Gators head into the Final Four with something to prove other than winning

“Shabazz Napier drives the lane, pulls back and drains a buzzer beater to defeat the visiting Florida Gators 65-64.”

And, that was the last time the University of Florida lost a basketball game.

After that play on December 2, 2013; Gator fans, players, and coaches never thought that Napier’s “prayer jumper” would propel this team to have the greatest statistical season in UF basketball history and one the greatest in Southeastern Conference history.

Since that day, much has happened. Florida’s won 30 games in a row, won the SEC regular season and tournament championships, and most importantly, smashed their Elite Eight “demons” on Saturday night when they defeated the darlings of March Madness, the Dayton Flyers, 62-52 to continue their NCAA Tournament “Tour-De-Force” of dominance. Florida has won every NCAA Tournament game thus far by double digits. 7 of the last 8 teams to win their first four tourney games by double digits have gone on to win the National Championship (the only team that failed to do so was North Carolina in 2008).

To all the UConn fans, players, coaches, alumni, students, I’ve got a little something to tell you.

You aren’t in Storrs anymore or your home-away-from-home, Madison Square Garden. You are going to Dallas, “The Big D”, “Jerry World”, or officially known as AT&T Stadium to play a team that’s grown and matured right before the nation’s eyes since that night in Gampel, and a team with revenge on it’s mind.

Having said all that, I am NOT sleeping on UConn, and neither should you.

Yes, they are a 7-seed. Yes, they are undersized. Yes, they only have one star player. BUT, they are hot right now. As the old saying goes; “Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good,” and I don’t think there is another player in the nation as lucky as UConn guard Shabazz Napier. Some of the shots this young man makes just makes me shake my head in disbelief. Don’t get me wrong, he is very good. But is he the next coming of Kemba Walker as ESPN would have you believe….. NO. Basically, this isn’t your UConn team of the past with Jim Calhoun, Jeremy Lamb, Alex Oriakhi, or Kemba Walker. But, it is very good.

But as I mentioned earlier: don’t think for one second that this Gator team, especially the seniors, have forgotten about that loss four months ago. They have had a taste for blood, and crave it.

These Florida seniors are on a mission, a mission to prove to the doubters wrong. Proving to the traditional basketball power schools that seniors can be successful in college basketball. A mission to prove that you don’t have to have flashy NBA talent to win you a National Championships in college.

We all know and can agree that the Gators of 2014 aren’t as talented as the previous two championship Florida teams of 2006 and 2007. But that’s OK. These guys have a chip on their shoulders and it shows. Whether it’s Pat Young diving for a loose ball to win a game in Knoxville, or Scottie Wilbekin taking over in the final minute of a close game to will this team to a win, or sophomore Michael Frazier hitting a crucial late game 3-pointer to seal a victory. The one thing this team does is win and win together. They love each other. There is an unbreakable bond between these guys that is not matched with any other school in the country. A brotherhood of un-selfish guys that play hard for one another, their school, and their coach. A coach that most consider to be one the greatest college basketball coaches of all time. Billy has been a father to these kids, loving them like his own blood, helping them through rough times on and off the court. Just ask this year’s Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, Scottie Wilbekin. It was not too long ago that transferring from Florida was a real option for him. He has been in and out of Coach Donovan’s dog house for 2 years. And after this most recent suspension, something clicked. He matured. He became a man, a leader amongst men.

After this season is over, we will all look back on this team with tears of joy for their great achievements, but also with tears of sadness. Because you might never see a band of brothers in college basketball like this ever again.

Thank you to the Florida Gators seniors for making this season as much about hard work, dedication, and passion as it was about winning games.

10 thoughts on “Gators head into the Final Four with something to prove other than winning

  1. I can’t really say that Shabazz Napier’s game winning shot still “rings loudly in every Florida fan’s mind”. 30 straight wins kind of makes me forget about that. Of course, now we’ll be forced to remember it since we now play them, but that loss had no damaging effect on us so it doesn’t really ring so loudly

  2. Great piece, Joe.

    A couple of small things:

    1) You sort of identified this in your article- maybe it was just the wording, but- Nappier IS certainly as good as Kemba Walker. He’s arguably a better NBA prospect. He’s the reason they beat St. Joe’s and the reason they beat Michigan State and a big reason they jumped all over Villanova. The difference b/w Walker and Nappier, and this will show Saturday, I’d like to think, is the supporting cast you alluded to. It’s one thing to have Lamb and Oriakhi and quite another to have Boatright and Daniels, two fine players in their own right but not nearly as talented as the two Walker played with.

    2) More on this from me on this site soon – but the “Florida lacks NBA talent” narrative is frustrating if not largely inaccurate. Florida likely possesses two lottery picks on its roster- more than any other team still playing outside of UK– it’s just that both players come off the bench. Pat Young is probably going to play in the NBA for five-plus years and qualify for an NBA pension. Wilbekin has a Keith Bogans-type stopper career ahead of him, or he could play in Europe and then coach. We’ll see. The only two guys in the starting 5 who won’t be NBA players are Prather and Yeguette, and the former almost certainly will play for a long time in Europe. Michael Frazier II is a pro whenever he wants to be because 6’4 shooting guards with his range don’t grow on trees (think a taller Michael Redd).

    Either way, good work.

    1. I agree with you, NWB, about both your points, although as for the second one, I don’t think Joe was implying that this team doesn’t have ANY NBA talent. His quote: “A mission to prove that you don’t have to have flashy NBA talent to win you a National Championships in college.” I interpreted that to mean this team doesn’t have the Al Horford/Joakim Noah/Bradley Beal level individual player.

      Trust me, if I thought he was trying to say that this team has no NBA talent whatsoever, I would have had a problem with it. Because while I thoroughly enjoy having several different writers with different viewpoints, that would be simply incorrect.

  3. Oh for sure, Neil. Didn’t mean to imply Joe said that in his piece. Just that this is a rather frustrating narrative occurring right now about UF. And yeah- there’s not a lottery pick, or anything close, in the starting 5.

  4. First of all, there was a big misunderstanding. I think my message was misconstrued. And I expect some contrasting points of view on my articles. But I don’t expect a fellow writer to berate my articles. I wrote a piece and added my own opinions. When you write a piece I will never publicly berate it. Appears to be that way.

    1. Wow, take it easy Joe. NWB said it was a good piece, and I thought it was too. Neil wouldn’t have allowed it if he thought that this wasn’t good work.

      You need to not be so sensitive to other people’s views. You say you expect people to have contrasting views, but when NWB objectively and politely pointed a couple of things out, you flipped and accused him of “berating” you. People are bound to disagree with some stuff you say, but some are going to be a lot meaner than NWB was to you, and you’re going to have to handle it if you want to be a sportswriter. That’s part of the deal.

      No offense, but you’re probably young and inexperienced at this, and- before you flip a shit- there’s nothing wrong with that. Hell, Neil is what, 19? He’s a kid, and one that says challenging things sometimes, but not without thinking them through. I may not agree with him (he jumped on the fire Muschamp bandwagon WAY too early), but he patiently sticks by what he says and backs himself with facts and logic. I’ve followed Neil from Alligator Army, and holy sweet Jesus Christ, Neil wrote some really provocative stuff there. But the key to remember is that it was always good work, and he didn’t jump off the handle when people called him a bandwagon fan for wanting Muschamp fired, let alone reply with objectivity, facts and logic as NWB did.

  5. By the way- I began the comment complimenting Joe’s work, and I thought it was excellent. Was just building on the Nappier commentary. Certainly not “berating” the work. It was good.

  6. Young and inexperienced? Ha! I’m 29 years old and have an undergraduate degree in communications from the University of Florida and am currently working on my masters degree in communications. Neither young nor inexperienced. I just took it as Neil was angry I said there wasn’t flashy nba talent on this team. Which there isn’t. Not a single starter on UFs roster will be a early pick. I do this for fun sir and have been with this site since its grand opening in 2011. Thanks for the input though.

  7. Thanks for the feedback folks. I truly appreciate it. I just don’t think Napier is as good as ESPN makes him to be. That’s all. I thin he gets good breaks. And he never misses free throws. I think he’s shooting over 92% from the free throw line this season. Trust me, if he was THAT good. He would have left for the nba 2 years ago. But he is a phenomenal player.

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