Deep run has put Gators in bizarro world


Published: Monday, April 3, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 3, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.

Just crazy.

It's the only word to describe what is going on here.

Florida vs. UCLA for the national championship.

Crazy.

Crazy is the head-to-head matchup between the two point guards. UCLA's Jordan Farmar thought seriously about becoming a Gator. He flew across the country from Van Nuys, Calif., to visit. His host in Gainesville was Anthony Roberson, then Florida's point guard.

He loved everything about the campus, the practice facility, the highlight video they put together. He developed a strong relationship with Roberson. He was a heavy UF lean until Ben Howland was hired at UCLA.

"I was sick to my gut from that whole thing," Howland said. "It was (Steve) Lavin's last year. UCLA hadn't really recruited him. He wasn't getting a lot of love from UCLA."

Howland convinced Farmar to stay close to home. That opened the door at Florida for Taurean Green.

"If Farmar had committed to Florida, I'd probably be somewhere else," Green said. "We're both in great places right now. It's crazy, isn't it? Now we're both playing here."

Here is the RCA Dome where two teams that were supposed to both be a year away from excellence put their success on fast forward.

Crazy is Joakim Noah and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute going head-to-head in the post while Cameroon Crazies in both student sections are cheering. The UCLA forward was born in Cameroon, where Noah's father and grandfather grew up.

Crazy is that the first coach to ever recruit Noah was Howland when he was the coach at Pittsburgh. Crazy is that Mbah a Moute was recruited out of Montverde Academy in Orlando by Florida coach Billy Donovan.

"They didn't offer me," Mbah a Moute said.

"We just didn't think he was right for us," said Donovan.

Now he's starting against the Gators with a national title on the line.

Donovan also recruited Cedric Bozeman, a starter for the Bruins.

"I did a great job, huh?" Donovan said with a smile.

But that's what this tournament is on an annual basis. Crazy. The upsets, the buzzer-beaters, the drama. The whole thing is bizarre and that's not to mention the Santa Claus look-a-like I saw Thursday night parked on Meridian St. in a convertible selling tickets for $800 a pop.

The streets are packed, the concerts blaring. One day it's the Bo Deans, then it's Collective Soul and John Mellencamp. In Houlihan's, the restaurant that has adopted the Gators, orange and blue fans are cheering their, "It's great ... to be ..." as waitresses try to find out if they want fries with that.

There is nothing like the Final Four, especially because of all the distractions. Players who might have given a dozen interviews all year are asked to talk to a dozen reporters at one time.

"There was nobody talking to us when the season started," junior Chris Richard said. "Now look at this."

Trainers, managers, walk-ons, they all have had a microphone shoved in their faces. Even freshman Jimmie Sutton, who hasn't played all year because of an injury, was answering questions about his expectations at the start of the season. Jeremy Foley, the Florida athletic director, answered a question from a writer from Florida in the hallway and within minutes they were five-deep around him.

Deep runs breed shallow questions and cluttered peripheral vision. Limiting it, dealing with it, that's how you get this far.

"The first day we were here, Joakim looked around and said to me, 'Wow, this place is unbelievable,' " Donovan said. "I knew he needed to get that out of his head. How you handle all of this mentally is important.

"I want them to enjoy it, but I what I want them to enjoy is eating together and being together and playing together."

On Sunday, Noah and teammate Corey Brewer were riding a golf cart from interviews back to the locker room. Noah looked up at me and said, "Championship, huh?"

Now that would really be crazy.

Contact Pat Dooley at dooleyp@gvillesun.com or 374-5053. Dooley's columns appear Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

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