Florida's First Shining Moment

Andrew KennedyContributor IMarch 15, 2009

Growing up my entire life rooting for the University of Florida, my first real March Madness memories and moments began with them making the NCAA Tournament.

The first one was vague, because I was young.

In 1994, any Florida Gator fan will remember the Final Four and immediately associate that memory with one man: Grant Hill.

I was at my grandparents’ house for the game, wearing a Final Four t-shirt my dad bought me earlier in the week, as I watched Hill take over the game scoring 25-points and leading a Duke 13-point comeback to beat the Gators 65-60.

As a Florida fan, football was always No. 1 with the success of the basketball team acting as a bonus for the time being.

It wasn’t until Billy Donovan arrived that basketball began to rival football in Gainesville.

Even with the success to the program that Donovan brought, the team would continue to face heartbreak after heartbreak in the NCAA tournament, including two upsetting first round exits.

Then 2000 came around and so did the best Florida team in some time.

As a five-seed, who else would the experts expect to see upset other than the Gators—not to mention they were playing the upset specialists Butler Bulldogs who gave new meaning to the phrase “the Butler did it.”

The game was close throughout and this Florida team was great, and could really go up and down the court and shoot the three, but not today on the grand stage like so many seasons before they weren’t playing their game.

With 8.1 seconds left, the Gators found themselves trailing by a point, watching 83-percent free-throw shooter LaVall Jordan control their destiny.

He missed both and the Gators, out of time outs, still had a chance.

Teddy Dupay got the rebound, hurriedly advancing it up the near side of the court in the direction of the corner where Mike Miller stood.

“Home Run” was the name of the play and that’s what Florida needed.

Dupay stumbled but still managed to hand off the ball to Miller, who turned his head down the lane toward the rim.

With the less than a second, he released a runner in the paint that must have hung in the air and on the rim for an eternity.

At this moment Florida could be on the map in the college basketball world, with nothing but momentum to carry them into the next round.

I can remember getting out of my chair and hanging in the air, anxiously awaiting the ball to fall through the net. As it did, I too fell to the ground, to my knees, cheering like never before.

Talk about one shining moment for me and for all Florida fans.

Florida eventually went on to lose in the national title game to Michigan State, but that shot will always be associated with that season and helped Florida get to the stage they are today.