Excitement over Gators reaches a fever pitch


Published: Wednesday, January 11, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 11, 2006 at 1:58 a.m.
The hottest ticket in town will give you a ride with a basketball squad sailing unchartered waters.
And if you don't already have a ticket for the University of Florida men's basketball game tonight, you're not likely to get one.
Fewer than 100 tickets for the game against Mississippi State remained Tuesday evening, and officials expect them to be sold out well before tipoff.
The seemingly unstoppable No. 2 Gators (14-0) have attracted the attention of fans nationwide, making tickets hard to come by. Students are taking their fanaticism seriously, painting more body parts than many people might want to see. The team has become the talk around the watercooler and has fired up alumni from coast to coast.
News organizations around the country - even in other countries - are splashing features on the team across pages of magazines and television screens.
"I haven't missed a game, whether it's listening on the radio, watching on television or cheering in the stands," said Ryan Burnette, 19, a sophomore political science major.
"This team is something special, and I'm going to enjoy the undefeated start for as long as possible."
Burnette said he and five other friends will paint their chests to help cheer the Gators to victory.
"I painted my chest before the Florida State game, and we pulled out a come-from-behind victory," he said.
"I'll continue to do it until our luck changes."
Florida men's basketball season ticket packages for the 2005-06 season are sold out.
The Gator Ticket Office has a limited number of single game tickets, although some conference games are sold out, and ticket office workers urge fans to contact (352) 375-4683, Ext. 6800 for more information.
As the Gators enter tonight's game, hundreds of UF students who preregistered for tickets online can line up outside Gate 3 of the O'Connell Center beginning at 1 p.m. But the doors won't open until 5 p.m.
Students who didn't preregister for tonight's game can form a separate line outside Gate 3 beginning at 1 p.m. to see if any student seats are unclaimed.
The next student signup will begin on Jan. 16 at noon. All interested students can register online by visiting www.uaa. ufl.edu/tickets/.
Andrew McDonald, 18, a freshman mechanical engineering major who's secured his seat for tonight's game, plans to paint his face and layer on the Gator garb.
"The student section is full of energy, even hours before the game, so I'll get there early and be ready to shake the free pom-poms," McDonald said.
He urges all UF students to pack the O'Connell Center and create a hostile environment for the visiting team.
"Students who aren't following the Gators are missing out on something truly special," he said. "Florida started out the year as an underrated team with no true superstars and blossomed into a completely unselfish and hard-working group."
Through eight home games this season, Florida is averaging 10,788 fans per contest. The second largest crowd ever to watch a Gator basketball game - 12,599 fans - packed the O'Connell Center on Nov. 26 against FSU.
Fans are even filling venues at away games.
UF's large South Florida alumni population jammed the Bank United Center in Coral Gables for the Gators' matchup on Dec. 22 against the University of Miami.
Some Gator players - Corey Brewer, in particular - joked after the game that it was like playing at a neutral site because so many Florida fans were in attendance. Demand for the tickets was so great that Miami Athletic Director Paul Dee told the Palm Beach Post that "it's the hottest ticket in town."
UF even tapped into Miami's ticket allotment.
"Our Gator Alumni Club in Miami bought over 100 tickets from UM," said Randy Talbot, executive director of the University of Florida Alumni Association.
"In fact, they quit selling them to us."
Miami Heat standouts Udonis Haslem and Jason Williams, both ex-Gators, made an appearance during the contest.
Florida's climb in the ranks has brought on increased media attention compared to previous seasons.
The team has been featured in national publications such as Sports Illustrated, ESPN Magazine, CBS Sportsline.com, ESPN.com, SportsIllustrated. com and USA Today.
"Media attention is definitely at a fever pitch nationally," said Fred Demarest, a spokesman with the University Athletic Association.
In addition, international publications are taking notice of Florida's basketball success.
L'Equipe, a French sports magazine, will spend five days with Florida sophomore forward Joakim Noah. The publication plans to write an article featuring three generations of the Noah family.
Joakim's father, Yannick Noah, was a star tennis player in France, and his grandfather was a legendary soccer player in Cameroon.
Despite Florida reaching No. 1 in the national rankings two times under Coach Billy Donovan, UAA officials said media attention surrounding the team has surpassed that of previous seasons.
"I was getting ready to send clippings to ESPN, and I was like, 'Holy cow, we're getting a ton of great stories right now,' " Demarest said.

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