Bruno Caldwell was one of the few of 24,000 at Rupp Arena in Gator colors during Florida’s 66-64 win over Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Saturday night.
“I always represent my Gators in every sport, football, basketball,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell knows a thing or two about wearing an orange and blue jersey. For two seasons, from 1973-75, Caldwell was the starting point at UF, a big-time recruit from Jersey City, N.J., who spurned an offer from North Carolina to play for the Gators. Caldwell finished his college career at Valdosta State but still considers Florida his school. He’s now a Gator in enemy territory, having lived in Lexington, Ky., since 1991, where he currently works in security at Kentucky Children’s Hospital.
“Nothing but love for my time at Florida,” Caldwell said. “I remember the times at Yon Hall, the football players, the basketball players, we all lived together. The coaches. We were one big family.”
One of the highlights of Caldwell’s career came as a freshman, when he finished with 18 points and 9 assists to lead Florida to a 75-65 upset win at Kentucky on Feb. 25, 1974.
“It was my first year and it was (Coach John) Lotz’s first year,” Caldwell said. “We came in together. Coach Lotz was a good teacher. He had us prepared. We played zone. We boxed out. We did everything he told us to do. We played smart.”
Caldwell remembered something else that happened shortly after the win.
“Coach Lotz was a religious man and he led us in the Lord’s Prayer after every game,” Caldwell said. “But he got so excited he botched the Lord’s Prayer.”
Caldwell was the New Jersey player of the year coming out of Crodon Hall Academy in Atlantic Highlands, N.J., having led the state in scoring his senior season. Lotz, who was Dean Smith’s lead assistant at North Carolina before taking the Florida job in 1973, had recruited Caldwell extensively the year before. Caldwell visited both the North Carolina and Florida campuses, but to the surprise of many, chose to play with the Gators based on his relationship with Lotz. In UF’s record books, Caldwell still ranks fifth all-time in free throw percentage (.839) and 10th in assists per game (3.85).
Unfortunately for Caldwell, he couldn’t finish what he started at Florida, leaving via transfer to Valdosta after his sophomore season. But he’s held onto the positive memories while passing down wisdom as well. Before Saturday night’s Florida-Kentucky game, Caldwell met with current Gator players in their hotel lobby. Caldwell said he gave Florida senior point guard Chris Chiozza a long embrace.
“I told him ‘Play smart’,” Caldwell said.
Chiozza and the rest of the Gators did, leaving Rupp with an upset win over the Wildcats. Just like Caldwell did 44 years earlier at Memorial Gym.