Back Nine: Walton late in finding out about Gators’ SEC title


Published: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 6, 2013 at 8:11 p.m.

The Back Nine comes at you after a great weekend that included the best Derby party I’ve been to and a lot of watching basketball.

10. A coach always wants to be in control of his or her own destiny and when they aren’t it can be tough. For Tim Walton, Sunday gave him a “sick feeling in my stomach.” Walton’s Florida softball team completed its conference season Saturday and had to wait for the Tennessee-Missouri game Sunday to see where it would finish in the SEC. Missouri won, handing Florida it’s third conference championship under Walton. But for a long time, he was oblivious to what had happened. “We got in late from South Carolina, slept in and I told my wife, ‘Let’s take the kids bowling,’ ” Walton told the Back Nine on Monday. “I got all their phones, shut them off and hid them. And we went bowling. The kids had fun and then we went to Las Margaritas for Cinco de Mayo. It was packed. We had lunch and as we were leaving a security guard said, ‘Congratulations, coach,’ and shook my hand. I took four steps and came back to him. ‘What are you congratulating me for?’ And he said, ‘You won the SEC.’ And I said, ‘What, Missouri beat Tennessee?’ And I shook his hand a little more firmly this time.” When he finally returned home, Walton turned on his phone to find all kinds of congratulatory texts and messages. One of them was particularly gratifying. It came from his players, who were singing (“It’s Great … To Be … A Florida Gator”) and shouting into one phone. “You hear the roar of the kids in the background, it’s pretty special,” he said. “This one is more gratifying because of what these kids have done for me. It’s a whole different feeling winning the SEC when you’re picked to finish seventh then when you’re picked to finish first.”

11. There is so much going on here this weekend with baseball hosting a big series and NCAA men’s and women’s tennis and lacrosse regionals and softball in Lexington for the SEC Tournament. But I worked on a project over the weekend about college football and I don’t mind telling you the hankering has already started.

12. Coolest thing of the weekend was watching Joakim Noah after he guaranteed a win going out and dominating Game 7 against Brooklyn. "Before this series I didn't know I would be able to play, I could barely walk," Noah told the media. "To be able to win a Game 7 like this in front of my family in Brooklyn, I mean, I'll remember this for the rest of my life." I’ve always held Noah in high regard since getting to know him at Florida and I understand how it is easy if you’re going up against him to dislike him. I’ve told this story before, but I’m going to tell it again. When Noah jumped up on the scorer’s table to do the Gator chomp after Florida won the first of two titles, he dropped his national championship hat. A friend of mine found it, knew my daughter, Kelsey, was a big fan and gave it to me. I gave it to Kelsey and she waited after a game the next season to get it signed by her favorite player. A security guard told the fans waiting they had two minutes. When it was up, he tried to shoo the fans away and Noah said, “I have an idea, why don’t you leave and I’ll stay.” And he signed them all.

13. I found it interesting this week that Texas A&M is going to expand its stadium and Notre Dame is also looking into an expansion when the growing trend in college football is that fewer fans are going to games. But I will say this — the first time I sat in a press box at Kyle Field, I wondered when they were going to bowl it in because you could see Russia from my seat. And now I’m wondering if they’re still going to be able to make the press box sway back and forth when they close it in. I guess with this new SEC TV deal, everyone in the conference is feeling flush with revenue.

14. We kind of saw that sweep coming in Baton Rouge for the Gator baseball team, but I don’t think anyone saw them falling behind 18-2 in the third game. It would have been nice for the Gators to get one game and the one they had to get was Thursday night. The four straight losses suffered by UF have put the Gators closer to the Mendoza line, just two games above .500. So this is a huge week with five games (including Monday night’s against FAMU). Florida has to regain momentum and get some wins, because as good as their RPI is, the committee is not letting a sub-.500 team into the NCAA tournament no matter how tough the schedule.

15. Because we’re just a couple of weeks away from the SEC baseball tournament in Hoover, Ala., I took a glance at the new bracket with 12 of the 14 teams qualifying. It’s possible that a team could play six games in six days. Even if it’s the fifth game in five days for the two teams, can you imagine who will be pitching in the championship game? Seriously, if you have eligibility and are attending one of the schools, you have a shot. Nobody is going to want to damage their pitching staffs with regionals coming up. Personally, I wish they’d make it single elimination. I’ve never understood why it’s OK for hoopsters to play single elimination, but not baseball. Again, I’m only talking in terms of the conference tournaments, which have little meaning.

16. There are three sports remaining (baseball, men’s and women’s outdoor track) in the race for the SEC All-Sports Award, which is given out by Halifax Media Group and coordinated by The Gainesville Sun. We made a change this year in the way teams can acquire points. Because equestrian is now an SEC-sanctioned sport but only four teams compete, we didn’t think it right to have a team that won the SEC to receive the same number of points as a team in a 14-team sport. More importantly to me, if you finished last in equestrian in the old system, you would have received 11 points, the same number as the fourth-place team in men’s or women’s basketball. So what we have decided is to award points and then divide a school’s total by the number of teams that compete in the sports that the school competes in. Complicated? We’ll let you know in a couple of weeks. No matter how the numbers were run, Florida is still in position to win the award again this year and is also leading in the men’s side. The women trail Tennessee heading into the outdoor track meet.

17. The Tweet of the Week comes from former Gainesville Sun writer and current CBSSports.com columnist Gregg Doyel — “I didn't vote for LeBron. Neither did you. Neither did Le Batard. Know why? NONE OF US HAD A VOTE.” What a Twitter mess it was when Dan Le Batard of ESPN fame implied that he had not voted for LeBron for MVP and had casted his vote for Carmelo Anthony. Turns out it was Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe, who had sound reasoning behind his vote. Who cares? The trophy is the same size if you win unanimously or by one vote. Sometimes, Twitter is evil.

18. I hate it when I forget my earbuds at home and the people around me at work have to listen to my alternative radio station on Spotify. I feel so guilty. But not guilty enough to turn it off. Gotta have my tunes. Try these downloads — “Recovery” by Frank Turner, “The Ceiling,” by Wild Feathers and because his birthday was Monday, “Night Moves” by Bob Seger.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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