arriving late from Dayton OH. And having to prep for the No. 1 team in the country:
Albany guard DJ Evans:
I probably went to sleep around 4:30, but actually I couldn’t even really sleep because I was so anxious to play tomorrow. I’m just thinking about going out there and just being able to put all for Mississippi and Albany University. It’s just exciting right now.”
On interacting with his son after beating Mount St. Mary’s:
Albany head coach Will Brown:
Well, he said to me, probably within 15 minutes after the game, he said, dad, do we play Florida now, and I said yes. He goes, ‘are we going to get killed?’ So it took about 15 minutes and I looked at him and I smiled, and I said, we’ll be okay, buddy, I’ll watch some film but I’ll let you know how we’re going to do.”