“Me and my teammates, we’re a family. Those are my boys.”
As a sports reporter, I’ve heard this phrase spoken so many times that I’ve become numb to it. In fact, the words had almost lost any weight they ever carried.
Of course teammates share some sort of bond. Of course family is the easiest way to describe it. But I said the same things about every kid I bonded with at summer camp and now we’re not even friends on Facebook.
These are easy words to say if a player just needs to deal out a quote or if they truly feel the sentiment (at the moment anyway). But with the starting of new lives after graduation, how many Florida Gators still think of former teammates as family or “my boys” after the passing of time?
Three Florida Gators – Do they still feel the love?
In early October, I headed to an NBA exhibition game in Jacksonville to find out if any Gators really do always stay a Gator.
As someone who mainly focuses on college basketball instead of NBA, this Washington Wizards vs New Orleans Pelicans match would barely even register on my radar as a regular season game. Plus, as an exhibition, where the stats that matter most have to do with game time, it shouldn’t have been too exciting.
However, things started looking because in the game were three former Gators; Bradley Beal, Patric Young and Vernon Macklin. Now Billy Donovan has put 19 guys into the NBA, so three playing in one game isn’t red-letter by any means. It even happened in the NBA finals in 2013. But this one was in Jacksonville (which still qualifies as Gator country) and Young is a Jax native. It promised to be sentimental if nothing else.
It was during warm-ups that I got my first glimpse could potentially prove to be a true familial teammate bond. While Beal focused on warming up with his Wizards teammates, over under the Pelicans basket, Young and Macklin were sticking together. It seemed to be almost unconsciously done, as if both just naturally arrived at the side of the other and stayed there for the duration of pre-game.
It’s feasible that while focusing on game preparation that the two didn’t even notice it had happened, but someone else did. Seated right behind the Pelicans bench was Young’s father, Robert, who got to know Macklin during Young’s time at Florida. Now that Patric is a rookie in the league, his dad says he’s taking comfort knowing his son has someone by his side, and hopes it can stay that way for a while.
“We knew Vernon from Florida and he’s a real nice guy. Mentored Patric his senior year…it’s a business but hopefully they can stay together and play together again.”
As the game began, the possibility of these two actually playing together again (they shared a Gator court in the 2011-2012 season) while also facing Florida basketball boy-wonder Bradley Beal (drafted 3rd overall after one season at Florida) was the sole focus of so many in the stands and on press row, including myself.
There was an eye on the benches at all times to see who was subbing in next.
Would it happen? Would they all possibly take the court at the same time? Well, no, they didn’t.
Macklin never even came off the bench.
After spending nearly the entire first half focusing on this though, something else started to penetrate my attention. Gator Nation had in fact headed Patric Young’s request and shown up in full force. Orange and blue dotted the stands that were filled to the rafters.
Fans, ya gotta have fans
One fan in particular, Kenny Arugta, was camped out in a prime spot behind press row, repping in his Gator shirt and doing his due diligence to keep his Gator boys motivated.
“Teach me how to ball Bradley…Good rebound Patric!”
Eventually I had to turn around and ask if he came for the teams or the players. His answer was easy.
“[I came to see] Patric Young of course…and Brad. Beal’s a beast.”
“There he is. Beal! Do it for the Gators!”
This really wasn’t surprising. Fans are passionate and will show up to support these guys that bring them joy, and even some heartache for so many years. What was slightly more surprising though was the fan who was just a stone’s throw over from Arugta.
Josh Evans was a defensive back on the Gators football team through the 2012 season, after which he was drafted to the Jacksonville Jaguars. He had plenty of things he could have been doing on that Wednesday night, yet there he was, in the middle of section 112 with a bunch of rowdy fans.
After a few minutes of Gator football talk, we turned back to the game in front of us and I asked him the same thing. What brought you out tonight?
“I mean you got my boy Pat, you got my boy Bradley. I came to see them all play.”
True, many times the “boy” relation can stretch across sports, as was the case with Evans who was able to become friends with his fellow athletes Young and Beal while at school. But when it was said this time, I added a little more weight back to the meaning. Evans could’ve just said called these guys his boys, and mentioned how they’re all apart of Gator Nation in passing to someone. He could’ve stepped it up a little and just tweeted it, which he actually did.
My Memaw always said
But as Memaw always liked to say, actions speak louder than words, and by the nature of his presence there at the game, his statement immediately rang more true. He wasn’t just calling them his boys and lamenting about “Gator Nation being a supportive family”. He was actually putting it into action.
Now that the focus on this Gator Nation family had grown larger than the three guys in uniforms, the question became; did these three guys notice as well? Where they only excited about seeing each other, or did they receive fulfillment from the people in the stands as well? Or did they not care about either as I was pessimistically expecting beforehand? I got my answer with Bradley Beal.
Beal finished the night with 11 points, 1 assist and 5 rebounds in route to helping his team to a 5-point win. Afterwards, he sat quietly in the locker room, not drawing any attention to himself, just listening to music as he ate his post-game meal. He seemed reluctant to conduct another interview, as most were already done for the evening, but he obliged and kindly turned for a few more questions. After a couple of general inquires, met with polite brusque answers, I was beginning to think we’d both be happier if I just left.
But then I found the key. All it took was one question about the Florida fans in the stands and his whole composure changed; sat up a little straighter, eyes brightened, voice grew louder. This was a topic he was happy to discuss.
“It’s great. Once a gator, always a gator. Just shows that school and that fan base is super loyal no matter how long you’ve been there and it’s always great because they always welcome me back whenever I’m back in Gainesville.”
Here a look passed over Beal’s face, which had just been beaming. Not regret per se, but almost longing, which he quickly confirmed with his next statement.
“It’s always great to be able to go back down there. I wish I would’ve done more years than one because college is supposed to be the best four years of your life but I definitely try to get a little bit of experience when I go back.”
If he had it to do over again would he stay longer? At that question he pauses, gives a slight chuckle, a couple of ‘I don’t know’s and then, “depends on the situation. I probably would actually”.
As countless articles were written a year ago about the 2013-2014 Gator basketball team and how it did take them those full four years to grow into an impenetrable family, it would seem Beal and his one year in the O-Dome wouldn’t know about that as much. Could he really call these guys his boys, and his family?
According to him, yes, he can.
“I play against Joakim [Noah] all the time and it’s always cool playing against him and it’s always competitive but at the end of the day we’re still boys.”
After finally being allowed to finish his meal, Beal wandered out to the court where friends and family surrounded the players. He had a couple more boys to see.
There was a line of fans waiting to take a picture with Patric Young, but it quickly dispersed as Beal walked up. The two former teammates, and now competitors spent all of 45 seconds catching up before being ushered to buses or hounded by fans again. Thus is the life of professional athletes. Sadly this meeting didn’t’ go like I had wanted which would’ve looked something like this…
As Young is adjusting to this life of a professional athlete though, he’s found that support system he and his teammates bragged about in college is carrying over into the NBA.
“I love to see those guys doing well. I don’t want them to do well against us obviously. Having them on my team is special. It’s great seeing guys like Brad, and UD [Udonis Haslem] and Al Horford do exceptionally well right now.”
It’s helped me continue to have hope and continue to work hard. Motivate me to obtain that same level…being a kid…you always dream about that. College was always like, ‘man I’m so close to being in the NBA’ and now I’m actually here so it’s still kinda surreal.”
As I watch this all unfold, there’s a slightly surreal filling for me as well. Beal and Young say their goodbyes with a genuine feeling, not one just out of obligation. Then they turn to the Gator fans surrounding them with anticipation, happy to welcome another into their fold of an ever-growing family. And look, there’s Josh Evans coming to speak to “his boys”.
They had me at “Those are my boys”
It’s still a phrase that get’s thrown around a lot. “Me and my teammates, we’re a family. Those are my boys.”
I had begun to not even believe it any more. And in a weird, twisted way I was right.
Because there’s a whole section of that quote that is missing.
It’s more than the teammates. It’s the Gator Nation. As cliché as it sounds, on a random Wednesday night in Jacksonville, three unlikely guys along with an arena of fans proved to me it’s more than just people waxing poetic.
Hmm, maybe I should have kept up with those friends from camp.