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Not so much attention

Florida's big men - Udonis Haslem and Donnell Harvey - don't mind not being in the spotlight.

By JOANNE KORTH

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 31, 2000


INDIANAPOLIS -- Whenever Florida coach Billy Donovan uses the phrase "style of play" it conjures images of frenetic full-court traps, fastbreaks and three-point shots.

That's BillyBall.

But that's not all.

Though everyone is mesmerized by action a long way from the basket, centers Udonis Haslem and Donnell Harvey have emerged as key players in the Gators' Final Four run.

Large men, largely overlooked.

"I don't think there's enough respect for those guys," Donovan said. "Because of our style of play, people immediately think running, jacking up three-point shots, crazy, helter-skelter style. But the mix of good perimeter and post players is the reason we're where we are. Udonis and Donnell have proven to be formidable frontcourt players."

Haslem is the sophomore starter. At 6 feet 7, 260 pounds, his physique is as sturdy as his game. He has an array of post moves, is a bullish rebounder, runs the floor and proudly anchors the back of the Gators' full-court press. He averages 11.4 points, second on the team behind Mike Miller's 14.3, and 5.2 rebounds.

If a team manages to get Haslem in foul trouble -- something he struggled with as late as midseason -- its reward is Harvey.

"Good for you," guard Teddy Dupay said. "Congratulations."

Harvey is the freshman explosion off the bench. At 6-8, 216 pounds, he is an athletic marvel. It's not unusual to see his elbows above the rim. Though his offensive game needs work, he is a relentless rebounder, thundering shot-blocker and spectacular slam-dunker. He averages 10.2 points and a team-best seven rebounds.

"Every day we battle and push each other just as far as the other one can go," Haslem said. "I know every time the ball goes up, I've got to turn around, find him and block out, or he's going to get the rebound. It's almost 100 percent that he's going to get it."

That Haslem and Harvey toil inside the lane means they dwell just outside the spotlight in Florida's up-tempo attack, even though they are the ones who make it click. The Gators are an inside-outside team this season, leaving it up to the centers to decide who has the open shot.

"I think no matter who we're playing, it's important for us to start the game inside out," Haslem said. "A big key to the way we play is to start inside, and that just opens everything up so much more on the perimeter. If the guards are open, they get the ball. If we're open, we get the ball."

Last season, when Haslem was the Gators' only post player, Florida averaged 9.3 three-pointers and 24.6 attempts. This season, those numbers are reduced: 7.2 and 19.6.

"There's more to our offense than just run and gun," Harvey said. "That's what stands out the most and that's what wins ballgames for us, so that's what people talk about."

People still talk about Harvey's driving, one-handed slam dunk late in the region final against Oklahoma State on Sunday. When the rest of the Gators seemed tired, Harvey single-handedly announced Florida would indeed be going to the Final Four.

"He's just an unbelievable athlete and an unbelievable competitor," Miller said. "He never takes a play off and that's hard to do with the way we play."

Of all the things Haslem can do, he is most proud of his role in UF's press and switching man-to-man defense -- the last line of defense. Haslem loves to draw charges against out-of-control guards who think they've beaten Florida's press. He has nine in the four NCAA Tournament games.

"That's huge; he saves us," Dupay said. "A charge draws a foul, guarantees we get the ball back, and it just demoralizes people, even more than a blocked shot. If somebody blocks my shot, I'm going back at them. If somebody takes a charge, I'll try something different next time."

Haslem and Harvey don't seem to mind that most of the attention goes to Florida's flashier players. The most underrated member of UF's 1999 freshman class, Haslem is used to it. And Harvey, painfully shy with strangers, would prefer people talk to someone else, anyway.

"Sometimes I feel like I'm in the shadows," Haslem said. "But that doesn't matter to me. I know if we work the ball inside that we're going to be successful. If you're not confident in yourself, there's no way you can achieve the goals that you've set."

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