tampabay.com

Fans can welcome team at raceway

By BRIAN LANDMAN and ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published April 4, 2006


Gator fans will have a chance to welcome home their championship team when the Gainesville Raceway is opened this afternoon to festivities. The raceway is on Highway 441 at 53rd Avenue. Fans should not go to the Gainesville Regional Airport.

Fans will be allowed in the grandstands starting at 11 a.m. and seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. Parking is available. The Gator caravan is scheduled to arrive between 12:15 and 12:30 and Sun Sports will televise the event.

Concessions and the Gator Sports Shop will be at the raceway. A limited number of national championship T-shirts will be available. Both accept cash only.

Fans also can celebrate with the team Friday evening at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. Coach Billy Donovan is scheduled to address the crowd, and there will be video highlights, the Gator band and cheerleaders.

NERVOUS TIME: NCAA officials spent some uneasy hours late Sunday and early Monday thinking about contingency plans after thunderstorms hurling hail and winds that surpassed 80 mph ripped through Indianapolis.

"All day we had been monitoring what the storms were doing," said Greg Shaheen , vice president of Division I men's basketball and championship strategies.

The weather raced through downtown Indianapolis by 10 p.m. and Shaheen was at the RCA Dome minutes later to walk around the court, which wasn't covered, to check for damage. One building, the Regions Bank, had windows blown out on several floors. The Indianapolis Star office also had wind damage.

There was none that Shaheen and staff from the dome could see.

"Then we all waited until daybreak to see if we might see something differently as things became light," he said.

The Gators, staying at the Omni nearby, were in the basement watching game film of UCLA and were unaware of the storm's severity.

WOODEN HOSPITALIZED: Legendary Bruins coach John Wooden was admitted to a Los Angeles area hospital Sunday, but school officials said it is not considered a "life threatening" situation and he's scheduled to be released in a day or two. Wooden, 95, who guided the team to 10 titles in 12 years, was to watch Monday's finale in his hospital room with his family.

ATHLETIC EXCELLENCE: Florida and UCLA are perennially two of the most successful schools in athletics. Each has finished in the top 10 in the Director's Cup standings the last 22 years. But UF athletic director Jeremy Foley said reaching the Final Four is what defines a school for the masses. "I don't think in the world of college sports you can be considered a marquee department if you're not a factor in this tournament right here," he said.

PROMISE KEPT: Florida football coach Urban Meyer , a close friend of Billy Donovan and an avowed UF basketball fan, promised that if the Gators made it to the NCAA title game, he'd be there. He canceled Monday's spring practice and arrived in Indianapolis about 7:45 p.m. along with his wife, Shelley .

RELAX, I'VE GOT IT: Yannick Noah is loving the NCAA Tournament, but he's having a hard time sitting on the sideline like any other fan ... or father.

"It's tough for me because I have to sit there and I have no control over any of it," the former pro tennis player and father of UF forward Joakim said after Saturday night's game. "It's very hard."

Still, that hasn't stopped him from offering advice.

"I know it's got to be a tough situation for him because it's the first time in his life where he can't control what goes on on the court," Joakim said. "And I know he's nervous, the way he talks to me. He's always telling me, "Calm down, take a deep breath, you're not breathing enough.' I tell him to just "Chill out, man. Drink a couple of beers and just watch the game. Let me play.' He stresses me out."