Published: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.
It happened under the basket, where mouths run and tensions can run higher.
UF at Miss. St.
Ole Miss was in the middle of its comeback attempt Saturday against Florida when freshman Greg Hardy taunted Joakim Noah as he tried to in-bound the basketball.
"I do the same thing sometimes," Noah said. "I look at the guy all mad. You're trying to intimidate him."
Noah sensed Hardy was hot. So he used some words to diffuse the situation.
"He was looking at me like he was about to fight me or something," Noah said. "And I just got the ball and as I was about to take the ball out, just said, 'Why are you so mad man? Calm down. Take it easy. We're just playing basketball. You look like you were about to punch me in the face.'
"I just wanted to keep my guard up. He started laughing."
In every college basketball arena, verbal exchanges between players are common. "Trash-talking" as it's called, is used to gain an edge, though players toe a tenuous line when it comes to mutual respect and getting caught by officials.
Sometimes, that line can get crossed. When Florida played Mississippi State last season, freshman Bulldogs guard Jamont Gordon engaged in some verbal sparring with Florida point guard Taurean Green. During the postgame handshake, Florida coaches separated forward Chris Richard from Gordon after a brief confrontation between the two players nearly turned ugly.
"Anytime you've got two people competing against each other, there's going to be a level of jawing," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "And it's a contact sport. I don't think it's anything malicious."
Noah, one of the most demonstrative players in college basketball with his chest-thumps, learned the language of the court as a teenager in the New York City schoolyards.
"I love talking trash," Noah said. "I think it's part of my game. I'm from New York. That's how we do it. It makes the game more interesting."
Richard is another Florida player who likes to talk when he plays. When asked what he talks about, Richard responded, "I don't think I can say a lot of the things I say. It's a lot of stuff. The first thing that comes into my mind.
"I think it's just out of competing. I don't think it's anything personal because once the game is over, everyone is cool and happy for each other. I think we just want to get in each other's head and try to take each other out of each other's game and just do it out of competitiveness."
In the Southeastern Conference, trash-talking falls under the league's taunting policy. There's zero tolerance, according to league supervisor of men's basketball officials Gerald Boudreaux. Anyone caught is subject to a technical foul.
"It's something we try to monitor," Boudreaux said. "It's in no way something that we want to become representative of our league or its players."
That being said, enforcing the trash-talking policy is easier said than done. If officials were to call technicals for every word they hear, games would likely become free-throw shooting contests.
"A lot of these kids have played together through AAU and high school, where it was permissible and tolerated," Boudreaux said. "Officials that work games take into account the severity of it. Warnings are issued and that helps to keep it from escalating."
Players also have become adept at not getting caught. Richard, a senior, said he picks spots for dialogue carefully.
"If you've been doing it for a while, you get good at it," Richard said. "It's hard for them to catch it all the time. You can only be in one place at a time. Only one ref (is) warning you, so it's not really a big deal."
Some magic words will result in a technical without warning.
"Any type of profanity," Boudreaux said. "Certain gestures. The throat-slashing gesture is something that was popular with players a few years ago that we've really cracked down on."
Donovan said there are certain lines that he does not want his players to cross when talking on the court.
"I don't want our guys talking to officials," Donovan said. "I don't think there's any need or place for that. If the official makes a call, you're over and done with, move forward with the next play. That's definitely a line for me and I would not like if one of our guys, after a dunk, for one of our guys to point at somebody's face. But I think the NCAA has cleaned that up, too. That's now a technical foul."
Around the league, Noah said he has favorite players to talk to.
"I used to love talking trash with (former Tennessee center) Major Wingate," Noah said. "That was my guy. Chris talks all the time. Walter (Hodge), Corey (Brewer). In the big game, if you really look, everybody is talking. Al (Horford) is talking. Taurean's talking. The only person who isn't talking is Hump. He's not the talker. Everybody else is talking."
That would be senior guard Lee Humphrey, Florida's silent assassin from the 3-point line. Humphrey said he doesn't talk trash and that players rarely talk back to him, even when he's on a hot streak from 3-point range.
"It's kind of a two-way deal," Humphrey said. "If you talk trash, other people talk trash back. But if you don't, then most people, they won't continue to."
Kevin Brockway can be reached at (352) 374-5054 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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