Ex-Gator Noah struggles in spotlight
Published: Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 16, 2008 at 12:01 a.m.
ORLANDO — Joakim Noah couldn’t have expected his return to Florida would be like this.
ORLANDO — It was the kind of game Tuesday night in which no one would have been surprised if the Bulls players suspended themselves.
They certainly suspended their effort, energy and enthusiasm in a 102-88 surrender to the Orlando Magic.
Falling to 14-22 and hardly competitive, several Bulls players on the bench late in the game seemed relatively indifferent to the result.
Apparently it led to a dispute in the locker room as rookie Joakim Noah complained about the attitude on the bench and argued with veteran Ben Wallace. One witness said Luol Deng had to step between them to ease the tension.
— Chicago Tribune
The former Gator spent the 90 minutes before his Chicago Bulls took on the Orlando Magic Tuesday performing an extended warm-up routine, avoiding many of the same media that he embraced while at UF.
Instead of talking about his first game in Florida since the Gators’ regular-season finale against Kentucky last year, he was dodging questions about the latest incident in a rookie season that has seen as many headlines as score lines.
Noah returned Tuesday from a two-game suspension following a confrontation with assistant coach Ron Adams during shoot around before Friday’s game at Philadelphia. The original one-game ban was extended an extra day when his teammates voted, reportedly unanimously, to keep him out of Sunday’s 105-84 loss to former teammate Al Horford’s Atlanta Hawks.
“Hopefully it was a learning experience for everybody,” said Bulls interim head coach Jim Boylan, who called Noah the most competitive player he’s ever coached. “I was proud with how the guys handled the situation and I was proud with how Joakim took the punishment. Everybody’s ready to move on.”
The process of moving on officially started with 2:54 left in the first quarter at Orlando, when Noah was inserted into the game amid a chorus of cheers and boos. Showing signs of the sparkplug that Gator fans grew to love, he quickly grabbed two rebounds and broke up a two-on-one fast break with a swatted pass. He finished the night with 12 points and a season-high 11 rebounds in his first double-double.
“I miss it,” said a somber Noah after the game. “I miss Florida.”
The incident wasn’t the first for Noah, who was called out by then-coach Scott Skiles in November after he insinuated that the team’s struggles were due in part because the team wasn’t playing together as a unit.
But All-Star Ben Wallace insisted that the team is a family, and Noah is a big part of its plans.
“We love him to death,” said Wallace. “We like what he brings to the table as far as what he does on the court. We like his energy, his up-beat attitude off of the court. He keeps this group alive. He means a lot to this team. He means more to this team than I think he knows right now.”
Wallace also said that coaching confrontations are nothing new in the NBA.
“Have I ever talked back to a coach?” joked Wallace, repeating a question from a reporter. “Have I ever played with a coach that I didn’t talk back to?”
But that sort of behavior is usually reserved for All-Star players with several years of experience in the league, not rookies struggling to learn the ropes.
Noah’s on-court contributions have yet to meet the expectations that the Bulls had when they took the 6-foot-11 forward with the ninth pick in June’s NBA draft. Coming into Tuesday’s game, Noah was averaging just 4.2 points and 3.1 rebounds in 27 games.
“Sitting is hard,” said Noah, who is averaging 12.3 minutes per game. “I’m not getting a lot of playing time on a consistent basis, but at the same time those are things I can’t control. I can only control what I do when my name is called. I just have to keep getting better and hopefully we can turn it around.”
But much of the attention has come from Noah’s activities off of the court. Several reports say that he has been tardy to numerous practice sessions following long nights partying on Chicago’s famous Rush Street.
Tuesday, Noah spent the last 16 minutes on the court with his new family members, losing 102-88 for their fourth loss in six games. The defeat gives the team 22 losses for the three-month old season. In contrast, he suffered only 19 defeats in three years at UF.
“(Losing) is tough. It’s very tough,” said Noah. “I hate to lose, and we’re doing a lot of that ...The toughest adjustment is losing. I’ve never really lost that bad before in my life.”
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