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Campus buzz just heating up

Basketball is taking over at UF, and things figure to intensify as the weekend draws near.

By DARRELL FRY

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 28, 2000


photo
[Times photo: Michael Weimar]
Still wearing the net he helped cut down at the Carrier Dome, senior Kenyan Weaks greets the crowd after UF returned home.

GAINESVILLE -- Hanging out with his buddies near the heart of the Florida campus, Adrian Esquivel had just come from his first class of the day. The hot topic of discussion wasn't anatomy or physics or history.

It was Final Four 101.

"That's what people have been talking about all day," said Esquivel, a junior from Miami. "It's like, "Wow, we're in the Final Four.' "

Several students said there was a buzz around campus Monday morning after Florida's victory over Oklahoma State on Sunday night that propelled the Gators into their first Final Four since 1994. Students were talking about the game at the bus stop, at the student union and at local restaurants like the Copper Monkey across the street from campus.

The game was the lead story on the local news and the front page story in the Gainesville Sun as well as the campus newspaper, The Alligator.

School officials already are cashing in on the hoopla. The school had hundreds of items of Final Four-related merchandise on order in hopes the Gators made it. The merchandise was on sale at the campus bookstore early Monday morning. T-shirts were selling for $16.99.

At the campus bookstore, The Hub, employees brought in a TV and VCR, and showed replays of Sunday's win all day.

"Everybody was talking about it at lunch," said Angie Hummel, who works at the Copper Monkey. "They haven't been this far (since 1994), so people are getting into it. Plus, Gator fans are really spirited anyway."

The Monday buzz actually began in the wee hours of the morning when the team arrived at Gainesville Regional Airport at about 12:45 a.m. About 250 people greeted the team's chartered flight from Syracuse, N.Y., amid fog and light rain. They held up signs that read "Final Four" and "Go Gators," and sang "It's great to be a Florida Gator."

Players high-fived fans and fellow students. Florida coach Billy Donovan stopped and spoke to the crowd.

"I said it in Winston-Salem and in Syracuse; the best fans in America are right here," said Donovan, whose team next faces North Carolina on Saturday in a national semifinal. "We won this game and hopefully we can get two more."

The scene probably wasn't anything like the one in Chapel Hill, N.C., where more than 4,000 fans reportedly greeted the North Carolina team upon its arrival. But North Carolina is basketball country. The game is just catching on at UF where football traditionally has dominated fan interest.

Several students said that may change with the Gators' berth in the Final Four. Fans already had become so enthused that UF has become one of the most difficult places for road teams to play, because of large crowds and noise at the 12,000-seat O'Connell Center.

The school didn't sell all of its 3,500 Final Four ticket allotment on Monday, but ticket office officials said it had more to do with difficulty in getting flights to Indianapolis than a lack of fan interest.

While enthusiasm around campus on Monday was noticeable but not rampant, that's expected to change as Saturday's game draws closer.

"I think it hasn't sunk in yet. It's like people can't believe we're really in the Final Four," said Justin Calvert, a graduate student from Fort Lauderdale. "Just wait until Thursday or Friday. It's going to get crazy."

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