Team of the 2000s: #3 – Florida

Posted by jstevrtc on August 18th, 2009

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Ed. Note: Check the category team of the 2000s for our other entries in this feature.

As we move into the top three teams of the 2000s, we reach rarefied air.  The team we review today at the third spot was one of the absolute toughest to place, for reasons that will be described below.

#3 — Florida

team2000sflorida

Overview.  When Billy Donovan arrived at Florida in 1996 he brought with him all of two years of head coaching experience, a mere 35-20 record as the head bull at Marshall.  In its previous 81 seasons, the Florida program had gone through 18 different head coaches and known the joys of only a single Final Four, coming in 1994 under Lon Kruger.  Nevertheless, much was expected of Donovan.  Because of his leadership skills displayed as a point guard at Providence and an assistant at Kentucky (serving head coach Rick Pitino in both capacities), Donovan was quickly anointed as the Next Big Thing in terms of young, up-and-coming college coaches.  He delivered quickly, getting the Gators to the championship game in 2000 (falling to Tom Izzo and the Flintstones) and establishing himself as an unbelievable recruiter.  But, despite the Blue Devil-like stable of stars, Florida in the early 2000s couldn’t manage past the second round at best in the NCAA Tournament; true, they had made themselves into a formidable power in the SEC, culminating in their first-ever (?!?) SEC Tournament title in 2005 – the first of three straight – but because of their troubles in the Big Dance people began to wonder if Donovan really had what it took to “win the big one.”  The best evidence to this was the fact that in each of their appearances from 2001 to 2005, Florida lost to a lower-ranked opponent, and usually quite handily.  The only non-double-digit loss during that span was a double-overtime defeat to Creighton in a 12-vs-5 game in the first round in 2002.  Those Florida teams may have had top-flight recruits but seemed to lack a physical toughness (with the possible exception of David Lee) required of a true NCAA title contender, and this resulted in the Gators frequently getting pushed around in early tournament games.

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Just as soon as people began to truly doubt Donovan, though, the coaching “potential” and the talent on the floor seemed to meld perfectly in the 2005-2006 season.  While fellows like Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Taurean Green, and Corey Brewer were all prized recruits during their high school careers, they weren’t quite as highly regarded as some of the players Donovan had on his comparatively disappointing squads mentioned above.  What those fellows did indeed possess was the physical toughness, killer instinct, and coachability that Donovan’s system requires, and this perfect fit resulted in Florida’s first national basketball championship in 2006.  Donovan and his Florida program still had their detractors who claimed that they merely lucked into an easy draw — four of their six victories in that tournament came against teams seeded 7th or worse — and that their 2006 title was just a fluke.  Surprisingly, the “Oh-Fours” (the collective nickname that Brewer, Horford, Noah, and Green had given themselves for obvious reasons) all decided to return to campus the following year despite the certain looming promise of NBA riches.  Flipping a gigantic middle finger to the aforementioned detractors, they proved that the previous season’s title was certainly no fluke by becoming the first repeat champions in 15 years.  When considering the two straight titles, Billy Donovan’s recruiting prowess, and his intact image as a young coach with an increasingly bright future, everyone from ESPN anchors to sports-talk radio hosts began tossing around that dangerous word — “dynasty.”

Then, just like Keyser Soze, poof — they were gone.  Proving that Florida is a program so bipolar that it should be on Lithium, after repeating as champs, the Gators missed the last two tournaments of the 00s.  So, let’s recap the decade in order:  a final, five early exits to lower-ranked teams, two national championships, two missed tournaments.  Florida basketball…your prescription is ready.

Pinnacle.  This has to be the night of the repeat championship in 2007.  The second title officially took care of any idiots who felt the 2005-06 championship was a fluke.  Also, we know how hard it is to repeat in this sport.  A case could be made that the true pinnacle was that pep rally after the first championship when the Oh-Fours all announced that they were coming back to college the next year, and of course after the second title everyone pretty much knew that those guys were gone.  But in this era of college basketball I don’t see how there can be any higher pinnacle than the very moments right after repeating as national champions — a peak brought into even greater relief by the decline that followed.

Tailspin.  It started on Selection Sunday in 2008.  Yes, Florida lost a lot of talent after the second championship, to say the least; they were left with a 2007-08 team consisting of two juniors, three sophomores, and seven incoming freshmen.  But with Walter Hodge, Marreese Speights and arguably the nation’s best recruiting class headed to Gainesville for the 2007-08 season, you’d think they could at least have made it back to the NCAA Tournament (to their credit, they did post a 24-12 record, 8-8 SEC).  The 2008-09 squad was also a young one, with 11 of the 14 players in either their freshman or sophomore years, but there was enough talent there to make the Dance.  To be honest, Florida basketball is still in its tailspin.

Will Billy the Kid Find Another Group Like the Oh-Fours?

Will Billy the Kid Find Another Group Like the Oh-Fours?

Outlook for 2010s: Grade: A-.  I wouldn’t go shedding any tears for Donovan or his Gator program.  Donovan will always get big-time talent, and, above all, it’s big-time talent that wins championships.  Most likely, Florida fans can rely on this continued steady diet of…unsteadiness, meaning a cycle of deep tournament runs followed by NIT births.  But if Donovan can find a way to keep the player defections (for whatever reason) to a minimum and get to the point where he can develop teams with some upperclassman leadership, you’ll see a longer string of consecutive years where Florida doesn’t just have great incoming freshman classes but a solid foundation of a few juniors and seniors — and it’s in this manner that legendary runs are built for a program.  It could very well begin with the upcoming season as Kenny Boynton and Erik Murphy come to town to lend their assistance, comprising a smaller yet still highly skilled recruiting class.  Most likely they’ll all have people forgetting how to pronounce “Calathes” by Christmas.

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Where are they now? (Championship Edition)

Posted by nvr1983 on March 24th, 2008

We found an interesting piece in ESPN.com’s Daily Dime last week. They decided to list players from recent championship teams that are still in the NBA. They happened to miss a few players who we added. We might have missed a player here and there. If we did, leave a comment with an update on their status since it’s hard to keep track of all these leagues around the world.

You may notice that the number of NBA superstars from championship teams has decreased in recent years with the exception of Carmelo Anthony. We feel it is pretty clear that this is becasue a lot of guys who are NBA stars decided to skip college or not stay around long enough to win a title. We’re pretty sure Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, and Dwight Howard (he would be a senior now!) would have affected the NCAA tournament a little.

The list:
2006-07 Florida: Al Horford, Corey Brewer, Joakim Noah, Taurean Green, & Chris Richard.
-All of the UF guys seem like they could end up being solid pros. Even Richard who is spending time in the NBDL could end up being a decent bench guy. Horford has exceeded expectations and is challenging the much more hyped Kevin Durant for Rookie of the Year honors. The real question is whether any of them other than Horford will become stars in the league. Noah and Brewer have a chance, but we aren’t sold on them yet. We think Noah will end up being a solid contributor if he can keep his mouth shut.

2005 North Carolina: Rashad McCants, Raymond Felton, Sean May, & Marvin Williams
– All of the Tar Heels have turned into respectable NBA players, which isn’t surprising to anybody who say this team play. May hasn’t played this year due to injuries, but was putting up respectable numbers when he was healthy. Felton and Williams are definitely the studs of this group although McCants does show flashes of brilliance up in Minnesota not that anybody sees the Timberwolves play.

2004 Connecticut: Emeka Okafor, Ben Gordon, Hilton Armstrong, Josh Boone, & Charlie Villanueva
– While this group has turned out 3 solid NBA players (Okafor, Gordon, and Villanueva), we get the suspicion that none of these guys will turn into the superstars they were expected to be. It seems hard to believe that a lot of people thought Orlando made a mistake drafting Dwight Howard ahead of Okafor in 2004. However, this is a solid group of pros that will probably end up being the equal of the last 2 championship teams (UNC and UF).

2003 Syracuse: Carmelo Anthony & Hakim Warrick
– While Melo has lived up to the hype and is a perennial All-Star, it appears that Warrick is going to stay in the 10 PPG and 5 RPG range, which is probably worth a $8 mill/yr contract or a max contract if Warrick can wait for an offer from Isiah. Having seen this team play at the East Regional in Albany that year, this is one of our favorite championship teams particularly because they were the last team that was a big surprise winning the tournament. We knew that Gerry McNamara’s game wouldn’t work at the NBA level, but we always liked him and often thought that he was closer to Jameer Nelson in college than a lot of analysts were willing to admit.

2002 Maryland: Juan Dixon, Steve Blake, & Chris Wilcox
– The players from this team, which won the ugliest Final 4 in recent memory, have done just about what we expected as pros. Dixon has been a solid player who is often underappreciated by his team and has floated around the league but contributed everywhere he has gone. Steve Blake has provided solid if unspectacular point guard play and won a starting job in Portland for a time over the uber-hyped Sebastian Telfair. Wilcox has been somewhat of a disappointment. He puts up solid numbers, but has never turned into the star that his athletic ability suggests he could be. Of course, he was the same way in college so it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

2001 Duke: Shane Battier, Chris Duhon, Carlos Boozer, & Mike Dunleavy
– It amazing that on this team with several college superstars (including Jason Williams), that Boozer turned out to be the stud of the group. While Casey Sanders’s lack of development forced him to play the center position more than he probably should have, he was a guy who was routinely abused by Brendan Haywood. Somehow, Boozer grew a pair of huevos; so much so that he stabbed a blind man in the back. Just imagine what Boozer could have become if he had stayed in Cleveland to play with Lebron James. Battier, Duhon, and Dunleavy are all solid NBA players even if they haven’t lived up to their draft status (Dunleavy) or hype (Duhon-“What a man!”). To be fair, Battier was selected after Kwame Brown and Eddy Curry, so maybe he wasn’t taken too early. The most disappointing thing about this group is that we never got to see what Jason Williams could have become. Although he struggled adjusting as a rookie with the Bulls, he showed flashes of brilliances including a triple-double against a still-in-his-prime Jason Kidd.

2000 Michigan State: Charlie Bell, Morris Peterson, & Jason Richardson
– Jason Richardson has put up solid numbers even if we have a hard time considering him a star. He’s a phenomenal athlete who has never really made the transition to the superstar (except in fantasy basketball) that many projected for him. Morris Peterson had a solid run as a consistent double-figure guy in Toronto before going to New Orleans this year. As for Bell, we never expected much out of him, but he has had a nice little career and actually averaged 13.5 PPG last year. That championship team’s heart and soul was Mateen Cleaves who had a couple of nice seasons where he was one of the top cheerleaders in the league particularly when he was on the Kings. However, he never stuck and according to Wikipedia he is now playing for the Bakersfield Jam of the NBDL.

1999 Connecticut: Richard Hamilton & Jake Voskuhl
– This team, which we ranked as the best team of the past 10 years, knocked off an unbelievably loaded Duke team that might have been in the top 10 of all-time had they won that night in St. Petersburg. While Hamilton has been an excellent NBA player and one of the few guys in the league who can hit a mid-range jumper, the rest of this team has been a disappointment. We had no idea that Voskuhl was still in the league and barely noticed him when we knew he was in the league. The team’s other star Khalid El-Amin played for a short time in the NBA before finding his way to the CBA and Ukranian Basketball League before end up with Türk Telekom B.K. of the Turkish basketball league. We weren’t able to find much information about Ricky Moore, the star of the title game. We’re assuming that he had a rather undistinguished career after that night in St. Pete.

1998 Kentucky: Nazr Mohammed & Jamaal Magloire
– The Wildcats, who weren’t expected to win the title this year, were fueled by a big comeback against a very young Duke team in the South Regional finals. Looking back at this team’s roster, we couldn’t see anybody else on this team making a big impact in the NBA. Magloire had a run from 2002-2006 where he averaged around 10/10 and made an All-Star team (more the result of the lack of centers than his exceptional play) while Mohammed has had a slightly less distinguished career. His most notable achievement was helping the San Antonio Spurs win the 2005 NBA Championship (with an assist from Isiah Thomas).

1997 Arizona: Mike Bibby & Jason Terry
– Both Bibby and Terry have had excellent careers as was expected for them coming out of college. The more intereresting story is that of the team’s star Miles Simon. Simon was never considered a top NBA prospect, but we at least expected that he would stick around the league because he could make plays. Instead he spent a year in Orlando then traveled across the globe, before ending up in the CBA where as his Wikipedia page states he became “the most decorated player in CBA history”. Not exactly what we expect out of the MOP.

1996 Kentucky: Antoine Walker, Derek Anderson & Nazr Mohammed
– This was likely the last of the all-time great teams. This team was incredibly deep with 6 guys who had significant NBA careers (including Tony Delk, Ron Mercer, and Walter McCarty). This team just crushed the teams they played utilizing Pitino’s press with their superior talent and athleticism. None of the players ever became a superstar, but all of their studs had solid NBA careers including a handful of All-Star appearances and awards. We’ll leave Rick Pitino’s stint in Boston for another post.

1995 UCLA: N/A
– This team didn’t really have as many superstars as other championship teams did, but they played very well together finishing an impressive 32-1. They had 2 first-round picks (Ed O’Bannon and George Zidek) who had short-lived NBA careers. The team’s other stars were Tyus Edney, Toby Bailey, and Charles O’Bannon, but none of them ever did anything notable in the NBA.

1994 Arkansas: N/A
– Nolan Richardson’s “40 Minutes of Hell” team used a late Scotty Thurman rainbow 3 to knock off Grant Hill’s Duke team, which basically consisted of Hill and a bunch of nobodies. Corliss “Big Nasty” Williamson had a nice career first in Sacramento then in Detroit even winning the NBA Sixth Man of the Year in 2002. Thurman ended up leaving school early, going undrafted, and playing in the CBA.

1993 UNC: N/A
– This team didn’t really have any guys we considered potential NBA All-Stars back in 1993. Of course, we were 10 at the time and were already learning to hate the Tar Heels. We’ll let you look at the starting lineup and make up your mind: Eric Montross, Brian Reese, George Lynch, Donald Williams, and Derrick Phelps. Not exactly a murderer’s row of talent there. To be fair, Montross, who hails from the same high school as Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. (Lawrence North in Indianapolis), was selected 9th overall by the Celtics and had a decent rookie season before falling off the map. George Lynch was also considered a solid prospect coming out as 12th overall to the Lakers. He only had a mediocre pro career never averaging over 8.6 PPG and his main NBA achievements on Wikipedia are wearing 3 numbers (#24, #30 and #9) while with the Lakers and being traded to the Grizzlies to clear up cap space (and buffet space) for some guy named Shaq. Phelps played briefly in the NBA. And when we say briefly we mean 3 games and 1 shot, which he missed. Donald Williams, who is best remembered for being the MOP and having a huge game against the Fab 5 in the title game, spent his professional career floating around every league on the planet except for the NBA. The more interesting thing is that the Tar Heels actually had more talent the next year when they added Jerry Stackhouse and a young Rasheed Wallace (who in a sign of things to come got tossed from the McDonald’s All-American game) to this nucleus. However, the 1994 team never really came together and lost to Bill Curley and the Boston College Eagles, which was famously captured on this SI cover.

1991-92 Duke: Grant Hill
– Along with the 1996 UK team, Christian Laettner’s Blue Devils were the last of the teams that we consider truly great. To consider how big/great this team was, you have to remember that before this team, Mike Krzyzewski’s boys were the lovable losers who couldn’t win the big one despite multiple Final 4 trips. After this team, Duke became Duke. This team was really built around their 3 superstars: Laettner, Bobby Hurley, and Grant Hill. Everyone knows their college accomplishments: Laettner (#12 on ESPN’s list; maybe the top college player since 1990); Hurley (NCAA all-time assist leader); and Hill (also led Duke to the title game with a YMCA team around him in 1994). Laettner actually had a decent pro career, which most people would realize if he hadn’t been so great in college or if he wasn’t the most hated college player of all-time (multiply Joakim Noah by 100 and you get Laettner). His career highlights include an All-Star appearance as well as being an original Dream Teamer (ok, I can’t type that with a straight face). Hurley was selected 7th overall by Sacramento, but had his career derailed early with a car accident (signs of things to come for another great Duke point guard). However, we don’t think he would have ever become a great NBA PG as evident by how Jason Kidd destroyed him in the 1993 NCAA tournament. Hill actually had the best NBA career of the bunch and was considered one of the top 5-10 players in the league before multiple foot/ankle injuries eventually turned him into a shell of the player that he once was. Antonio Lang was taken 29th overall by Phoenix, but never did much in the pros. Brian Davis played a season in the NBA before floating around the basketball planet and settling on running a Duke-based group that tried to buy the Memphis Grizzlies with Laettner (the deal fell through). Thomas Hill (best known for being the guy crying after Laettner’s 1992 East Regional shot) was drafted 39th overall by Indiana, but never played in the NBA as he played in the Australian National Basketball League for a few years.

That’s all I have on these guys/teams. If you have any more information or comments, feel free to leave them in the comment section.

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2007 NBA Draft Musings

Posted by rtmsf on June 29th, 2007

Note:  If you’re looking for the 2008 NBA Draft Musings, look here. 

Some post-apocalyptic draft thoughts for your Friday, as we settle into a long summer of waiting for something to happen…

Oden

Championship or Bust in Portland?

  • One and Dones. These players acquitted themselves quite well in this year’s draft, which means they were getting good information from their schools and representatives. Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, Mike Conley, Jr., Brandan Wright, Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young were six of the top twelve players taken. Not coincidentally, five of those were among the top seven seniors of the Class of 2006, according to Rivals (Chase Budinger of Arizona was the lone holdout returning to school, and Conley was rated #18). Javaris Crittenton and Daequan Cook were also selected in the first round, meaning that every college freshman who declared was taken this year. Although it’s arguable whether the one-and-done system worked for college basketball (Ohio State – yes; Washington – no), we assert from a player perspective that it helped them exponentially in terms of marketability and readiness to perform at the next level. Every sports fan in America now knows who Greg Oden and Kevin Durant are – that wouldn’t have been the case prior the one-and-done rule.
  • Gator Rule. As we alluded to yesterday, the Florida Gators were set to greatly increase its all-time count of draft picks last night, and they did so with a flourish (see Joakim Noah‘s getup below), increasing its total from 10 to 15 overnight. Florida’s five entries into the NBA last night – Al Horford, Corey Brewer (who looked like the happiest man alive), Noah, Chris Richard (we figured he’d get a look), and Taurean Green – ties UConn for the most draft picks in one year. What, no Lee Humphrey?!?! The Huskies also entered five in 2006. One question, though. Where was Billy Donovan during this celebration of Pax Floridana? Maybe Christine hasn’t let him out of the house yet.

Joakim Noah Suit

Love the Seersucker, Jo

  • Conference Breakdown. The BCS conferences accounted for 39 of the 60 picks last night. The ACC (9 total; 6 first rounders) led the way, with the SEC close behind (8/3); the Big 10 (6/4), Pac-10 (6/4) and Big East (6/2) each showed moderate success, while the Big 12 fell behind the others (4/3). Considering that there were thirteen international players selected, that left only eight picks for the mid-majors. The highest mid-major player selected was Rodney Stuckey from Eastern Washington at #15; although Nevada also placed two players in the second round (Nick Fazekas and Ramon Sessions).
  • Dumb Declarations. By our count, only four players from D1 schools who stayed in the draft as an early entry candidate were not selected this year (most notably, Shagari Alleyne, formerly of Kentucky). This shows again that players are improving at determining their real value (vs. perceived inflated value) before making the decision to jump.

“Why Didn’t I Go Pro Last Year????”

  • A Year Late, A Dollar Short. Three players from big-name schools were probably kicking themselves for not leaving school early last year, when their weaknesses weren’t as exposed to the scouts. Duke’s Josh McRoberts (offensive skills), LSU’s Glen “Big Baby” Davis (weight issues) and Arizona’s Marcus Williams (headcase) all would have been much higher picks last year. Now each must battle for scraps as second-round selections this time around.
  • Parlez vous français? We always hate to see guys who put in their four years at college and were pretty good players, only to get passed over in the draft for Pau Gasol’s little brother. So a special shout-out goes to Zabian Dowdell (Virginia Tech), JR Reynolds (Virginia), Curtis Sumpter (Villanova), Mario Boggan (Oklahoma St.), Ekene Ibekwe (Maryland) , Brandon Heath (San Diego St.), Ron Lewis (Ohio St.) and Kyle Visser (Wake Forest) for providing wholesome collegiate entertainment over the last half-decade. We were tempted to also include Mustafa Shakur (Arizona) here, but he seemed to disappoint more than inspire during his tenure in Tucson.

SLAM Oden & Durant

Oden Wins Championships; Durant Wins Scoring Titles.

  • Final Thought. Oden vs. Durant was endlessly debated all season long. While we have to agree that we enjoy watching Durant play far more than Oden, that belies our bias against watching post men in favor of perimeter players in general. Still, Oden is the kind of player that championship teams are built around, and the Durants of history are comparitively light in the hardware department. We saw this played out in this year’s NCAA Tournament, where Oden’s team went to the national finals, and Durant’s squad was out (embarrassingly) in the second round. Either way, we wish the best of luck to both of them, as they made college basketball a more interesting game for the year they spent with us.
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Oden Even More of a Beast than Originally Thought

Posted by rtmsf on June 4th, 2007

Greg Oden

Somewhat lost amidst all the Billy Donovan and Lebron talk in the hoops world this weekend were reports from the NBA’s predraft camp, coincidentally also held in Orlando.  We’ll get to who helped and hurt themselves in a minute, but we have to first mention that Greg Oden is apparently a gazelle trapped in a seven-footer’s body.  Consider this report from the Portland Oregonian:   

Oden is faster than Durant in the 3/4-court sprint, quicker in the lane-agility drill, and has better numbers in the running and standing vertical leaps. And, Oden has a mind-boggling 7.8 body-fat percentage … most big men are north of the 12 percent range. For instance, other top-rated big men such as Washington’s Spencer Hawes (13.0), Duke’s Josh McRoberts (13.7) and Pitt’s Aaron Gray (10.8) don’t compare. [...]  Oden is 6-foot-11 without shoes, 7-feet with shoes. He weighs 257 pounds.   His wingspan is 7 feet, 4.25 inches (fourth best in the draft). His standing reach is 9 feet, 4 inches (the highest of anyone in the draft). His standing vertical is 32 inches, his running vertical 34 inches.

For a big man, these numbers are sick, as he outperformed the smoother and more fluid-looking Durant in every athletic category.  What this essentially means is that Oden has guard-like athleticism (not to be confused with guard-like skills – see: KG) as a traditional back to the basket seven-footer.  No wonder the scouts have been drooling over this guy since he was in ninth grade.  There shouldn’t have been much question, but if there was any at all, these athletic numbers will put to rest the notion of Portland taking Durant over Oden in about three weeks. 

Players Who Helped Themselves (draftexpress.com): 

  • Jared Dudley (Boston College)
  • Taurean Green (Florida)
  • Demetris Nichols (Syracuse)
  • Aaron Gray (Pittsburgh)
  • Zabian Dowdell (Virginia Tech)
  • Jared Jordan (Marist)
  • Ramon Sessions (Nevada)
  • Jermareo Davidson (Alabama)
  • Antanas Kavaliauskas (Texas A&M)
  • Ali Traore (France)

Players Who Didn’t Help Themselves (espn.com‘s Chad Ford – insider access required):

  • Dominic James (Marquette)
  • Joseph Jones (Texas A&M)
  • Sean Singletary (Virginia)
  • Marcellus Kemp (Nevada)
  • James Mays (Clemson)
  • Dominic McGuire (Fresno St.)
  • Ron Lewis (Ohio St.)
  • Kyle Visser (Wake Forest)
  • Aaron Brooks (Oregon)
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