Not So Clutch Like MJ: How One Man Fooled Gator Nation

If you are at all active on twitter within the Florida Gator community you have undoubtedly come across a flamboyant brash user named Ryan who went by the handle @ClutchLikeMJ. Ryan proclaimed to have insider knowledge into Gator Football recruiting, current players, coaching decisions, and even claimed to be a “bag man” for the Gators (i.e. paying recruits to attend Florida). He described himself as a rich kid from Destin, Florida with ties to Hawaii and Ohio.

Many (but not all) UF followers would eat up his content, and Ryan seemed more than excited to supply it. He even started a message board charging fees to be a part of his Gator Gang community. The costs escalated quickly, first $10 and then eventually rising to $100 a year for access. Ryan was a master of manipulation fooling many media members, recruits, players, and coaches on Twitter. He would then post their direct message conversations via a screen capture within the forum giving much of his information some credibility. Along with the access fees associated with his forum, “Ryan” would also sell T-shirts online. It is estimated that through these two “businesses” he amassed nearly $50,000 in sales.

After a while a core group got suspicious of “Ryan” when he would not meet them at Gator Football games. So the research began. This group did a reverse phone search and discovered a name…. “Neil Cool”. The group dug further and discovered, via a voter registration website that Neil Cool’s birthday was February 20th; this aligned with when “Ryan” celebrated his birthday on twitter. They also unearthed Neil’s personal Facebook account and some other information about Neil Cool available on the web including ties to the Paypal account for the forum/t-shirts. Here is a screen capture of the Facebook page belonging to “Ryan”, really known as Neil Cool.


Further sleuthing discovered that “Ryan” was using pictures from a gentleman named Drew Walker. Stealing much of his photographic identity for “Ryan” from Mr. Walker’s Facebook account. Mr. Walker lives in Monroe, Ohio and probably has no idea that Neil Cool stole his pictorial identity. The Ohio connection is an interesting one since “Ryan” often claimed to have ties there.



This whole discovery played out via Twitter last night. In fact the content for this post explaining the situation should be credited to two twitter accounts. Big shout out to @tiepod and @MsMiyayo305.

Also, “Ryan” (really Neil Cool) has deactivated his twitter account. But before he did, he left the following image/”apology” note.



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Game Preview: Florida Gators vs. Georgia Bulldogs

Jacksonville, Fla.– The Florida Gators are 6-1 at the end of October. Yes, it’s true. It has been a while since we’ve been able to say that. Georgia is 5-2 and the underdog in this game, which has also been a while since that has happened.

Georgia has lost 2 of it’s last 3 games and their season is teetering on the brink of implosion. Florida still has the upperhand in the race to Atlanta and will all but seal it up with a victory at Everbank Field. Georgia certainly needs this game more than Florida does, but it does not take away the importance of this game to the Gators. If Florida loses to Georgia, the Gators’ fate lies in other teams hands. McElwain has brought back the emphasis on rivalry games to The Swamp and has had 2 weeks to prepare this team for maybe their toughest remaining game in the regular season.

The Gators need to get their running backs involved early and often against an inconsistent Georgia defense. Georgia’s defense surrendered a huge comeback victory to Josh Dobbs and Co. in Knoxville a few weeks ago and gave up 519 yards of total offense to the Vols. Josh Dobbs is a mobile QB like Treon Harris and the Dawgs seemed to struggle defending his running ability as he rushed for 118 yards and the team rushed for 207 yards against Georgia. Nussmeier needs to get Treon Harris more involved in the running game. Florida’s rushing offense has been anemic to say the least. The Gators rushed for 55 total yards against LSU in Baton Rouge which is unacceptable and will put the Gators in the loss column if that happens again. The Gators NEED to run the ball effectively. If Florida starts running it with ease (as they did last year against Georgia), the passing game will open up for Treon to get some big plays to home run threats like Antonio Callaway and Demarcus Robinson. C’yontai Lewis’ return this weekend gives the Gators another weapon for Harris to use at his disposal. Pretty simple strategy offensively for the Gators on Saturday: Run the ball, win the game.

Florida’s prized possession this season has been the defense. This defense is easily Top 5 in the country and when it plays to the level it’s capable of, not many teams can score on it. LSU had early success on the Gators in the passing game which disappointed many. But as McElwain has said, the Gators played tight early on. The defense surrendered 2 passing touchdowns to the Tigers’ offense. The secondary tightened up in the second half and gave the Gators offense an opportunity to win the game. Georgia has lost it’s best weapon to a season ending knee injury but that shouldn’t matter. Georgia has several other weapons on offense that could make the Gators defense have a long afternoon. Sophomore Sony Michel is special and the Gators defensive line needs to take this young man seriously. It looks like career backup Faton Bauta will get the start for Georgia. Bauta has been the 3rd string QB for Georgia but offers a dual threat that the Dawgs haven’t had in years. Mark Richt is desperate for this win and that should scare Gator fans. Florida’s only hope for a trip to Atlanta is on the back of it’s defense. Bauta has had only limited time on the field and the Gators defense needs to exploit that. Georgia’s offensive line is really good and whoever wins that battle between the Gators defensive line and Georgia’s offensive line will win this game.

Prediction: This is a rivalry game and these two teams are almost evenly matched in talent and skill. Mark Richt is trying to salvage a season with a victory in Jacksonville. But Georgia is too desperate at the quarterback position and seems to be grasping at straws to create a spark. I think this game comes down to coaching. And I think Jim McElwain is a better coach than Mark Richt. So I’m going with Coach Mac and the Gators.

Florida 24 Georgia 17

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The biggest Gator fan with the biggest heart: Jay Ryon’s story

Editor’s Note: Earlier this week a little boy named Jay Ryon went viral within the University of Florida community. When his Aunt tweeted the picture below. Lots of special Gator-related things are about to happen for Jay, and we for one are ecstatic for him!!!



In the midst of college football season we get caught up in the hype of our affinity for sports and we sometimes tend to forget the important things in life. We forget that life is bigger than football and records and rivalries. What 8 year old Jay Ryon has shown me is that life is much bigger than anything I could have ever fathomed.

Jay Ryon was a kid that loved going to Disney World, playing soccer, being a cub scout, and of course, he is a huge Gator fan. Saturday’s in the Ryon household were filled with cheers of orange and blue. Jay grew up, like many other kids in Central Florida, idolizing Tim Tebow and loving Gator football. Jay’s parents, Maggie and Nick Ryon took Jay to Gator games and Orlando Solar Bear hockey games regularly. Jay was a normal young boy that loved sports and being outdoors. He was so full of life and joy with twIMG_25711o loving parents, spending weekends at his uncle’s house in Homosassa and playing with friends.

In January 2014, life threw Jay and his family a curveball that many never even think could be possible. Little Jay Ryon had a bruise on the back of leg that wouldn’t go away. It looked different than a normal bruise and it concerned Jay’s parents, Maggie and Nick. They took Jay to his pediatrician to have it looked at. His doctor sent Jay to get blood work and some x-rays done, but assured Maggie and Nick that it was all precautionary. The x-rays came back negative and blood work was normal. But after some further testing Maggie and Nick got news that would change their lives forever. Jay Ryon was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at 7 years old. The doctors discovered that his blood had so much cancer in it that Jay was considered high risk and his cancer was so severe that he needed to begin treatments immediately. He was immediately admitted into Florida Hospital and given 3 blood transfusions and chemotherapy treatment.


Jay and his parents were taking on the toughest opponent anyone can face in life. Not even Gator greats like Kevin Carter, Javon Kearse, Brandon Spikes, or Jack Youngblood could be prepared to stop this. Jay’s parents looked to their faith in God to help get them through a tragedy only seemingly real in parents’ worst nightmares. Jay has received over 800 doses of chemotherapy and has spent 122 nights in the hospital since being diagnosed. While other kids are enjoying picnics and playgrounds, little Jay Ryon was enduring something that is indescribable. It was through Jay’s love of the Gators and Florida football that kept his spirits high during these most trying times. Jay in his hospital bed, decorated with Gators colors, would dream of one day meeting Tim Tebow and playing quarterback at the University of Florida just like his hero did. Jay has an unbelievable support system starting with his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and the UF family.

In May 2014, Jay and his family got some refreshing and incredible news. Jay’s cancer had gone into remission. After tears, sadness, and heartbreak there was finally hope. God had answered their prayers. Hopefully Jay would soon be able to resume the normal life he had once enjoyed and the life he deserved. After more months of preventative chemotherapy doses, Jay had a setback. In February of this year Jay was bitten by a fire ant, and due to his weakened immune system, Jay had a serious infection. Jay would receive a course of antibiotics that would last 107 days and he had to cease his chemotherapy doses due to the infection. Jay is now 8 years old and has since recovered from that horrific infection and is on tract to being “cancer free” in less than 2 years. Jay still receives monthly chemotherapy doses and is still battling a giant that only David could slay.

Jay has not been able toIMG_25691 attend any football games in 2 years due to his weak immune system and treatments, but his family is hopeful on taking him to a game later this year when the Gators host Vanderbilt in The Swamp on Saturday, November 7. Gator football has been such an important part of Jay’s story and that is why it needs to be shared with Gator Nation. We are more than sports, books, and colors. We are a family.

I hope we can all learn a lesson from hearing Jay Ryon’s story: no matter what you think may be important going on in your life right now….. life is much bigger than you could ever imagine. Much, much bigger.

A special thanks to Jay’s “Aunt Kathryn” for assisting me in writing this piece.

If you want to help Jay and his family, they have established a GoFundMe.


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Game Preview: Week 4 (Florida Gators vs. Tennessee Volunteers)

Gainesville, Fla.– The storyline of this week should have been how Florida’s team was getting ready for a hungry Vols team coming into The Swamp. But instead this week has been overshadowed by selfishness and lack of discipline. On Wednesday it was announced that QB Treon Harris and CB Jalen Tabor were suspended for violating the UF Athletic Association’s drug policy. Jalen Tabor is a starter at cornerback for the Gators and his absence will be felt, but sophomore Quincy Wilson seems poised to step up and fill the void for the secondary unit. The Gators are underdogs at home and are looking to get their first 4-0 start to the season since 2012, when the Gators went 11-1.


This may be the best Tennessee Vols team that the Gators have faced in 8 years. Tennessee is coming off a blowout win of FCS Western Carolina and should have been preparing for the Gators for 2 weeks. From top-to-bottom the Volunteers are a more talented team. QB Josh Dobbs is certainly one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC and can spin the ball really well. Dobbs has weapons on the outside that can expose the loss of Jalen Tabor, with wide receivers Marquez North and Pig Howard. The Vols’ most dangerous offensive talent is their running backs, Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. The Gators defense will have their hands full all afternoon. Florida defensive end Jonathan Bullard has to be in the backfield early and often. If the Gators can stop Tennessee’s high powered offense, Florida should be able to win.

Tennessee’s defense has struggled much of the season and ranks near the bottom in every statistical category. But, the Gators offense has struggled as well this season. The Gators offense only scored 14 points against an average Kentucky defense last week and struggled to maintain any consistency in the passing and running game. Will Grier will have to face Tennessee’s scariest player, defensive end Derek Barnett. With a shaky and young offensive line, Grier may be running for his life tomorrow afternoon. Grier will have to get the ball out quick and decisively. He has been jumpy in the pocket and has ran too much. He needs to learn that this Vols secondary is not very good and he must get confidence early by going through his progressions and deliver the ball to the weapons Florida has. If the Gators can establish the running game early, it will drop the safeties down and allow Grier to get some over-the-top big plays to speedy Brandon Powell and big time playmaker Demarcus Robinson.

This game is tough for me to pick because right now Tennessee is a better team.

Does that mean the Gators can’t or won’t win this game? Of course not. This game is almost a coin flip and could go either way. Dobbs and Grier have both been so up-and-down that neither can really be trusted at this moment in time. Maybe without Treon Harris lurking on the sidelines, Grier can let loose and play with more confidence. I think that Florida wins this game on offense. Tennessee is going to “get theirs” on offense but I think this is the game where the Gators’ offense starts to come alive. 11 in a row for Florida.

Score Prediction: Gators 31 Tennessee 28

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Week 3 Preview: Florida Gators vs. Kentucky Wildcats

Lexington, Ky.– After last weeks lackluster performance by the Gators, many pundits and analysts have circled this game as “the game Kentucky breaks the 28 year losing streak”. It would be hard for me to disagree after watching Florida’s offense struggle to get any rythm and the Gators’ defense struggle to stop a mediocre East Carolina offense, allowing 333 passing yards on UF’s secondary, even though the Gators were missing their best player and the best cornerback in the country, Vernon Hargreaves. 

Well this week, the Gators get back Hargreaves and also get back starting safety Keanu Neal after missing the first 2 weeks due to a leg injury, which is great news.

Florida’s running game took a step back against East Carolina, when Florida gained just 168 yards on 38 carries. The Gators averaged fewer than 4.5 yards per attempt. Fortunately for Florida, Kentucky’s run defense is not very good. The Wildcats have allowed 442 yards on 81 carries this season, ranking 111th in the country in yards allowed per game and 114th in yards allowed per rush. Granted, those numbers came against a solid pair of running backs—Louisiana-Lafayette’s Elijah McGuire and South Carolina’s Brandon Wilds—they still point to a deficiency in the Wildcats’ front seven. This defense lost a lot from last year’s two-deep, and Florida would do well to exploit those losses, win the point of attack and establish Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Cronkrite as early as possible. Doing so should open up the passing game for Will Grier to develop a rythm with his recievers.

For Kentucky, WR Garrett Johnson is an absolute stud and having Hargreaves back will be crucial in taking him out of the game. Quarterback Patrick Towles has been getting better every week and that should make Florida’s defense step up. Towles took care of the ball last season, throwing just nine interceptions on 393 attempts. But three of those interceptions came on 45 attempts against the Gators, and those costly mistakes, which all came in the second half of a game that ended up in triple overtime, were a big reason Kentucky fell short of the upset in 2014. Towles has been even more turnover-prone this season, throwing one interception against Louisiana-Lafayette and one against South Carolina. And with the Gators defense fully healthy, that should concern Kentucky fans.

The Gators need to keep a young but athletic Kentucky defense on their toes. Nussmeier and McElwain should have a good gameplan in place to exploit Kentucky’s youth and inexperience, especially in their secondary. Senior LB Josh Forrest is one of the best linebackers in the country and will be blitzing Grier all night. The Gators offensive line needs to be prepared for Stoops’ exotic looks on defense. Linebacker Khalid Henderson is also a senior and is a tackling machine (18 in the first 2 week).

Kentucky is going to give the Gators everything they got in Lexington on Saturday night. Florida still remains a 3-point favorite even though this could and should be a pick ’em game. I think Florida’s talent is better than Kentucky’s from top-to-bottom and that will be the edge. Gators make a few late plays on defense to seal the win.

Prediction: Gators 35 Kentucky 34



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Game Preview: Week 2 (Gators vs. East Carolina Pirates)




Gainesville, Fla.– The Swamp will be rockin’ again on Saturday night as the Florida Gators host the East Carolina Pirates in a rematch of last years Birmingham Bowl. After Florida’s big win in it’s home opener against New Mexico State last week, many Gator fans are riding high. But do not get it confused. East Carolina is NOT New Mexico State.

East Carolina has one the best run defenses in the country. Last season the Pirates ranked No. 36 in the nation in run defense. Even though ECU lost nose tackle Terry Williams, they return a bunch of starters in the front seven and should continue  their defensive efficiency. The Gators only averaged 3.9 yards per rush against East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl, which is not good enough. If Florida wants to win convincingly, they HAVE to run the ball well. Controlling East Carolina stud linebacker Zeek Bigger will be pivotal in controlling the tempo on offense. Bigger had 140 tackles in 2014 and 10 tackles in last weeks win over Towson.

Will Grier will be starting over sophomore Treon Harris, and he needs to get the offense moving immediately to set an early tone. Look for Brandon Powell to get a bunch of targets again this week and tight end DeAndre Goolsby to have another big game. If the Gators offense can run the ball efficiently against the Pirates front seven, this game will not be close.

Last week the Gators defense looked shaky at times. All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves was beat deep and Marcel Harris was torched on a New Mexico State touchdown. Hargreaves did have an interception later in the game. Florida’s defensive line looks scary good and will have Alex McAlister back this week after serving a 1 game suspension. Safety Marcus Maye will also return from suspension and give the Gators their regular lineup tomorrow night. Safety Keanu Neal has been upgraded to “questionable” after suffering a leg injury in fall camp.

ECU lost starting QB Kurt Benkert to an ACL tear in fall camp. JUCO transfer Blake Kemp has taken over the starting role and has looked efficient. He went 29-37 with 230 yards and 2 touchdowns last week against Towson. Florida needs to dirty up the pocket, force bad decisions and prevent him from finding that rhythm. If it allows Kemp to stand in and make low-risk, high-percentage throws, he can move the chains and control the clock. But if Jonathan Bullard, Bryan Cox and the rest of Florida’s front seven dominate East Carolina’s offensive line the way an SEC team should, Kemp becomes a risk factor.

Prediction: The Gators offense looked pretty stellar last week. New Mexico State has a below average defense, so take that with a grain of salt. East Carolina’s defense is much better and will give Florida more of a test heading into SEC play. I look for the Gators to do much of the same this week and the defense will be in better shape with starters returning. This will be a closer game because East Carolina is a better team. But Florida will still control much of  the game.

Score: Florida 38 East Carolina 14

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Game Preview: Week 1 (Florida Gators vs. New Mexico State Aggies)


Gainesville, Fla.—- Tomorrow is the beginning of the Jim McElwain era in Gainesville. This week the Gator Nation got a mild jolt with Coach “Mac” naming Treon Harris Florida’s starting QB for tomorrow’s game. Many had high hopes for 4-star North Carolina high school legend Will Grier. Although Grier will still split time with Harris, I still believe this was somewhat of an indictment on Grier. From all we have heard since spring practice started, it was “Grier’s job to lose” and it resonates to me that he did not seize the opportunity to snatch it and secure it away from 2nd year QB Treon Harris who had flashes of good and bad in his freshman season. With that being said, we look ahead to Florida’s season opener against an inferior opponent from Las Cruces, New Mexico.

The biggest thing Gator fans are looking for tomorrow is improvement on offense. Florida’s offense has been mediocre, to be polite, the last 4 seasons. Offensive guru Jim McElwain brings with him new Offensive coordinator and “quarterback whisperer” Doug Nussmeier. Between Mac and Nuss’ experience with offense, this Gators team should score points in bunches tomorrow. New Mexico State’s LB Rodney Butler finished #2 in the Sun Belt Conference with 119 tackles last season. He is the biggest threat to the Gators offense. The Aggies’ defense overall is small and should not pose a threat to running back Kelvin Taylor and the Gators’ shaky offensive line. Freshmen Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Cronkrite should get plenty of reps tomorrow and the coaches should let Harris and Grier throw it all over the lot to playmakers Demarcus Robinson, Brandon Powell, and Ahmad Fullwood.

On the other side of the ball, the Gators boast one the most elite defenses in the entire country and arguably the best secondary in the country. Getting LB Antonio Morrison back is huge. The Gators defense will be missing some key starters for tomorrow’s game, safety Marcus Maye (suspension) and safety Keanu Neal (injury) will not be playing. Look for the Gators defense to shut down New Mexico State’s offense in the passing game led by junior All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves. New Mexico State’s QB Tyler Rogers had 23 interceptions last season which should have Hargreaves licking his lips. The Aggies have a very good offensive line and they do not give up many sacks (Total of 10 in 2014). Florida’s inexperienced defensive line needs to get in Tyler Rogers face all night and cause him to turn into a turnover machine.

Prediction: I look for Florida to dominate from start to finish. McElwain emphasizes details to his team and I look for tomorrow to be a good test for Florida to focus on the details. Florida will not let off the pedal as in years past and will run away with this game by halftime.

Final score: Florida 52 Aggies 7

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Why doesn’t Our Two Bits write anymore?

There are a million reasons why we started about 5 years ago. We all share a love for the University of Florida and, of course, its athletic programs… ALL OF THEM.

We embarked on this blog/website with the intention of providing Gators and Gator Fans across the country, fun, new and interesting angles on Gator sports. At our best, we were informative, funny and had an irreverent edge. We opened a Twitter account to help drive people to the blog and interact with Gator fans more.

As time wore on, we changed our name. We held on to the Bourbon Meyer name for a year while the namesake was working for ESPN, but once he took the head ball coach job at a large public University in the mid-west, our staff voted 3-1 to change the name.

Thus, Our Two Bits was born.

It was JUST a name change. Content, and “who we are” was to stay the same. But it hasn’t.

We’ve been fortunate that in our lifespan as a blog, we’ve had guest writers like “the Unsporstmanlike Gent” help out, and others join our crew and write for us. To be 100% honest about it, Dory LeBlanc carried us through an entire baseball season several years ago, and more recently, Morgan Moriarty provided almost all of our writing content for extended stretches of time. For that, we can’t thank you enough.

Today, I thought I’d sit down and share with everyone who may be wondering: “What the hell happened to Our Two Bits?” Here are the reasons, in no particular order, why we don’t write much anymore:

Family Matters: Since the original birth of, each of our key contributors has had no fewer than 2 children. For those of you with children, you may be able to relate to how well, “Hold on I’ll be right there to help. I just need to finish writing for our free blog” goes over in the home.

Kids are a lot of work. It’s funny that our group, who have been friends for over 10 years, have never really talked in depth about what we wanted to be as parents and family men, but it is clear that it’s a top priority for us all. Even though all of our wives are basically playing the role of Michael Jordan, we are happy to be Horace Grant and setting picks, grabbing boards, and having fouls to give… so to speak. We love being Dads and husbands, and it’s hard to sit down and get through a post the way we’d like. Which brings us to #2…

Competency issues: The way some of us like to write involves research from time to time. We would love to create content that is not just opinion based and howling at the moon. We prefer to have stats and metrics and context to back up what we’re saying, and that research takes time that we just don’t have. So rather than howling at the moon and talking out of our rear ends, we’ve taken a pass on writing.

The other competency issue we have is related to the other Gator blogs. I could name names, but don’t want to leave anyone out because we read just about all of them at various points. However, the moment of clarity came one day while reading a post from Alligator Army. It was the one following one of the several Jameis Winston debacles. I read it… and I read it again. And I said out loud… “Why the hell would, or should, anyone read our stuff when this is out there?”

I like to write. I enjoy talking about sports and Gators. But, it’s not my profession or area of expertise. There are a lot of you out there who can express what I’m feeling or thinking in words in a way I can’t imagine doing as well.

Market saturation: There are a ton of Gator Blogs out there and now, Twitter accounts that make up the greater “Gator Online Community”. We strive to be different and add something that some others can’t do. The real pros out there can’t be as irreverent of funny, but some have sprung up that are just that, and some, outright crude.

There’s just so much out there now. A lot of it good. A good amount that’s not so good. We don’t want to be in that latter group.

Identity Crisis: All of those things considered… we are trying to figure out who we are as a blog. We know who we are as people, and as Gator fans, so now we want to crack the code on how to put that into our site.

We were once drunk guys at football games, but we are not about that life anymore. We’re old and the hangovers are heavier and longer. Children are relentless and don’t care if you have a hangover. They’re up at 6am and they’re hungry!!

We are not pros and so, have no real commitment to being impartial. We love Florida and so that’s where we are coming from. We’re never going to bash our coaches or players. Check the tape… We stood behind Brantley, Driskel, and Muschamp. As long as they were ours, we supported them because nothing we write is going to change what’s going on at the time. We choose positivity and uplifting, over bashing and teeth gnashing.

Being strapped for time, makes it hard to post in a timely manner. I have so much I’d like to say about Lauren Haeger, and it’s pretty much too late now. That ship has sailed, and outside of hardcore softball followers like myself, the interest in it ends as soon as the trophy is hoisted in OKC.

We’ve dipped our toes in all the pools trying to figure out what works. At times, it’s ended up with us in pseudo-confrontations and “spats” with everyone from actual active Gator athletes, to other Gator bloggers/tweeters. That’s not who we are. We’re not trolls and we’re not “Twitter Tough Guys” or “Thumb thugs”. We have a healthy respect for everyone we encounter and while we may disagree with some of y’all from time to time, it’s all love. Also, don’t forget there are several of us who tweet from our account, so one of us may have a bug up our butt on a particular day. It happens.

I’m curious to see what we come up with.

Jobs and job changes: Finally, in my previous job, I came to know a lot of the athletes and sometimes had inside information on a thing or two. I rarely wrote about it, because it was a bit of a conflict of interest and probably some violations that would end up with me out of a job.

In my current job, I travel a lot and I work more closely with athletics than I had before and while I’m not an employee of the UAA or Gator Boosters, I still feel part of the greater UF team and have been super conservative in what I share or write.

It’s not a good or bad thing. It is just how I chose to go about things now. This will direct a lot of what’s next for us.

So there you have it folks. This is what’s played into our absence from the blogosphere.

Going forward, we will try to solve the puzzle of differentiation and create a space that is uniquely us. In the end, we have so much interaction and activity on Twitter and at 140 characters at a time, it’s a challenge to tell the story we want.

Thanks for bearing with us.

Thanks for reading and tweeting. Go Gators!

Update: While editing this post, my fingers slipped and hit something that deleted everything and I had to start over… shit like that is how we end up not writing for long stretches of time.

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This One Hurts: So Long Billy Donovan

I remember sitting inside BW3 on the corner of University and Main, enjoying a $3 22-ounce Killian’s when I first heard of Billy the Kid. At the time, Florida basketball was an afterthought. The ’94 “Find A Way” squad that was so much fun and so loveable was a distant memory and seemed like a blip on the radar rather than a new normal. So head coach Lon Kruger left the program for the greener pastures of Illinois. Remember when the Illini were a better program than the Gators? It’s been that long.

Anyway, I was drinking with a couple of buddies, including one of my neighbors from Treehouse Village. His roommate was a student manager with the men’s hoops team and had told us about the new hire replacing Kruger. That night over beers, we were giddy with excitement at the thought of Billy Ball. Kruger’s Gators were gritty but far from dynamic. But Donovan’s style was a replica of Rick Pitino’s, which we had seen first-hand as Kentucky terrorized us and the rest of the SEC in the early and mid-90s. We couldn’t have possibly been more excited for the arrival of a guy we’d never heard of.

Those first few years under Billy D were rough. The team was a combined 27-32 and there was a lot of awful hoops as guys like Eddie Shannon, Greg “Tiny” Williams and Dan Williams were asked to carry the offense. There were just enough signs, though, of what could be when an electric guard tailor-made for Donovan’s run-and-gun offensive style transferred from Marshall. Jason Williams was a rock star, and like most rock stars, he hit insane highs and flamed out early. But with Brent Wright, Greg Stolt and Kenyan Weaks, you saw just enough to know there was potential in this young coach and his system. It was punctuated by one of the greatest upsets in Florida hoops history when J-Will torched the future national champion ‘Cats in Lexington. The entire game is on YouTube if you have two hours to kill. At that point, we were all in on Billy Ball.

From there, Donovan built Florida basketball into one of the elite programs of the past 20 years. Everyone knows the numbers – two national titles, four Final Fours, seven Elite Eights, eight Sweet Sixteens, 14 NCAA Tournament appearances and 16 straight 20-win seasons before last season’s debacle. Florida had never won the SEC Tournament or regular season title before Donovan but now has four and six titles, respectively. Yet even those monster numbers don’t do justice to just how great he was in Gainesville.

After those first two years with only brief glimpses, the current era of Florida hoops began with what would become a familiar pattern in Gainesville. An experienced group of upperclassmen would help lead a young, talented core to some postseason success, only to eventually see the young guys develop and reset the bar the following season(s). The memorable and improbable Sweet Sixteen run in 1999 (thwarted by an over-the-back that wasn’t called on Casey Calvary and Gonzaga that I will never not mention) was inspired by Shannon and Stolt leading an amazing freshman class highlighted by Mike Miller, Teddy Dupay, Udonis Haslem and LaDarius Halton. That success laid the foundation for the following year’s run to the title game. Remember this pattern.

The O’Connell Center became a desired destination for some of the nation’s top talent because of the charms of Donovan and the exciting style of play he employed. When Donovan landed Miller in 1998, the college basketball world was so shocked, Roy Williams (at Kansas at the time) accused Florida of cheating. But after the on-court results in 1999 and 2000, old beliefs of Florida and its place in the college basketball pecking order were erased and Florida became a premier destination. Donnell Harvey followed in 1999 and the class the Gators signed after their NCAA runner-up finish in 2000 included the nation’s top recruit in Kwame Brown, along with top 10 talent in David Lee and James White.

Gator Nation, as we are wont to do, probably expected a little too much from a coach that was still so young and still learning so much about how to build a program and consistently win. The early 2000s were seen as a disappointment despite the annual tourney bids and 20-win seasons. The trio of Lee, Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh were unfairly branded as underachievers. Remember the upperclassmen teaching the young kids how to win model? Lee, Roberson and Walsh were hung out to dry by Dupay’s gambling, Halton’s bad knee, Halton’s punch to Brett Nelson’s head and Nelson’s inexplicable decline. Also, Brown never made it to campus, entering the NBA draft and becoming the #1 pick. What if came to Florida instead? It is one of the all-time great what-if’s for Gators hoops and Brown’s basketball career. Looking back, it is no surprise the talented trio fell short of expectations.

Without this stretch of good but not great seasons in Donovan’s tenure, however, the Gators don’t get to 2006 and beyond. Billy learned how to adapt his system to the strengths of his players and became a great developer of talent. Gone were the days when players like Nelson and Halton peaked in their freshman year and regressed horribly every year after. Donovan and his staff were instrumental in the development of Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Chandler Parsons, Casey Prather and Scottie Wilbekin from skittish, lost rookies to all-SEC and SEC Players of the Year. This ability to develop players mirrored Donovan’s development of the program as a whole.

The crown jewel of Donovan’s career at Florida is of course the back-to-back national championships. It began in 2004, first with the signing of the class that become the most beloved group of players in Florida athletics’ history. They were little-used freshmen in 2005 but were around for another turning point in the program’s history. Lee, Roberson and Walsh led the Gators to their first SEC Tournament title, an experience that was vital in teaching the Oh-Fours how to win in the postseason. Here’s that familiar pattern again and it lead from the SEC tourney title in ’05 to the NCAA tourney title in ’06. The fact that it happened so suddenly was a surprise then but perhaps it shouldn’t have been. Donovan had grown so much as a coach in his first decade in Gainesville and he was ready for his return to the big stage. And as great as the run in 2006 was, 2007 was even more impressive. The Gators were never really challenged on their way to a repeat and it can be argued that they are among the greatest college basketball teams of all-time.


One of the greatest teams in college basketball history.

Inevitably after losing everyone of consequence from the title teams in 2007, the Gators once again underachieved for a spell. Donovan’s resurrection once again relied on upperclassmen showing a young core how to win. Chandler Parsons developed into the SEC Player of the Year by his senior season and helped led the Gators back to the Elite Eight. Along for the ride were a green group of freshmen who took the reins from Parsons and delivered three more Elite Eights culminating in 2014’s magical season and run to the Final Four.

It can be argued that what Florida did from 2011-14 was more impressive than the back-to-back title runs. The 2006-07 run was built with three future NBA lottery picks, guys who have starred in the league for many years now. Billy’s second act was constructed with four guys that may never play a single game in the NBA. To me, that’s what I’ll remember most about Donovan’s reign. He won in so many ways with so many different types of players, all while doing it the right way with much love, some of it tough when it needed to be.

Florida basketball was nothing before Billy Donovan arrived in Gainesville and the fear is that it will sink back into nothing after he leaves. I don’t know who Jeremy Foley is going to target and eventually hire, but I think there is more pressure on this hire than on any of the football hires he’s ever made because of the tenuous nature of Florida basketball’s relevance. Florida football is going to always be a contender because of its location, its conference and its support. Florida basketball isn’t guaranteed a place at the table of national relevance. If this hire doesn’t hit, it could take decades, if it ever happens again.

There will be time to worry about all that in the days and weeks ahead. For now, we grieve. The Mount Rushmore of Florida coaches obviously includes Billy Donovan. I would argue that you could expand that monument to include all of the state of Florida and Billy Donovan’s place is still secure alongside Steve Spurrier, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula. Football is my favorite sport and I’m sure that is the case with most of you. But since my Florida fandom began in 1992, Florida basketball holds as much importance and as much satisfaction as what’s happened on the gridiron. I was in New Orleans in January of 1997 and Glendale in January of 2007. Those feelings and celebrations were matched by what I saw and experienced in Indianapolis in 2006 and Atlanta in 2007. And that’s going to be Billy Donovan’s legacy. He made basketball cool in a state that will forever be football crazy.

Thank you for everything Coach Donovan. We wish you all the NBA success in the world. The Thunder have acquired a lot more Orange and Blue clad fans. You are always and forever a Gator. And if it somehow doesn’t work out in Oklahoma, look us back up in a few years.

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Glad to be a part of Our Two Bits!

Just a passionate, well versed Florida alumnus trying to make it in this world. That was just a quick sentence to describe myself.

I consider myself well versed in Gator athletics and Gator academics. I never really cared for the food at Gator Dining but I love Satchel’s Pizza. I am old enough to remember The Purple Porpoise and when Bennigan’s was the best Happy Hour spot in town. I play in a softball league in my spare time, enjoy fine craft beer, and love all things Atlanta sports (yes, I was a Hawks fan before they became good and now I am a sad Braves fan).

Thanks to the Our Two Bits staff for allowing me the opportunity to be a contributor for the artist formerly known as Bourbon Meyer.



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