tampabay.com

Coaches applaud a grounded group

No matter how or when the season comes to an end, the Gators have made a lasting impression on the coaching staff.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published April 1, 2007


ATLANTA - No matter how or when the season comes to an end, the Gators have made a lasting impression on the coaching staff.

Despite winning the 2006 national title and gaining unprecedented attention, the coaches said they remained the same humble players they recruited as mostly unknown talent.

"I've got to tell you, adults sometimes get fat and sassy and change their personality and maybe get soft," assistant coach Larry Shyatt said. "I'm so proud that these guys, they never changed. They never changed how they dealt with their students on campus or the children that we visit or dealing with (the media). That's the best compliment I can think of because they are still grounded."

The Class of 2004 - Joakim Noah, Taurean Green, Corey Brewer and Al Horford - returned this season for a shot at another title. Associate coach Donnie Jones said he is amazed at the way they have handled the baggage that comes with being the defending champs.

"I think it's been incredible," Jones said. "It speaks to who the players are as individuals. Obviously coach (Billy) Donovan has done a great job in narrowing the focus every day and what to put your focus on. But you get so many thoughts that go through your head every day and you can only be good at so many things. So he's taken those and made it into a small portion every day and kept them focused on the right things."

PILING THEM UP: Entering Saturday, the starting five had combined for 5,606 career points. Each has surpassed 1,000 since Feb. 7.

STERN WARNING: Donovan is known for voicing his opinion with officials, but he prides himself on knowing how to walk the line. Saturday night, he nearly crossed it. After Horford was called for his second foul with 23.7 seconds remaining in the first half, Donovan's reaction prompted an official to scream back: "Billy, not another word. That's it." Donovan sat the remainder of the half.

LEGENDS HONORED: Three of this year's five National Association of Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame inductees were honored at halftime: Bill Russell, who led San Francisco to titles in 1955 and 1956 while averaging 20.3 rebounds; Oscar Robertson, a three-time national player of the year with Cincinnati who set 14 NCAA records and went to two Final Fours; and Dean Smith, the North Carolina coach who won 879 games, including two national titles. Former UCLA coach John Wooden and the late James Naismith, the founder of the game, were also inducted.