There are certain numbers that have significance to the Florida Gators and their fans. 7, 15, 22, to name a few.
But in 2013-2014, the number 4 holds a special place for us.
Hang with me here if you can…
This was Billy Donovan’s 4th try to make his 4th Final Four as the Gators coach. The team is led by four, four year seniors who have all been a part of those teams who fell just short… Including center Patric Young, who wears… number 4.
And so they’ve done it. The Gators will go to the Final Four for the first time since 2007 when they were led by 4 junior players that you may know as the “Oh Fours“.
I have plenty to say about this class of players, and even more about their coach. Lots of people have written lots of words about them, my favorite being Alligator Army’s piece, posted right around Senior Day.
I don’t want to sound like I’m writing their obituary, or make it seem like the mission is accomplished at this point by making the Final Four. It’s a big deal… It’s a new banner in the O’Dome… It’s another weekend of exposure for the University of Florida… And it’s one last week (no matter what) to practice, travel, hang out with, and spend time on this magnificent journey with some of the best friends you’ll ever have.
Once college is over, you won’t likely get to see or speak to your best friends every day. I can also bet that most of us don’t have a set of best friends who have had a lead in their Elite 8 games in closing minutes, only to see that lead vanish and our dreams crushed. These guys have been through so much together, on and off the court.
It is genuinely great to see them climb this mountain and get this monkey off their back. This team does ALL the little things that we’ve never quite done in past years. Pat Young’s rebound at Tennessee. Saving balls going out of bounds. The offensive rebounds late in the Dayton game. Making free throws down the stretch (I can only remember one game where we were inadequate at this- SECCG).
I am proud and beside myself with joy at what they’ve accomplished. I love Billy’s attitude of enjoying the journey. Cutting down the nets for going 18-0 in the SEC… seemed weird to me at the time, but he wants them to enjoy EVERY accomplishment and savor it. You don’t hear much, “That was nice, but we’ve got lots of work to do”. While there is truth to that, he lets himself and his players live in the moment.
I can’t say if he’s always been like that, but I think this attitude and approach is something he may have developed from things he learned from both Joakim Noah and Urban Meyer, of all people. Urban was notoriously always looking forward to the next “thing” to be conquered. It wore on his players and it wore on him. Sometimes when you play well, it’s OK to say, “We played well”. It makes you more credible when you actually do play poorly (Albany game).
Rumor has it that Joakim Noah was miserable most of the 2006-2007 season. After winning the National Title and forgoing the opportunity to likely be the #1 pick in the draft, his constant pursuit of perfection that season made the journey less enjoyable (Think 2009 Florida Football regular season).
There goes Billy adapting again.
Mostly, I’m happy because this team, and more specifically, these seniors, are the winning-est class in Florida Basketball history. They had made three straight Elite 8’s, which wasn’t that common before, but certainly not in this era of college basketball where double digit seeds and “mid major” schools are regulars in the Elite 8 annually. I desperately hoped, for them, that there would be some tangible representation of their collective greatness. Another Elite 8 departure from the tournament would be how they were defined… likely as guys who couldn’t get it done. Parenthetically, it would probably be said that they didn’t “have a pro” in the group (Time will tell on that one, but I rebuke it on it’s face for now. Also, Chandler Parson, Erik Murphy, and Bradley Beal were on some of those other “so close” teams…).
Now they’ll have a banner, Florida’s 5th and Billy’s 4th. Now they have a story. they will now live on in Gators history, possibly adored in the same way guys like Dan Cross and Dimitri Hill are. Maybe a different stratosphere if they can cut down one last set of nets.
So tonight was for those 4 seniors, but it was also for Vernon Macklin, Alex Tyus, and Chandler Parsons. Tonight, we have love for Kenny Boynton, Brad Beal, and Mike Rosario. Tonight, was for you, my overachieving friend who left it all on the floor ever single game, Erving Walker. You are all with us in Dallas. Thank you for bullying these boys around when they were skinny youngsters and teaching them how to stick with it.
I love these guys. I love this team. And it really is Great to be a Florida Gator.
Congratulations boys. See you in Dallas.