These Gators believe in their team, victory


Published: Wednesday, January 11, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 10, 2006 at 10:15 p.m.
The prevailing thought last October was the Florida basketball team would endure some rocky moments in 2005-06.
Projections were dire. Expectations were as low as the carbs in an Atkins diet.
One preseason magazine ranked Florida 70th nationally and fifth in the SEC East.
Few believed. Few, but Florida players themselves.
"I remember driving in the car with Lee Humphrey, early last year, saying when it was our time we were going to be good," sophomore forward Joakim Noah said. "He knew."
Viewed as not-ready-for-prime-time when the season began, undefeated Florida (14-0) takes a No. 2 ranking into its SEC home opener today against Mississippi State. From the floppy-haired Noah to the sharp-shooting Humphrey to the go-go-Gadget arms and legs of lanky sophomore forward Corey Brewer, Florida players have emerged from the shadows of Matt Walsh, Anthony Roberson and David Lee into a team whose sum is greater than its parts.
Florida ranks first in the Southeastern Conference in assists (20.1 per game), which tells a lot why fans have gravitated to the team. In an era where basketball players demand shots and minutes, Florida players derive joy in seeing the other guy do well.
Individually, the starting five of four sophomores and a junior have some athletic pedigree. Two are sons of former NBA players. One is the son of an ex-tennis great.
The four starting sophomores - Taurean Green, Al Horford, Brewer and Noah - have lived with each other since their freshman year. Chemistry on and off the court is a big reason for their success.
  • Green, the son of ex-NBA forward Sidney Green, bounced through four different high schools in four years before arriving at UF. Generously listed at 6 feet, Green served notice he could handle the points at Florida with back-to-back 23-point games last November in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in New York City. He dedicated the performance to his late grandmother, who was from Brooklyn, N.Y., and always wanted to see her grandson play at Madison Square Garden.
  • Noah, the son of ex-French Open champ Yannick Noah and former Miss Sweden Cecilia Rodhe, wears his hair in a long ponytail because in the rasta philosophy long hair represents wisdom and strength.
  • Horford, the son of former NBA center Tito Horford, is the space-eating, 6-foot-8, 240-pound center who is soft-spoken and often self-effacing. On the court, he's a tough rebounder and shot-blocker with improving offensive skills.
  • Humphrey, stolen away from Tennessee Vols country in the Knoxville suburb of Maryville, Tenn., began spending nights in a middle school gym in fourth grade to hone his shooting touch. His dad, a middle school teacher, had the keys to the gym. The extra shots paid off. Humphrey ranks second in the NCAA this season in 3-point accuracy, coming in at 55.1 percent.
  • Brewer, the lone high school McDonald's All-American of the group, is from Portland, Tenn., a small town near the Tennessee-Kentucky border. In an in-school, TV show, he once wore a cheerleader's outfit for a skit. On the court, he's known better for his high-flying, crowd-pleasing dunks and ability to lock down on the opposing team's top offensive player.
    Off the bench, there's Chris Richard, a former Mr. Florida Basketball who is flourishing as a junior. Richard is shooting an astonishing 79.2 percent (42-53) from the field. Freshmen guards Walter Hodge and David Huertas, both natives of Puerto Rico, are both settling into their roles.
    Gramps of the bunch is fifth-year senior Adrian Moss, who through back and knee surgeries, has more screws in him than a playground set. Yet it was the outspoken Moss who came up with the high-energy plays in the second half of a win against Wake Forest and the clutch shots in a win at Miami. Moss said last November that Florida would be No. 1 by February. Of course, Moss had said that in each of his previous two seasons.
    This time, Moss looks prophetic. "It's possible," Humphrey said, when asked if Florida could rise to No. 1. "If we keep winning games and take care of our end of the deal, I think there's a chance."
    Kevin Brockway can be reached at 374-5054 or at brockwk@gvillesun.com.
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