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In the clutch, who can Gators call a go-to guy?
By Gary Shelton
Published March 31, 2007
ATLANTA - North Carolina had Sean May. UConn had Emeka Okafor. Syracuse had Carmelo Anthony.
At crunch time, Florida has Al Horford. Maybe.
Maryland had Juan Dixon. Duke had Shane Battier. Michigan State had Mateen Cleaves.
When it counts the most, Florida has Taurean Green. Perhaps.
Arkansas had Corliss Williamson. Duke had Christian Laettner. UNLV had Larry Johnson.
With the game on the line, Florida has Corey Brewer. Possibly.
By the time college basketball reaches its biggest stage, history tells us, most of the best teams have usually established their best player. He is the go-to guy, and everyone on both teams knows his name. It doesn't matter how much talent is around him. When the game matters the most, he is the player his team wants to have the ball.
Two years into the greatest run in Florida basketball history and it's still hard to tell who the Gators' money player is.
Which, by the way, tickles the dickens out of the Gators.
Imagine the moment. There are 20 seconds to go, and the score is tied, and the noise is deafening. If you are Florida coach Billy Donovan, who do you want to have the ball in his hands?
Joakim Noah? You could make an argument. After all, Noah was the outstanding player of last year's NCAA Tournament. He's a good athlete, a good passer and a good free-throw shooter. Yeah, the game would look just fine in his hands.
Lee Humphrey? You could make a case. Humphrey, the kid Donovan compares to Gomer Pyle, is his team's best pure shooter. Let Humphrey square his shoulders, and yeah, Donovan would take his chances.
Horford? That's an idea. No matter what you may have read in mock drafts, Horford is the Gators' best player. Once Horford starts backing toward the basket, an opponent may have to tackle him to stop him.
Brewer? Could be. More than any other Gator, Brewer can create his own shot. He's capable of pulling up for the jumper or driving to the hole with a highlight reel move.
Green? Why not? He's the surest ball handler on the team, a player who can penetrate and dish the ball to any of the big men as he moves. You could make a swell argument for Green.
For the Gators, that's the beauty of the debate. At the largest of moments, the ball seems to fit in any set of hands on the floor. Who gets the ball at money time? It depends on the moment and the matchup. Let the opponent figure it out.
"I view it as a compliment," Donovan said. "Defensively, you can set up something to try to take the best player out of a situation. You can do some things to eliminate that player. If you're having to defend, one of the greatest uncertainties as a coach is 'Who are they going to? What are they going to do?' "
Most years, it has been a little easier to figure out. Two years ago, for instance, North Carolina had an abundance of talent with Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants, but when the Tar Heels needed a basket the most, the ball always seemed to find its way to May. Go back through the history of the tournament, from Michigan with Glen Rice and Kansas with Danny Manning and Michigan State with Magic Johnson to UCLA with Bill Walton and Lew Alcindor Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the guy in the 12th row could figure out the strategy in the late going of a close game.
With the Gators? Not so much. For all you have heard about these Gators and the NBA, there hasn't been such a mystery over a go-to guy since the '98 championship team from Kentucky.
"I think it's a terrific thing," Noah said. "I think the best thing about our team is the balance."
For Donovan - this just in ... he says he still hasn't talked to Kentucky - the clutch-by-committee is by design.
"I have been a big believer that you have to get the best available shot or play," Donovan said. "I don't sit there and say 'this guy is our go-to guy.' I would rather have Al Horford shoot a wide-open three-point shot than I would for Lee Humphrey to take a terribly bad one. You may say that's crazy. Al has proven his range. I'd rather have him shoot wide open than Lee have one that really has no chance of going in.
"It's all about, to me, getting the best available shot. Run some screens, run some things to try to move around the defense, then have whoever is available to make a play try to make a play. I think instead of using the word 'making a last-second shot,' I think it's maybe more about making a play. We have guys who can make a play."
Perhaps tonight, it comes down to a single moment. Perhaps if successful, it happens again Monday.
Who gets the ball? Who takes the shot? Who makes the play?