Today it's SEC's best with Hayes against Hamilton


Published: Saturday, January 11, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 10, 2003 at 11:43 p.m.
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Florida's Justin Hamilton, one of the best defenders in the country, will be tested today against Georgia's Jarvis Hayes.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR

Facts

Today's matchup

  • Georgia at Florida, 3 p.m., Jefferson-Pilot

  • Georgia forward Jarvis Hayes is the best.
    Florida point guard Justin Hamilton is also the best.
    Hayes is considered by many to be the best player in the SEC. Hamilton is thought of as the league's best defender.
    When these superpowers collide, things can get messy.
    Hamilton has already shut down the NCAA's leading scorer in Eastern Illinois' Henry Domercant, Stanford's Julius Barnes, Kansas shooting guard Kirk Hinrich, Maryland point guard Steve Blake, South Florida's Reggie Kohn and Mississippi State's Derrick Zimmerman.
    Three of the aforementioned players are All-Americans, but Hayes is better than all of them.
    Hayes is the best. He's the most dangerous player in the SEC. He's the league's best pro prospect and is expected to be a NBA lottery pick in June's draft if he leaves school as expected after his junior season.
    When No. 20 Georgia plays No. 11 Florida at 3 p.m. today at the O'Connell Center, the Gators face the most talented player they will face during the regular season.
    "Hayes is so athletic and explosive that sometimes you can't get to (cover) him with help," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "On certain areas of the floor, he's unguardable."
    The Gators, or more specifically Hamilton, can stop, or at least slow down Hayes. When Florida lost to Georgia last season, it was no coincidence that Hayes poured in 23 points with six rebounds.
    Hamilton watched the game from the sideline with an injured shoulder. Florida tried to cover Hayes with then-freshman James White. It didn't work. In fact, it failed miserably.
    With a healthy Hamilton, the results were a lot different. Hamilton held Hayes to just four points in the second half as Florida won 85-70.
    "He's a great player," Hamilton said. "He can create his own shot off the dribble. He's good outside and he can post up. My job is to stay in front of him and keep my hands in his face and keep him from scoring. I just try to make it as tough as possible for him to score."
    The admiration is mutual.
    "Justin Hamilton is the best defensive player in the country," Hayes said. "He gives me more problems than anyone I've faced."
    As if today's game wasn't anticipated enough, the subplot between the best player facing off against the best defensive player should be enough to draw attention to this game.
    Hayes was one of the SEC's top players last season. He didn't win SEC player of the year, but many felt that was largely due to the fact that very few had heard of him before the season. After a freshman season at Western Carolina, Hayes transferred to Georgia. After sitting out the 2000-01 season, Hayes wasn't well-known in the South, much less nationally.
    Two games changed all that. Hayes scored 30 points in an upset win at Kentucky, and three games later lit Florida up for 23. Hayes said no one ever saw him coming.
    "That's the way I saw it. No one knew about me. I never was recruited. These coaches never thought I could play," Hayes said. "It was kind of funny, I knew it would play out like this, so it's fine. But Georgia isn't supposed to win at Kentucky. Georgia isn't supposed to win at Florida. After those games, people knew about me."
    The Gators sure did. After seeing what Hayes is capable of, Donovan knows Hamilton will have his work cut out for him.
    "I don't even necessarily feel comfortable with Justin covering either of those guys one on one," Donovan said. "Justin got a lot of publicity last year covering Jarvis Hayes when he stopped him and held him to four points (in a half)."
    While Florida has a ton of respect for Hayes, Georgia coach Jim Harrick couldn't say enough superlatives about Hamilton.
    "I have all the admiration in the world for (Hamilton)," Harrick said. "He's as marvelous an athlete as there is in this league. He never says a word on the floor. He's got complete class. He doesn't look to score, he just lets it come to him. When he has a shot, he knocks it down."
    Georgia has won the last two meetings between the two teams in Gainesville, and Hayes said he always welcomes the chance to play at the O'Connell Center.
    "I love playing there," Hayes said. "I love when other team's fans boo and heckle us when we go out there for the shoot-around. It's fun. It's part of the college experience. It's a big game."
    It is big. It's two ranked teams. It's Florida vs. Georgia. It's the two best teams in the SEC East.
    It's Jarvis vs. Justin.
    Dylan B. Tomlinson covers UF men's basketball for The Sun. You can reach him by calling 374-5054 or by e-mail at tomlind@gvillesun.com

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