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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Saturday shows UF turning on to hoops
By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published February 7, 2006
GAINESVILLE - When he arrived 10 years ago, Billy Donovan heard repeatedly that Florida could never be a basketball school. Football was king, and there would never be the same level of commitment for basketball.
But Donovan was convinced he could help build a basketball tradition that would be at least comparable to football.
So when ESPN's College GameDay arrived on campus Saturday and thousands of students waited overnight in a torrential rainstorm just to get inside the O'Connell Center, it was a special moment for Donovan.
"In talking to Rece Davis , Digger Phelps and Jay Bilas Saturday morning, I asked them how did we compare to others (campuses) you've been to, and they all said by far the best, not even close," Donovan said Monday morning. "I was so proud for them to be able to say that. Friday night, I was awakened by the rain, it was bad storms coming through here, and the fact that those kids slept outside with tents soaking wet, came in with that level of enthusiasm, then being able to come back for the game and have the same level, it was truly an unbelievable environment.
"We're trying to build tradition here," Donovan added. "There are other schools that have decades of tradition and the perception is that their crowd and the environment is so far beyond anywhere else. But our college environment for a game, in my opinion, is as good as any place in America. ... That makes you feel good in terms of what you're trying to build."
Athletic director Jeremy Foley , who helped convince Donovan he could build a program at Florida, said the record crowd (12,609), multiple segments featuring the Gators on ESPN and the national television audience for the game was publicity "you can't buy." Just as important, it was validation.
"It was a culmination of something we've worked very, very hard on," Foley said. "It doesn't end now, we want to continue. But certainly Saturday was a special day in the history of Gator basketball."
BACK ON BOARD: Sophomore forward Corey Brewer and junior guard Lee Humphrey continue to improve and are expected to play against South Carolina on Wednesday night. Humphrey, who separated his shoulder in a bike accident, played 11 minutes against Kentucky after missing a game last week. Brewer, who says he's "about 90 percent" with a sprained ankle, played 34 minutes.
"It's not quite as sore as I thought it was going to be after the game, so that's a good thing," Humphrey said. "I did some rehab (Sunday) and my range of motion improved some more, so it's good."
NEW NO.1: When the Gators begin the baseball season Friday, they will open as the No.1 team in the nation based on the rankings released Monday by Collegiate Baseball . It is the first time since May 12, 1996, that the Gators have been No.1 and the eighth time in the program's 92-year history.
Florida, which opens against Cincinnati, took over the top spot after No.1 Texas was swept in a three-game series at San Diego.
SEESAW RIDE: The women's basketball team rebounded from two losses with two wins, including at No.21 Kentucky in front of a soldout crowd Sunday. Coach Carolyn Peck spent much of the game giving instructions with flash cards because of laryngitis; she barely had a voice Monday. The Gators are 5-4 in the SEC with five games left. Monday, Sha Brooks was named SEC freshman of the week for the third time this season. The Gators play at unranked Mississippi State on Thursday.
"It's always a tough task in the SEC," Peck said. "The worst thing our team can possibly do is go to Mississippi State and not give them the respect they deserve. ... At this point in the season, we need to be working on playing the best basketball we possibly can."
--Antonya English covers Florida athletics. She can be reached at 813 226-3389 or firstname.lastname@example.org