Coming back to the new-look O’Connell Center still brings back memories for former Tennessee Vols guard Dane Bradshaw.
It wasn’t how Bradshaw remembered it 11 years ago, when heckling Rowdy Reptiles held up signs with Bradshaw’s photo saying “Bridget’s Better.” (Bradshaw’s sister, Bridget, played college basketball at Barry University in Miami).
Bradshaw came up with a memorable play in Tennessee lore at the O’Dome when he stole a Corey Brewer in-bounds pass with 13 seconds left and drove in for a go-ahead layup in the Vols’ eventual 76-72 win over the Gators. The gut-wrenching loss would prove to be a turning point for Florida, in a good way. The Gators would lose one more game, at Alabama, then reel off 11 straight wins en route to their first national title in school history.
“Those guys in 06, 07 we had some great battles,” said Bradshaw, now an SEC Network basketball analyst. “But man, they were a special unique group. There may never be one like that in college basketball again in today’s age of one-and-done and everything else. It was just an elite group.”
Asked his thoughts on the O’Dome’s $64.5 million renovation, Bradshaw replied: “I said to one of the former hecklers I met earlier today, I said you know this place has gotten to be first class and I don’t like it. The Rowdy Reptiles, they shouldn’t be having the seatbacks and everything else, I’m more used to the metal bleachers, I’m sure they’ll be standing the whole time but I would always give them credit, the Florida fans are always the most original when it came to making fun of the players, I remember, I know the swimming facility I assume is still up there but it used to be so much more humid when you come in and get your muscles loose and all the sudden guys that can barely touch the rim are dunking in warmups. This was always an awesome place to play.”
Bradshaw, who called Florida’s upset loss against Loyola-Chicago on Wednesday, said he thinks Florida is a talented team, but is curious about how the leadership will emerge during the course of the season.
“Seem like really good guys,” Bradshaw said. “You hear they have a great locker room in terms of chemistry and just culture, but if you want to flash back to 10 years ago, the guys I’m used to, you had Joakim Noah that could be the jerk of the team if he needed to be, you don’t always have to be friendly with each other. That’s something that you have to see. But at the same time, if there’s not that personality on the team, if you try to force it, it’s just going to make it worse. That’s something I would look for, just to see how the leadership emerges over the course of the year.”
Bradshaw said the Gators also need to develop more of a physical mindset inside.
“You can’t just say, oh well when we get (center John) Egbunu back, that problem will be solved,” Bradshaw said. “It will help. But it’s going to take KeVaughn Allen rebounding more, Kevarrius Hayes, I think, three points, two rebounds in 20-plus minutes, great kid but you got to get more production.”
It’s going to happen, but it’s unfair to compare this team to the ’04s. They were brothers from a different mother.
This team will have to find their own way to an SEC title. They are a long way from there right now with no easy answers or fixes in sight.