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Gator bracing for a hostile homecoming

By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer
Published January 14, 2005

GAINESVILLE - Corey Brewer isn't positive, but he's pretty sure the Vanderbilt fans are going to boo him this weekend.

Well, except for the large crowd of friends and family traveling to Nashville just to see him.

When Florida plays at Vanderbilt on Saturday afternoon, the freshman forward will be returning to his home state for the first time as a Gator. His hometown, Portland, is about a 35- to 40-minute drive from Nashville.

"A lot of my family and a lot of people from my town (are coming)," Brewer said. "It will be about 200."

Vanderbilt made the final four list Brewer compiled in his head when deciding where he would attend college. Billy Donovan and Florida's style of play made the difference. But most people expected Brewer, a 6-foot-8 McDonald's All-American, to attend one of the state schools. It didn't sit well with many when he didn't.

Sometimes he'd walk down the street and people would yell things at him. "Traitor" was among them.

"People used to get mad," Brewer said with a smile. "When I first committed, when I was at home people didn't like it that much because they wanted me to go to Tennessee or Vanderbilt. I felt weird at first because I'm leaving the state (but) I'm still at home. They made comments and stuff. It really didn't make me mad because I was happy with my decision. I'm still happy with it."

Brewer is one of four freshmen getting significant playing time, averaging seven points in nearly 20 minutes. He has drawn early praise from Donovan and is hoping for a nice performance Saturday. But he's not getting too caught up in his homecoming.

"I'm not really thinking about it being emotional for me because it's about the team, and it's another game that we've got to win in the SEC," Brewer said. "We're trying to get in the NCAA Tournament, and if we don't win on the road it will be hard."

If Donovan had his way, there wouldn't be any "homecoming" games.

"I think it's a distraction and I don't mean that in a bad way," Donovan said. "It's just another thing that's on a player's mind. I don't know if you can actually get someone ready (for that situation) and I think Corey will probably say all the right things, but you can't help it subconsciously. ... I went through it when I was at Providence and went back home to St. John's. It's another thing that you're thinking about. You've got a lot of family and friends there, you want to do well and there's added pressure. Hopefully I can get him to focus on what he needs to focus on. I know Corey's going to want to play well, but there's no question there's an added dimension that I don't know, as a freshman, if as a coach you can get them prepared to handle that."

BOUNCING BACK: After its disappointing first-round loss in the NCAA Tournament last season, the women's tennis team is back near the top of the preseason rankings. The Gators are No. 2 in the first Intercollegiate Tennis Association poll.

Junior Jennifer Magley of Bradenton and senior Zerene Reyes of Mexico City are among six Gators who received a national singles ranking, along with three UF doubles teams. The nine individual national rankings ties the program record; the last time UF had six players and three doubles teams ranked was Feb. 26 and March 26, 2003. Magley, who is a singles and doubles All-American, is ranked a career-high No. 11 in singles and Reyes is No. 15, also a career high. Freshmen Whitney Benik and Lolita Frangulyan, also of Bradenton, are ranked No. 3 in doubles.

CASEY ON THE MOUND: Freshman tight end Tate Casey has joined the baseball team. Casey was a 19th-round selection of the Minnesota Twins in the 2004 MLB draft and was rated the 28th best high school prospect in the nation by Baseball America. He had eight receptions for 127 yards and four touchdowns with the Gators this past football season. The 6-foot-9, 219-pound Casey is a right-handed pitcher.

GETTING ACCLIMATED: Five members of the new football staff met with members of the media Thursday afternoon, and the consensus is that the coaches have been able to do little besides recruit and figure out how to get around Gainesville without getting lost. All said they have met individually with various players whom they'll be coaching, but recruiting is top priority. What little they have seen of the campus and town, they seem to like.

"I'm really impressed with this last week or so since I've been at the University of Florida," co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "I had never been here other than one time before. We played at Florida State and we played some SEC schools before, but this is really an impressive place."

Antonya English covers Florida athletics. She can be reached at 813 226-3389 or english@sptimes.com

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