Gator Country - January 2008

Page 1


Vol. 1 | Issue 6 January 2008 $4.97



Five fabulous freshmen WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

Amanda Butler takes charge UF FOOTBALL

Linebacker Dustin Doe WWW.GATORCOUNTRY.COM


A League Preview


Volume 1 Issue 6 January 2008 INSIDER BASKETBALL ISSUE

Vol. 1 | Issue 6 January 2008 $4.97


Big Man On Campus



Five fabulous freshmen WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

Amanda Butler takes charge UF FOOTBALL

Linebacker Dustin Doe WWW.GATORCOUNTRY.COM


A League Preview

Five Fabulous Freshmen Nick Calathes, Adam Allen, Jai Lucas, Alex Tyus, and Chandler Parsons are already making an impact.





All Grown Up


Gator bigman Marreese Speights matures on and off the court to lead the Gator basketball team.

RECRUITING Hollywood Bob


COLUMN Buddy Martin


SEC Men’s Preview Chris Lofton and the Vols are expected to win the Southeastern Conference this year.

32 Champagne On Ice A Sophomore’s Journey 36 40 Rocket Man

Florida women’s basketball coach Amanda Butler is not afraid to dream big.

Dustin Doe adjusts to the ups and downs of a promising football career.


All photos on this page by Tim Casey.


Life After a National Title Florida basketball starts over after unprecedented glory the past two seasons.

With the help of a former FSU star, Gator recruit Caleb Sturgis has developed legendary leg strength. January 2008



PUBLISHER Raymond Hines III EXECUTIVE EDITOR Mike Hodge ART DIRECTOR Jason Farmand PHOTO EDITOR Tim Casey CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Franz Beard Buddy Martin Mark McLeod Bob Redman


Order online at or call 800.601.4623.



Contact James Irvine at 352.672.4083 or e-mail AN OFFICIAL AFFILIATE

GATOR COUNTRY MAGAZINE is printed 10 times a year by Gator Country Multimedia, Inc., PO Box 24, Waycross, GA 31502. Subscriptions are $49.97 annually. The magazine is included with an online gatorcountry. com subscription which also includes ESPN Magazine and ESPN Insider. Single copy rate is $4.97. SUBSCRIBERS: If the postal service alerts us that your magazine is undeliverable, we have no further obligation unless we receive a corrected address within two years. POSTMASTER: Please send all change of address forms to Gator Country Multimedia, Inc., PO Box 24, Waycross, GA 31502. Please allow two to three weeks for a change of address. We make a portion of our mailing list available to reputable companies. If you prefer to be excluded, please email or call us. ©2007 GATOR COUNTRY MULTIMEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. REPRODUCTION IN WHOLE OR PART WITHOUT PERMISSION IS PROHIBITED.


If you’re 40 or older and a Gator fan, you’ve probably heard this before. Wait till next year. Those four words were the battle cry of Florida fans in the 1970s and ‘80s, when Georgia and Auburn made us miserable on the gridiron; on the hardwood, it was Kentucky that made for many long winters in Gainesville. The ‘80s brought us hope and despair. SEC titles in football and basketball were tainted by NCAA investigations into both programs. Wait till next year? How about the next decade? Steve Spurrier arrived in 1990 and showed Florida could win big without cheating. So did Lon Kruger. Urban Meyer and Billy Donovan harnessed the good work of others and guided Florida athletics to unprecedented success with three national titles in 2006-07, two in basketball and one in football. As we approach 2008, one season (football) is just about done; and another (basketball) has just begun. Both programs are in transition. Football had to rebuild a defense, not easy to do when nearly 75 percent of your roster is comprised of freshmen and sophomores. There’s a reason coaches like to redshirt freshmen, to let them acclimate and grow slowly. Play them too early and there’s growing pains, as losses to Auburn, Louisiana State and Georgia showed. Basketball may have more inexperience to overcome than football. Gone are five starters,

including the ‘04s — Al Horford, Taurean Green, Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah — the marvelous recruiting class that guided the Gators to consecutive national titles, the first program to do so since Duke in 1991-92. Only one consistent contributor remains from that Gator squad — junior guard Walter Hodge and even he made only three starts last season. The 2007-08 Gators started 5-0 and as the optimism started to build, the baby-faced club crept into the top 25. A few days after the national rankings were released, rival Florida State delivered a 14-point smackdown. Two lessons were delivered: Florida’s young players know they need to get better; Gator fans need to let them progress at their own pace. Don’t be swayed by the potential. That’s fool’s gold. Championships are not won in a single season. There’s a process. Talent must be nurtured and fortified before it blossoms. It took almost 75 seasons for Florida to win an SEC title in basketball. Football? Well, that took 85 years before the Gators won their first official SEC championship. It’s safe to say those days have passed, but Gator fans, as they wait for another championship, should not forget their history. It wasn’t that long ago that we endured decades between championships. Now it’s just a year or two. Remember, next year’s almost here.

MIKE HODGE Editor January 2008






June 1. That’s the day Gator fans will always remember as the day that Billy Donovan said good-bye Florida, hello Orlando Magic. Six days later, Billy was back where he belonged, coaching the Gators after realizing that his heart belongs in Gainesville and not in the play-for-pay ranks of the National Basketball Association. This story isn’t about Donovan and how he realized he made a huge mistake only to rectify things by coming back to the place he loved. This is about one young man that used those six days to grow up. June 1 is the day that Marreese Speights, a fun-loving, sometimes serious 6-foot-10 center from St. Petersburg decided to be a man and for the next six days, he was the glue holding the Florida Gators together. The player most likely to follow chose to be a leader and for the next six days he was constantly on the phone, talking to teammates and Florida’s incoming freshman class. It was a tumultuous time, but there was no panic in his voice. He was the voice of calm, reason and hope at a time when there was chaos. “I told them everything was going to be all right,” said Speights, who averaged 4.2 points and 2.6 rebounds while playing in 33 games as a freshman on Florida’s 2007 NCAA championship team. “I told them don’t worry. If Coach Donovan’s gone, we’ll get a new coach and he’ll be a good coach, but don’t worry about anything.” That Marreese Speights would step it up and become a leader probably surprised his teammates, particularly freshman recruits Nick Calathes and Chandler Parsons. They were used to the happy-golucky Marresse Speights, the one that always had a grin on his face, the one that would stay in the gym playing basketball till all hours of

the night as long as there was someone to play against. What they didn’t know was there was a leader just waiting for a time and a place to emerge. Speights sensed the time was right and the circumstances called for someone to stand in the gap. “Someone had to do it,” said Speights. “Someone had to step up and hold the team together. I just did what I thought was the right thing to do. I started calling the guys and talking to them.” Chandler Parsons, who had just graduated from Lake Howell High School in Casselberry a few days before, was stunned by Donovan’s decision to leave the Gators. Florida was his dream school and Donovan was the coach he grew up wanting to play for. He started getting calls from Speights immediately and Speights kept on calling until it was certain Donovan would be coming back. “Marreese was awesome,” said Parsons. “When it first happened, he kept saying don’t worry, that everything would be all right, that if coach Donovan wasn’t here, we’d have a good coach and all that. When it started looking like coach Donovan was going to come back, Marreese was still calling and telling everybody what was going on. He really stepped up as a leader.” Donovan was announced as the new coach of the Magic on a Friday morning. Friday afternoon, he said farewell to his team and to the University of Florida at a press conference at the Women’s Center, which is just beside the Florida basketball practice facility. By Saturday morning, word was leaking out that Donovan was having second thoughts about his move to the NBA. By Sunday, Donovan January 2008


had made it clear that he wanted out of the NBA contract and wanted to come back to Florida and by Wednesday it was certain that Billy Donovan would be back where he belongs at the University of Florida. Associate head coach Larry Shyatt, who was bunkered down with Donovan during the entire ordeal, gained an appreciation for Speights, who he already knew as a hard worker on the court. “That was a side of Marreese that we hadn’t seen before,” said Shyatt. “He grew up a lot that week and showed a lot of maturity.” Maturity and Marreese Speights are words you probably wouldn’t connect with each other four years ago. Speights was just a big, talented kid in those days and basketball was his life. “He loved to play basketball and basketball came pretty easy for him,” said Matt Ramker, whose Florida Rams AAU program has become a pipeline to Division I over the past few years. Taurean Green and Chris Richard came up through the AAU ranks with Ramker and two of Florida’s recruiting


January 2008

class of 2008—Kenny Kadji and Ray Shipman—are Ramker protégés. Basketball might have come easy for Speights, but schoolwork was a problem as he completed a high school odyssey that took him from St. Petersburg Gibbs (sophomore) to Admiral Farragut (junior), a private military school in St. Petersburg, and on to Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va. for his senior year in high school. Hargrave was the toughest, but that’s where Speights really buckled down in the classroom and learned good study habits. “I was in the army,” said Speights. “Somebody was always telling you what to do and how to do it. You wake up when they tell you to wake up. You eat when they tell you to eat. You go to class and then you study when they tell you to study. Everything you do, someone is telling you when to do it.” Hargrave was pure drudgery and Speights admits he wouldn’t have made it through that year without basketball. “That was the one thing that was fun,” he

said. He averaged 17.9 points and 10.3 rebounds a game for Hargrave, which sent 10 players on to Division I with basketball scholarships that year. Hargrave played one of the toughest prep school schedules in the country and games were a dress rehearsal for college basketball. “Everybody we played had players,” said Speights. “It wasn’t like high school basketball in Florida where some teams didn’t have anybody good. Everybody had good players. You had to play hard every night.” Ramker started noticing changes in Speights and he liked what he was seeing. “Hargrave was good for him,” said Ramker. “He learned to study and prepare for classes. He got some discipline in that regard. He really started taking responsibility for his academics.” The improved study habits resulted in improved grades. Considered an academic risk after his junior year in high school, Speights improved in the classroom, raising

both his grade-point average and his test scores to a sufficient level that he could qualify for his scholarship at the University of Florida. Speights arrived at Florida, admittedly full of himself, thinking he was going to be a cog in the Gators’ run to a second straight NCAA championship. He was 6-10 at the time, nearly 260 pounds, and blessed with tremendous talent. “He’s always had the offensive skills,” said Ramker. “He’s always had a knack for scoring. He could always shoot it and he could always put points up. What he had to learn how to do was play hard on every possession at both ends of the floor, but he knew how to score when he got to Florida.” When he first arrived in Gainesville, Speights learned a couple of things right off the bat. First, he was the low man on Billy Donovan’s big-man totem pole. Joakim Noah, the Most Outstanding Player in the 2006 NCAA tournament, had a lock on one of the post positions and Al Horford, who went on to become the Most Outstanding Player in the 2007 NCAA tournament, had a lock on the other. And, backing them up was Chris Richard, a former Florida Mr. Basketball. Noah and Horford were lottery picks in the 2007 NBA draft and Richard was a second rounder. Second, there was defense Billy Donovan style to be learned. Always an intimidating shot blocker, Speights learned quickly that while blocking shots is a good thing, there is so much more to playing defense at the Division I level, particularly the level expected at Florida. “He had to learn to move his feet and play position defense,” said Shyatt, who Noah calls ‘The Minister of Defense.’ “He had to learn that if you block a shot that’s a good thing, but what happens if you leave your man and don’t block the shot? He had to learn about positioning, rotating to help out and other responsibilities. He was pretty raw when he first got here.” It was Basketball 101 and every single day, the lessons were taught by the coaches and then re-emphasized in head-to-head encounters with Noah, Horford and Richard. Going against three future NBA players made him better and made him want to play more,

I wanted to play him more, but am I going to take minutes away from Joakim Noah or Al Horford or Chris Richard? I know it was difficult for Marreese because he wanted to play, but he had some pretty good players ahead of him. And think about it, every single day, he was going against three NBA players in practice, and that was probably a lot more valuable to him than playing time because not too many of the guys he would have played against in games were as good as the guys he practiced against. UF COACH BILLY DONOVAN

but instead of plenty of playing time he got garbage minutes. “I wanted to play him more, but am I going to take minutes away from Joakim Noah or Al Horford or Chris Richard?” Donovan asked rhetorically during an interview in July. “I know it was difficult for Marreese because he wanted to play, but he had some pretty good players ahead of him. And think about it, every single day, he was going against three NBA players in practice, and that was probably a lot more valuable to him than playing time because not too many of the guys he would have played against in games were as good as the guys he practiced against.” It was a daily grind that he had to learn to appreciate. When Speights reflects on the 2006-07 season, he laughs, but it wasn’t such a funny matter then. “I come to practice and I know they’re going to beat me up,” Speights said. “I mean really beat me up. At first, they got me every day but after awhile, I started getting better and I beat them up sometimes, too.”

Richard, who became Speights’ surrogate big brother, spent the first half of the season keeping the big freshman’s spirits up. Richard understood better than anybody the patience that is required because he came to Florida expecting to be a star from day one. Injuries kept Richard on the bench for much of his freshman and sophomore years, and it wasn’t until his junior year that he was really ready to be a steady contributor. By that time Noah and Horford were in the starting lineup and they weren’t going to be moved out. Richard had to accept a niche role as the sixth man, but that paid off handsomely. He was selected Sixth Man of the Year in the SEC as a senior and the Gators probably couldn’t have won two NCAA championships without his contributions. The NBA obviously recognized that Richard had ability because he was taken in the second round of the draft back in June. “(Speights has) got the talent,” said Richard, who is a rookie with the Minnesota Timberwolves. “He’s going to be a great player in college, and I think he’s going to be a great player in the NBA someday, too. When he got here, he had a lot to learn, but the biggest thing he had to learn was patience. It isn’t easy when you want to play so bad and you don’t get in the game, except if there’s a big lead. “It’s tough to go to practice every day and work your butt off and know you might not play a lot, but that’s what he had to learn to do. I talked to him a lot when he first got here and he was pretty frustrated at times, but I think he started to see how he was getting better because of all the stuff that was being thrown at him in practice every day. He had to go against some pretty good players every day, so he was going to get better if he just showed up and worked hard.” On those occasions when Speights got a chance to play extended minutes, he showed power and the explosion on both ends of the court. He scored 16 points against Jackson State in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Earlier in the season against Southern University, he had a double-double that included a season-high 12 rebounds and five blocked shots. In Florida’s tight, second-round win over Purdue in the NCAA tournament, Speights came into the game when the Gators had January 2008


some first-half foul trouble and he delivered two points and a steal on the defensive end. In terms of numbers, those aren’t big. In terms of buying time at a critical point, what Speights did was huge. He replayed that same role against Ohio State in the national championship game. He came off the bench in both the first and second halves and gave the Gators quality minutes while Horford was on the bench with foul trouble. Two points and two rebounds only tell part of his contribution to that win over Ohio State. He held the fort while the tournament’s most outstanding player was on the bench and the Gators didn’t suffer. Those brief glimpses of Speights have led a number of scouts who project the NBA draft to project Speights as a first rounder if he chooses to leave school early. Speights says he is happy that he’s being looked at by the pros, but he doesn’t have time to think about the NBA. “I got a season to play,” he said. “I’m not worrying about the NBA now. I’m trying to help the Florida Gators win basketball games and trying to improve as a basketball player. I’ll think about that when the time is right.”

Ramker says it is night and day the difference in Speights now and when he first came to Florida. That applies to Speights off the court and Speights as a basketball player. “The development and growth is unbelievable,” said Ramker. “Don’t get me wrong, because Marreese has always been a really great kid, but from the moment he stepped foot on this campus here until now he’s a totally different player and person.” Ramker credits Donovan for the personal changes as well as the improvement as a player. He says that perhaps Donovan’s greatest skill as a coach is getting players to believe in themselves. “Coach Donovan has instilled a tremendous amount of confidence and given him a chance to work hard every day and get better,” said Ramker. “I truly believe coach Donovan has a Midas touch with these kids because if they listen to him and apply what he’s teaching, they will improve so much. I think that’s why you’re going to see great young talent come to Florida because they want to develop as players and just as importantly,


January 2008

as people. He gives kids the confidence they need to be better people and better players.” One area that has improved so much for Speights is physical conditioning. Once Speights was sure that Donovan was coming back, he spent the rest of the summer transforming his body. The hours he’s spent in the weight room with Matt Herring and Florida’s strength and conditioning staff have paid off with a leaner but stronger Speights. He grew an inch in the last year and though he’s 15 pounds lighter than when he arrived in Gainesville, it’s obvious that he’s much stronger now. “It’s not just muscle that he’s added,” said Shyatt. “From a cardiovascular standpoint, he’s tremendously improved. He got himself in such great shape working with Matt and Duke (Werner) in the offseason that he can do things not only better, but he can do them longer. Aerobically, it’s such a difference because he can run longer; he can play harder longer. Give him a lot of credit because he put in the time and dedicated himself to getting his body better conditioned.” Ramker said he sees the difference on the court in the way Speights jumps. Speights was always an outstanding jumper, which is unusual since most big men tend to rely on their height and long arms rather than elevation off the floor. “Matt Herring and the strength and conditioning staff have done an unbelievable job with him,” said Ramker. “He’s lost weight and his body is so much better and stronger than it’s ever been and in turn you see the lift and explosiveness. He doesn’t just rely on his size. He gets off the floor and he goes after the basketball.” Few ever doubted that Speights had the physical skills to excel at the college game. He has size, coordination, leaping ability and the kind of offensive skills in his arsenal that just can’t be taught. He had all that when he arrived at Florida and he’s only gotten better.

Where the real changes have taken place are between the ears.

“There’s a level of maturity now that wasn’t there when he first came here,” said Shyatt. “I think last year, as tough as it

was on him to have to sit when he could have played for almost every team we played, was also a good time for him because he had to learn to deal with adversity. When he was frustrated and depressed a little bit because he wasn’t playing, he still came to practice every day and worked hard. He had to learn to be patient and that made him mature.” Speights admits that he wanted to play badly, but he trusted the coaches and listened to his teammates rather than pout. A lot of talented young guys would have transferred. Speights decided he would become the best player he could be and then translate the lessons learned to production on the court. “The guys talked to me and told me just wait, that my time would come,” said Speights. “They kept encouraging me to play hard and get better in practice so that’s what I did.” Ramker believes the time spent with Horford, Noah, Green, Richard, Lee Humphrey and Corey Brewer paid off. Those guys knew how to prepare themselves to play and they came to practice every day ready to work hard. They also recognized a talented young player in Speights and they all took turns mentoring him. The hours spent learning from the older guys gave Marreese Speights the confidence to become a leader when it seemed like the Florida basketball program was coming apart at the seams during the week when Donovan left Florida for the NBA only to change his mind. “He couldn’t have done that if not for gaining maturity every day by hanging around with those older guys,” said Ramker. “They did a great job of teaching him and nurturing him along. He learned to lead from the guys who were his mentors and they were good ones.” Speights says he simply stepped up and did the right thing at the right time. “That’s what you’re supposed to do,” he said. “If you want people to respect you, you have to do the right thing and that was the right thing to do.” Ramker just smiles when he thinks of how Speights has grown up in the time he’s been at Florida. “He was a boy when he got here,” said Ramker. “He’s turned into a man now. I’m really proud of him.”

From left: Calathes, Allen, Lucas, Tyus and Parsons


They are Florida’s Fab Five, a recruiting class that in many ways mirrors Billy Donovan’s last great recruiting class of Al Horford, Corey Brewer, Joakim Noah and Taurean Green. Only time will tell if Nick Calathes, Adam Allen, Alex Tyus, Chandler Parsons and Jai Lucas will elevate Florida basketball to the same level as the ‘04s, but in terms of unselfishness and a burning desire to get better every day in practice, there is an amazing similarity. 14

January 2008

USFRESHMEN Donovan noticed the willingness to learn from the time practice began in October. “In order to be a good learner, you have to have an open mind to learn,” said Donovan. “Sometimes you get young guys that have been very successful and they think they’ve got all the answers and have it all figured out. This is a very humble group that wants to get better and wants to be coached and taught.” Two McDonald’s All-Americans headline this class of five. Calathes, who was twice named Florida’s Mr. Basketball; and Lucas, the son of former Maryland All-America and NBA player and coach John Lucas, became the first Florida McDonald’s All-Americans since Brewer back in 2004. Parsons, whose grandfather played basketball at Rutgers and was drafted by the New York Knicks out of college, was named to the Jordan All-American team. Allen, whose father is in the Florida State University athletic hall of fame, was a three-time all-state selection in Florida and runner-up as a senior to Calathes in the Mr. Basketball balloting. Tyus became one of the hottest recruiting commodities in the nation in the summer of 2006 when he was the most valuable player at the prestigious ABCD Camp in New Jersey. All five of the freshmen are winners. Calathes and Parsons led Lake Howell to the Class 5A state championship in Florida as a senior after three years of making it to the Final Four. Allen led Milton to the state championship game as a junior and to the regional championship game as a sophomore and senior. Tyus helped Cincinnati’s Harmony Christian Prep to the runner-up spot in the national prep school tournament in 2006 and Lucas led Houston Bellaire to three straight district championships and the regional finals.

Because they are so coachable, Donovan knows that he has a group that has a chance to mature early. Unlike the ‘04s, who arrived in Gainesville without a lot of pressure to contribute immediately, the class of 2007 will have to play immediately because the Gators have only nine scholarship players. Donovan likes the way the Fab Five come to practice, ready to learn and willing to do whatever it takes to contribute. “When you have guys with that type of mindset there’s always a better opportunity for them to grow and develop at a faster rate,” said Donovan. “I think you add on top of that it’s a pretty cerebral group. It’s a pretty good basketball IQ group.” Although it’s unfair to compare the Class of 2007 to the Class of 2004, Parsons says the ‘04s have set the standard and it’s up to the new guys to live up to it. “Those guys proved you can win national championships at Florida,” said Parsons. “We’re here to keep it going. We’ve got the best coaches in the country and the best fans to play for. We’re here to win championships, too.” Like the ‘04s, the Fab Five is following another tradition. Wherever you saw one of the ‘04s, the others were sure to follow. That’s also become the theme of the Fab Five. “There’s a lot of chemistry between us,” said Lucas. “We really are like brothers. We’re best friends. … We do everything together.” They are hoping that the chemistry they develop will take them as far as it did their predecessors. They have big shoes to fill, but they’re happy to have a chance to fill them. “It’s an honor to be following after Al, Jo, Taurean and Corey,” said January 2008


It’s an honor to be following after Al, Jo, Taurean and Corey. We’ve got a lot to live up to, but what better role models could you ask for than those guys? If we can do it like those guys did it, then we’ll be pretty successful at Florida. UF FRESHMAN NICK CALATHES


January 2008

Calathes. “We’ve got a lot to live up to, but what better role models could you ask for than those guys? If we can do it like those guys did it, then we’ll be pretty successful at Florida.” Here’s a brief look at each:

NICK CALATHES HEIGHT/WEIGHT 6-6, 194 HOMETOWN Casselberry, Fla. HIGH SCHOOL Lake Howell AAU TEAM Nike Team Florida COMMITTED TO FLORIDA May, 2004 HIGH SCHOOL/AAU HIGHLIGHTS Calathes was named to the McDonald’s, Parade and Jordan All-America teams after a senior season in which he averaged 27 points, seven rebounds and seven assists a game for Lake Howell. Calathes is only the third player in Florida history to be named Mr. Basketball twice. Helped take Lake Howell to the Class 5A Final Four all four years of his high school career. The Silver Hawks won the state championship in 2007, beating St. Petersburg Lakewood in the championship game by the widest margin in state Final Four history. Calathes, Parsons and Joey Rodriguez shared the MVP award in

the state tournament as seniors. Started as a freshman with his older brother Pat, now a star at St. Joseph’s, on a Lake Howell team that made it to the state championship game. Calathes committed to the Gators after his sophomore year in high school. STRENGTHS/WEAKNESSES Perhaps the most creative passer to sign with the Gators since Brett Nelson. His greatest strength is his ability to fill up the box score. Calathes is an outstanding three-point shooter, who finished second in the three-point contest at the McDonald’s game and first at the Jordan Game. Capable of playing point, shooting guard and small forward. He is a scorer that


can get his points without being the primary focus of the offense. He might have been the best garbage player in all of high school basketball. He’s still growing. His brother Pat was 6-6 when he signed with St. Joseph’s and he’s 6-11 now. Needs to improve on his man-to-man defense and get physically stronger to handle the kind of banging he’s going to face in the Southeastern Conference. CALATHES ON HIS EXPECTATIONS FOR HIS FRESHMAN YEAR “My defense and boxing out has to improve. I’ve got to do a lot of the little things that I didn’t really have to do in high school. I could get away with some things in high school because our team was just a lot better than most of the teams we played. Here, everybody is really good and so I have to work on doing all the little things like boxing out, helping out on defense, staying with my man, things like that. I’ve got a lot to learn about defense since we played a 1-3-1 almost all the time in high school. I really want to improve in that area and become consistent. My goal is to play smart and play with intensity every time out and do whatever I can to make the team better.” DONOVAN SAYS “I think that Nick has a great ability to see plays develop before they develop. When you talk about a great passer or a guy that makes a play, he can see something before it develops and happens. While he’s waiting for that to happen, in that split second he can make the play. Nick’s got that ability when he’s playing the game that he can see how things are going to unfold on the court that he can plays before they happen and that’s what makes him a great passer.”

ADAM ALLEN HEIGHT/WEIGHT 6-8, 206 HOMETOWN Milton, Fla. HIGH SCHOOL Milton AAU TEAM Tallahassee Wildcats COMMITTED TO FLORIDA June, 2006 HIGH SCHOOL/AAU HIGHLIGHTS Allen was the runner-up to Calathes for Mr. Basketball in the state of Florida as a senior. He was the Class 4A Player of the Year and a three-time first team all-state selection. He scored 2,317 points in his high school career and pulled down 1,200 rebounds. As a high school senior, Allen averaged 24.7 points

ADAM ALLEN and 12.2 points per game and was a finalist for the McDonald’s All-American Game. The son of former FSU great Randy Allen, who played seven years of professional basketball, including the Sacramento Kings, Allen led Milton to a runner-up finish in Class 4A in 2006 and to the regional finals in 2007. He chose Florida over Florida State and Alabama. STRENGTHS/WEAKNESSES Allen will play the wing mostly, but he’s capable of playing the high post. He has a beautiful outside shot and range well beyond the three-point line. He handles the ball like a guard and is good at putting the ball on the floor and getting to the basket. Coaches love him because he’s a floor-burn guy, who excels at making the hustle plays and taking charging fouls. Allen played center in high school, so he has to learn how to move his feet better to play good defense on the perimeter. ALLEN ON HIS EXPECTATIONS FOR HIS FRESHMAN YEAR “I have to get better coming off ball screens and having the ball in my hands making plays. I have to get better and focus on guarding out on the floor because I always played on the inside in high school. I have a lot of things to learn, so I just want to come to practice every day and see if I can get better. Every time I’m on the floor, I want to hustle, dive for any loose ball, take a charge … do whatever I can to help my team win.” DONOVAN SAYS “He is the one guy I would say that is completely relentless with the way he practices every day. He has absolutely no regard for his body. He goes to the backboard every single time with reckless abandon. He will step in and take charges. He will put his body in place. He will for charges. He will get to the floor for loose basketballs. He plays and exemplifies a passion that I really admire as a coach when I watch him play.”

ALEX TYUS HEIGHT/WEIGHT 6-8, 203 HOMETOWN St. Louis HIGH SCHOOL Harmony Christian Prep (Cincinnati, Ohio) AAU TEAM D-1 Greyhounds COMMITTED TO FLORIDA June, 2006

HIGH SCHOOL/AAU HIGHLIGHTS Led Harmony Christian Prep to the national prep school championship game in 2006, averaging 24 points and 12 rebounds a game. During the summer of 2006, he was one of the key ingredients for Cincinnati-based D-1 Greyhounds on their run to the AAU 17-and-under national championship, averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds a game on a team that featured O.J. Mayo (Southern Cal) and Billy Walker (Kansas State). He was the dominant player in the quarterfinals and semifinals of the AAU nationals for Division I. Selected the most valuable player at the ABCD Camp in 2006. Tyus chose Florida over Ohio State, Kansas and Arizona. STRENGTHS/WEAKNESSES Tyus is a tremendous off-the-ball shot blocker who seems to come out of nowhere to swat shots away. He is a strong finisher around the rim who dunks back a lot of missed shots. Runs the floor well and it isn’t unusual for him to get a rebound on one end of the floor and finish with a dunk at the other end. He’s got a nice jump shot up to 12-15 feet. He’s long and

ALEX TYUS lean, so he has to get stronger to handle the physical play on the inside in the SEC. He also needs to work on catching the ball cleanly when he’s posted up on the low blocks. TYUS ON HIS EXPECTATIONS FOR HIS FRESHMAN YEAR “It’s a lot more physical at this level and that is something I have to get used to. The other thing is that you have to play hard every single possession. You have to stay focused and do that. That’s a lot different than it was in high school and AAU because you could take plays off. Here, you take a play off you get burned. I think I can run the floor and I can finish and I can block shots, but I have to learn how to play better defense on the ball. I want to be able to contribute January 2008


something every time I play.” DONOVAN SAYS “Alex is very athletic and he really runs the floor well and goes after the basketball. He is long and he can block shots and he knows how to finish around the rim. He’s more of a four (power forward), but because we’re not very big, he’s going to have to learn to play more of a five (center) this year and that’s asking a lot of him. He’s very coachable and he wants to improve and get better. We’re going to ask a lot from him this year.”

CHANDLER PARSONS HEIGHT/WEIGHT 6-9, 200 HOMETOWN Casselberry, Fla. HIGH SCHOOL Lake Howell AAU TEAM Nike Team Florida COMMITTED TO FLORIDA August, 2006 HIGH SCHOOL/AAU HIGHLIGHTS Parsons was named to the Jordan All-American team after his senior year. He was a first team allstate selection in Class 5A. He averaged 22 points and 11 rebounds a game as a senior,

CHANDLER PARSONS helping lead Lake Howell to the Class 5A state championship. Parsons, Calathes and teammate Joey Rodriguez (VCU) shared the most valuable player award for the state tournament, the first time ever that three players have shared the award. Parsons burst onto the national recruiting scene in the summer of 2006 playing for Nike Team Florida when he was the leading scorer in the Peach Jam, outscoring Eric Gordon (Indiana), Derrick Rose (Memphis), Kyle Singler (Duke) and Calathes for that honor. Scored 40 on Delvon Roe at the AAU national tournament in Orlando. He started three years for Lake Howell, which went to the Final Four in Class 5A all three years. Parsons chose Florida over LSU, Indiana and Arizona State. STRENGTHS/WEAKNESSES Parsons has tremendous range on his jump shot. Known more for his outside shooting, Parsons is just

beginning to develop an inside game, but he’s got a nice upside there. He is a creative passer and capable ball handler who can lead the fast break and make excellent decisions about distributing the ball. He’s nearly 6-10 now and still growing. Parsons needs to get in the weight room to add upper-body muscle to become an effective inside player and he has to learn to play fundamentally sound man-to-man defense. PARSONS ON HIS EXPECTATIONS FOR HIS FRESHMAN YEAR “I’m really excited that I’m going to be playing at the O-Dome in front of the best fans in the world. I want to be an unselfish player that helps my teammates get better. Right now, I’m a better offensive player than defense, so I want to work hard every day in practice on that. I’ll pretty much play wherever coach Donovan wants me to play and I’ll do whatever I can do to help the team win games. It’s not about stats. It’s about who wins the game.” DONOVAN SAYS “I think the thing about Chan-

dler is that he has the ability to affect the game in some different ways because he’s obviously a good three-point shooter, but he can put the ball on the floor well and he’s a high assist guy. He can get guys shots. He’s smart enough that you can play him at the small forward spot and the power forward spot. He’s very versatile and multi-dimensional.”

JAI LUCAS HEIGHT/WEIGHT 5-11, 150 HOMETOWN Bellaire, Texas HIGH SCHOOL Bellaire AAU TEAM Houston Hoops COMMITTED TO FLORIDA May, 2007 HIGH SCHOOL/AAU HIGHLIGHTS Lucas was named to the McDonald’s, Parade and Jordan All-American teams. The son of former Maryland All-America John Lucas, who played and coached in the NBA, and the brother of former All-Big 12 guard John Lucas III (Oklahoma State), Jai averaged 26.3 points and 7.5 assists per game as a senior

JAI LUCAS while leading Bellaire to its third straight district championship in the competitive Houston metro area. Led Bellaire to the regional championship as a junior. Playing for Houston Hoops on the AAU circuit, he averaged 23 points and more than 10 assists a game. Chose Florida over Kentucky, Maryland and Oklahoma State. STRENGTHS/WEAKNESSES Lucas is extremely quick and a confident ball handler, who is at his best in traffic or against the press. Plays with his head up, so he is able to see the entire floor when he’s got the ball in his hands. He makes intelligent passes. He can get overpowered going against taller, more physical players, so he has to learn to get better defensive position and use his quickness to compensate. He shoots the three well in transition and he’s fearless getting in the lane and going against bigger players. He

needs to add about 15 pounds of muscle. LUCAS ON HIS EXPECTATIONS HIS FRESHMAN YEAR “When I’m on the court, I feel like I need to be an extension of coach Donovan. I like to pass first, but I know that I can score if I need to. I think I’ve been helped because I’ve been playing with bigger and older guys all my life. Over the summer I got to play a lot with NBA players and college players so that helped me a lot. Players are quicker here than they were in high school and AAU, so you have to make decisions quicker. You just have to get things done. I want to be able to adjust and play any style we go against, whether that’s up-tempo or half court.” DONOVAN SAYS “The hardest position to transfer over to in college is point guard. Everything is moving so much quicker. I think Jai has progressed really, really well. I’ve been excited about what he’s been able to do. He’s a high basketball IQ guy that understands how to play the game and picks things up in practice immediately.”




an you hear the music, the sweet little ditty that percolates from the Chattanooga foothills to the Blue Ridge mountains in Johnson City? Wish that I was on ole Rocky Top Down in the Tennessee Hills Ain’t no smoggy smoke on Rocky Top Ain’t no telephone bills If you’re a Southeastern Conference sports fan, you heard it in football. Well, get used to it, because you’ll hear it again soon as SEC basketball starts in January. Any hoops fan worth his weight in Chuck Taylors, knows Tennessee is the team to beat in the SEC. The Volunteers are ranked in just about everyone’s top 10 and were the consensus pick among the league’s media to


January 2008

Ramar Smith

win their ninth SEC title. “I tell you everyone’s overwhelmed with Tennessee,” said Larry Conley, a color analyst for Lincoln Financial Sports. “Just look at all the players that they have coming back. It’s a pretty balanced and deep team. There are probably eight guys, maybe more, that can play.” Few are more gifted than Chris Lofton, Tennessee’s All-America shooting guard, who averaged 20.8 points and 3.1 rebounds as a junior. Most of his production comes from the perimeter and even though those who guard him know that, his exceptional range and quick release make him difficult to defend.

“He would be my first choice for player of the year simply because of the way he plays,” Conley said. “I am a gigantic fan of his simply because of the way he can shoot the basketball. He’s such a great shooter.” Four starters are back from a squad that gave Ohio State all it could handle in the regional semifinals. Along with Lofton, there’s Ramar Smith, the sophomore point guard; Jajuan Smith, the 6-2 swingman; and Wayne Chism, the 6-9 sophomore center. All but Chism averaged double figures last season and even he chipped in 9.1 rebounds a game. That foursome was good enough to win


24 games last year. Gone is Dane Bradshaw, the undersized senior forward, who served as a valuable role player. Coach Bruce Pearl replaced Bradshaw with a gem—Tyler Smith, a 6-foot-7 transfer from Iowa, who earned All-Big Ten Freshman honors last winter. Originally, Smith, from Pulaski, Tenn., signed with former Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson, but Peterson was forced out and replaced by Pearl. Smith failed to qualify academically, spent a year at Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy and landed at Iowa, where he spent last season. But another coaching change—Steve Alford fled for New Mexico—and a family illness forced Smith to look closer to home and he transferred to Tennessee and Pearl, who, two years ago, had refused to release him from his national letter of intent. The star player and his new coach have resolved their differences. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the NCAA granted Smith immediate eligibility because of his father’s lung cancer. Usually, Division I transfers have to sit out a season. Smith made his impact early, scoring 15 points and grabbing four rebounds in only 21 minutes against Prairie View A&M. “I saw the kid play last year at the Paradise Jam down in the Virgin Islands,” Conley said. “I saw him play three games and he was the second best freshman I saw play last year. The best one I saw play was (former Ohio State star) Greg Oden, and then (former Texas star) Kevin Durant, so I should really say third best behind Oden and Durant. The first game he scored 20 and 13 down in the Islands in his first game as a collegian, and I thought where in the world did this guy come from? “I’m telling you he could come in and become a major difference for that basketball team. They had such balance anyway with size and shooting. We’re not just talking one guy out there. “Lofton’s good, but I think Jajuan Smith and Ramar Smith are awfully, awfully good. They’ve got good players. This guy (Smith) is about 6-7, about 215, 220 and is just a tremendous force from 15 feet and in, and he does everything well.” Smith is one of a half dozen or so newcomers expected to contribute this season. Florida’s five freshmen were ranked as the nation’s top recruiting class. Two

Ramel Bradley

I watched that game, the second half, and (GardnerWebb) was the better team. Like I was telling someone, those rims, those balls and those floors do not discriminate. The ball goes where you tell it to go. GardnerWebb was clearly the best team that night. Early in the season, you have teams in transition. (Kentucky’s) adjusting to a new coach, a new style, all of that stuff. COLLEGE BASKETBALL ANALYST CLARK KELLOGG

of those players—Nick Calathes and Jai Lucas—are starting. Other first-year players of note are Patrick Patterson, a 6-9 McDonald’s All-American (Kentucky); Anthony Randolph, a 6-10 forward (LSU); and Andrew Olgivy, a 6-11, 250-pound center (Vanderbilt). “For all the years I’ve been in this league I think on an individual basis looking around the league this must be the best freshman group I have seen in a long time,” Conley said. “I’m talking about taking the top two (new) players off each squad. There are some really, really talented freshmen in this league this year. I think you’re going to find at least one off every team that will stand out.” Conley, a former star at Kentucky in the 1960s, loves Olgivy’s skills, attributes that should fortify the Commodores’ frontcourt and help the club make a surprise run at the SEC East. Historically, Vanderbilt’s been competitive, but rarely has the Nashville school contended for a championship. In fact, Vandy’s won only three SEC titles—just one since 1987—a trend that may change. “(Olgivy’s) got a chance to be freshman of the year in the league,” Conley said. “I had a heard a lot about him and I got a chance to watch him play. He’s very, very good. I think he could make a real difference for Vanderbilt along with another player that I love (junior swingman) Shan Foster. Then they have Alex Gordon, who could be the best point guard in the league. He’s a kid out of Pensacola, who played football and basketball. I like his toughness; I like his quickness. They got (Ross) Neltner. They got (Alan) Metcalfe. You know, they’ve got a pretty decent club coming back.” Often overshadowed is Jamont Gordon of Mississippi State, one of the league’s most explosive perimeter players. If Lofton is a pure shooter, the Gordon is a pure penetrator, a guard, who can score (16 ppg), rebound (7.1 rpg) and pass (5.3 apg). “He’s not far behind (Lofton),” Conley said. “He does so many things well. He can defend. He can rebound. He can handle. He does everything pretty well.” The same could be said for Arkansas’ entire squad. The Razorbacks are one of the few teams in all of college basketball to January 2008


return all five starters. The only thing missing is their coach, Stan Heath, who was fired. Not because he couldn’t get in the NCAA tournament, but rather because he couldn’t win in the NCAA tournament. His replacement is former Florida assistant John Pelphrey, who left Gainesville for South Alabama, where he spent four years. At South Alabama, Pelphrey had to build a program; at Arkansas, he will have to improve on a foundation by motivating experienced, talented players, a luxury in college basketball where turnover reigns. “For me, it’s really hard to make any kind of assessment on teams unless they have a number of players who return,” CBS college basketball analyst Clark Kellogg said. “At least I’ve seen them. I know what they look like. I know what their potential is.” Although November is usually reserved for non-conference mismatches, the first month of the season has confirmed the obvious. Tennessee is good. Florida may be a little better than people think. And Kentucky could be in for a long year. The Wildcats lost to the Gardner-Webb, 84-68, a loss so disturbing to Rupp Arena faithful that they booed the squad off the floor moments after the game. Tubby Smith got run out of Lexington, not because he couldn’t win, because he didn’t win enough. Now his successor loses to a midmajor program. What gives? “I think it’s a combination of things,” Conley said. “At least from what I’m hearing is that the players haven’t bought into what (Billy Gillispie) wants done. If you’ve got that struggle going on early in the season, particularly with a club that lost what they lost last year, you’ve got problems. Of course, (Jodie) Meeks is gone for six weeks. He’s down and out. Quite frankly, Meeks is the best player he’s got. With him out of the lineup, they really struggle to find consistency. “Losing to Gardner-Webb was a matter of them overlooking that squad. You’ve got (Ramel) Bradley sitting there, you’ve got (Joe) Crawford sitting there. Everyone’s saying let’s get Gardner-Webb out of the way, so we can advance (Coaches versus Cancer/College Hoops Classic) and play Connecticut. They overlooked them.” Said Kellogg: “I watched that game, the second half, and (Gardner-Webb) was the better team. Like I was telling someone, those rims, those balls and those floors do not discriminate. The ball goes where you tell it to go. Gardner-Webb was clearly the best team that night. Early in the season, you have teams in transition. (Kentucky’s) adjusting to a new coach, a new style, all of that stuff.” UK was not the only kingpin toppled. Mercer beats Southern Cal. Grand Valley State knocks off Michigan State, Findlay trips up Ohio State. Davidson nearly upset top-ranked North Carolina. Parity, anyone? Even blue-blooded programs like Carolina and Kentucky can’t afford to take a night off. And if they do, prepare to make Sports Center for all the wrong reasons. “I didn’t even know Findlay had a college,” Conley said. Expect more surprises come March when the NCAA tournament starts. “With the scholarship limitations at 13 (per team), and the number of quality players that there are now, I just think because of that limitation, you can’t just go out and fill up your roster with all those players anymore,” Conley said. “I think there are a lot of players that get left aside that all of a sudden become really good after a year or two of


Sonny Weems

college. A lot of schools, particularly at the Division I level, are not of the mind to have patience for a year or two. Their fans are not, either. I think the pressure really begins to show in recruiting.” The question for UK fans concerns the commitment of their coach, Billy Gillispie, who, as of late November, had not signed a formal contract with his new employer since leaving Texas A&M in April. UK and Gillispie are bound by a memorandum of understanding, a temporary agreement outlining the basics between the two parties. If UK fans think they have it tough, imagine what it must be like in Athens. Georgia looked forward to challenging Tennessee for SEC East supremacy, but was rocked by turmoil this fall. Three Bulldogs have been disciplined for a variety of wrongdoings. Say so long to Mike Mercer, Takais Brown and Albert Jackson. Mercer and Brown are gone for good. However, Jackson sat out only the first six games and is expected to return for

conference play in early January. Nevertheless, the loss of Brown and Mercer will hurt. Both were projected starters. “At Georgia, I don’t know what’s going on there,” Conley said. “I’m not sure they’re going to have a roster left if they don’t stop all that off-the-court stuff. In the summer, I had Georgia second in the SEC East if all those kids had stayed. I thought their talent was really outstanding.” South Carolina could use a few quality players as well. The Gamecocks have not won an NCAA tournament game under Dave Odom and after six seasons of March Sadness, folks in Columbia want more than NIT championships. Odom, who left Wake Forest seven years ago, will welcome back three players with starting experience, plus two transfers— Devan Downey (Cincinnati) and Zam Fredrick II (Georgia Tech) and should give the Gamecocks a chance to improve on last year’s 4-12 league record.


Andre Caldwell caught 13 passes against Florida Atlantic to break Carlos Alvarez’s school record for career receptions. Alvarez, pictured here on the left, earned All-America honors for the Gators in 1969. PHOTOGRAPH BY TIM CASEY

Life After a National Title Life After a National Title Life After a National Title Life After a National Title Life After a National Title Life After a National Title Life After a National Title FLORIDA BASKETBALL STARTS OVER AFTER UNPRECEDENTED GLORY THE PAST TWO SEASONS BY MIKE HODGE | PHOTOS BY TIM CASEY 26

January 2008

Seasons, they come and go. Teams change. Time passes. Seasons, they come and go. Teams change. Time passes. Seasons, they come and go. Teams change. Time passes. Seasons, they come and go. Teams change. Time passes. Seasons, they come and go. Teams change. Time passes. Seasons, they come and go. Teams change. Time passes. Seasons, they come and go. Teams change. Time passes. Seasons, they come and go. Teams change. Time passes. Seasons, they come and go. Teams change. Time passes. When it comes to Florida basketball, Bill Koss has seen it all, the good, the bad and the ugly. As a player, fan and broadcaster, he has followed the Gators for more than 40 years. Through five decades. Through seven coaches. Through four athletic directors. Through the shame of an NCAA investigation. Through the fame of the first-ever Final Four. He seen programs fall only to get rebuilt and tumble again. But as Florida basketball begins its 90th season of formal competition, the Gators enter uncharted waters. For years, the question was whether Florida could ever develop into an elite basketball school. Billy Donovan answered that emphatically in 2006 and ’07 with consecutive national titles, the first program time to do so since the early 1990s. So now the question has to be amended: Where to go from here? “I really feel, in many ways, it’s like reinventing yourself,” Koss said. “It’s a basketball program that has a lot of substance because of the accomplishments under Billy’s watch the last 10 years. But it’s a team that’s got to create its own identity.” Last season, Florida’s squad, because of its overwhelming experience, was an empirical entity. The Gators returned five starters from a national championship squad, the firstever college basketball team to do so. They were expected to compete for a national title and they won it. A championship tradition has been created, and this team—fair or not—will have to carry that baggage. The reality is Florida returns only one of its top seven players from last year; the perception is that they’re still the defending national champions. “That’s all fodder for media and sports talk from my standpoint,” CBS college basketball analyst Clark Kellogg said. “I always evaluate teams year to year, especially at the college level. A jersey does carry with it a certain level of respect and tradition. For some players it will add an additional level of motivation when they play a Duke or Kentucky, a Florida, a UCLA or an Ohio State. The uniforms are great to talk about, but ultimately your personnel’s going to determine what level you play at, but for a program like Florida

that’s won back to back titles and had good regular-season success, they’re at a level they’re always going to have good players. They’ve got a terrific young coach and a good coaching staff, so they’re always going to be a team that I think will be in a position to go from good to great. Despite, their stumbles or perceived stumbles, they will still be pretty good. Coming off a national championship season, they might win 22 games and then win a game or two in the tournament, which again, if you evaluate personnel year to year, you’ve got to be realistic.” Florida is not the first team to face life after consecutive national titles. Duke won it all in 1991 and ’92, but it took nine years before the Blue Devils won another in 2001. “Success can work both ways, for you or against you,” said Kenny Blakeney, a reserve guard for the Blue Devils from 1992-95. “Clearly for those guys (at Florida), the

as patient—or forgiving. “That’s the fans’ expectations, but it’s just not that way,” Blakeney said. “National championships just don’t happen. If it did just happen, more people would do it regularly. It’s very difficult on coaches to prepare teams. It’s really hard. There’s no blue print.” Florida coaches face a blank canvas this season. Eight of the Gators’ top nine players are underclassmen. Five are freshmen, a handful of first-year players that was rated the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class. None seem intimidated by succeeding a national championship squad. “It’s always going to be in the back of our mind, that, ‘Hey we’re playing for the two-time defending national champions,’” freshman forward Chandler Parsons said. “We know everyone’s going to be on their ‘A’ game against us. We’re a new team. We’re

Dan Werner (left) and Jonathan Mitchell

success is great. But if you don’t handle it well, opponents will use it to their advantage. Now the goal is to accomplish something new with a new group.” The first few seasons following the run to the national titles were trying. Even though the Blue Devils had lost Christian Laettner and Brian Davis, Duke was everyone’s big game—from early November, until late March. “We played Cal in the first or second round of the NCAA tournament,” Blakeney said. “They came after us like we were the 1987 Duke team. It’s the Duke tradition that they’re playing against, which is a tough thing. It’s like that, at Duke and at Florida. If the players don’t understand the legacy, it can be a long season.” Those who follow from afar are usually not

creating a new identity. What they did is over with. It’s great tradition. But we’re a new team and we’re going to try to follow in their footsteps.” Gone are the ‘04s—Taurean Green, Corey Brewer, Al Horford and Joakim Noah; and two other pivotal players—senior shooting guard Lee Humphrey and senior power forward Chris Richard. Five of the six went to the NBA. In their place is another promising group, the ‘07s—Nick Calathes, a slick point guard from Lake Howell High; Adam Allen, a versatile small forward from Milton, Alex Tyus, a springy power forward from St. Louis; Jai Lucas, a speedy point guard from Bellaire, Texas; and and Parsons, a versatile forward from Lake Howell. Two of the five—Calathes and Lucas— January 2008


Walter Hodge

began the season in the starting five and all five have reached double figures in points and minutes. But clearly Calathes has emerged as the most gifted of the bunch. In his first collegiate game, he scored a team-high 21 points against North Dakota State. “He’s just so in control out there,” NDSU coach Saul Phillips said. “Watching tape, he sees the floor so well, as well as any freshman.” Calathes was a consensus prep All-America selection and is most decorated recruit since Mike Miller. In fact, Donovan has signed 11 McDonald’s All-Americans during his tenure at Florida. Rarely do any of them fulfill expectations their freshman year. Calathes may be the exception. “He brings something special,” said Koss. “He really does.” Florida, by all accounts, is talented, but you have to sort through patches of peach fuzz to find the potential. One of the few familiar faces is Donovan, who left the


January 2008

Gator basketball program this summer for a weekend fling with the Orlando Magic, before returning to his Gainesville roots. A program nearly in disarray was stabilized and now only will only continue to progress. Expected to come aboard next season are Eloy Vargas and Kenny Kadji, two 6-10 hotshot recruits that are expected to make a good team even better with frontcourt depth. “Coach Donovan’s the best coach in the nation,” sophomore center Marreese Speights said. “He knows what he’s doing. We’ll be fine.” Speights is Florida’s only true bigman. Only three UF scholarship players weigh more than 230 pounds, two fewer than last year. Speights (6-10, 250), Dan Werner (6-7, 235), Jonathan Mitchell (6-7, 243) along with Tyus (6-8, 203) will have to make do against the elbow to elbow combat in the Southeastern Conference. Last year, the Gators relied on the power of Horford and Noah. This year, the focus

will center on the perimeter. “I think we have to space the floor,” Donovan said. “We’ve got to try to use the gifts that we have on offense. I think we have a skilled offensive team that can pass and shoot. Outside of Marreese Speights, I don’t think there’s anyone on our team that’s an inside presence.” Speights offers an intriguing component, one of the few pure post players Florida’s ever been able to feature in its halfcourt offense. “I think Marreese Speights has as much talent as we’ve ever had at that position,” Koss said. “He’s got good footwork. He gets up to the rim the second and third time as well as anyone we’ve had. Remember Dwayne Davis, the one we called the human pogo stick? This kid, watch his bounce, he’s got great bounce. He gets up and down. He’s got a sixth sense about playing with his back to the basket. Bill Bradley wrote a book years ago. The title was, Sense of where you are. I’ve always thought that big guys who have a

sense to play with their back to the basket it’s uncommon. I don’t think Horford or Noah had that sense of playing with their back to the basket. This kid does. He finds his way to the rim as well as anyone we’ve ever had.” Because he’s a sophomore, Speights will be given time to develop. Walter Hodge does not have that option. A junior, he’s Florida’s only upperclassmen with experience, leadership that Donovan hopes will be passed on to others. Lesson number one: Teamwork. “We have to look at what will put us in a good position to win and what are some of the things that will get us beat,” Donovan said. “We have to be able to define these things. We’re still trying to form being a team. You can talk about being a team. You can talk about rebounding, defending and being unselfish, but they have to understand how that correlates into being successful. A lot of times, with things in college that helps teams win big and a lot of times these guys don’t have to do these things in high school, because in high school you can go out offensively and carry your team by scoring a lot. No one on this team will be able to go out offensively and do that for us.” Defense also could pose a problem. Evidence of a few cracks showed during an exhibition against Lynn University. The Gators won 101-65, but not without a few anxious moments. “We have to get a lot better,” Lucas said. “We gave up seven three 3-pointers in a half against a Division II team. Pretty soon, we’re going to be facing teams like Tennessee with Chris Lofton. We have to get a lot better.” Florida started the season unranked, but eased into the top 25 after a 4-0 start. Whether the Gators stay there remains to be seen. “I think it’s legitimate,” Koss said. “I think when you lose all those players I think it’s hard to put a team up there, even out of respect for the program.” One thing’s that kind of interesting the national media hasn’t picked up on it, but there are a number of story lines with this basketball team.” Last season was about a goal. This season is about the process, the journey. “In the bigger picture, the foundation has been well established,” Koss said. “They’re coming into a program where the players are all really good. When you start a program from scratch, you don’t have anything to fall back upon. (Billy’s) got some recruiting classes, the No.1 one last year and possibly the number one next year. It’s a different mold, if you will. It shouldn’t be a difficult transition over a three-year period of time. It’s unprecedented for a program to lose their top six players and not bring back a single player that started a game. If you look at where they are right now, it’s the youngest Florida basketball team since World War II.” Young, but promising. Sort of like another group of underclassmen a few years ago. “One thing this group does have is a genuine desire to play basketball,” Koss said. “They love the game. They impress me like the ‘04s did. They love being in that practice facility. They go back at night. They just love being around each other playing basketball. That’s uncommon. I think that’s going to bode well for them.”







Champagne On Ice G AINESVILLE


Florida women’s basketball coach Amanda Butler is not afraid to dream big By Mike Hodge Photos by Tim Casey

he rectangular package arrived soon after Amanda Butler was hired, from one colleague to another, from one former Florida coach to the new gal in town. The gift—a bottle of Dom Perignon—came from Carol Ross. Attached was a congratulatory note with a bit of motivation: “A second bottle after you win a championship.” So for now, a single bottle of the bubbly sits in Butler’s office until an improbable quest is fulfilled. For the record, the Gators have never won a Southeastern Conference title, nor have they ever played in the Final Four. Championships? Well, there’s always a first time for everything. And Butler, the feisty point guard who once played for Ross and led Florida to its first NCAA tournament appearance in the mid 1990s, aims to be the one who reverses


January 2008

history. When she was hired away from UNCCharlotte this spring, she called her hiring “a dream job.” Nearly six months later, a perspective has changed. “I’ve revised that original statement,” Butler said. “It’s the beginning of a dream. That dream will come true when we are actually cutting down the nets, when we are getting those crystal basketballs in the trophy case.” To outsiders, the thought of Florida celebrating postseason success is akin to an impossible dream. Wasn’t it just last year that UF won just nine games and finished 2-12 in the SEC? Isn’t this the same program that hasn’t celebrated back to back NCAA tournament appearances since 2001 and 2002 under Ross, the coach who would leave Gainesville burned out because she felt she had taken the Lady Gators program as far as she could? In came Carolyn Peck, who had won a

national title at Purdue and had coached the Orlando Miracle for a few seasons. She had the look of a winner and said all the right things, but after all was said and done, she won 20 games just once in five seasons, was fired and now works as a color analyst for ESPN. Her successor is Butler, who is determined to lead Florida women’s basketball to the promise land, even though it’s been a graveyard for many of her predecessors. The bandwagon needs training wheels and already there’s a sales pitch to recruits to be part of something “historic.” “To be part of our first Final Four team,” Butler said. “Our first SEC championship team. To be part of our first national championship team. So that’s certainly been our (belief) as a recruiting staff.” As for a timetable with this turnaround, there are no shortcuts. Building a winning program takes time. “There are so many variables that we don’t have control over, injuries, things like that that

Change inspires people sometimes. You give them a new opportunity, a clean slate, a different opportunity than what they had last year… They’ve very talented. Talent, I don’t think, is going to make us do the things we want to do. I think it’s going to come down the belief in themselves and the amount of work they want to put in. One of my favorite quotes is your only limitation is your expectation. We’ve started with championship expectations and then we’re going to work to that level. UF COACH AMANDA BUTLER


December 2007

we don’t like to talk about but are part of our game that we have to deal with and contend with,” Butler said. “Certainly I will say things are going to happen a lot quicker than people think they are. Our kids are definitely challenged by that. They understand that, that we may play as an underdog, but we don’t want to play as an underdog very long. We’ll probably sneak up on a few folks this season that don’t expect much out of us. What really matters is what the team expects out of themselves. Their response has been tremendous. Our goals are very simple. We want to compete and get better every single day.” Evidence of progress arrived quickly. The Gators knocked off Xavier, 82-71, in their season-opener, a startling win given that the Musketeers defeated Florida, 86-70, last season in Cincinnati. “We’re playing with a little bit of chip on our shoulder,” Butler said. “We realize there are a lot of people who don’t respect us and don’t think we’re as good as we are. It’s our responsibility to change that perception. Hopefully we took a step in the right direction of doing that tonight. “It goes back to my opening statement. We want to play with pride. We don’t care what the name of the jersey says of the other team. We want to come out and show how proud we are to be Gators and compete every single night and get better every single night. If it opens eyes while we’re doing that, then great.” After a 3-2 start, players appear to have bought in to Butler’s plan. Memories of last

season are gone, but not forgotten. “It’s a different coaching staff, a different philosophy,” junior forward Marshae Dotson said. “We hope that it comes out positive. Last year we were 9-21. It’s nice to have a clean slate. It’s not like we want to forget about it or that there’s revenge, but we’re happy to be starting a new season.” The transition from coach to another, from Peck to Butler is like night and day. “Both are completely different coaches,” sophomore guard Jennifer Mossor said. “I would say there’s a little more intensity from what I’ve seen. That’s the only thing I can pinpoint right now. Everything’s going good with (Butler). We all have a positive outlook on the season. I see us doing a whole lot better than last year.” The adversity of a dreadful season and the firing of their coach, Mossor said, forced the players to bond. “We had to depend on each other,” she said. “I think that made us closer as a team.” And now, nearly eight months after their last game, the Lady Gators appear more motivated than ever. The arrival of a new coach appears to have enhanced that attitude. “Change inspires people sometimes,” Butler said. “You give them a new opportunity, a clean slate, a different opportunity than what they had last year…They’re very talented. Talent, I don’t think, is going to make us do the things we want to do. I think it’s going to come down to the belief in themselves and the amount of work they want to put in. One of my favorite quotes is your only limitation is your expectation. We’ve started with championship expectations and then we’re going to work to that level. They’ve really bought into that, but we’ve still got a long way to go, but the amount of improvement and the commitment they have displayed over the summer has been tremendous. “I can’t speak for what did or didn’t happen last year. But I can tell you this year these kids are playing with a renewed passion.” Not that they will have a choice. Butler said the Gators will run, employing a fullcourt, suffocating style of play expected to force turnovers and score points. “I play an aggressive, uptempo style,”

Butler said. “You can’t be a coach that sits thoughtfully in your seat with your chin rested in your hand. It doesn’t work that way. We want to be aggressive. We want to set the tone. We want to play 94 feet. They need to reflect my personality, and I’m not scared to let it out there and let them see the amount of intensity that it’s going to take to do the things we want to do.” Last year, Florida struggled largely because of lack of frontcourt size. That deficiency was addressed in the offseason. Joining the Gators this fall is Aneika Henry, a 6-3 junior from Seminole Community College. Henry cracked the starting lineup and tallied 19 points and 10 rebounds during an exhibition game against Warner Southern and contributed six points, four rebounds and three blocked shots against Xavier in the season opener. “She is a special athlete,” Butler said. “She’s also a special kid who wants to improve and get better every day. Working on her game in the short time we’ve been here, she’s maximized those few hours a week. She has continued to improve since she’s been on campus.” One other caveat: She can dunk. “That’s something I’ve never had the opportunity to coach,” Butler said. “Maybe I need to get with Billy (Donovan) and his staff. I tell you what. If we have the opportunity to do it, we’re going to do it.” Feathery entry passes likely will come from Lonnika Thompson, a sophomore transfer from Trinity Valley Community College, who gives the Gators a true point guard, something they lacked last season. Thompson’s arrival and Brittaney Thomas’ offseason improvement will allow Sha Brooks, last year’s point guard, to move to shooting guard, her natural position. “Certainly Sha has the potential to be a great player in this league,” Butler said. “I think the thing that will help Sha this year is we have other players who will play the point guard spot, so we can put her in position to make plays and score. Maybe the team will go a little bit deeper than they have the last couple of years and not require a player like Sha to play 30-plus minutes. It’s hard. We have the most physical conference in the country. To get that point in the year, there’s going to be a certain level of pounding that takes place.”

Florida was picked 10th to finish among the SEC’s 12 teams. The Gators open league play against Kentucky Jan. 10. The top of the SEC’s pecking starts with Tennessee and coach Pat Summitt, who has steered the Volunteers to 14 conference titles and seven national championships, including one last March. “The bigger they are harder they fall, isn’t that what they say?” Butler said. “Pat Summitt and what she’s done at Tennessee is incredible for all of us who get to call ourselves women’s basketball coaches and those of who have the opportunity to compete as student-athletes. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from her and the way that she does things. She’s a great competitor, but we’re excited about the challenge. We want to play against the best and find recruits who are looking for the opportunity to go against the best. That’s what Tennessee is right now. It is a big mountain, it is a big challenge, but if you’re frightened by that, then the University of Florida’s not the right place for you.” Although the Gators should improve this season, road games in the SEC can be unforgiving, one reason Butler needs leadership from the veteran players. Much will be expected from Depree Bowden, the only senior among the starting five. “Leadership certainly is huge,” Butler said. “I think on any team, no matter what the challenges are, no matter what year you’re in, but certainly when you’re in a transitional year with a new coach, the (returning players) play a huge role. They have made my job, certainly in the beginning, much easier.” Long-term success, of course, hinges on recruiting and Butler, it appears, has more than held her own. She brought in Thompson and Susan Yenser, a transfer from Clemson over the summer. In the fall, she received oral commitments from Lily Svete, forward from Penn High in Granger, Ind; Azani Stewart, a 6-4 post player from Middleburg, Va; and Tailor Jones, a guard from Lake Mary High in Orlando. Jones chose the Gators over Ohio State; Stewart considered Virginia; and Svete took a long look at Purdue. All are highly rated by various recruiting services, which is good for PR, but not necessarily a factor in the recruiting process.

Recruitniks generally evaluate individual talent, not how that talent will fit a particular system or style of play. “Certainly those things are helpful tools in our business,” Butler said. “We really strive to find the fit in terms of what we’re looking for. We’re never going to sign a young lady, because she’s ranked somewhere. It means a lot more that they appreciate the opportunity to be at the University of Florida and all that that means and that they fit with our style of play, our team and our staff. Those (rankings) do exist, but there are a lot more factors that contribute to whether that young lady will be successful in your program or not.” Over the last few years Florida has not recruited its state well. Only four of the 13 current players are from the Sunshine State, which is why Jones’ commitment was big. Previous in-state prep players left home, a trend Butler aims to change. “We’ve been embraced by our state,” Butler said. “I’m very, very pleased by that. The reputation of our university aside from the reputation our athletic program is the best. The Gator Nation is awesome. Everyone knows that. We’ve had a positive response, which has been great for us. It’s nice to walk into a high school and visit a high school, a coach and an administrator and have three, four people do the Gator chomp as you walk by. It’s been very nice, very positive, every stop that we’ve made. We’re going to put energy and effort into making sure it stays that way.” Billy Donovan’s two national titles have proven Florida can win in basketball and with the $10-million practice complex, the collective hoops appeal is even sexier. “The great facilities continue to improve,” Butler said. “I don’t know if you guys (in the media) have had a chance to go next door to see the basketball complex to see what (UF athletic director) Jeremy (Foley) has done to improve that building, which was already fantastic. The $1.8 million upgrade is beautiful. I think that when we get kids on campus and we get families on campus, we really have an opportunity, because it is very impressive. We have some impressive things to sell. But the thing we really dwell on is our people. We’ve had a positive response to getting people on campus. I think that’s going to continue. This place sells itself. It’s fantastic.” January 2008





January 2008

The cliché is true. A year does make a difference. A big difference. Just ask Dustin Doe, who has rolled with the changes throughout his football career, from one high school to another, from the land of the Seminoles to Gator Country, from a struggling high school program to a consistent collegiate national championship contender, from backup to starter. Two years ago Doe was on a mediocre Suwannee High School team trying to prepare for the University of Florida. A year later in Gainesville, Doe found himself playing an important role for the best college football team in the country. However, it wasn’t all about making plays on the field last season. The real learning process came off it. The journey began for Dustin Doe at Hamilton High School. The instant sensation on the football field turned immediately into the athletic pride of the school. He was not only a game-changer on the football field, but a sensational basketball player and track star. Doe grew up in Hamilton, a North Florida area known for its passionate Florida State fans, and even he grew up cheering for the Seminoles as well. In his first two years of high school, fans could see the potential Doe was trying to harness. His speed and ability to hit were uncanny tools that left even the most novice football fans able to imagine the possibilities.

College coaches soon took notice. After a junior season that saw him pile up 77 tackles, offers came pouring in from some of the top schools in the southeast. When Florida won out in the end, Doe did experience a little pressure from the local Seminole community to switch his commitment. “I committed near the end of my junior year during spring football,” Doe said. “At first there was a little bit of pressure, but when you get older you realize there’s more than the name on the helmet and the color on the jersey.” When Doe’s junior season came to a close, his head coach at Hamilton, Mike Pittman, was forced out. This on top of the school’s decision to cancel spring football caused Doe to transfer to Suwannee for his senior year. The move gave him the ability to see how he compared with some of the other top prospects in the state. The Suwannee team played powerhouses such as Ocala Trinity Catholic and Jacksonville Raines, and Doe immediately saw the importance of leading his team. He ended the year garnering Class 3A first team all state honors. “My senior year we went 6-3 and got put out in the district championship,” Doe said. “It was a nice experience because when I transferred my senior year, I was able to play tougher competition and see how I stacked up with some of the other Division I prospects.” Then the transition began. The move to Gainesville was larger than simply switching high schools. He now donned the orange and blue of a senior-laden team ready to make a run at an SEC championship and potentially a national championship. His adjustment was from 3A football to the most competitive conference in the nation. Doe was entrenched as a second-team linebacker early in the season and never gave it up. Fellow freshman Brandon Spikes stood as the backup to junior middle linebacker Brandon Siler and Doe was used to back up both the strong and weak side linebacker positions. This provided valuable playing time for the current group of UF linebackers. “It was a marvelous experience for me because most of my teams in high school weren’t overly successful,” Doe said. “To

I learned a lot of things. On that (national championship) team we had a lot of seniors, so I learned a lot. I feel like the experience and the journey there was better than the actual championship for me as a person. There were a lot of things for me to learn on the way. I learned to be accountable and responsible. In high school you go out on a Friday night, play your game and then that’s it. At the collegiate level, you have to watch and study film while still focusing on the details. DUSTIN DOE January 2008


come in and be on a team that goes 13-1 and wins SEC and national championships, it was a dream come true.” The night of Jan. 8 is where many dreams came true for Gator players, alumni and fans. For Doe, it was difficult to put into words. Just over a year before he wondered about his team’s inability to make the district championship game. Now he was focusing on how to stop the Ohio State Buckeyes and win a national championship. Then they did just that. “It’s one of those things you see in a movie and think to yourself about how that never really happens,” Doe said. “But it did happen, though. I was privileged enough to be out there with a special group of athletes last year. To be out on that field in Arizona with all that confetti falling down, that’s the stuff that just makes you speechless.” The Gator coaches were determined to make sure that Doe was no longer speechless once practices began. After losing the entire group of starting linebackers from last year, the sophomore was thrust into the role of defensive veteran.


January 2008

His presence is felt by opposing offenses this season. Through the Florida State game, Doe is second on the team with 75 tackles. The experience of learning under last year’s veteran defense gave Doe the opportunity to benefit from a year spent watching Earl Everett and Siler make their presence known. “I learned a lot of things,” Doe said. “On that team we had a lot of seniors, so I learned a lot. I feel like the experience and the journey there was better than the actual championship for me as a person. There were a lot of things for me to learn on the way. I learned to be accountable and responsible. In high school you go out on a Friday night, play your game and then that’s it. At the collegiate level, you have to watch and study film while still focusing on the details.” Hearing and seeing what to do in situations, of course, is useless without game experience. Enter a brief stretch last season when the Gators played South Carolina and Western Carolina. Everett was banged up and was unable to play for periods of both games, and Doe stepped in to make sure the

position did not miss a beat. Everett and other familiar faces on the Florida defense are now absent from the Gator defense, but their tutorials remain constantly on the collective mind of the returning players. “It went from watching those guys on the field, to seeing how I’m currently in the same situation they were,” Doe said. “It was a fabulous defense. We can actually look back at the defense and ask what some of those guys did in certain situations. We’ve looked to the past some this year to get a better grasp on how this defense can become like last year’s.” The potential of this young defense could be higher than when last season’s defense came to campus. Increased athleticism is one contributing factor to that, but that hasn’t been the only thing impressing the coaches. The unselfishness of young players might be difficult to find in other programs. The combination of a willingness to learn and natural athleticism has become a coach’s dream, especially with Doe. “He has speed and can cover well,” UF co-defensive coordinator Charlie Strong said.

“He always seems to be around the football and he’s always making plays for us. He takes coaching well.” The departure of a defense that Gator Nation had fallen in love with was not difficult at first. It brought a sense of uneasiness. But the fans weren’t alone in their angst. Last year, Meyer deferred to the second half. Now he takes the ball. The thought behind the strategy is obvious: Better to rely on a mature offense than a young defense. Trust is a key word to Meyer. It’s that trust that is beginning to develop in his defense as the season draws near the end. But as that trust from the head coach grows, maybe it will continue to grow between the players. Every day they step on to the football field, the level of continuity grows. “The biggest thing is that we’re learning a lot about each other,” Doe said. “Our defense is so young and we know we have many more years to play with each other. This first year

is especially fun because of every day at practice we learn something new about each other. We see corners do things we didn’t think they were capable of. We see defensive linemen making crazy plays. I think that’s why we’re having so much fun this season.” The importance for every young player is to establish his role. Doe wasted no time doing that. Just as Brandon Siler found himself as the vocal leader of the defense, one of Doe’s best friends on and off the field, Brandon Spikes, has taken over Siler’s position and leadership. That’s where Doe comes in. As an outside

linebacker, he sees his role as an extension of Spikes. “My role is to echo Brandon,” Doe said. “If Spikes goes out there and says something, I’m going to make sure everyone hears it. I want to be his right-hand man, on and off that field.” It’s easy for Doe to stay focused on the task at hand every Saturday in the Southeastern Conference, but youthful exuberance is difficult to avoid. Every week a physically gifted opponent has a chance to knock them off. Yet when the future is so bright, can you blame the young team for being excited about the future? “We’re taking it one game at a time, but right now we’re focused on finishing strong for these seniors,” Doe said. “In the back of everybody’s mind on the defense, I think we’ve got just a little bit of expectations for these next few years. We know what it takes now. For these next few years, it’s all going to be about putting it into action.”



Dan Mowrey was exiting the playing field at Dolphin Stadium as his team concluded pre-game warmups before their state championship game. Place-kicker Caleb Sturgis had just drilled a pair of field goals from 55 and 65 yards before launching a kickoff that was perhaps the longest Mowrey had ever seen. “James Bates was covering the game for Sunshine Network and he said, ‘Where’s that kid going next year?’ I told him, ‘St. Augustine High,’ Mowrey recalled. “He honestly thought that I was kidding when I told him that he (Caleb) was just a sophomore. One of the Dolphins’ front office guys was watching on the field and said, ‘Our guys can’t even do that.’ It was pretty neat. His opening kickoff hit the crossbar, bounced back and hit the official in the back of the head. In the second quarter, he hit the forty-nine yard field goal that would have been good from sixty. It was right on the screws, a perfect kick.” The entire experience served as a parallel on Sturgis, who has emerged from unknown to unrivaled. St. Augustine coach Joey Wiles and Mowrey will tell you without hesitation that Sturgis’ sincerely puts the best interests of the team first. However, don’t confuse this nice guy as one with a lack of competitive fire. Sturgis apparently has plenty of that. “It’s almost like the movie Hoosiers where when we walked into Dolphin Stadium, he had this glazed look in his eyes like, ‘Oh my goodness we’re in this huge stadium,’” Mowrey said. “When we warmed up, he kicked three knuckleballs in a row. So, I told Caleb to go over there (to the bench) and sit down for a minute. We had another kid who was a backup. He wasn’t a bad kicker and I let


January 2008

him kick for five minutes by himself. Caleb was just kind of stewing over there on the sidelines, and I told him that this is the same sized field that we play on every week. This one is just surrounded by more stands. He said, ‘I know.’ I told him not to look at the stands and just kick the ball. He came out there adjusted and just absolutely began drilling the ball.” Again and again and again and again. “We usually back up to fifty or fifty-five and get a couple in warm-ups,” Mowrey said. “So, we simulated it with me holding the snap in real time and he hit a fifty-five yarder. He cleared it easily. We were running out of time, so we did a couple of kickoffs and he hit the first one that was one of the longest kickoffs that I’d ever seen and I’d kicked with Sebastian Janikowski and a bunch of guys that kick in the NFL. I was baffled by it. That ball went through the uprights and about halfway up on the net. All of this after he hit a sixty-five yard field goal in pre-game.” Remember this is a high sophomore who was concluding his first year of organized football. And the stage couldn’t get any bigger. Sturgis is the sixth-rated place-kicker nationally, according to ESPN/Scouts Inc. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound senior committed to the University of Florida during the Friday Night Lights camp this summer.

“I did forty kickoffs for them there,” Sturgis recalled. “Coach (Urban) Meyer tried to make me nervous standing right beside the tee. I guess it was my test. I got the offer and definitely feel blessed. My family has always pulled for the Gators. It’s hard to describe my feelings. This is exactly what I’d hoped for all along. It’s just really hard to comprehend.” Sturgis has also accepted an invitation to participate in the Under Armour All-America Classic, which will be broadcast on ABC on Jan. 5. In fact, Sturgis was the first kicker offered. The event will provide an opportunity to see Sturgis during practice and in the skills challenge. Both will be aired on ESPNU and ESPN2 the week leading up to the game. One of the strongest legs in the nation will be on display. “We were at practice the other day while they were kicking field goals and I had my back to him and I heard a thu,” Wiles said emphatically. “I immediately turned around and it was just Caleb kicking field goals. When he hits them, you don’t even have to watch him to see the velocity of the ball coming off his foot. “He’s the best that I’ve ever been around and I’ve coached Sebastian Janikowski in the Florida-Georgia All-Star Game. I was with Janikowski for the entire week and he (Caleb) is just as good.”

Comparisons of Sturgis to Janikowski are common for those who have watched Sturgis lift a long field goal well over the top of the goal posts or one of his legendary kickoffs. Janikowski was a teammate of Mowrey’s at Florida State University, who was renowned for his superior leg strength and became a firstround draft choice of the Oakland Raiders. Chants of “Sturgis…Sturgis…Sturgis” are often accompanied with the familiar thud of the football as he launches yet another kickoff through the back of the endzone at St. Augustine High School. Too often many of the opposing teams return men are halfheartedly paying attention when he kicks, because their coaching staffs have told them a return is not likely. “Kicking off from the thirty he’s going to have his fair share of touchbacks and we’ve seen guys bringing that ball out three and four yards deep,” said Mowrey, the kicking coach for St. Augustine High. “He has the strength and ability to put it seven and eight yards deep and put it out of the endzone. This

late in the season, your leg starts getting tired, but because of the way that he works out, his leg is strong. He jogs around after working out to keep the lactic acid from building up in his legs. It wouldn’t surprise me if thirty or forty percent of his field goals go out of the endzone. If he puts it seven and eight yards deep, you’re not going to take it out of it’s that deep. I was telling Scott Bentley, who kicked with me at Florida State, about him, and the fact that it’s nothing for him to get a 4.3, 4.4, or 4.5 hang time on a kickoff. Those are punt hang times and he does that on kickoffs. He just kicks the ball so hard and so dadgum high.” It’s the same thing on the soccer field. Sturgis was an all-state soccer player as a freshman at St. Augustine High School, a fact that took nobody by surprise. The Sturgis family has a long, storied soccer background. One of Caleb’s older brothers, Nathan, attended Clemson, where he earned ACC Freshman of the Year honors, ACC Defensive Player of the Year and was a member of the U.S. National Team. He currently plays

professionally for the Los Angeles Galaxy, who chose him in the first round. He has another bolder brother, Luke, who plays soccer for Flagler College. Eventually, Sturgis’ passion for soccer led to a curiosity about football. “He went out in the little work room and he found some PVC pipe and made a stand and set up his tee,” said his mother, Karen Sturgis, a University of Florida graduate. “I was jogging and would run by the house and he’d be kicking the ball over the soccer net. He was pretty young when he was doing that. I’m not really sure where he developed an interest to do that, but that’s how he started.” Years later, Sturgis’ persistence paid off. He was as well-prepared for his audition as one could possibly imagine and his initial impression was well received. Mowrey remembers watching two of his former kickers during informal workouts. “Well, those guys were in town in the spring working out at the field,” he said. “(The kickers), both being soccer players as January 2008


well, knew Caleb and asked if he wanted to kick the ball. He said sure. We were working out, kicking the ball off the ground. He had never really kicked a football before. So, he takes these odd little soccer steps and kicked a forty-yard field goal from the ground. It had perfect rotation and was as high as it could be and I just stood there with my mouth wide open and said, ‘Wow.’’’ One thing led to another. Mowrey had found a kicker. “I talked to him and asked him if he had any real interest in kicking for the team,” Mowrey said. “It was a process that lasted a couple of weeks just to make certain that this was something that he wanted to do. He said that he wanted come out in the spring and he did. So, I had to go home and explain to my wife that I was going to

“Even his forty-nine-yard field goal in Dolphin Stadium in the state championship game, if you look at his form then compared to his form now, it’s almost comical,” Mowrey said. “He was slouched over and his follow through was short and sweeping. His natural ability to make natural contact with the ball has always been there, but he needed to mature physically, emotionally, and with his form as a kicker.” He did. And Sturgis has also won them over with his sheer determination. “Caleb has worked as hard or harder than anybody on our football team,” Wiles said. “He was maybe one-hundred and fifty pounds when he came out here, and now look at him. He looks good and works out like a linebacker. We lock our school up during the weekends, and Caleb comes out

Caleb has worked as hard or harder than anybody on our football team. He was maybe one-hundred and fifty pounds when he came out here, and now look at him. He looks good and works out like a linebacker. We lock our school up during the weekends, and Caleb comes out and jumps the fence and kicked every day in the summer on his own. That is the kind of guy that Florida is getting. He has a work ethic that Urban Meyer likes. ST. AUGUSTINE HIGH COACH JOEY WILES

be locked down for a couple more years. I had to explain to her just how special this kid was. Just to see a guy who had never kicked before and drill a forty yarder from the ground was eye opening. You just can’t teach that. You either have it or you don’t. I was blown away.” Sturgis and Mowrey began working together that spring. Mowrey basically told him to forget everything that he knew about kicking and started with the basics. Sturgis struggled somewhat during his sophomore season. Still, there was no question about his talent. Mowrey challenged him, hoping that he had the desire to become a polished placekicker and Sturgis answered the bell. It’s now a memory that the two share with amusement.


January 2008

and jumps the fence and kicked every day in the summer on his own. That is the kind of guy that Florida is getting. He has a work ethic that Urban Meyer likes.” Many elite high school kickers struggle with the transition to the college game without the security of a tee. Not Sturgis. “We’ve had college recruiters come in here and ask me if he can kick it off the ground,” Wiles said. “I’ll say, ‘Go ahead Caleb and kick one,’ and he’ll back up and boom—he bangs one off the ground from fifty.” Statistics are deceiving when applied to Sturgis. He was 8 of 16 as a junior with each of his eight misses beyond 50 yards. He finished the regular season during his senior year 10 of 18. “He has been such a weapon for us at St. Augustine High School, because a lot of times

when you try a field goal from fifty-five or sixty yards out there is not a high chance of making them,” Mowrey said. “But, if you can get it over the goal line and into the endzone the ball comes out to the 20-yard line. Gator fans know all too well that if you get the ball into the hands of the return man, there’s an opportunity. We want to force their offense to go eighty yards.” Sturgis would have nothing less. “Caleb is a perfectionist,” Mowrey said. “He has the ability and the strength to make those long field goals, but the odds of making those are really low. I think that he had six or seven field goals over fifty yards. That’s unheard of anywhere. He was kicking them long enough, but was missing a foot right or a foot left. We have a young snapper and a young holder and they’ve progressively gotten better through the year. But, on those long ones, it’s got to be perfect. If it’s a high snap and you have to stutter your steps, it knocks your rhythm off or if the laces are turned a little it’s a big deal. As good as he is you can’t ask him to make those. You can’t ask Adam Vinatieri to make all of those long-range attempts. I told him that once he gets to Florida, where they’ll have guys specializing as a snapper and holder it will be much better.” It’s not difficult to find the driving force for Caleb Sturgis and his thunderous kicks. It’s simply his faith. His father is a local pastor known throughout the community as a strong man of the cloth. “God clearly says over and over that when we walk in obedience he blesses us,” Karen Sturgis said. “If we’re disobedient and we don’t go his way, there is not going to be blessing in our life. I do believe that Caleb has been blessed. He does have athletic ability and has been given a personality that he is focused. We’ve been a stable family. I think this is a great opportunity. I have talked to him about enjoying all of these things, but to give God the glory, put God first, and to be a blessing to others and the team.” It appears that Sturgis will arrive at Florida at just the right time. With UF returning so many players from its 2007 squad, the Gators will be expected to compete for a championship, just like Caleb Sturgis did in his first year at St. Augustine High School.


FIVE PROSPECTS TO FOLLOW FOR 2008 RECRUITING Every issue Bob Redman of Gator Country Magazine features five prospects that die-hard recruitniks should follow throughout the recruiting process. Here is a sampling from the Class of 2008.

As February 2008 draws closer, the recruiting efforts of the Gator coaching staff should start to show. A class of just over 20 prospects should be signed and it should be loaded with talent much like the last two classes. Here is a look at five more prospects for the Class of 2008 that the Gators have a close eye on.

MARCUS DAVIS 6-5, 225 Wide Receiver Virginia Beach, Va. Ocean Lakes High Davis is one of the freakish athletes with size and speed much like the Cornelius Ingram’s and Aaron Hernandez’s of the world. He plays quarterback, receiver, running back, linebacker, safety, and kick returner for his team and could play a handful of positions in college. QUOTABLE “The Swamp was great, and it was

nothing like I have ever seen before. I really liked it. I saw a couple of other games this year and watched the offense. I think I could fit in anywhere there, and I like how they get the ball to the playmakers. It would give me the opportunity to get the ball, and I really like it.”

OMARIUS HINES 6-1, 185 Wide Receiver Corsicana, Texas Corsicana High Hines is a mixture of speed and elusiveness. In a year when the top receivers don’t have


January 2008

a lot of both of those qualities he is a good one to snag. His frame also looks to be able to carry another 10-15 pounds at the college level. QUOTABLE “I have liked Florida since I was

real little. I have watched them a lot, and I like the offense they run. I like how they distribute the ball well.

BRYCE GIVENS 6-7, 280 Offensive Tackle Denver Mullen High Givens committed to Nebraska early in the process, but with the bad season, he will likely not stay committed. He is long, lean, and tenacious, the top three qualities the offensive line coaches are looking for. QUOTABLE “Just playing in the SEC against

the defensive linemen there just prepares you for the next level. Coach Meyer is successful everywhere he goes and playing in the best conference in the country, it can only make me a better football player. That is appealing in that way.”

MARK POPEK 6-6, 270 Offensive Tackle Plant City Plant City High A real sleeper in the state of Florida, Popek became a true prospect this fall by gaining a ton of weight and muscle. A year earlier he was some 70 pounds lighter and not a lineman;

now he is still lean, yet muscular and has kept his quickness he had when he was lighter. QUOTABLE “Coach Addazio called me tonight

He likes my style. He said I don’t have a lot of body fat on me and they like that. He said a lot of kids my size have a lot of fat. He went to watch Matt Patchan play against us and coach Addazio saw me and liked me...I was up there for an unofficial for the game. It was great and now I have tickets to go back for the FAU and FSU games. The atmosphere was pretty amazing. I had never been to a real college game before. When I went up there the whole morning and everything with the fans, I was pretty amazed.”

LERENTEE McCRAY 6-2, 205 Linebacker Dunnellon Dunnellon High McCray committed to Miami early in the process and in late November was finally starting to waiver publicly. A fan of the Hurricanes as a child, he only lives 45 miles south of Gainesville and has visited many times for games in The Swamp. McCray is extremely athletic, but raw. He should be a monster on special teams early and really blossom as a linebacker as he matures in college. QUOTABLE “It was crazy up there (at The

Swamp). There were so many fans in that stadium. I don’t know exactly how many people were there, but it was packed. Game day atmosphere is a pretty big part of my decision. That’s not the only thing I’m looking for, but the game day atmosphere just proves what a school’s group of fans is like.”


THE RECORD WAS BROKEN, BUT THE MAN STANDS TALL he chill of November was beginning to cool the cloudy Thursday afternoon at Gator football practice. Two men in street clothes sat and watched, not 10 feet apart — the only spectators in the bleacher section. Deceived in appearance by the many years that had passed them by, they were unable to recognize each other — “The Cuban Comet” and the graying sports writer with the bulging waistline. The man in the stocking cap, beady, opaque sunglasses and jeans was thin and gaunt, with the erect posture of nobility. He heard the name of the writer called out by another and that greeting unlocked conversations of the past, present and future about a time almost forgotten, but still buried in the treasure chest of rich memories for both. Carlos Alvarez said he said he felt the impulses of an old race horse. “It makes me want to get out there and run,” he said with a smile. Few receivers could run like him or surpass the grace and style of an extended Alvarez, full speed, reaching for the football with every muscle stretched to capacity, picking it from the air like it was the Hope Diamond about to fall into a cauldron of molten lava. Looking down at his hands, those hands that made fingernail catches like the classic one against FSU, they were bigger than I remembered. I measured my hand against his — mine are above average size — and his fingers were a quarter-inch larger. He had the fingers of an artist, the heart of a lion. On the field, Urban Meyer barked orders during a special teams drill, prompting Alvarez to comment, “I really like the way coach Meyer runs his practices — so efficient.” The accolades did not stop there, as Alvarez talked about how the present Gator coach has brought the old players back, healed some wounds and linked past to the future. Oh, and by the way, “I would have loved to have played in this offense.” Not that Carlos did too badly under Ray Graves and Fred Pancoast


January 2008

as a sophomore when he set all those records for receptions, yardage, touchdowns, etc. What came after that was another story. Bad knees and the coaching change that led to a run-oriented attack the next two seasons robbed Alvarez of career numbers larger than the national debt. Perhaps more importantly, it was Carlos who spoke out against the lying and deceit of an athletic and school administration that had made Enron-like corporate decisions, which forced Graves upstairs to athletic director, pushed his assistant head coach and heir-apparent Gene Ellenson off to the side and brought in Doug Dickey, who never fulfilled his promise. There was much bitterness, but we didn’t talk about it that day. Alvarez would rather embrace peace, tranquility and the legacies of Gator football. As a prominent environmental attorney living in Tallahassee, he has moved to the mentoring of other lawyers and the art of mediation. He became the voice of reason during the turmoil of the Ron Zook firing, asking Gators to stick together in all kinds of weather. And now on the ensuing Saturday he was on the sidelines to celebrate Andre Caldwell’s breaking of his records, which was accomplished with 13 catches against Florida Atlantic on Nov. 17. Alvarez, who career reception mark of 172 was set from 1969-1971, had also encouraged Bubba to go for his single game mark of 15, but Caldwell was two short. In the Gator locker room after the win over FAU, Meyer asked for the football to be tossed the Alvarez, who as usual, made the perfect grab. Then Carlos congratulated Caldwell and noted it was a team record. He handed the ball to Bubba and then hugged No. 5. It was as though he wanted him to have it. “I’m surprised it lasted this long,” Carlos said. There was mist in the eyes of the “Cuban Comet.” Meyer saw it and remarked that it told a lot about “the character of the man” — the inference being that his kind leaves an indelible mark long after his milestones are passed. The coach was right. There will be many other records broken at Florida, but there will never be another Carlos Alvarez. Buddy Martin, who covered Carlos Alvarez and the 1969 Super Sophs, says it was one of his favorite assignments over more than four decades of writing sports.

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