It’s that time of the month. No, fellas I don’t mean that vexing thing that your lady has to go through. It’s getting warmer. The air is getting a tad bit crisper. The madness is upon us. Half-court heaves, tantalizing losses, the shifting of power within conferences is here. March is here, people. Expectations are paramount. One loss and it’s over. The dance you’ve prepped for, got your suit dry cleaned for, is here.
Legacies have been built. Draft stocks have been raised. This one month is instrumental in the lives of many. Coaches and players alike can either live out their dreams or be rattled by their nightmares. With many of this year’s NCAA national championship contenders, we’ll be going back and celebrating the top five players who impacted their schools and legacies since the new millennium.
Billy Donovan can coach. No, seriously, Billy Donovan can show a lot of people a thing or two in coaching. Why, you ask? A basketball savant, Donovan has led Florida to back-to-back titles and has them currently sitting on top of the college basketball world this season as the probable No. 1 overall seed.
By grooming a myriad of NBA players, it’s easy to see why he’s always in the thick of things in March. While his coaching prowess is to credit, his players on the court are the ones doing the grunt work. The combination of talent and diligence is what has a school like Florida constantly in their dancing shoes come March.
Here are five of the program’s best players since 2000.
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5. Nick Calathes
Calathes would demoralized his opponents. He took the hearts of SEC teams with his multi-faceted abilities. His menacing crossover crippled opposing guards and he was a walking triple-double any given night. While coaches tried to encumber the Greek star with stifling defenses, he posed one daunting question: How can you guard him?
The 6-6 guard was able to play the one, two and three in college. During his first two seasons, Calathes broke the Gator record in assists with 221 as a freshman (6.1) and 231 as a sophomore (6.4) In addition to that, he was the SEC Newcomer of the Year and the SEC co-Freshman of the year in 2008. In 2009, he was All-SEC First Team, being the only player in the nation to average 15.0 points, five rebounds and six dimes. While Calathes provided the gaudy stats, he couldn’t lead the Gators to the Big Dance during his tenure.
4. Mike Miller
Many people forget how deadly Mike Miller was during his collegiate days. With a trigger from deep and an all-around game which would make Scottie Pippen blush, the cogent play of Miller was something to enjoy. While Florida wasn’t always a powerhouse when he first got there, Miller and the Gators got things rolling his sophomore season in 2000.
With a team stacked with NBA prospects in the form of Udonis Haslem, All American Third team, and banger Donnell Harvey, Donovan’s Gators were poised on making a run. After being upset in the Sweet Sixteen a year before to Gonzaga, the Gators decided to turn things up and make a bigger splash. In their first game against the No. 12 seed Butler, Mike Miller crushed their Cinderella dreams with a buzz-beating floater. After that game, Miller would help his team march on to the championship game, where they would lose to Mateen Cleaves‘ Michigan State Spartans.
3. Corey Brewer
Brewer was the final piece of that stellar frontcourt established by Billy Donovan during the mid-2000s. While Donovan had three starters depart his team after the ’04-05 season, including David Lee, he opted to forge a new legacy consisting of the young trio in Brewer, Noah and Horford. Corey Brewer was the feisty defender who relished in locking up his opponent and–like Noah–did all the dirty work. He was the first player in Gator history to record a triple-double, posting numbers of 15 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists. In addition to collecting a triple double, he also sacrificed his body six times that game, proving his altruistic ability to lay it all on the line for his team.
While Noah shined in the ’06 NCAA Tournament, it was Corey Brewer’s outburst the following year that clinched the Gators’ second consecutive title. In the Final Four against the UCLA Bruins, featuring Arron Afflalo, Darren Collison and Josh Shipp, Brewer stepped up by leading the Gators with 19 points. In the finale against the Buckeyes, he would finish with 13 points and eight rebounds, and would later be named MOP.
2. Al Horford
It takes two to make the thing go right, right? Playing alongside his buddy Joakim Noah, Al shared duel responsibilities in clogging up the paint and providing instant offense from the post whenever necessary. While Corey Brewer and Joakim were lauded for their performances in the NCAA Tournament, many forget that Horford was often handed the arduous task of defending the likes of Kevin Love and Greg Oden.
In the championship game against the Bruins in ’05-06, Horford whipped up 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds. In the following year, against Greg Oden–the beast back then, Greg Oden–he was able to pour in a hefty double-double in the form of 18 and 12, despite Oden’s outpour.
1. Joakim Noah
Say what you want about Joakim Noah. He didn’t have a jump shot. He was offensively inept. He wasn’t equipped with the impeccable array of moves like his teammate Big Al Horford. While his offensive abilities may have served as a hindrance for his Florida team during his tenure, he was undoubtedly their catalyst. He injected hard-nosed tenacity every game for Billy Donovan. Diving for loose balls, emphatically denying the opposition of the easy deuce, and instilling passion to a superb ball club were Noah’s responsibilities.
While his freshman year was forgettable, he intensified his play big time during his sophomore year by averaging 14.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and over two blocks a game. If that’s not enough for you, he brought Florida back-to-back national championships and was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four in 2006 when he finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and six blocks against Kevin Love’s UCLA Bruins.
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