So much has been said and written about the state of Gator athletics and particularly the transformation of Gainesville, Florida into “Title Town USA”. As of Friday morning the Gators were cruising along at 20-2. They are the sole unbeaten in the SEC at 7-0 and looking like a team with an excellent chance to defend its national title.
Looking back at last season and thinking about UF history also got me wondering about those who used to don the Orange and Blue. With a little research it turns out to be a pretty darn good year to be a former Gator as well. So let’s check in on players and coaches of Gator hoops past.
MARIO BOGGAN: He arrived at UF in the fall of 2002 looking like he had spent the off-season at the Vettel Fitness Academy. He played sparingly and left school to try and figure out what he wanted to make of himself. Well, he barely looks like the same guy and is one of the nation’s better small forwards at Oklahoma State. Boggan is averaging almost 21 points and eight rebounds for the nationally-ranked Cowboys. It would be somewhat ironic for the Gators and Cowboys to meet come tournament time.
MOHAMMED ABUKAR: He arrived a year later and was homesick pretty much from day one. Then he gave the Gators an excellent game off the bench, but played just three minutes the next time out. Frustration plus loneliness sent the California native packing to San Diego State. This year, Abukar is averaging 15.5 points and just under six rebounds a game for a 14-7 team. He was a talented kid who didn’t really have a position as a 6-10 shooting forward.
RYAN APPLEBY: Came in with Abukar and similarly couldn’t wait to return to the west coast. Appleby is a regular for the University of Washington, a team that’s 13-7 on the year. Appleby averages just under ten points a game for a team that seems, like San Diego State to be NIT-bound.
ANTHONY GRANT: The long-time Gator assistant has taken the world by storm in his first year at Virginia Commonwealth. Grant’s team is 19-4 on the year and has a percent 11-1 mark in the Colonial Athletic Association. The Rams actually beat UAB by nine points, that’s four more than the Gators did. Last year the Gators faced South Alabama in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Might the selection committee put Billy Donovan through similar trauma this time? One good thing, VCU is too good to face Florida in round one. Grant inherited a program in excellent shape and has just two seniors in his top seven. So you can look for Grant to continue to enjoy success in the future.
JOHN PELPHREY: Year five at South Alabama didn’t start out all that well for “Pel” whose team was 7-7 after 14 games. However, they have won eight straight games since and appear again destined to face Western Kentucky in the Sun Belt Tournament final for a berth in the NCAA’s field of 65. His top three players are all juniors, so next year’s team could be Pelphrey’s best in Mobile.
LON KRUGER: The first Gator coach to get Florida into the Final Four (’94) Kruger has had a few stops between Gainesville and his current post at UNLV. In year three with the Running Rebels, Kruger has a team that could put Vegas in the NCAA Tournament for the final time since 2000. Vegas is 19-4 and battling Air Force and Brigham Young for the top spot in the Mountain West Conference. The addition of his son, Kevin has stabilized the UNLV backcourt for Kruger. He also had a huge win in denying Bob Knight the record-breaking victory that he was seeking.
KIRK SPERAW: It’s astounding to me that Speraw is still at UCF despite having a consistently competitive team in a difficult situation. He won 209 games in his first 13 years on the Orlando campus and this year has his team 15-7. The Golden Knights are 4-4 in Conference USA which is good for a tie for third place. They won’t ever challenge Memphis for conference superiority, but Speraw has done a fine job for a long time.
ROBERT MCCOLLUM: The one exception on this list is the embattled head coach at USF. McCullum is in his fourth year in one of the toughest jobs in college basketball and frankly it’s not going all that well. This year’s team is 11-11, but 2-6 and tied for 14th place in the 16-team Big East Conference. His overall record in Tampa stands at 39-69 and he’ll need a tremendous effort to get above the .500-mark this year.
Keep these guys in mind when you are checking out scores through the remainder of the season. And keep in mind while Gator Nation celebrates the accomplishments of the current guys on the hardwood, it’s also great to be a former Gator.