Even by Kentucky, UCLA, or North Carolina standards, the two-time National Champion Florida Gator teams of 2006 and 2007 would have been held in high esteem by their fans, perched proudly among the great championship squads of their past.
Cheered for their unselfish play, for their balanced inside and outside attack, for their chemistry, these players would have been lauded most for their collective decision in 2006 to stay in school and try to win it all over again.
But at Florida—a hatchling basketball program compared to the traditional bluebloods and constantly in the shadow of big brother football across the street—the members of those championship teams combined to achieve nothing less than sports perfection.
Sure, there were some losses along the way. But the team (and coach) who had earned a reputation for underwhelming tournament play suddenly put together a two-year 21-0 run as soon as the calendar flipped to the month of March. As any Rowdy Reptile would tell you, there had never been a better time to be a Florida Gator.
Now fast forward to November, and tell me what you see. Joakim Noah is cracking jokes in the Windy City. Corey Brewer is chasing down loose balls in Minnesota. Al Horford is boxing someone out in Atlanta.
And the Gator basketball team is, as far as the national media is concerned, history.
Fans are lucky to get a scrolling score update across the bottom of a late-night ESPN game. Only one Florida game has been shown on regional television so far, and it wasn't pretty—a 14-point loss to rival FSU, which exposed the Gators as a team that is too young and too skinny to hang with the big boys.
That is if you consider FSU, which hasn't made the NCAA tournament since 1998, a big boy.
So what do the defending champs have to look forward to this year? For starters, they're loaded with young talent that can score from outside and off the dribble.
High school teammates before landing at Florida, Nick Calathes and Chandler Parsons are both tremendous shooters with unusually-high basketball IQs. Alex Tyus has shown impressive leaping ability and solid all-around play in his freshman campaign as well.
But the star of the show has to be sophomore Marreese Speights, anchoring the post game with his 6'10", 245-pound frame. His quick, decisive moves in the paint have helped him average over 14 points and eight rebounds so far this season.
The other side of the coin reveals two glaring flaws: lack of frontcourt strength and veteran leadership. Obviously, any team who sends five players into the NBA draft and one to play overseas is going to have voids to fill. But after signing the now famous recruiting class dubbed the "Oh-fours", the Gators quietly saw the '05 recruiting class fall apart.
No one really noticed because they were too busy pulling confetti out of their hair, but the lone remaining member of that class is junior guard Walter Hodge. Each of the others has since transferred leaving Hodge, a 6'-3" shooter, to pick up the slack as both a team leader and...rebounder?
Not exactly. The team which used to thrive underneath the basket has become a team that just hopes every shot goes in.
Don't fret for too long, Gator fans. Help is on the way in the form of next year's mammoth recruiting class—featuring two five-star PF/C and a solid 6'-8" SF for help on the boards. But, unfortunately, this year has just begun.
Realistic hopes for this team might involve a trip to the NCAA tournament by the skin of their teeth—and if they do become a bubble team, look for their previous achievements to provide them with just enough clout to squeak in.
In the meantime, try to enjoy the ride.
And reaching the top of your own personal mountain inevitably leads to the trek back down, where you find out that the clock never actually did stop ticking.
The Gator Boys will be back soon, but they’re just not so hot right now.
In the meatime, forgive us Florida fans for asking, but does Tim Tebow play basketball?
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