“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.