It’s difficult to believe that it has been 13 years since Florida completed a historic sweep of NCAA basketball back-to-back national titles.Today is the anniversary of the second championship in 2007.
So we asked Billy Donovan for a little oral history on that season. Here’s Billy D:
“It’s crazy how time goes by, the ebbs and flows over 20 years. But the one thing for me going into the 2006-07 season was what I tried to do was go around and talk to people like Bill Belichick, Pat Riley, Coach (Rick) Pitino. I spent some time with Mary Wise (Florida’s volleyball coach). All of them had won back-to-back championships.
“I wanted to know all of the things they had to go through. The biggest thing they told me was — distractions. I spent the offseason writing down all of the possible distractions and the things that could get in the way of the team. I talked to the guys about all of them — young guys coming back instead of going to the draft, all of the expectations, how you are going to get everybody’s best shot.
“(Sociologist) Dr. Harry Edwards came in and did an unbelievable job.
He drew a mountain and a basketball on top of the mountain. And he told the guys, ‘Every time you play a game, you’re the defending champs but the ball has rolled back down the hill and you have to go back up the mountain. But you can’t go back up the mountain the same way.’ He told Joakim Noah, ‘You set all these records in the NCAA Tournament. Teams are not going to let you do things the same way.’ He told Al Horford the same thing.
“And he told them all that the guys who are going to make a big impact are going to be the guys coming off the bench. Which certainly turned out to be true.”
Florida went into the season ranked No. 1 and the Gators were cruising along with a 24-2 record. But then came a skid where UF lost three of four games, all on the road.
One problem Donovan felt a need to address was sharpshooter Lee Humphrey’s reluctance at times to take shots.
“It’s funny because I was having a hard time with him. He was hesitant. I told him, “Lee, you gotta shoot.’ But he would talk about Corey (Brewer) and Al and how they should get more shots. I kept telling him that our bigs were going to get double teamed if he wasn’t taking outside shots. That’s the way teams were playing us.
“I finally grabbed Horford and Noah and said, ‘You gotta talk to this guy.’ And they did. They told him that every time he shot not to worry about missing or making it because they were going to get every rebound. That kind of freed him up.”
Humphrey, of course, would go on to set an NCAA Tournament record for most 3s made in a career. And the Gators got on a roll, beating Kentucky to close the regular season and winning the SEC Tournament without ever trailing in any of the three games.
They got past a tough Purdue team in the second round of the NCAAs and handled Oregon in the Elite Eight game where Humphrey actually tore the net off the basket with one of his perfect shots.
After beating old foe UCLA in Atlanta, the scene was set for the championship game against Ohio State and Greg Oden. Florida had hammered the Buckeyes in Gainesville earlier in the season, but this was a different Ohio State team.
“They were so much better than they were when we played them in December.
“I thought I had made a mistake the night before the game. I’m watching film and I had a plan to put Horford on Oden and Noah on (6-foot-8 power forward) Ivan Harris. But I’m watching film and I realize somebody is going to be in foul trouble. Oden had been in foul trouble the last couple of games and everybody was complaining about how the best players weren’t being allowed to play. So I know Oden is going to get away with murder.
“So I went to the guys the night before the game and switched it up, put Noah on Oden because I thought Al would be better on the perimeter defending the three. They looked at each other and then looked at me and I thought, ‘Jeez, this is not good,’ I explained it to Jo and he got it. He had to totally sacrifice himself for that game. He never got into the flow because he was sitting on the bench in foul trouble.
“But that’s why we were great, because those guys were willing to do whatever it takes.”
Oden scored 25 points, but Florida won 84-75.
Next up: Friday is the 14-year anniversary of Florida’s first national championship in 2006. We’ll bring you some more oral history from Coach Donovan then.